Product Placement

Posted on: October 7, 2013

She didn't want to audition for the show, but then she made it on, so she figured what the hell. The producers summoned them to the lobby of a hotel that was trying too hard with its ridiculous orange paint job and bellhops wearing Converse tennis shoes. They were there for the big reveal: the moment the host would tell them they'd be moving to the house in Malibu.

They did the take twelve times: ten because of unequal enthusiasm, and twice because a contestant named Jeremy had to have his makeup re-powdered after he sweated it off.

Cora wondered what it was that made the producers pick her. Which character niche did she fit? Maybe they just needed a blonde. Bimbo, or house bitch? She imagined herself throwing a glass of pinot noir into the face of Annabelle, the overweight but artsy contestant who made all the cameramen laugh with her impression of last season's winner.

"Even though I voted him off, I know Brantley is my one true love," Annabelle cackled, and the cameramen smacked their knees with glee.

After the last take in the lobby, a girl with a clipboard told them they'd be moved to the house at four, but first they'd do interviews. Someone brought out sodas and trays of sandwiches—little turkey and brie numbers with what appeared to be pistachios sprinkled on the tops.

"Cora, we'll take you first."

It was the producer with the goatee. Danny. Davey. God, she'd better learn his name. Cora checked her lipstick with her phone camera.

"Makeup will retouch you in the interview room, don't worry," Danny-Davey said.

He led Cora down a hallway to a conference room. Don't be the shy one, Cora thought. The shy ones end up kicked off or misunderstood.

"So you'll be here," Danny-Davey said, leading Cora to a stool in front of a blue velour drape and a waxy houseplant.

"I'm going to start by asking you some questions. Sometimes I may ask you to repeat things you've already said, or to say it in a different way. I may ask you to tell me, in a story, about something that happened."

"Okay," Cora said.

"What are your thoughts on Jeremy?"

"Jeremy? Oh. We had to re-do those takes because of him."

"Cora, don't mention the film crew. Just—imagine this is all life. But within the bubble of each other. We're just here to capture it. Be comfortable. Talk to me like you'd talk to a friend," Danny-Davey said.

"Jeremy. He seems nervous to be here. I'm nervous. The only person who isn't nervous is Annabelle. Maybe she should…be interviewed first."

"So do you like Annabelle? Tell me what you think of Annabelle."

"I don't know Annabelle. She seems okay, I guess."

"Cora, you're giving me nothing, here."

"Well, I just met her this morning."

"Okay, so let's do a take where you talk about Annabelle's appearance."


"So how do you think she feels being the biggest person in the house?"

"Is she? I don't think she minds being the biggest person in the house. I hadn't noticed. I mean, she's like, really confident. The cameramen think—"

"No cameramen, Cora."

"—everyone thinks she's hilarious."

"Okay," Danny-Davey sighed. "It's a start. Paulo, bring in the next one."

As Cora rejoined the others in the lobby , a producer handed her a plate of baby gherkins and a Fanta. She sipped the orange fizz as she imagined her mother and father in their basement, cuddled together on their double recliner, watching her, hair in hot-girl waves, makeup perfect, talking about Annabelle: I don't think she minds being the biggest person in the house...I don't know…Maybe she should.

She felt dizzy. She thought about the advice her girlfriends had given her before she left town for filming. Make alliances. Smile a lot on camera. If there's a hot tub, don't wear your strapless bathing suit or you’ll get edited to look naked.

In the van on the way to the house, the girl with the clipboard gave them the run-down. They were not to leave the property. They were to surrender their cell phones to Paulo as soon as they arrived. There was no television. No reading. No iPods. No gym equipment.

"But what if I want to work out?" sweaty Jeremy whined.

"We can do some takes in Planet Fitness next week. And there's the pool," clipboard girl said.

Hair and makeup would arrive at 6 every morning. Film crews would arrive at 7. The fridge was stocked with food. There was wine and beer, which should always be left visible.

"Product placement!" Annabelle crowed. Her voice echoed.

It had grown unbearably hot in the van. Cora pressed her forehead against the window. The palm-studded beach blurred by in fast-forward. The voices of the contestants clanged together in her ears.

When she came to, she was on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask, and Danny-Davey's goatee leaned over her face.

"Cora! Cora! You're awake!"

She could hear the scuffle of the camera crew circling her, waving their boom mics like fishing poles.

"Oh my god," Annabelle's voice said, "I can't believe it. She's my best friend in the house..."

"And again"—Paulo's voice—“this time can you cry a little? Think of the saddest thing you can imagine? Like dead puppies?"

"Holy crap! Okay, here goes—" Annabelle started again.

"Cora, can you open your eyes?" Danny-Davey whispered. "I want you to look up at the camera and talk a bit if you can—"

Cora's stomach twisted.

"I might vomit," she mumbled.

She coiled herself on the stretcher. As the EMTs loaded her into the ambulance, Danny-Davey muttered to the cameraman.

"It's okay," he said, "just something we add to the drinks to stir things up with contestants like her. She’ll be fine in a few days, and by then, she’ll be a novelty. Makes for great TV.”

The ambulance pulled away, and Cora’s eyes locked with the EMT’s sympathetic gaze as he took her blood pressure. She felt she’d been seen for the first time.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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