The class kicks off with a quick get-to-know-you exercise, in which the students attempt to make an impression over the course of the 10 to 15 seconds allotted them. Few succeed in this task, though the bubbly, spirited Maida Jones comes closest when she reveals, without any prompting or provocation, “I like smacking men on the butt.”
It is here that the teaching, such as it is, begins. Galinsky ponders Jones’ response stoically, then suggests that she substitute “I like smacking men on the butt” with “I like to spank Bronx booty.” Why? For its specificity. If Jones hopes to secure her coveted spot on A&E’s Flip This House — she views an appearance on the show as the first step toward ridding her neighborhood of drug dealers — she’ll need to offer more than vague titillation. Galinsky later confides that he sees “potential” in her, one of the two class newbies about whom he offers such an assessment.
Next up is an around-the-room survey that requires each student to reveal a secret of some kind. At first, this exercise seems destined to produce the same charisma-free responses as the one that preceded it, with the students alternately offering up nonsense (“I convinced my little brother that he could make a lot of money selling his body to cat-food companies”) and, uh, ribald oversharing about personal proclivities (which can’t be shared in a family publication such as this).
Halfway around the circle, however, a middle-aged, nondescript man captures everybody’s attention with an offhanded quip about a past job (“I used to work on an ambulance for the fire department. I literally played God”). From there, his peers tweak their approaches — especially Yehuda Neuman, an “extreme martial artist” in his early 20s who shares how he recently rejected his Orthodox Jewish upbringing (“I wasn’t allowed to talk to a girl until I was 17 years old”). Later, he punctuates this revelation with a standing backflip that nearly brains one of the adjacent cameramen.
As much as attention-starved nut-jobs have attracted many of the reality-TV headlines over the years — especially after VH1 shifted its entire programming base to lionize such individuals — this particular group of NY Reality TV School matriculants doesn’t exude the faintest whiff of desperation. Rather, they come across as genuinely decent and supportive human beings, more like eager freshmen in their first college seminar than cutthroat confessionistas thirsting for 15 minutes of renown.
That’s what keeps reality mentors like Billy Garcia, late of Survivor: Cook Islands, coming back to the school. “I want to keep the karma flowing in the right direction,” he says earnestly. Garcia now performs in a metal band and plays on his reality-TV celebrity in a variety of ways, whether through small-budget films cast entirely with reality veterans or via the Reality 4 Diabetes awareness/fundraising push. At the same time, he believes he can offer advice to Galinsky’s charges that is more practicable than “show a lot of energy.”
This becomes readily apparent when he introduces himself to the group: “I’m Billy, a pro-wrestling, heavy-metal-guitar-playing, do-rag-wearing former Marine who also happens to be a Freemason.” Hello, immediate casting hook. At various points during the class, Garcia interjects with tips that, frankly, seem to be more useful than those proffered by the professor. “God-given skills and personality can get you so far, but they can’t get you over the hump,” he offers at one point. “This isn’t reality reality — it’s kind of a heightened reality, so adjust your volume accordingly,” he says at another.
The students do just that during the next phase of class. To loosen them up, Galinsky leads them in a series of breathing exercises (“In and out, people, with tension and noise”), neck/hip/knee rolls and foot/fist shakes. They shift places within the circle and mosey about the room, making hard eye contact and exchanging provocative pleasantries (“You’re sexy!”). Only then does Galinsky finally reveal the secrets of the trade: his “8 Commandments of Reality TV,” which the class proceeds to read aloud in unison. So what doth maketh a reality-TV contestant of temperament merry and spirit pure?
None of the eight commandments jumps out as especially revelatory — Galinsky himself admits that “what I do is not magic” — but it is interesting to see how the light bulb goes on over students’ heads at certain moments. Regan Grabois, the Bruce Jenner fan responsible for many of the session’s saucier moments, responds to commandment number two, “Thou Shall Never Say ‘I Am An Actor’ ” (“I want to be seen as a person, not somebody who’s acting”). Tora Brava, on the other hand, finds some wisdom in “Thou Shall Say ‘Yes’ as Often as Possible” (“When you go in with that attitude, it almost forces you to be confident,” she says). Other commandments include “Thou Shall Speak in the ‘I,’ ” “Thou Shall Maintain a Daily Drama Diary” and “Thou Shall Groom Hairy ‘PITTS’ (Personal Issues to Tease).”
While reality-TV contestants are renowned for their seeming inability to be shamed, Galinsky takes this opportunity to discourage the up-front conveyance of too much personal flair and ’tude. “You want to be honest and authentic. You don’t want to tell [the producers or casting directors] exactly what they want to hear,” he explains. “Coming out and saying, ‘People don’t like me because I’m a bitch’ won’t do you any good. Show them that through your actions.” Brava takes the actions-not-words dictate to heart, shifting her faux American Idol pitch from a rote description of her vocal training to a live-wire rendition of “Sweet Child O’
These newfound learnings come in handy during the hour-long session’s climactic event: “On the Grill with Phil,” in which the aforementioned apron-clad instructor — Phil Galinsky, Robert’s brother — more or less tortures the students as they attempt to wow an imaginary reality-TV higher-up with a quick audition. “I’m pretty much channeling the anger of every casting director you’ll ever meet,” he says pleasantly. “Now, you have 15 seconds to impress me or I’m going to TURN YOU OFF!”
It is only at the conclusion of the exercise that McCrudden musters the resolve to give her faux Real World tryout pitch a second airing. She takes her spot in the center of the circle, exhaling so deeply that she almost loses her balance. The classroom hushes. And then, well, she cranks the volume and personality to 11.
“Hey, y’all, I am ALLISON! I am an ANIMAL who loves to party! I love my tequila and I can drink ANYONE under the table!”
The room dissolves in laughter and, finally, applause. McCrudden beams with the pride and conviction of an individual freed from a prison of her own making. She is ready for her reality-TV close-up.