I’m a bit of a reality TV nut. I love watching the Life Television network, which is pretty much all reality all the time. But I also watch a fair bit of the big network shows like American Idol, Celebrity Mole and lately, The Surreal Life.

I don’t know why I watch The Surreal Life. It’s so cheesy you can’t look away. It’s a WB program where different celebrities live together in what has to be the tackiest mansion in Beverly Hills. (Ooops! Sorry Glen Campbell.) The celebrities this year are Erik Estrada of CHIPS fame, Rob Van Winkle AKA Vanilla Ice, porn star Ron Jeremy, Baywatch babe Traci Bingham, Tammy Faye Messner of evangelistic notoriety, and Trishelle Canatella from another reality series called Real World Vegas.

Heading into this season I was most interested in how Tammy Faye would react to living with a porn star, and all the partying and nudity I figured would happen. If you were on the planet at the time you must remember Tammy Faye’s tears streaking her face in black mascara, the pleas for money, the sex scandal, and later criminal charges. Watching that play out on television and in the news left me with certain opinions and questions about Tammy Faye. So, when I knew she was going to be on this program I expected her to be close-minded and preachy, slippery and fake, fanatical and even untrustworthy. I expected hellfire, brimstone, and constant preaching.

I wasn’t alone in these expectations. Almost everyone I’ve talked with who watches this program expected the same thing. But here’s the thing, we were wrong. This of course is a terrible violation of one of the four agreements — never make assumptions. But that’s a secondary point, and not at the heart of what I wanted to share.

In one episode all the celebrities accompany Tammy Faye to a book signing. I didn’t even know she wrote books, and I certainly never thought one of her books might be something I’d be interested in reading. (Again, my bad.) She spoke to a cross-range of fans. Some held signs that said they were from a certain church, while others were drag queens made up to look like Tammy Faye. Her fans were every size, shape and colour from all different walks of life and cultures. I was blown away by the way she fielded questions and what she had to say. There wasn’t any of the judging or preaching I expected. It was just the opposite. She was totally open, non-judgemental and accepting. For the first time ever I saw Tammy Faye as a real person, as a woman who’s just trying to figure out her life the same as the rest of us. I felt a connection. I liked what she was saying.

The thing she said that completely flipped the switch for me was when she was asked about her ex-husband, Jim Baker. She told a parable about carrying a dead man around on your back, how it’s impossible to carry him forever. Exhausted, you’ll collapse face first into the dirt and you won’t have the strength to push him off. That dead man on your back will eventually kill you, so you’ve got to stop carrying him around. Throw him off and choose to live your life. This just blew me away, what a great way to get the point across that if it’s not worth saving or can’t be saved you need to just let it go. Immediately, I could identify dead bodies weighing not only on my back but on family and friends too.

So now, I’m glad I decided to watch some cheesy reality television. The next time I see that Tammy Faye is going to be on a program you better believe I’ll be tuning in and her book earns a spot on my wish list.

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