The best-selling authors of "The Nanny Diaries" give their fictional take on reality television in their new book, "The Real Real."
In it, Jesse O'Rourke gets picked to star in a reality show that follows her through her senior year of high school. Since it comes with a tuition check that will allow her to be the first in her family to attend college, she takes the chance.
She soon learns not only has her crush made the cast, but that she might also have to trade in her true friends for the "it" clique she's tried so hard to avoid during her school years.
"The Real Real" shows how producers manipulate the lives of their characters to heighten the drama, and Jesse has to figure out what's really real in her life.
Read an excerpt of this book below and check out more interesting titles in the "GMA" Library.
Caitlyn wriggles into the air pocket at my right, her face flushed and damp. "What's going on?" she pants, tucking her most recent DIY blond streak behind her ear. "I got to bio late because the Camry wouldn't start—of course, I get one semester to park at school, and the crapbox dies every time it snows—and run into an empty room with just the chalkboard saying come here. What does it mean? Is it terrorists?"
"It's probably some stupid college thing." I pat her on the shoulder. "And at least you have a crapbox."
Caitlyn snaps her fingers in front of my face. "Okay, focus." She flips open her phone to show me the last text she received before the eight o'clock bell. "Rob says Drew Rudell showed up puffy-eyed to cross-country practice this morning."
"Dumped over Christmas break. One semester of long-distance love was all she could handle."
"She dumped him?" I grab her wrist to steady myself as we sway in the middle of the bovine huddle. "They were practically married last spring. What is Sarah Lawrence, a two-hour, three-hour drive? For him I would've Rollerbladed that." We reflexively drop our chins to our chests and try to look out through our bangs to locate Drew, while I furtively brush on some Benetint.
"He's behind you," she says. "And, despite said puffiness, does have a certain . . . available vibe to him. Looks like your year of silent prayers and that Santeria candle we bought have finally paid off."
I turn to her, making full-force eye contact. "Find out everything you can before lunch. Did she really initiate the breakup, was there infidelity, and who got custody of the windbreaker."
"ALL RIGHT, SENIORS! Since we cannot seem to convince you to line up, I only ask that when we open the doors you move in AN ORDERLY FASHION to the front of the auditorium and take seats. In an ORDERLY FASHION!"
The double doors finally give, and everyone flies down the aisles as if cash prizes were at stake.
Caitlyn and I go directly to seats midway in on the left—for no other reason than that's where we happened to sit day one freshman year, so now that's where we always camp—and slouch back for the presentation. Whatever's coming is bound to be tedious—better be comfortable. "I think I'm going to have to pee," Caitlyn leans over to whisper. "I downed a venti latte after I got the car jumped."
"Caitlyn, it's not a high-powered job on Wall Street, it's AP Bio. Why do you need three shots of espresso?"
"It's good for my metabolism."
I roll my eyes. "I will beat you."
"What? I gave up Parliaments and aspartame, let me have the beans—" She cuts off at the sight of Nico Sargossi, Melanie Dubviek, and Trisha Wright coming down the aisle behind us for the First Day Back Big Christmas Loot Reveal—Nico probably has a Maserati from Santa/Daddy's dealership parked outside. And Melanie and Trisha are both sporting the same fur vest Victoria Beckham wore to the People's Choice Awards. "Do you have any idea how many shifts at Bambette I'd have to work to afford that?" Caitlyn whispers into my shoulder.
"Maybe the Hampton branch of PETA'll hit 'em with spray cans at lunch. I'll put in a call."
The Three Graces take their seats across the aisle from us next to Jase McCaffrey, still flushed from morning basketball practice, his black hair damp to his forehead. Nico reaches across Trisha to squeeze her boyfriend's hand. At least I think it was his hand. Can't see from here.
"Think they applied to the same colleges?" Caitlyn asks, referring to Hampton High's own Brangelina.
"They only overlap at six out of nine." "It's sick that you know that."
"You didn't get the flier?" I surreptitiously fold a piece of gum into my mouth. Also wet-haired from a post-practice shower, Rick Sachs slides into his permanently saved seat on the other side of Jase.
"What if they get to college," Caitlyn asks as Trisha leans forward to talk to Melanie, leaving Nico to kiss Jase over her rounded back, "and there are other couples there that are at least as hot—maybe hotter—and have been together twice as long?"
"Since the womb?"
"Ladies, gentlemen." Our principal walks on stage in front of the slushie-blue velvet curtain, his orthopedic dress shoes squeaking against the polyurethaned wood. "Thank you for joining us this morning." Why is it they always thank us for the mandatory things? "We have a very exciting guest—"
"The president of the New York chapter of Ornithology Today!" Caitlyn whispers with hushed mania.
"Not just to me," he continues into the microphone, his new mustache giving him a certain Dr. Phil je ne sais quoi, "but, I suspect, exciting to you as well." Caitlyn shrugs. It was a good guess.
"Seniors of Long Island's Hampton High School, please give a warm welcome to Fletch Chapman, president of programming for . . . XTV."
