Drowning in the Shallow End
Our man on the scene attempts to audition for Baywatch. He fails.
By Matthew T. Everett
APRIL 17, 2000: We all stood at the side of the stage, about 20 of usmost, surprisingly, fully-cladjust under a huge inflatable palm tree that swayed uneasily in the blustery wind. A handful of officials for the national Baywatch Search contest tried to get us to form two lines and pair off, guys and girls. The next couple of hours here in the parking lot of College Park apartments would determine who got to go on to the search semifinals in Los Angeles and, possibly, a Baywatch shoot in Hawaii and a cameo role on the show.
"What you're going to do is go up on the stage in pairs and introduce yourselves," said one of the officials, a clean-cut young man in his late 20s with blond hair and a tired smile. He had on khaki shorts, clean white sneakers, and a neat white golf shirt with the Baywatch Search logo on the breast, the casual uniform worn by all of the Baywatch Search officials and employees from the College Park apartment complex who were helping with the event, one of 10 held throughout the country this spring. They all had that clean but fun-loving attitude that works so well on the show. "Tell your name, where you're from, a little about yourself. They'll ask you a trivia question, but you can get help from the audience. They're easy; you can't get them wrong."
I was relieved. Early reports about the auditions had indicated that singing and dancing were required, and I'd been a nervous wreck in anticipation of the coming public humiliation. I don't dance well, you see, and my singing most closely resembles the sounds made by amorous alley cats.
"Then, if you have some special talent, like juggling or something, you'll get a chance to show that off," the tired official continued.
I'm nervous again. This talent thing could be a problem. Some people may tell you that I don't have any discernible talents at all. If I do have any, they're not the sort that lend themselves to public demonstration in front of beer-soaked, testosterone-addled college students. Besides, what does talent have to do with Baywatch?
"If you don't have a talent, they'll give you something to do," Mr. Official said icily, and I swear he was glaring right at me.
A few weeks before, struggling to come up with a story idea, I saw an ad for the Baywatch Search. Hey, it's the single most-watched television show on the planet, I thought. Enormously popular in France and Brazil. Lots of hot girls in those sexy red bathing suits. Running in slow motion. The star power of David Hasselhoff. Wouldn't it be fun to write about that for Metro Pulse?
I offered the idea to the paper's editorial board, which suggested, to my horror, that I actually participate in the try-outs. "Wouldn't that be even funnier?" they asked. Yes, it would, I admitted. But, while I'm reasonably well-adjusted, I'm just insecure enoughespecially about my waxy complexion, matchstick biceps, and birdcage chestto feel uncomfortable being laughed at as I dance on-stage next to bodybuilders and bikini models. But what could I do?
So I pulled into the parking lot at College Park, nestled snugly on a hillside just behind the Shoney's restaurant on Chapman Highway, at 3 p.m. The tennis courts near the empty security shack at the front of the driveway were full, and SUVs with fraternity stickers were parked underneath the bland, cream-colored apartment buildings.
Toward the back of the parking lot, near the swimming pool, volunteers and staff were preparing a stage for the day's ceremonies, with two 20-foot inflatable palm trees holding aloft a banner with the Baywatch logo. An ominous, smiling tiki god, looking to me like a totem of public embarrassment, stood at the front of the stage, staring mischievously out toward the ever-growing crowd, which would eventually top out at close to 200.
I sat on a curb, underneath a sign with the motto, "Those who know HOW to live...know where to live," to get a feel for the place, to orient myself to this strange new environment.
The parking lot certainly didn't look like the site for a big-time show biz casting call. A few guys with no shirts were shooting around on a mini-basketball court, and a few more were milling around the spread of free pizza, tacos, and soft drinks. Marketing kiosks were set up along the rim of the area, offering free T-shirts and CDs in exchange for joining a mailing list. You could get a picture made next to a cardboard cutout of Pamela Anderson Lee or David Hasselhoff. Coolers and empty beer bottles were scattered around the edges of the scene, and throbbing club music blared from the stage, where a redhead in a leather jacket, denim mini-skirt and stacked-heel sandals grinded with her mate, an older man with a mustache.
