Different paths to the rich and famous lifestyle

Hey Megan Hauserman, how'd you get so rich? Not by marrying and milking dry one of the 17 suitors on the VH1 dating show "Megan Wants a Millionaire" (Sundays, 9 p.m.), that's for sure.

A reality television bootstrapper with a proud pedigree, Megan is the object of attention on this show, which is, at best, only notionally about dating. Megan isn't looking for love or money, nor is she even acting: She's engaged in full-blown performance art, a far more noble calling. (And a fact someone at VH1 appears to be clued into -- on the show's official site is a video of Megan answering the Proust Questionnaire. On acquiring wealth: "I realized there's gotta be another way besides doing your own hard work. And there is.")

When confronted with Donald, a chunky older man who produces sub-B-movie horror films with a touch of porn -- but still, movies! -- Megan says brightly, "I'm just not sure if I can get past the 100% lack of physical attraction, but I can try." When awkward Al massages her feet, she exclaims, "It feels unbelievable!" These aren't lies, per se, nor is she being ironic. She's merely enacting the behavior commensurate with her role. What she's saying off-camera is anyone's guess.

And maybe it's even smart. When Sharay strips off his shirt and reveals a birthmark on his stomach, Megan snipes, "It looks like a map of Cuba." And when Audi boasts of the quality of his "hump game," Megan shoots back, "Is that a Rhode Island term?" It's as if she were trying to hold back anything that might reveal her as sentient, but slipped up.

Bleached blond, and with a perfectly round face with soft, thin features, Megan radiates an alluring combination of naivete and mischief, something that's served her well during her determined climb on VH1's varied offerings, from the second season of "Rock of Love With Bret Michaels" to "I Love Money" to "Rock of Love: Charm School" to this show, on which she is finally in the driver's seat, though to what end remains a mystery.

Not to be overlooked is Megan's nuanced, affectionate and ultimately victorious turn a few years ago on the third season of "Beauty and the Geek," on a whole other network (the CW), in which she helped polish up an awkward Harvard graduate named Scooter. It displayed a live, thumping heart inside the bionic body.

Still, "Megan Wants a Millionaire" is not a charity show, and her affection for these men, if it ever develops, will be incidental. They're mostly simps, blessed with a bank balance (if we're to believe that) and little more. Two, perhaps three, are viable mates; the rest just serve as inspiration to young people and slackers looking to reform, who now know that wealth is attainable in any of a range of professions: car customizing, stripping, plumbing.

"OK, so apparently there is quite a variety of millionaires out there," Megan notes. (Clearly she hasn't been watching Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker," which has proved this point episode in and episode out for two seasons now. One of that show's recurring figures, the tragicomic Sex Toy Dave, is one of Megan's pursuers.)

But "Megan Wants a Millionaire" is a show about money that is somehow not at all about money, or rather, is about money but only as divorced from traditional ideas about class. It's a similar trick to the one pulled off by "How'd You Get So Rich?" which premieres this week on TV Land (Wednesday, 10 p.m.). Hosted by Joan Rivers, it's a collection of mini-profiles of the wealthy, though it's not old money on display, it's new money, and different money. In the premiere, this means Blaine Kern, the mogul of Mardi Gras, and Peter Loftin, a burly former telecom innovator who now owns Casa Casuarina, the former Versace mansion in Miami; in next week's episode, it's Jonah White, who founded a novelty-teeth company and lives in rural Illinois in a house teeming with taxidermied animals.

In between profiles, Rivers roams the streets of Beverly Hills pulling over anyone driving an expensive car or wearing pricey shoes to nose into their financial affairs with the titular question, triggering a range of replies -- "I own a chain of convenience stores," "I'm a transformational makeover expert." (For what it's worth, most of these encounters feel staged.)

This is the sort of blithe capitalist escapism not seen since the heyday of MTV's "Cribs."

That in this financial climate these subjects gratefully opened their homes to Rivers and her crew of camera voyeurs demonstrates not their obliviousness so much as the persistent appetite for success stories, even as the sky falls. These wealthy folks, at least, appear far more sensible than those courting Megan -- which is to say, maybe they've got a shot.



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