So, we're one week the big day - MasterChef premieres on May 22..
I've been back from filming for a while now. While the initial trauma is long gone (I almost passed out at the TSA in LA, phased in and out of consciousness my whole trip home, and then slept for four days - something I've never done in my life!), there is one thing that remains.
I still have no idea how I'm going to be able to watch next week's 2 hour premiere, which features the "auditions". Not a sweet clue.
Let me back up a little... going into the experience, I thought I had prepared for everything. I was absolutely confident that there was nothing that this experience could throw at me, that I couldn't handle. I can cook anything! I worked on sensory training! I knew that the "Reality" of reality TV was fake, and that there was the unspoken "game" to play with the producers.
... but there was one thing that caught me completely off guard, and really screwed with me: I made friends.
If you're a longtime reader here, you know that I'm a bit of a misanthrope. Humans - as an overall data set - are awful, and extremely difficult to get along with and/or even just relate to. Part of that is growing up different than everyone, as someone with Aspergers. Part of that is a holdover from how random people have treated me, my whole life. Part of that is just seeing what society has become, what passes for acceptable behavior, and what behaviors are actually rewarded.
Most of it is that by and large, people are illogical, and that frustrates me to no end.
Individuals - separated from that overall data set - can be ok. Hell, some individuals are awesome. It's not that I can't stand persons, it's that I can't stand *people* - and going into this, I knew I'd be surrounded by 99 PEOPLE - in addition to all of the producers, staff, etc. That's just not a good situation for me.
I hoped that my roommate would be tolerable, and planned to spend all of my time alone, studying. I knew what kind of people made it on to reality TV, and I knew I was not one of them. There's a reason you don't see a lot of Aspies and Auties on reality TV, and really... if it wasn't for being underinsured for the tornado damage by well over $60k... there's no way in hell I'd be doing this. Desperate times, desperate measures.
Well, then some weird things happened.
Sitting at the Minneapolis airport on the morning of my flight out to LA, I was almost a wreck. I'd just said goodbye to my husband, and was seriously questioning my judgement on doing this. I waited for my flight... and then a familiar face walked towards me. It was Liyah, someone I'd talked some smack with at the pre-show psych appointment.
I was so happy to see her (Up til that point, I had NO idea who had made it through!), I almost cried. Actually, I may have teared up, now that I think about it... it's been a long time.
We sat together and chatted for most of the flight. On our layover, we met up with Joan - a woman I recognized from my initial audition group. The three of us sat together on the second leg of the journey, and I felt like... OK. I know two people, they're nice. That's all I need, I can handle this.
Shortly after arriving at the hotel, we were giving the opportunity to go shopping for snacks, drinks, etc for the hotel rooms. We piled into vans, and started meeting each other.
... there were so many super cool people in my van. I actually LIKED them. Like, a lot.
At the grocery store, two of the guys chatted me up about my "Magneto was Right" shirt, and various geekery. One of them - Damian Legion - showed me his Dalek tattoo. OMG! Genuine geeks! I wasn't alone!
It wasn't just geeks, though. There were people of all types there, and that van ride was probably the most fun I've had with strangers ever. This was a good group.
Later that night, I said and did something that still shocks me, months later. I'm still not sure that my husband believed me when I told him this, either... but I swear it happened:
I was sitting at a table with my new friends, feeling comfortable. I have NO idea where this 'inspiration' came from, but I stood up, said "I'm going to go mingle!", excused myself and then DID SO. MINGLE!!
Insane. Hasn't happened before, probably won't happen again. Apparently I forgot to pack my "introvert".
Over the better part of a week, we got to know each other - hanging out at the pool, hanging out in the lobby, a couple mall excursions, etc. I spent very little time studying, which surprised me. I'd heard that we would be on much stricter lockdown after the "auditions", and wanted to make the best use of my time - I could study later.