There is an audible ripple of "Wha?" as we turn to one another in disbelief. Not our XTV? This must be some obscure cable channel devoted to xylophones or X rays. Looking not that much older than us, Fletch ambles on to the stage in Rock & Republic jeans, a black dress shirt rolled up to the elbows, and Prada sneakers. Okay, this might be our XTV. He takes the mike from Principal Stevens and swings it into his left hand Vegas-style. "Hey, guys." He pauses to flash a big Whitestrips smile. "You're probably wondering what I'm doing here and why I've dragged you away from your calculus and history." We are. Yes. "How many of you watch the show Park Avenue Confidential on the CW?" he asks with a swaggering self-assurance that must play well with the ladies.
Almost every hand shoots up, including mine, sacrificing any potential embarrassment from watching the prep-school soap opera for the sake of dialoguing with Fletch. "Excellent, excellent," he says, pacing back and forth in his snazzy sneaks. "So, you get our inspirational jumping-off point. It's a great show, but it suffers from one thing—" He pauses as we wonder, Over-styled hair? That creepy young dude who's supposed to be the dad? "Writers." Fletch drives the word into the microphone. "It's not real teens talking about real issues; it's a bunch of old farts sitting in a room concocting what they want to reflect back to you as your lives. So at XTV we thought what'd be majorly cool is to create a reality series around the lives of real New York high school seniors dealing with the real world and real issues. And what's more glamorous and fabulous than the Hamptons?"
Oh yeah, you should see me serve Lipton tea to a snowplow driver. Or my mom clean Christie Brinkley's bathroom drain.
I turn to ask Caitlyn with my facial muscles if she, too, finds life in the Hamptons to be a nonstop parade of glamour, but instead I see her nearly levitating with excitement, the corners of her hazel eyes watering.
"I can't tell you any more right now about what we're calling The Real Hampton Beach because that's as much as we know. You will shape the content of the show. Any questions?"
Sylvia Vandalucci shoots her hand up. "Who'll be in it?"
"All of you." All heads whip left and right as we turn to face what were, just moments ago, merely our fellow classmates and are now our fellow cast mates. "That want to be," he hastens to add. "Anyone who doesn't want to sign a release will be given a marker to wear so the cameras will know to keep you out of frame."
"Out of frame?" Caitlyn hisses in horror.
"And now we'd love it if you all could come up to the stage six at a time—" As he speaks, the curtains pull haltingly back to reveal six desks manned by equally young staffers in XTV baseball caps. "And take a seat to answer a few questions. After that, we'll be observing you guys for a few days with our cameras as we narrow down who we're going to focus on, essentially who'll be our core cast." At the word cast, Principal Stevens's straining smile fades for the first time. "I have to head back to the city," Fletch continues, "but you'll see me again—this is my baby. In the meantime, I leave you in my associate producer, Kara's, capable hands." A pretty, apple-shaped brunette doing herself no favors in thick Elvis Costello glasses shuffles in from the wings, wearing a loose Himalayan blouse over jeans. "She'll be my eyes and ears." Kara gives an awkward wave. "I am super-psyched. And looking out, I can tell we've picked an awesome school," Fletch concludes.
Caitlyn and I swing around to face each other. "Did he just wink at Nico?!" she asks, mouth open.
"Or he has an astigmatism."
"In his pants."
"All right, students!" Stevens claps his hands. "You heard Mr. Chapman. This is a very exciting opportunity, so let's show them what an orderly student body Hampton High has! Let's start with the front row on the right. The first six, let's go! Fill in at the desks! The rest of you can consider this a study hall period. And let's remember, study halls are silent."
"Aah," I whisper, tugging out my AP Physics. "This is where it gets boring."
Caitlyn, however, whipping out her contraband nail polish to do emergency touchups, is riveted by the proceedings. I get a Maybelline pen to the ribs when Courtney Metler wriggles her ginormous bra out from under her shirt and lets the girls get some air. And again, twenty minutes later, when she bounds up to the stage and they nearly hit her in the face. Until XTV is presented in 3-D she's probably a no-go. And then again when Gary Sternberg attempts a backflip to his assigned table and Shana Masterson bursts into her glass-shattering version of Mariah Carey.
Caitlyn slumps farther and farther into her chair, finally sliding full to the floor when Tom Slatford starts playing fart music with his hands. "Is it too late to transfer?" she moans.
I slip my hand under her armpit and drag her back up. "Isn't it cruel and inhumane to put us through this when it's so obviously going to be Nico, the Show?" I ask.
"Starring Melanie, as Nico."
"And Trisha, as Nico."
"Come on," she says, straightening her gray sweater dress, her look of determination returning. "Maybe they're looking for two minimum-wage-working brunettes who love Pinkberry and think Chace Crawford is just a little bit too pretty. We have a shot." I don't disabuse her of that notion.
