Alternately disconcerting and trainwreck-fascinating, 50 Cent's entry into reality programming is a mix of The Apprentice and ego trip's The (White) Rapper Show.
Last week, 50 Cent: The Money and the Power took its contestants to a horse stable. The contest for the day had the teams (named "Money" and "Power") mucking stalls: at the end of the allotted time, the crew who stacked up the most manure on a scale won. As absurd as this stunt so obviously was, it was made positively strange by 50 Cent's introductory remarks. Standing in front of carefully stacked straw bales and wearing a polo-ish shirt and jeans, the rapper and vitamin water pitchman looked solemn as he explained the reasoning for setting the day's contest, "It's important for people to know that there were African American cowboys blazing trails," he said, before noting that the chore would show the shovelers "how shit can be turned into sugar."
The contestants nodded, absorbing this bit of schizzy acumen. Never mind that they hadn't been informed that morning when they left "Camp Curtis" in Brooklyn that they were headed to this faux rustic site in Queens, so that several players were dressed exactly wrong (women in heels, men in three-piece suits). And never mind that 50 had nothing to say about the cowboys other than noting their existence or that the stables per se had nothing to do with cowboys, black or otherwise. Bizarre and vaguely picturesque, the moment passed into the televisual ether almost as soon as it occurred.
So goes 50's entry into reality programming, a mix of The Apprentice and ego trip's The (White) Rapper Show. Alternately disconcerting and trainwreck-fascinating, the show means to offer "14 young men and women the opportunity of a lifetime," namely, a prize of $100,000 for the winner to jumpstart a business of his or her own devising. Airing on Thursday nights on MTV, the show grants the infamously hustling 50 a chance to share his knowledge. Early on, he announced, "I'm looking for someone who can think like me, hustle like me, and get that money like me." As unlikely as this goal may be, he urged players to compete energetically, then laid out a tension that so far has not materialized, between "book smarts or street smarts" as the most likely ground for success. None of the participants seems especially "book smart," whatever that might mean, though several appear determined to demonstrate a street-like cred they imagine will appeal to the boss and his low-key underboss, Tony ("I got his back no matter what!") Yayo, the G Unit soldier who has not, as 50 phrased it, "gone AWOL on me."
The star used Yayo as a means to introduce his first advice to his players: "choose your crew wisely." During the premiere episode (which aired 6 November), he and Yayo each picked a team leader, more or less arbitrarily (50 selected L.A.-based Joanna, who insisted, "I know how to lead people," while Yayo had Ryan, who wears braids and "walks with a swagger"). Each leader in turn picked team members as if for schoolyard dodgeball, imagining needs for people who looked "strong" or clever. As to how these picks turned out: self-described "Georgia cracker" Nathan pretended he could rap, asserting, "I got more ladies than 50's got Mercedes" (Er, ouch) and Precious, "from the desert," and immediately pegged as the angry black girl (or, as 50 put it, "You're like a poor man's Lil Kim") (At least neither chose Nikki from Illinois, who introduced herself thusly: "I want to be an entertainment mogul... If there's a last Rice Krispies Treat left on the counter, I'm like, 'It's mine!'")
The first task for the teams was to get themselves from their first meeting point on Roosevelt Island to their warehouse home for the duration in Brooklyn. For this antic, The Money and the Power conjured a generally offensive trick: they had to run through city streets chained to one another, "like a chain gang." Given 50's expressed interest in disseminating history, it was perhaps odd that this was not an overtly teachable moment, but only used to embarrass and exasperate the players, who were unfamiliar with New York and so had to stop their running on occasion to ask for directions while appearing so intimately and angrily connected.
The winners got to have drinks with 50 on a balcony, while the losers arrived just late enough that the heavens opened up on them. As they clambered through the front door at Camp Curtis all wet-puppy-looking, it was hard not to wonder how 50 had managed this particular deal with Mother Nature. Once inside and banished to their room (where they sleep on cots rather than beds), the grumpy also-rans faced down one another, considering who made what mistakes and what was at stake. While Derrick insisted they take their situation seriously ("We on a reality show. It's real!"), Dajuan downplayed the fact that they had to wake up at dawn, suggesting that in "the real wars in Iraq, they probably never get any sleep, right?"
The relatively fake wars of the show continued during last week's episode, the one set at the barn. As tends to happen on reality TV, tempers flared as the sweat factor increased, especially on Joanna's team, which lost the competition a second week in a row. Among the losers, a particular tension developed between the self-aggrandizing Nima and self-disciplined Rebecca. She described her mind-set while the camera showed her practicing yoga: "The problem I'm having living in Camp," she said, "is that my basic human needs aren't being met. I'm not being fed organic food. But I do have the ability, because of yoga and meditation, to circum that."
If it's not clear exactly what she meant, her run-in with Nima helped to reframe her discomfort as sane and show why his time in Camp must be limited. Proud of his lack of education ("Me having a degree? What's that gonna do for me? I'm a straight up hustler"), Nima announced -- repeatedly and loudly, as a montage of clips underlined -- that his strategy is to unsettle, psych out, and "con" his own teammates. All sharp angles and irritation, Nima was less than thrilled when 50 pointed out the problem with his strategy: "For one," the Formula 50 pitchman sighed, "You can't expose that you're trying to con people. You're acting like a bootleg Bobby DeNiro right now." As the weight of 50's wisdom sank in, the episode came to a welcome close.