Silicon Valley's new show: A reality check

The big brains of Silicon Valley fretted that they would be reduced to mere puppets by Bravo's new reality show, which debuted last night. They should not have feared. They should have panicked.

Yes, that's Ben at the party. Before he put the bow tie on. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It's all right watching a reality show and accepting it as mere entertainment.

It's quite another thing to face that reality and decide whether the show truly reflects it.

So before sitting down to watch "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley," Bravo's real husbanding of the tech world, I went to see what these people were like face to face.

Somehow I secured a ticket to the red carpet party in a place that had a rather gray, sticky carpet in San Francisco's Marina district.

I took with me my 6-foot blonde Amazonian bodyguard, Angelina, who is far more party-aware than am I. She towers over humanity like Jesus on Corcovado and everyone pays her respect whether they like it or not.

Indeed, within two minutes, she had accosted a couple of boys in suits who declared they were there because they knew some of the cast members. Angelina wasn't impressed and told them so.

Should you be unaware of the reality TV show format, Bravo has two types.

There is the "Top Chef" strain, which takes people of talent and hopes to bring them together in an entertaining way in order to enhance both their careers and their businesses.

Angelina lifted me up on her shoulders, so that I could take this shot of the party. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Then there is the "Real Housewives" strain, which takes people of absolutely no interest -- other than their slothful materialism -- and turns them into even more grotesque beings, purely in order to entertain.

Which strain would "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley" represent?

The show, like the party, didn't begin well. At the party, there were vast numbers of attractive men in suits. Several even wore bow ties. Many of the women wore dresses you've seen in the windows of exclusive stores. But I think a few ripped them off mannequins who were of an entirely different size.

The show began with beautiful people sizing each other up and saying grandiose things to fast music. Silicon Valley is fast-paced, you see. It's riven with beautiful people who know what they want and know how to get it. Not unlike Angelina.

"If you can't handle it, you'll go mad," said Ben Way on the show. I think he was referring to the Valley. Or the show. He could have also been referring to the party.

In real life, he stood next to me on the balcony. He is built like the progeny of Tom Cruise and a jockey. And, yes, he was wearing a bow tie and stroking his gelled hair, as if its angles weren't quite right. He likes the attention.

And why not? All of these budding geniuses are on the show because they're gorgeous and they want to be famous. They are mere prisoners of their age.

Crazy ideas, meet reality
Way, for example, claims to be a serial entrepreneur. "Basically, I take crazy ideas and make them a reality." Not unlike this show.

The other men are Dwight Crow -- who looks like the sort of smuggins who makes you want to leave a bar if he's there -- and former Googler David Murray, who has already enjoyed a hair transplant and a nose job. And yes, he's still only 29.

The women are Way's sister Hermione ("I had to get to numero uno," she says of the Valley), Sarah Austin -- who appears to be, gasp, a blogger -- and Kim Taylor.

Hermione has astonishingly white teeth for a Brit.

Within a few minutes, it was clear this wasn't quite "Top Chef."

There didn't seem to be any competition, nor any explanation of rules. This was just Ben and Hermione chatting about how they had secured a meeting with VC Dave McClure for their startup, Ignite. (Yes, she sent him a middle-finger text. How current.)

Then Sarah became a barer.

The blogger appeared in her underwear and we knew which side of reality we were heading toward. Her floral bra didn't match her black undies (entirely), but her ribcage protruded like Giselle's. A million nerds ceased to breathe.

More salient facts emerged. Saliency here is all about the entertainment.

Sarah is living at the Four Seasons. So is her dog, Jimmy. Jimmy also is fond of bows. I didn't see him at the party.

Kim earns a buck for the Milwaukee Dancers. Wait, quick edit: she's a dancer for the Milwaukee Bucks. For which I suspect she gets around a buck. She also sells online ads. Which I suspect may be worth around a buck.

Dwight has an impossibly hairy chest, as if he'd endured a graft from one of those gorilla suits that fraudsters claim is Bigfoot.

Sarah takes two hours to get ready. And that's on a normal day. Three or four hours if there's going to be a party. I didn't see her at the red carpet party. Perhaps she was still getting ready.

David's boyfriend is very serious. David wears briefs. David and Sarah like to spray tan, especially when they're going to a toga party.

Ben's shoes at the party. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Hermione and Sarah are no longer friends. They had a row at SXSW. (Are you keeping up? There will be a test at the end.)

These people are kidding, right? Actually, I think they might be. When Ben and Sarah are arguing about her relationship with Hermione, Sarah appears to be straining to act. It looks like she actually wants to laugh.

Then I gasped. Sarah might be having a thing, a fling with Ben. What? This sort of thing doesn't normally happen in a reality show.

Getting down to business, finally
If I tell you that we are now at the 45th minute of this highly realistic fare, you might be wondering if there were any, you know, businessy parts.

Well, in this 45th minute Ben and Hermione are going to finally meet McClure to ask for $500,000.

I mentioned that their company is called Ignite. I don't think it's online spray-tanning. It's something to do with working out how long you're going to live. Because, in the Valley, everything is quantifiable and everyone wants to live forever.

Ben hasn't finished the presentation. He's been too busy, um, filming a reality show. Hermione's hair is a mess.

When they meet McClure, they explain that they want to solve one of their own personal problems: they know they're not going to live forever. But they want to know how long they've got in real time -- all the time.

McClure offered a look that was somewhere between amused and bemused. He grabbed the laptop and wanted to look at the deck himself. Ben, who is new to the Valley, took umbrage.

Oh, by the way, Ben and Hermione have 43 businesses, something that McClure dryly calls "a distraction."

"You don't need to sweep me off my feet," he concludes. "You just have to be a good kisser."

Yes, this was the kiss-off. In so many ways. Their idea was just too out-there and not safe like, um, Ford.

Do you love intrigue, gossip, affairs, parties, beautiful bodies, inflated egos, bad clothes and money? This show is for you.

Meanwhile, back at the party, Angelina grabbed me by my glasses and dragged me to a dive bar.

"You've had enough," she said. Yes, but what about America?

 

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