I got the orange plastic bracelet that branded me as one of the brave souls who would actually participate in the try-outs and floated around, asking people why they were here and what they expected.
"I live here, so I thought it would be pretty cool to come down and have some fun," said Johnny Verive, a tall, athletic guy with shoulder-length black hair, wearing a white tank top, black Adidas shorts, and UT sandals. "I'm just here to have a good time, having a blast with my friends and stuff. I'm going to go with the flow."
The other participants, most of whom were residents of College Park, were there for the same reason; few had any ambitions of making it onto the TV show, though its popularity seemed to help attract participants. Most of them said they were average Baywatch fans, watching an episode every couple of weeks. Some liked it even more.
"I just came for the pure fun of it," said Laura Hancock, a UT student and member of the school swim team. "But it would be awesome if I did win. I'd go! Baywatch is my favorite show!"
Following a water-balloon-tossing competition that effectively acted as a wet T-shirt contest, the announcer on stage, a guy in his late 20s or early 30s, asked all the participants to line up at the left side of the stage. He was wearing the conventional shorts-and-golf-shirt uniform, but added real street cred to it with a red Baywatch Search stocking cap and wraparound sunglasses. Keepin' it real.
As we lined up, listening to our instructions, I quietly drifted farther and farther toward the back of the line. The other guys were angling to get paired off with a hot chick, elbowing each other and switching places in line. The guy in front of me, Charlie, a professional carpet cleaner who listed his real talent as "smoking blunts," desperately wanted a new partner. He was dismayed that the girl he had been paired with, a thin blonde business student from UT named Stephanie, was taking the talent portion of the show seriously, judging from the tap shoes she carried in her hand. She had come prepared.
I was initially set to go on-stage with Angela, a platinum blonde in heels and a long white dress with cavernous cleavage. She told me I looked like Ferris Bueller. Then, as we stood around, waiting and waiting, the line got endlessly reshuffled and reorganized. I was left at the end, one of the girls disappeared, and somebody else got set up with Angela. The tired Mr. Official told me that, without an equal number of guys and girls, I might be left out.
A hippie girl holding two cans of Natural Light then came up and told Mr. Official that she would do it, but she wanted to sing a Santana song during the talent portion. Would that be okay? It was fine with me, as long as I didn't have to help. I don't know the words, but maybe I could just stand up there while she sings, I thought. That might not be too bad. I was hopeful again.
But she already had a partner, a Kid Rock look-alike in a tie-dyed shirt named Shoe. I was bumped.
I watched the auditions from just below the stage. Sarah, the redhead who had been grinding with her man all afternoon, had removed her mini-skirt and leather jacket and had on just a tiny orange bikini. Her talent, to the delight of the crowd, was jumping jacks. Her partner took repeated breaks to funnel beer with the help of his friends. Stephanie, the business student with the tap shoes, showed off her Irish step dancing skillsshe's been taking lessons for a month now, and it certainly showsand she rubbed sun tan lotion on carpet-cleaner Charlie's bare chest. Angela gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to an inebriated drowning victim, and a pair of singers from the Lee Greenwood Theater in Pigeon Forge offered a polished rendition of a contemporary R&B number that I didn't recognize. Laura, the college swimmer, tried to lip-synch Madonna's "Like a Virgin," but she didn't know the words. Kid Rock and the hippie girl sang their Santana. The crowd loved it all, except maybe the step dancing. But I couldn't watch much more. I felt like maybe I should have been up there.
I didn't see who, later in the night, won the trip to L.A. A bitter taste had crawled into my mouth as I watched those silly college kids get up and prance around. Why didn't I even get a chance?
I imagined myself running in slow motion on the beach alongside Carmen Electra or Yasmin Bleeth or whichever surgically-altered hottie they have on Baywatch these days, honing my acting chops with Parker Stevenson and David Hasselhoff. I might even be more confident if I got to go to Hawaii and get some sun and work out with those guys.
And I know that I'd look great in those red swim shorts.
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