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“I Heard You Eat Gator”: CMT’s “Sweet Home Alabama”

By Sarah Carlson | TV | July 22, 2011 |

By Sarah Carlson | TV | July 22, 2011 |

The fact that the woman who has 20 bachelors vying for her affection in the CMT reality series “Sweet Home Alabama” is not actually an Alabamian says it all. No, 20-year-old Devin Grissom is from Cordova, Tenn., outside Memphis, where she attended a private Christian grade school. The blue-eyed blonde had her moments in the pageant circuit, landing the honor of representing Tennessee for the 2007 Teen Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant, and has modeled. And now, she’s a junior at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, a fact that qualifies her to star in “Sweet Home Alabama.” She was, after all, discovered on Facebook by producers who were “just looking for a specific type of Southern woman,” Grissom told The Tuscaloosa News.

She’s a type, all right, sweet but lacking a distinct personality. Having someone so young serve as the countryfied “Bachelorette” is one of many mind-boggling and -numbing decisions made by the showrunners. Because this “down-home gal,” who isn’t old enough to drink, gets to choose between country boys and city slickers. “The idea was to go where no romance has gone before, which is in the authentic South,” Andrew Glassman, the show’s producer, told The Mobile Press-Register. Glassman is a fan of the movie “Sweet Home Alabama,” which the show loosely is based on. “What would happen,” he asked, “if you take a true, authentic Southern belle, find guys from the South who want to keep her there and defend her honor, and guys from the city who want to sweep her off to another world?” Other than making for some bad TV, my roommate said it best: “They’re about to start another fucking Civil War.”

Outside someone else’s house near Mobile Bay in south Alabama on the Gulf coast, Devin introduces herself as a “typical Southern belle,” saying, “It’s every Southern girl’s dream to find that perfect someone and get married.” That’s only Southern girls, by the way. No one else wants that. And soon we’re meeting the various country boys, all plucked from mostly small cities in the Southeast, although Birmingham, which boasts several contestants, has a population of about 212,000. That’s only about 50,000 fewer people than Newark, N.J., one of the cities where our slickers spring from. But picking contestants from larger cities in the South wouldn’t fit the producers’ goals of stereotyping. So our city boys come mostly from Los Angeles and New York City, as well as Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix.

And so the culture clash begins, with the country boys mocking the city boys for their outfits and overall ignorance when it comes to the South. And the city boys mock the country boys for being, as they see it, plain ignorant. But when it comes to sleaze factor, the city boys win. “When I drive around in my red Ferrari in L.A., people pretty much follow me wherever I go,” said financial advisor Mark Machant, who later referred to himself in the third person, using his full name, to try to win Devin over. The New York real estate agent Michael Chadwick likes to hand his business card to other contestants in case they know anyone in the market for an overpriced loft. And when talking to a professional rodeo cowboy Cody Harris, from Robertsdale, Ala., Michael says, “A lot of you country guys have these funny hats. I don’t mean any disrespect. I’m just from New York City and I don’t understand it.” With surprising patience, Cody tells him they are cowboy hats, worn to keep the sun off one’s face and neck. “Do they come in different colors?” Pete Westwood, a Brooklyn hipster and music manager, says, “I heard you eat gator.” The Newark tribute, Jeff Miranda, discusses the obviously factual incest that is rampant in the South. But Jersey almost is forgiven for having the funniest description of all the contestants: “Dated Snooki/Club DJ.” Oh, Lord.

It works. “What we can’t let happen is a city guy come into our territory and take our Southern belle from us,” says Adam Moyer, a horse trainer from Franklin, Tenn., who wins the first date with Devin. “Even though we just met, we’re representing the South right now,” adds Tribble Reese, a Birmingham bartender who played quarterback for Clemson University in South Carolina. (“I have lived what you call an awesome life.”)Cody Lynn Johnson, a tobacco farmer from Kingsport, Tenn., looks about ready to kick some city ass. “I’ve never dated anyone from the city before!” Devin squeals during the show. Yet Memphis has a population of close to 650,000, making it the 20th largest city in the U.S., according the 2010 United States Census. But it’s in the South, y’all! Not as fun.

Devin goes through the typical meet-and-greets with the men, drinking sweet tea from mason jars and going skeet shooting and tubing. At night, the guys stand around on their front porch and a few are summoned to meet with Devin by Boyd, an older gentleman who I believe owns the ranch they are at. Some are asked to leave; others are asked questions or asked out. “It’s not very ladylike to ask a boy out on a date,” she tells Adam. “But if by chance you would ask me out on a date for tomorrow, there’s a very good possibility that I would say yes.” He asks her! Mark Machant, even after much protest and tears, was booted in the premiere, as was Matt Crofton, an EMT from San Diego. Two contestants bailed early, bringing Devin’s number of suitors down to 16.

By Episode Two, while Devin and Adam have (I’ll admit it) a sweet date at horse stables and later watching the sun set on the pier, the squabbling among the contestants has escalated. Jersey had the nerve to think he could barbecue on Tribble’s grill! Now, the guys start turning on their own kind. Joey Huskins, a stockbroker from Phoenix, wins a date with Devin, and afterward he tells his city folk to leave him out of the culture wars. Jeff labels him a Judas, and Joey is essentially accepted by the country boys. The donning of a cowboy hat sealed the deal. “You’re a snake, dude,” says Jason Maxim, an entrepreneur/stuntman from Hollywood. But Joey the Snake stays. David Weeks, a teacher from Long Island, was sent home, along with Mike Short Jr., a country musician from Murfreesboro, Tenn. It’s down to 14.

Unfortunately, the most genuine narrative of the first two hours of “Sweet Home Alabama” came from one of the guys who left early. Beau McKinney, of Birmingham, joined the U.S. Marines after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and served two tours of duty as a sergeant squadron leader in Iraq. Back in the States, he’s run for the U.S. Senate and worked at a law firm. And bless his heart, Beau says such earnest things as, “Now that I’m home, my American dream is to find someone to share my life with.” When the country boys are bonding on the beach, Beau retreats to the house and reads poetry. “This brings back strong memories for me. The last time I bonded with a group of guys, some of those guys didn’t come home with us.” And then he says this: “So many people in the military are rigid, but it’s all about the mission. That’s what keeps us safe; however, it’s also what eats so many veterans up from the inside because they’re not willing to talk about it when they get back.”

Beau isn’t ready to open up and decides to leave. Maybe some of his behavior was amped up for the cameras, but he still is the one who could serve as the more interesting center of a TV series. Watching him — and there are thousands of men and women like him — attempt to re-acclimate himself to civilian life in his sweet home would present a story, rife with conflict, more believable than what “Sweet Home Alabama’s” producers can imagine. But that would defeat the purpose of reality TV. CMT viewers must settle for young men bloviating about a lady’s honor like it’s 1861 and a privileged Tennessee city girl pretending she is anything but while looking for love in Alabama. Ah well. The members of Lynyrd Skynyrd weren’t from Alabama, either.

“Sweet Home Alabama” airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Thursdays on CMT.

Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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