SCMP ; January 2, 2003 by Mark McCord They first appeared on television looking like three average Americans with average looks and living average lives. But they ended it anything but average. Stephanie, Luke and Stacie were the three winners of the United States' latest reality TV special, Extreme Makeover, a show that promised to transform those average looks into celebrity-style glamour through plastic surgery, beauty therapy and wardrobe planning. The programme, however, ran into trouble almost immediately. Unlike any other reality TV show, Extreme Makeover garnered unprecedented flak for the exploitative nature of its subject matter. Such has been the furore over the show that pundits are openly predicting it will end reality TV's reign as America's genre of choice. The three stars of Extreme Makeover were chosen specifically for their ordinariness. Stephanie Woodside, 24, the only 'contestant' who has allowed her surname to be revealed, is an insurance saleswoman who had been teased for years over a hereditary bump in her nose. Stacie, 31, a medical worker, was upset by her flabby tummy and weak chin. And Luke, a 29-year-old fitness trainer, was desperate to lose a girdle of skin left hanging after he'd lost weight too quickly. The one-part, hour-long show followed all three from their consultations, through their operations and on to their debut in society with their new look. A beaming Stephanie said she felt beautiful for the first time; a strapping Luke said he felt like a real man again; and a suddenly vivacious Stacie said she felt so sexy she would dump her old boyfriend for someone more 'suitable'. Before it was even aired on ABC early last month, it had already become one of the most controversial shows of the year. 'Mutilation as entertainment', was how reviewer Caryn James of the New York Times described the show. 'It displays both the voyeuristic excess of reality shows and the cultural ideal of creating a purely artificial personality [everyone gets to go Hollywood].' Despite such outrage, the show was a massive hit, with more than 13 million people tuning in. Its success pricked the interest of the nation at a time when renewed attention was being focused on the downside of plastic surgery. Michael Jackson had been back in the headlines after appearing in a Los Angeles court days earlier wearing a surgical mask that cosmetic surgeons said hid a rash contracted as a result of repeated surgery on his nose. One tabloid even went so far as to repeat a popular rumour in the US that Jackson has a prosthetic nose that falls off from time to time. *For more stories, read the features section of the SCMP. Glossary flak (n) severe criticism. Note this is informal use of English pundit (n) an expert who speaks publicly on a particular subject tease (v) to make fun of someone flabby (adj) lacking firmness. It is similar to chubby (for example, chubby hand), flaccid (as in a flaccid body), and podgy. vivacious (adj) lively; full of spirit mutilation (n) an act of depriving someone of their limbs or an essential body part prick (v) to cause feelings of guilt, shame or outrage Discussion points - Do you think Extreme Makeover is helping the participants or not? Give reasons. - In your opinion, what would really help Stephanie, Luke and Stacie? - Why do people watch reality TV shows, such as Extreme Makeover? - Do you think this sort of programme will be imported to Hong Kong? Would they be popular? Give reasons. Would you object to any plans to bring reality TV to Hong Kong?