No way to win friends: Is Paris Hilton's latest show is the nadir of reality TV?

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The Independent Culture

Might Paris Hilton bring about the death of reality television as we know it? The perky, blonde, Barbie-doll heiress with a neat line in catchphrases – namely, "that's hot" and the coolly simpered "TTYN" (Talk To You Never) – makes for an unlikely harbinger of media meltdown. But with one bat of her mink false eyelashes and a sweep of her impeccably tanned and toned arm, she might just have sent a once mighty broadcasting edifice tumbling.

Granted, it was fairly shaky to start with. Things have not been quite the same, reality-TV wise, since Shilpa-gate and the failure of innumerable barmy concepts that even Peter Kay in his spoof Britain's Got The Pop Factor And Possibly A New Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly On Ice couldn't quite come near. Remember Celebrity Detox? Yet, though occasionally a little bloated from over-indulgence, the viewers' appetite remains largely intact for a dose of ritual reality: for every dismal Celebrity Love Island there's a ratings-winning I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, for every Soapstar Superstar, there's a Strictly Come Dancing.

But then came Paris Hilton's British Best Friend – the most unreal piece of reality television yet. The new weekly ITV2 show is billed as "the ultimate friendship test", as Hilton searches for a BBF to hang out with when she's visiting the UK. "Someone fun, someone I can trust, a good friend. You'll need to know how to party, have taste and class and prove to me that you're real." Sounds tricky but the 12 blowsy contestants vying to bask in Hilton's reflected limelight have to hand a raft of convincing reasons as to why they should win the ultimate prize. They want to be Paris' BBF, variously, because they've read her book, they want the same things in life (money and fame? Well, duh.), they share her passion for animals and, um, because "exotic dancers like me get a lot of bad press in the same way that Paris does."

"Sometimes it's difficult to know who's genuine and who just wants a piece of me", sighs Hilton, peeking sadly from out beneath her forest of fake lashes. Well, Paris, though I don't really want to be your BBF, I can offer you one piece of friendly advice: don't use a television show to find a genuine friend. It'll all end in tears when you're papped outside Faces nightclub while your NBF makes her umpteenth "personal appearance" of the week.

But then, of course, Hilton doesn't really want a BBF either. When she says, "I can only have one true BBF", what she really means is, "I can only have one true BBF... until series two is commissioned when you will be cruelly jettisoned in favour of another fame-hungry wannabe, dressed top-to-toe in Cricket's sale rail and double-dipped in St Tropez."

For the pouting, pool-eyed Hilton we know and love is as much of a construction as one of her Daddy's hotels. She openly refers to herself as a "brand" and is not half as dumb as she pretends to be, more than supplementing her inherited millions with money-spinning enterprises from perfumes and television shows to paid party appearances. She's also achingly aware that she makes for fabulous TV. We marvel at her vast, mirrored walk-in shoe closet, her pets' "doggie mansion" and the private nightclub on the top floor of her home. We savour the inane exchanges: to the question "have you ever been to Essex?" Hilton, nonplussed, replies, "what's that?". And we smile at her girlish hamming up of her heiress role.

The difference this time is that the artifice is so blatant. Everyone – Hilton, the contestants and the viewers – is tied up in a web of knowing complicity. It's so obviously, garishly fake that it throws into question and shakes the already very shaky foundations of reality television. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

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