When the show tried to provoke a "big autistic meltdown", there were many people who helped me out, talked me down, calmed me. They went above and beyond, and they barely knew me... that will always stick out to me. These were good people, with only a few exceptions.
Then, the first day of auditions came. While I wasn't auditioning til the second day, I can honestly say that the first day of auditions was the most traumatic day of my life. I'm not saying this lightly - I would sooner go through another tornado, than to go through that day again. I mean... no question.
All of my grand plans to remain cool and collected on camera went right out the window with the first person to be eliminated. It was someone I liked, and someone I expected was a given to go through, so yeah, I was shocked. (Don't take this as a spoiler, the show will very likely rearrange the order of auditions when airing!)
That wasn't the problem though - I realized right then that I had never actually been exposed to someone in the moment that they had their dreams destroyed. I've never seen someone that devastated. I've never seen THAT LOOK on someone's face before. Months later, my hands are shaking as I type this, my heart just started racing, and I'm tearing up. In the moment that she came out that door without an apron, the look on her face... I'll never forget it.
I may not have gotten PTSD from the tornado, but THAT moment traumatized me for life, I'm sure of it. I'm definitely symptomatic for PTSD over it, even months later. I've had nightmares about her coming out of that door, about her face, and the way it made me feel. (Chickie, you know I love ya... please don't take that the wrong way!)
I honestly thought that I was going to throw up. My stomach knotted up and lurched. My CHEST hurt. I started into an adrenaline response, and was in physical pain from it... all from seeing a face. I cried.
All day, it was a stream of this devastation, peppered with the odd apron victory. For each person, they had us all line up for when the big door opened, and one one after another, we'd find out their fate, seconds after they did. I cried all day, and I'm sure the other contestants thought I was either crazy, or a big baby. Maybe I am - but I was NOT prepared for any of that. It wasn't even just seeing my friends eliminated, it was people that I hadn't even met yet. Every last one of them, that look in their eyes, THAT FACE... each one shook me to the core.
The part that confuses me is that I actually KNOW faces. I was diagnosed with Aspergers fairly early on, in my early teens. I made a point of studying faces, seeing it as a deficiency I had, and the "fix" seemed pretty simple - pattern recognition. Never once in my life - during studying faces or not - have I seen THAT facial expression up close, whether as a flash card, or in person. I'm sure I've probably seen it on TV at a distance, but damn... I never want to see it again.
I was afforded a brief respite from the carnage in the form of our required shopping trip, for those of us cooking the next day... and then I came back to the set to find that two of the people I'd grown closest to had been eliminated, and whisked away... I never even got to say goodbye.
I completely lost it.
That day ended very, very late. As we headed back to the hotel - tired, overstimulated, starving, and dehydrated - it felt very familiar to me, in an eerie and upsetting way. It felt *EXACTLY* like what I had felt like on the day of the tornado, as we headed to our temporary "home" at the end of a very long, very emotional day.
So... if I'm a total wreck at the viewing party next week, this is why. THIS is why I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to watch it. I feel sick right now, even just thinking about it.
Edited to add: I wrote this entry about two weeks ago. Shortly after, I went to see a therapist for PTSD treatment, realizing that I had not been able to handle it on my own, even after several months.
While I still find the subject of the first day of auditions to be horrible, I can at least think/talk about it without shakes and tears now. I maintain that I would find going through another tornado to be a far more pleasant experience, and I'm not prone to hyperbole.
I'm still not sure I'm ready to see the faces again, although I am - at the same time - excited to see all of my new friends on TV. I'm curious to see how things went, how the show edits everyone... and to be able to supply the words and support NOW, that escaped me at the time.
My viewing party is being held at Banana Blossom, an awesome little Asian restaurant on Lowry in Minneapolis, Wednesday May 22 at 6:45 pm - open to the public. This restaurant was smashed in the same tornado that my house was, and was closed for an entire year to rebuild. Come hungry, buy a lot of food! 🙂 Later in the evening, we will be sampling my Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, my "signature dish" in my audition!