Culture

When Did Quitting Become the New “Staying the Course”?

Simon Cowell, like Sarah Palin, did the honorable thing and quit for the sake of the people. Really?!

I’ll credit Sarah Palin with kickstartin’ quittin’ time in America. After the McCain/Palin ticket lost the 2008 presidential election and Palin returned home to Alaska, the moose sh*t hit the fan and she discovered what it was like to be a lame duck governor (sorry to mix wild game metaphors). Thus, with 18 months left in her first term, she announced that she was abandoning her post -- the one her constituents elected her to.

In her surprise announcement, she claimed she was acting on behalf of the citizens of Alaska and used this sports analogy: “A good point guard drives through a full court press, protecting the ball, keeping her eye on the basket... and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win."

While I appreciate a sports analogy involving a female player for once, this one fails in a very key respect: a point guard may pass the ball but she doesn’t quit the game!

It’s fitting that Palin is going to have her own reality TV show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, because reality TV is a quitter’s paradise! This past season alone saw at least three significant quittings, significant in part for the lame reasons given by the quitters.

Season Seven of Project Runway was pretty ho hum until the surprise departure of one contestant (Maya Luz) and the surprise reinstatement of another (the endearing Anthony Williams). Maya’s decision to leave the show came as a shock because, although she’d never won any of the competitions, she’d also never been in the bottom three. In fact, she’d reached the top six and was just two challenges away from a coveted position at Fashion Week.

Maya, at 22, the youngest contestant of the season, calmly told the other fashionistas, “So I’ve decided to leave the competition. I just feel like I’m really not ready to go all the way yet.” It seems she had a classic case of fear of success...or fear of failure. Either way, it still equaled quitting.

On an otherwise heartwarming—dare I say, inspiring—season of Celebrity Apprentice, former baseball great Darryl Strawberry had a most uninspiring moment in the boardroom. Not so long ago, Strawberry played in four World championships and eight All-Star Games. Apparently, though, major league baseball is a walk in the park compared with the craaaazy demands of Celebrity Apprentice. So he asked Donald Trump to fire him, which Trump reluctantly did.

Afterwards, Strawberry explained, "I was pretty exhausted myself anyways and I think my teammates [had] done a great job on the task." Weeks later, on the season finale, Strawberry offered up his past health issues (colon cancer and kidney removal a decade earlier) as a possible reason for his exhaustion, but he didn’t seem to have a sense of conviction about it. (He also took the opportunity to mention his new restaurant rather than to try, belatedly, to bring attention to his charity.)

When you compare Strawberry's performance with that of the ultimate winner Bret Michaels, frontman for '80s hair band Poison, who blew everyone away with his creativity, sweetness, and drive (showing up for the finale against doctors’ advice shortly after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and then a stroke!!), there’s no competition.

Closely related to exhaustion is boredom, and so it should come as no surprise that boredom is a sufficient reason to be a quitter in TV land, these days. Simon Cowell, one of the masterminds behind American Idol and, until very recently, the reason to watch the show, announced at the start of the season that this would be his last. Fair enough. He’s got other fish to fry (namely launching American Idol future competitor The X Factor in the US).

However, in an interview with Oprah that ran the week before the season finalé, Cowell admitted, “After a while, you start to go on automatic pilot. And there were too many times, Oprah, where I was sitting there bored, and I thought, ‘The end of the day, the audience doesn't tune in to watch me being bored. They deserve more than that.' But I can't hide it when I'm bored. I just can't fake it."

So, let’s see if I’ve got this right. Cowell, who makes a reported $36 million a season from American Idol and many millions more from recording contracts with American Idol winners like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, was simply incapable of hiding his boredom one hour a week on air? So, like Sarah Palin, he did the honorable thing and quit for the sake of the people. Really?!

Maybe Cowell and the rest should appear as contestants in a new reality show, Celebrity Quitters. There’s just one problem: No one would make it all the way to the finalé.

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