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Trash TV's Secret Story

Jul 7, 2008
You can tell summer has arrived here in France because the signs are all around us.

First up there are the obvious ones - such as the weather and the dress code. Of course the latter, especially in the nation's capital, can still turn into something of a catwalk as this year's chic hits the streets big time in what for many is the Mecca of the fashion world.

Then there are the music festivals, concerts, outdoor productions, and jumble sales held up and down the country and let's not forget the smell of a BBQ wafting in from the neighbour's garden.

Prime time television news reports begin focussing on the queues at airports and the number of passengers passing through the French capital's major railway stations, rather than hard news. And national newspapers go in for the inevitable silly season.

The inside lanes of the motorways are bumper-to-bumper full of Dutch cars, trailers and caravans, busting at the seams with provisions for a month.

In August of course, when (hopefully) summer will be in full swing a huge chunk of the country will all but close down for a month and Paris will put up shop almost completely as the French head south literally and metaphorically with "Aoutien" holidaymakers replacing "Juilletistes".

But the real clue that the whole shebang is underway has to be the reappearance on the small screen of Secret Story.

It reared its less than attractive head on Friday evening on the country's number one national channel, TF1, and is set to be in everyone's sitting rooms for the next 10 weeks.

In essence it's France's answer to Big Brother - only more downmarket. Impossible you might think, but sadly true.

Basically the idea is very simple. It starts with 15 people, strangers to each other - with the odd exception, as will become clearer later on - moving into a built-for-TV house, where they'll be under the watchful eye of the production team and the viewing public 24/7 (via the Internet of course) for two and a half months.

Each carries with them into the house a "secret" - and the idea is to keep it hidden from the others for as long as possible while trying to cajole out of fellow house mates exactly what they're trying to keep under wraps.

Off camera there is also the deep bass booming tones of The Voice (La Voix), dropping hints whenever he feels like it, setting playful if somewhat idiotic tasks with cash rewards should they be completed successfully without anyone else in the house realising.

Every week two candidates are nominated and television viewers get to vote in a 'phone poll (at premium rates of course) on who should stay in. Original stuff huh?

Yes the country which so often likes to think that it has taken the cultural highroad, brought the world classics in the fields of literature, art and music, prides itself on its language and traditions, cuisine, fine wines and haute couture - now proves once again that it can mix it with the best and worst of what the world of reality TV has to offer.

The new series, which kicked off on Friday evening will have a hard act to follow.

Last summer, when TF1 first ran the programme, the eventual winner quickly had her secret revealed .She was a triplet - and after the other house members wheedled it out of her, in tramped her two sisters.

Thus the three of them provided viewers with hours of entertainment as they played cards, ate, played cards and slept, eventually being crowned the winners because.... well because they were pretty inoffensive and bland.

Up against them was the nudist, the escort boy, the son of a famous French tennis player (Henri Leconte) a transsexual and an obnoxious couple (their secret) who bickered and manipulated their way to the final, earning their Warhol moment of fame and then (thankfully) disappearing into oblivion.

This year's dollop of dubious "culture" kicked off with the contestants tastefully arriving at the house one by one in his and hers blue and pink limos. Each woman seemingly more buxom than the last, many of them sporting micro dresses of which even pop diva Mariah Carey would have been envious.

And with a few exceptions each man was more muscled, more coiffed and more drop-dead gorgeous than the last, preening and pouting as though they were models in Milan.

Separately they tottered, strutted, swaggered or tripped their way through the jeering and cheering masses into 10-weeks-worth (for the eventual winner) of fleeting public notoriety and a stab at the chance of picking up a 150,000 cheque at the end.

Some of the contestants have had their secrets revealed to the public already - such as the lesbian couple from Belgium, the black mother and white daughter or the 30-something hunk and teenage siren who have to pretend to be "a couple". But none of the other housemates (apart from those "in" on their own coupled secrets) is any the wiser yet.

Nor do any of the contestants know exactly what secrets they have to find out, although once again viewers have been told that among the 15 there is an Anglican minister (male of female not revealed), an undertaker, a medium (who you would think might just have a head start on the others and know whether he or she would end up winning), a prince or princess and a Don Juan with apparently more than 750 "conquests" under his belt already.

So as the 15 pretenders to the title of French telly's newest reality TV hero or heroine are busy settling in to their 24/7 life together transmitted live on the Net and daily on the small screen, we can probably expect some tasteless antics similar to last year's offering - such as the rump steak shoved down the underpants of one male contestant.

There'll also doubtless be the same sort of petty rivalries, squabbles and handbags-at-dawn stuff that characterised much of the first series.

But breathe a sigh of relief because at least it's all being done in the name of entertainment. And as much as some might question why and find it "outrageous", there'll probably still be millions tuning in.

Let's also not forget there's always the "off" button on the TV set or alternative viewing on other channels.

As compulsive and trashy as Secret Story might be it'll still more than likely pull in the viewers and become its own story in itself as the nation tut-tuts and hisses in disapproval and indignation at the antics of the previous night's revelations.

Oh well. In the indomitable words of La Voix "C'est tout pour le moment."
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a Paris-based broadcaster, writer and journalist specializing in politics, sport and travel. For more on what's making the headlines here in France, log on to his site at http://www.persiflagefrance.com
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