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Cowboy U. Where city slickers learn to be electric horsemen

From deep in the heart of Texas comes Cowboy U, a new season of the reality show set in an unnamed place in West Texas that premieres this weekend on country entertainment giant CMT. Despite the dusty glamor that manages to cling to all things Western, Cowboy U: Texas is just another imitative foray into reality television.

The not-so-wild West is hosted by Rocco Wachman (left), who guides the Cowboy U contestants through basic training, including how to dress like a movie extra and shoot like a girl.

The eight-episode show pits eight participants, ranging from Candy the lawyer to Sal the choir director, from around the country against one other in a series of challenges designed to flush the most worthy ranch hand out of the brush. The winner of the program takes home $25,000.

The producers have selected contestants who exhibit humility and genuine concern for one other - unusual for a reality-TV program - but beyond the winning cast, the show is as bland as dirt. The men and women bunk together in a small cabin, cook their own meals from scratch, and take cold showers. Welcome to life in a college dorm or fifth-floor walkup. The show is hosted by Rocco Wachman, who comes across as an angry Wilford Brimley. Whenever he is on camera, his lack of presence stops the show cold. With his co-host, young stud Judd Leffew, Wachman directs the group through a variety of events so tame they couldn't support an episode of Bonanza, including Mad-Cow Milking, Learning to Rope, Pig Catching, and Walking Your Horse. At the end of each day, the hosts give the most deserving cowboy or cowgirl a reward.

Cowboy U: Texas
7pm Fri, July 1
CMT (check local listings)
Cowboy U feels gimmicky. Whereas Survivor carves its niche by taking contestants to different locales year after year, Cowboy U seems destined to remain trapped within the borders of the Lone Star State. The location is uninspired, and disregard for the animals' safety may alienate many viewers. In one stunt, contestants were instructed to tackle two wild pigs and force them into a metal bin. The squealing pigs were pinned to the ground and body-slammed into the bin, their heads knocking violently against the rim. In another scene, as contestants attempted to milk a cow, they pinned her to a wall while she tried to escape.

Aside from a handful of light-hearted moments between the competitors, Cowboy U fails to distinguish itself from the glut of reality programming. It may find an audience with those who can't wait for the rodeo to come to town, but this horse is best put out to pasture.

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