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Originally published Friday, January 4, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Show injects a little "Survivor" into Miss America

Small-stakes conflict and finger-wagging fights are two of the synfuel engines that drive the popularity of reality TV. So what happens when...

The Times-Picayune

On TV

"Miss America: Reality Check," 10 p.m. Fridays on TLC

Small-stakes conflict and finger-wagging fights are two of the synfuel engines that drive the popularity of reality TV. So what happens when you combine that tawdry genre with Miss America?

We'll find out tonight as the cable network TLC launches "Miss America: Reality Check," a weekly reality series, as a run-up to its late-January telecast of the pageant. Michael Urie ("Ugly Betty") hosts.

For the production, all 52 contestants in this year's pageant were housed under one roof "to undo everything they have learned about pageant basics and determine if their smarts, attitudes and looks hold up in contemporary society," says the TLC press release.

"The girls participate in an intense set of events and challenges designed to prepare them for the final event, a renewed competition that will redefine what it takes to be Miss America, a relatable and individual 'it girl' who can connect with today's modern woman."

Today's modern woman thinks nothing of signing up for "Big Brother."

Alas, said Miss Louisiana Amanda Joseph, some of the predictably manipulative attempts to manufacture participant conflict or even a fight or two fell short.

"They tried," she said, during a recent telephone interview. "The producers of the reality show really tried to make some drama and make us fight [with] one another. We told 'em, 'We're smarter than that. We're Miss America contestants.' We're actually diplomats. We're not going to do that to one another. I can honestly say there was not one catfight.

"There was friendly competition, I will say that. They had several competitions and obstacle courses. We were divided into teams [for] team-building exercises, and there was some friendly competition. We got as down-and-dirty as pageant girls can get."

There was also uplift. TLC brought in an advisory board of tastemakers (a stylist, a photographer and an Us Weekly editor) plus regular special guests (including current Miss America Lauren Nelson as well as a slew of sure-to-be-high-strung fashionistas) to no doubt alternately critique and coo over the participants.

Just guessing, but given the lineup of on-camera consultants, a likely alternate subtitle for "Reality Check" would be "America's Next Top Miss."

"They kind of took every cliché about Miss America and tried to turn it around," Joseph said. "They did that by bringing in top designers and hairstylists, some really cool people who were very helpful. They want to update the style, the look of Miss America and kind of create a new image that is more relating to today."

Hosted by "Entertainment Tonight" anchor Mark Steines and originating from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, the pageant itself will air Jan. 26, also on TLC.

It's airing in high definition — for the first time — on TLC's HD channel, which is also airing all the "Reality Check" episodes.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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