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In the same vein, Pozner tells the story of Toccara Jones, a curvilinear model—she describes herself as “vivacious and voluptuous”—who was the sixth runner-up on the third season of “America’s Next Top Model.” In a pitch-perfect impression of a “Top Model” partisan, Pozner derides the verdict of Tyra Banks, the show’s materfamilias (who declared Jones to have “lost her drive” and “checked out”), and lists various post-show successes: “To the rest of the mainstream media, Toccara is recognized as one of the most successful African-American plus-size models working today.To reality TV producers, she’s just a fat Black girl who needs to lose weight.” But isn’t she pointing to one of the form’s greatest strengths?There is an expectedly acerbic analysis of “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire,” one of the first shots fired in the current reality revolution (it aired on Fox, as a one-time special, in February, 2000), in which the winner of a televised beauty pageant agreed to marry, sight unseen, a “multimillionaire”—who, it later emerged, was possibly a thousandaire, and definitely the target of a restraining order filed by a former girlfriend.
She is aghast at the cosmetic-surgery makeover show “The Swan,” which she calls “the most sadistic reality series of the decade.” (The second and final season was broadcast in 2004, so Pozner’s superlative arrives too late to be of any use to the show’s publicists.) And she is scarcely kinder to “What Not to Wear,” a nonsurgical makeover show in which, she writes, “an ethnically and economically diverse string of women are ridiculed for failing to conform to a single upper-middle-class, mainstream-to-conservative, traditionally feminine standard of fashion and beauty.” For Pozner, the ridicule is more vivid, and therefore more effective, than whatever rote transformation comes next. Her contribution, which wasn’t mentioned on the cover, appeared in the back of the magazine, after the listings, tucked between an advertisement for Virginia Slims and a profile of Shelley Winters.Mead’s subject was a new Public Broadcasting System series called “An American Family,” about the Louds, a middle-class California household.We are now more than a decade into the era that Mead, who died in 1978, saw coming.“I think we need a new name for it,” she wrote, and in the past decade we have mainly settled on “reality television,” although not without trepidation.
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Pozner zeroes in on a contestant who, despite having been a vegetarian for twelve years, accepted a piece of lamb from the man she was trying to impress:“My stomach will probably never be the same, but at least I touched his hand,” she said, grateful for crumbs.