Reality Challenged: A Whole New Level of Gross-Out

This is the final installment in a three part series about the science and strategy behind reality show challenges. Read the first part here and the second here.

Reality TV games don’t need to be played on a grand scale, or even outdoors, to be effective. Sometimes all a challenge producer needs is a few bucks and some good old fashioned innuendo. Such was the case when Sam Cotler was coming up with a game for That’s Amore!, a spinoff of A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila.

“There was a cast member named Domenico, who’s an ‘Italian Borat’ kind of character, who got his own dating show. And all these girls have moved into this Italian-looking mansion somewhere deep in the valley of Los Angeles, and they are vying for his love by competing in ridiculous physical challenges — most of them involving massive quantities of Italian food, which is funny.”

Those challenges included a make-a-pizza-on-your-head race, and diving into a pool of spaghetti for meatballs, before Cotler pitched a game called “cannoli suck-and-spit.”

“The girls would suck the cream out of a cannoli, and spit it into a glass vessel that would have a line on it. And the first person to fill the jar with cannoli cream past the line would win, which was received very well.”

It was received so well, in fact, that it became the featured game during “parents’ weekend,” when the mothers and fathers of the girls paid a visit to the That’s Amore! mansion.

“In preparation, I went to this Italian restaurant in Studio City and got some cannolis that I brought back to the office. I sat at my desk and attempted to suck the cream out of a cannoli myself, which was a defining moment in my life and career. And it didn’t work, because cannoli cream is a little bit too thick and there’s chocolate chips. I could see somebody dying choking on a chocolate chip, and then it would be all my fault.”

This meant designing a custom-made cannoli for the game with a more user-friendly filling. Cotler bought a box of inexpensive cannoli shells at a food wholesaler in the L.A. Valley, then went to a grocery store and bought every yellowish substance he could find.

“I bought yogurt, vanilla pudding, sour cream, whipped cream, and everything I could find that fit the bill. I brought it all back to the office, and sat there at my desk systematically filling cannoli shells with this stuff and tested them. I tried to see if I could suck the cream out of them, and spit it into a coffee mug — which everyone at the office really enjoyed reminding me that I had gone to college. Which is true, but it’s a state school, so…”

The day of the challenge, Cotler went with the vanilla pudding for its yellowish properties, and organized a group of PAs into a shell-stuffing assembly line — producing almost 1,300 cannolis. As he re-watches the episode, Cotler critiques the contestant reactions to his challenge.

“Imagine sucking and blowing in front of your mom and your dad,” one them confesses. “Not fun.”

“That’s the stuff you want ‘em to say,” Cotler comments. “That’s the bite.”

Cotler got a close-up view of the game’s execution while standing beside one of the close-up cameras — the perfect position to judge who fill their bucket first. When I tell him the challenge reminds me of Nickelodeon’s old Double Dare show, Cotler laughs.

“It’s funny. [fellow producer] Josh Peters talks to me about Double Dare all the time. We were both really influenced by Double Dare, and I always think about that show, and that other Nickelodeon kind of stuff when I do these things. You know, primary colors and those childish racing elements. But you’re also always working with an art department on these kinds of shows. So, a lot of times they come at you with the same sorts of ideas, and they take care of that stuff for you.”

Even though the messy family elements of Double Dare are present in “cannoli suck-and-spit,” the subtle sexual innuendo was something Cotler wasn’t convinced would go over with these parents.

“It’s just so amazing to me that, especially the dads, that they were all just willingly doing this. Nobody batted an eye. Nobody said anything. Nobody was like, “I’m not.” You know, I expected at least one dad to be like, “I’m not fucking doing this,” which I totally would have understood.”

“I cannot believe my dad did this for me,” one of the contestants confesses to the camera. “I would have never pictured either of my parents doing this.”

And what they do looks and sounds entertainingly revolting. As the challenge rolls along, the families become more and more adorned in cannoli leavings, much to the delight of Domenico.

“Suck! Suck! Ha Ha Ha!” he chants.

Yet the game’s messy element made things difficult for Cotler, who had to eyeball the leaders with the help of fellow producer Jason Hunt, while communicating via walkie-talkies. They eventually named the only fatherless team as the winner, the three female members screaming for joy beneath a coating of yellow cannoli cream.

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    • Patty

      Ugh! The stuff people come up with and will do. Bleh!

    • Rebecca

      Best line: “I sat at my desk and attempted to suck the cream out of a cannoli myself, which was a defining moment in my life and career.”

      Thanks for reminding me why I rarely watch reality TV.

    • Dante

      Man, I get being supportive of your kids and all. But to go so far as to participate in a “cannoli suck-and-spit”? That’s just… wow. Grossest thing I’ve read since discovering the KFC Double Down had a “squirt of Colonel’s sauce” on it. Gah.

    • Raquel

      Wait, there was a Fox Reality Channel??? The fact that this ever existed is more disturbing to me than a cannoli suck-and-spit (which is nowhere near as icky as the masturbating contest –yuck!!). I long for the days of innocent shows like Double Dare!