At that moment, with a good-luck kiss to Jase, Nico gathers up all her fabulously understated possessions and struts her radiant, lanky everything up to the stage. She's like some wild, exotic animal that roams the hallways: You might not want to pet her, but you can't pull your eyes away. Her hair is always shiny, her face matte, and her subtle veneer of disdain firmly in place. To be around her is to wonder if she's thinking your sweater gives her a migraine, your Spanish pronunciation grates on her ears, or your highlights are so '07. Tossing her long blond mane, she straddles the interrogation chair like she's about to do a number from Chicago. Anyone else and I'd snicker, but when Nico Sargossi does it you actually wish she was about to perform a number from Chicago.
Mrs. Gesop snaps at us, and Caitlyn hustles up the steps with me in tow, bras in place, hands in our pockets. I swing my bag to my feet and sit down across from Kara, who's removed her baseball cap and knotted her glossy brown hair above her head with a pencil.
"Jessica O'Rourke. But everyone calls me Jesse, no 'i.'"
"Since November third."
"Social security number?"
I reel it off, trying to catch Caitlyn's eye to see if she might also be having her identity stolen.
Kara sits back, putting a breath of space between the table and her impressive superstructure, which seems to be tamped down in a sports bra. "Okay, Jesse, no 'i,' tell me a little about yourself, your family, activities, who are your best friends?"
"Um, Caitlyn Duggan. She's sitting right there." I point to her, sitting two interview tables over.
"How long have you been friends?"
"When we were little we lived across the street from each other, so our moms traded off child care. You know, each working part-time."
"So your mom works. Anything ... "
"Okay." She scrunches up her little ski-jump nose and chews on the end of her pen while I wonder if Caitlyn is re-casting the rusted crapbox as a vintage sports car. "And school?"
"I, uh, like school just fine. I mean, we're all on the home stretch to parole, right? We probably liked it more four years ago."
"Who do you hate?"
"In school." She suppresses a smile.
"Oh." I think for a moment, and she taps her chewed pen impatiently. "No one, really. . . . I mean, you know, trapped with the same people since first grade, some are bound to get on your nerves, but am I, like, feuding with anyone? No, I cannot afford to feud."
"What do you mean afford?" She writes afford on her notepad, and I notice the tenacious remnants of brown polish at the base of her nails.
"I work after school at the Prickly Pear, I help my mom at her job on weekends, I keep my grades up so I can get a scholarship—I'll be the first in my family to go to college. I don't have the time not to get along with people."
"I date," I say defensively. "I mean, not at this exact second. Last year. Dan. We broke up."
"Which one's Dan?" she asks, dropping her glasses down her nose to survey the seated masses, her green eyes twinkly when unshielded.
I point over the rows to where Dan sits with his lacrosse teammates, blowing his nose. Probably has another sinus infection. Poor Dan.
"Oh. Okay." She scribbles more notes on the yellow paper. I try again to get Caitlyn's attention, but she's engrossed in her interview, flipping her freshly released hair from shoulder to shoulder.
Knuckles rap on our table, and I swing my head back to see Fletch Chapman standing over us, a whiff of some spicy fragrance hitting my nose. "I've gotta jet," he says more to his BlackBerry than to Kara. "Everything under control?"
"I think so." Kara nods nervously.
"No 'think.' You want an office on the nineteenth floor? You want us to produce your doc? It's riding on this, babe." He squeezes her shoulder and, with a tongue click and gun fingers at me, he hops off the stage.
"No worries, Fletch!" she calls after him. "It's covered!" She takes a second before she turns back to me.
"Wow. He seems intense." I smile.
"What? Oh. Yes, well, he's just compensating—" She halts, her mouth dropping open. "I did not say compensating. I just meant that he's a crazy prodigy—finished college at eighteen, MBA by twenty—running the network at twenty-four. He's put all his energy here, into this, so ... I'm really lucky to be working for him. You know, you have a great profile."
"Thanks." I glance down at the stats she's compiled on her pad. "No, your nose. The side view. Very telegenic."
"Can you tell that to Georgetown?" I ask, trying to absorb this new piece of information about myself. She laughs in a way that suggests she didn't expect to be laughing today. Over her shoulder, I watch as Nico swipes up her interviewer's pen and twirls it gracefully between her long fingers. "Sorry, are we done?" I say, because sitting here, expected to talk myself up not six feet from that, feels like a useless exercise.
"Sure. Thanks for sharing, and here's a baseball cap for your time."
I take it, imagining a hundred-plus of them flying in the air at graduation.
We don't hear the first oak tree fall in the adjacent field until lunch. Word ripples fast over the flattened manicotti in the steamy cafeteria. "Somebody has donated an Olympic-sized pool to Hampton High," Caitlyn says as she whips upright on our bench from the reconnaissance that extended her to the similarly stretched Jennifer Lanford at the next table.
"Hm," I say, taking this in as I twist off the cap on my Snapple with a dull pop. "Wonder if that somebody's going to tile a mosaic X on the bottom."
"Or hand out our diplomas in his Prada sneakers."