Domestic Disturbances: Our lives, in prime time

Is the world ready for the real Vineyard reality show?

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Remember “The Vineyard”? The “reality” show where a bunch of impossibly attractive Aryan-looking young people spent the summer together in typical luxury employer-provided housing, worked at a fictional yacht club, engaged in serial hooking-up, and occasionally got into mock fights over the interchangeable blond girls?

It bombed. As everyone on the Vineyard knows, the show didn’t fly because the creators missed the boat, literally, and didn’t have a clue about life on the Vineyard. Instead they created a whitewashed utopia. The Disneyland version of Martha’s Vineyard (well, it was a Disney show, after all) was more idyllic than the real thing. The perfect summer camp Eden — perfect, at least, if you’re young, rich, white, and hetero — and have headshots.

But a Vineyard reality show is not such a bad idea. It could work. The key is familiarity with the ins and outs of the Island. Here are a few ideas for potentially compelling content. Something for every network.

The grandaddy of all reality shows, Survivor is in its 32nd season. The competitive “roughing it” show is produced in over 50 countries — including some where real-life day-to-day survival is as challenging as anything found on the TV version. So why not test uninitiated visitors in the ways of the Vineyard with Survivor Martha’s Vineyard?

Watch as real people try to figure out:

  • How to feed themselves after 9 at night.
  • How to find shelter on a summer weekend without hotel reservations.
  • How to travel from O.B. to Aquinnah in under an hour while competing with hordes of mopeds.
  • How to blend in with the locals and avoid arousing suspicion by making obvious wardrobe mistakes like sporting Black Dog T shirts and fake tans.

Bonus trial: Know your Native American place names. Any player who mispronounces Sengekontacket or Wasque, or who says Oaks Bluff nonironically, will automatically be banished.

Pimp My Ride, the show where a team of professionals created often outrageously customized cars, ran for six seasons and became one of MTV’s most popular shows. While the owners of the cars featured on the show got an extreme upgrade, Vineyard participants wanting a car customization would do sort of a reverse makeover in MV My Ride.

Start with a new-model luxury SUV. Cover with beach stickers. Avoid carwashes at all costs. Build up a good layer of caked-on mud. Drive down the bumpiest dirt roads possible, and knock out the shocks and loosen the muffler. Loud is good. Throw on a Net Result or Bakehouse bumper sticker. Add a vanity plate that references the Vineyard in such an obscure way that only the MV-savvy can identify — Noepe, say, or Secede (if you have to ask, you’re not a Local).

There are loads of fashion-themed reality shows, and in many, consumers with the help of experts pick out clothes that look more expensive than they really are. Not so for Vineyard fashionistas. Actually the reverse is true. So here’s a proposal for an MV fashion-based reality show called Hide the Label.

The challenge: Spend the most money on an outfit that looks like it came from a rummage sale — a really crappy rummage sale.

The key to winning this: Select items made from really good, really expensive cotton, the kind that can withstand years of fading, wear, and tear. Pay extra money to purchase clothing that has already been artificially worn-in and faded out. Focus on styles that haven’t changed since the days when Jackie O. could be spotted occasionally slumming it in Vineyard Haven. The look: Shabby WASP.

Food Network: OK. So there are way too many cooking shows on the air. Nobody in recent years has been able to come up with a new twist on this formula, which goes back to the 1970s with Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet. One suggestion: Let’s get as specific as possible. Since every Vineyard menu features at least one item made with our favorite bivalve, how about a show called Everything Clams?

Each week a different local chef prepares a meal consisting entirely of clams. Watch them stretch their culinary creativity with dishes such as Quahog Quiche and Littleneck Lasagna. Might be challenging if the show lasts more than one season, so to continue into Season 2, maybe spotlight cocktails featuring clams. Possibly include other clammy drinks. A Clam Smoothie is bound to appear on a Vineyard menu sometime soon.

Animal Planet: One thing we can’t get enough of on TV is animals — especially cute ones or really scary ones. Everyone loves being either charmed or terrified by animals. On the Vineyard, of course, we love our dogs (sorry, cat people — you’re seriously outnumbered), so here’s a unique theme for the dog lover in all of us: Top Dog.

Set on a remote Island where dogs outnumber people, the canines compete to see who can build the biggest McDogMansion. Season finale: The two finalists engage in a (hopefully not literal) pissing contest for the most accessorized Trophy House (paw mark–free stainless steel mini fridge, built-in reclaimed-wood back scratcher, Italian marble vessel-style dog bowl fountain, etc.).

Home show: Starting in the 1980s with the ever-popular “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” TV viewers have been addicted to peeking inside the fabulous homes one can only dream about. Since the Island gets its fair share of famous summer visitors, why not a “media home invasion” show called My Brand New Big Fat Summer Island Home?

Celebrities invite us inside their second (third, fourth, or 12th) homes on the Vineyard, and we try to figure out: which room is which, what some of the state-of-the-art appliances and gadgets are, how to get in, and if this is, in fact, their house. Hilarity ensues.