UB Greeks on MTV

ÒSorority Life 2Ó and ÒFraternity LifeÓ Premiere Tonight

The Spectrum

"Hi, we're the girls of Delta Xi Omega, and we're standing on the campus at the University of Buffalo."

More specifically, Talia Caruso, a senior speech and hearing science major and president of Delta Xi Omega (DZO), is standing near Baird Point on a sunny day. When Caruso presents this opening line tonight on "Sorority Life 2," she will introduce her sorority, UB and Buffalo to the rest of America.

"Sorority Life 2" and its new brother program, "Fraternity Life," will premiere tonight on MTV at 10 and 10:30 p.m., documenting the pledging process of DZO and local UB fraternity Sigma Chi Omega. After witnessing the cameras follow these Greek organizations from the Student Union to downtown Buffalo, UB students will finally have the chance to see what their peers have been up to.

Alex Bavifard, a sophomore biology major who pledged to SCO last fall, offered a glimpse of what to expect, at least at the pledge house.

"Oh, man, living in the house you get to be with your pledge brothers 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Bavifard said. "I mean, it can be a very constructive thing or it can be a very destructive thing. The show's going to show more times than not it was a destructive thing."

So what will the audience see?

For the sake of not spoiling the show, names involved with certain events will not be revealed. But the first episodes provide a look at the issues that can assist or aggravate the pledging process.

First of all, emphasis is placed on impressing and talking to the Greeks. As one sister says in the first "Sorority Life 2" episode, "As bad as it sounds, I think that sometimes the girls that are really pretty don't think that they have to try as hard personality-wise. But you know, DZO, we are 120 percent personality."

Secondly, the brothers come before the babes. One subplot of the first two "Fraternity Life" episodes concerns how one student has to handle a girlfriend that does not want him to pledge.

"If I deal with it like I normally deal with it," he says to another rushee, "the whole f-ing world's gonna think I'm a p-y-whipped, little, f-ing bitch."

And finally, it's a bad idea to even think about pledging to another sorority/fraternity. One rushee is denied a bid after rumors circulate she wanted to pledge to another sorority but chose DZO to get on MTV. In the second episode of "Fraternity Life," a potential brother is kicked out for pledging to another fraternity.

"The latest exotic setting ... is Buffalo, N.Y. Really."

Taken from a New York Post article announcing the filming of "Sorority Life 2" and "Fraternity Life" by Don Kaplan, this line addresses the confusion some people had with MTV's choice of location. Why did they film Buffalo, a city more maligned on the national level for snow and Super Bowl losses?

"Well, that's a question that was asked a lot, even by the people we were following," said Russell Heldt, executive producer for both shows. "It's actually quite simple. We weren't looking for a city in particular, we were looking for a sorority."

Of all the potential sororities vying for a chance to appear on the "Tenspot," DZO was the first to speak to MTV. Enamored by the group's personality, Heldt chose DZO.

During the selection process, MTV gave Heldt the green light for a companion program, "Fraternity Life." The network was encouraged by the runaway success of "Sorority Life," which averaged two million viewers a night. Deciding to stick with their current location, Heldt took DZO's advice and selected SCO.

The actual appearance of the Queen City itself should surprise viewers with dubious expectations. When Caruso watched the tape for the "Meet the Greeks" preview episode for "Sorority Life 2" and "Fraternity Life" last Friday, she was amazed by its presentation.

"Is that Buffalo? Oh, my God, they made it look so good!"

Many introductory scenes in tonight's episodes include expansive footage of the Buffalo skyline with City Hall prominently positioned in the center, overlooking the Niagara River. Other shots include footage of Niagara Falls and the Metro Rail. In other words, Buffalo looks like a booming metropolis, not a Rust Belt city. Because this urban footage immediately cuts to shots of North Campus, the shows will convince viewers that UB is entirely located within the city of Buffalo.

Rushing Under Camera

For Colin Healy, a senior finance major and president of SCO, allowing MTV to document his fraternity was almost a no-brainer. According to Healy, the majority of the brothers voted in favor of the proposal.

"You first say to somebody, 'Hey, you want to be on MTV?' and usually you don't hear many 'no's," Healy said. "And I think that took a lot of people over."

