Wednesday, April 18, 2001 - Entertainment - Strong U.S. start for 'Weakest Link' - April 18, 2001

'The Weakest Link' has a host unlike any other on network television. She belittles, harangues, insults, and exposes weaknesses with unbelievable mercilessness. She's no feel-good Regis Philbin; she's no sympathetic Alex Trebek. Anne Robinson skewers contestants with the kind of sadistic glee that is just the thing to spice up prime-time television. I've always felt that a show centered around a villain would be a hit; now we have one. Make no mistake, Robinson is definitely the enemy, throwing cutting remarks at ordinary people like poison-tipped darts. After being told they are the 'weakest link' by the schoolmarm from hell, many contestants leave the stage with trembling eyes and little grace.
Here's the thing: we rarely see true emotion on television. The Springer-like talk shows have plenty of emotion, but you know they're all playing to the camera. On 'The Weakest Link', the humiliation the contestants feel is real, and the frustrated, angry gestures they make when stumbling from the stage are also very real. Why is this okay? Because each contestant knows going in what they're going to face. Each of them decided they were up to the task. It's not like they were ambushed on the street - they signed up for this. They are willing participants, and the best way to avoid Robinson's wrath is to perform well. It's just fascinating to watch each contestant engineer their own demise; most of the time, they know the answer, but Robinson's steely glare unnerves them so much that their minds go blank. Part of the reason 'Survivor' is such a success is that the host, Jeff Probst, always asks the cutting questions at Tribal Council, driving stakes right into the heart of their conflicts. That's what we want to see - we want to see people squirm under the microscope, while we think to ourselves: 'Man, I'm glad that isn't me.'


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