Single page view By Bill Simmons
Page 2

Ever enjoy a TV show so much, you start glancing at your VCR clock and thinking, "Oh, no, 8:46, only 14 more minutes to go!"

I call that the Sopranos Test. Over the past few years, only five shows passed that test for me – "The Sopranos," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage", the first season of "Survivor" and "Oz" during the season when Adebici was wreaking havoc. Pretty short list. So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself glancing at the VCR clock during "The Contender" last week – Oh, no! It's almost over! – the ultimate seal of approval, at least from me. It's the perfect blend of over-the-top drama, heart-pounding competition and laugh-out-loud unintentional comedy, which is why "The Contender" has a chance to become the most entertaining reality show of all-time.

• Preview NBC's "The Contender"

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Tragedy hits "The Contender"

Naturally, nobody is watching it.

And I'm not going to be the guy who puts a gun to your head and screams, "You're not watching 'The Contender'? Whaaaaaaaat? What's the matter with you????" I hate that guy. You hate that guy. Everyone hates that guy. I just don't want NBC to overreact to disappointing ratings and cancel the show, if only because they're dumb enough to do it. Remember, this is the same network that once gave us "Inside Schwartz." You never know with them. Just hope they realize that viewers are burned out on reality shows, so there's a good chunk of people who probably haven't even given "The Contender" a chance yet.

Again, I'm not telling you what to do. But here are five reasons why I enjoy "The Contender" so much:

1. Real people, real goals
Here's the premise: They picked 16 world-class middleweights, with two of them battling in a five-round match every episode until one remains. These guys aren't trying to parlay the show into 15 minutes of fame, or a few Playboy Mansion appearances, or even an amateur porn video that gets "accidentally" leaked on the Internet. They're all trying to become the middleweight champ some day. So there's an aura of credibility here – unlike on "The Starlet," "The Bachelorette," "Survivor" or any other reality show, the motives of these contestants are relatively pure. They remind me of Brendan Fraser's character in "School Ties," when he tells the headmaster at the end of the movie, "You used me for football, I used you to get into Harvard." That's everyone on this show. They know it's a reality show, they're not crazy about it, but they're using it to advance their careers.

And that's an important point. My biggest problem with reality shows has been the people who appear on them – wanna-be celebs, wanna-be actors, wanna-be TV hosts, wanna-be models and just plain wanna-bes – who end up being about as unrealistic as you can get. Since they're shameless and conniving, it's impossible to trust any of them – like Jerry, the L.A. art dealer who proposed to Jen on "The Bachelorette" and got shot down on live television. You would think this was the most humiliating experience possible, but not for Jerry, who had the Jeff George Face going for about 10 seconds, followed by the "Wait a second, I'm a celebrity now, I can get anyone!" face. You can almost imagine him sipping a martini at the rooftop bar of the Hotel Mondrian and waiting for some bimbo to recognize him. These are the people who end up on reality shows. So it's becoming harder and harder to like them, unless they're making asses out of themselves.


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