Adding to the list of positive incentives for both Greek organizations were the fully funded and furnished pledge houses on Lafayette and Crescent Avenues, the $1,500 offered per episode and the use of two Land Rovers for the pledges.

Adjusting to life under the lens provided few difficulties in the long run. Both Healy and Caruso said the learning curve for acting naturally within the presence of a camera, boom mike and gazing bystanders was around a week or less.

"For me, I almost burst out laughing. It's hard when you have a camera right next to your face. It's kind of like a normal conversation and then all of a sudden it's like 'Whoa!' But then after a while you don't even notice it," said Caruso.

The first two episodes of both programs give an indication of what not to do while rushing. Janel Smietana, a senior in the school of nursing and social chair of DZO, says about one rushee in the first episode: "When I was talking to her, her cell phone rang and instead of saying, 'Excuse me, hold on,' she, like, answered it. I thought that was rude."

For the fraternity, as seen in the first episode, it is generally not recommended for a rushee to go jet-skiing with a brother's ex-girlfriend.

Pledging and Partying Under Watchful Eyes

While DZO and SCO selected their respective pledge classes, Heldt and the MTV crew rented a space next to the DZO pledge house and worked behind the scenes.

At their assistance were 13 cameras installed in each pledge house. The Land Rovers were specially fitted with two cameras, preventing the intrusion of an operator. The Greeks, by the way, were not allowed to keep the SUVs.

Compared to UC Davis, Heldt said UB was much more receptive about allowing the cameras on campus. Better access in a bigger city, according to Heldt, means less boozing for the show.

Anyone who was at UB last semester will attest to seeing the MTV crew regularly during school hours at the Student Union. But the benefit to the local environment will be the exposure of off-campus locations that does not only include Main Street bars. Part of the fun of tonight's episode for students will be pointing out the locales the Greeks visit, including Putt-Putt Golf, the Go-Kart track on Niagara Falls Boulevard and the Boulevard Mall.

Not that traveling was carefree. Caruso said many outside observers wanted a piece of the action.

"When we'd go out to the bar or something, we'd be just dancing and people would push us out of the way," she said. "Yeah, they would literally shove us out of the way to get on camera, or they'd be (shouting), 'Sorority life!' or 'MTV!'"

But to guard against drunken revelers, MTV enlisted the Buffalo Police Department for protection when the Greeks visited bars. Still, more abrasive forms of attention led to a scuffle outside of The Steer.

"As far as that fight, that beer throwing thing at The Steer, I'm still not clear about what happened. I heard about it and spoke to the UB officials who were really concerned ... We generally told our crews to back away at confrontation situations, " said Heldt.

Lasting Greek Philosophy

But within the pledge house, the pressures of appearing on camera were secondary to enduring the pledging experience. For Alex Bavifard, pledging, while difficult, allowed for much personal growth - and making an awesome beer pong table.

"As a player (of beer pong) I think I have something to bring to the table, no pun intended," Bavifard said. "Our beer pong table, I think it's exquisite. I think it's a beautiful table. And, it was a huge deal. During the show, you'll see it."

Bavifard praises the pledging process of SCO, noting that every activity had a purpose and was explained to the pledges. Devotion to SCO required time away from his parents and his girlfriend, but Bavifard said the payoff was worth it.

"We do things as a group, we go out and we have fun, but we do philanthropy," he said. "And I learned so much about myself and people in general to deal with people. You know what it is? ... I learned not to deal with other people's s-."

As the main representative for her sorority, Caruso said she will come off on the show acting like somebody's parent.

"I was always trying to make sure everybody was doing the right thing and like, 'Don't be doing that on camera' and 'Please don't drink ...,' I felt like that was kind of me always being like a mom," she said.

Healy said the final product, more often than not, will "play a little bit on the alcohol thing, more of the fun time that we have than more of the schoolwork." According to Healy, some of the pledges had 4.0 grade point averages last semester.

"It's an entertainment show, I know what they're going to focus on so it's not a big deal," Healy said. "And to be honest with you, as a fraternity we really don't care. We did what we did and we got paid for it, and we had a good time doing it, and I think that's what counts."