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[whitespace] Lex Van den Berghe
The Joy of Lex: For one thing, he's more entertaining than most Madonna Movies.

Cineplex Lex

Our favorite 'Survivor' cutthroat outwits and outlasts Madonna's abysmal new film

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AFTER 92 minutes of excruciating pain and suffering, Madonna's latest movie Swept Away has finally, finally ended. As we all rise numbly to our feet and stumble up the aisle toward the beckoning theater exit, my guest, Santa Cruz's own Lex Van den Berghe, scratches his trademark spiky-haired head, crosses his famously tattooed arms and succinctly pronounces, "Wow. That film was a turd."

Directed by Guy Ritchie (Madonna's husband, for chrissakes), Swept Away is a remake of Lina Wertmuller's 1975 sex-and-sand classic about a nasty rich woman (guess who?) stranded on a tiny deserted island with a smelly fisherman she can't stand but soon has carnal knowledge of anyway. The original was a philosophical fable exploring the ugly and awful divide between the working class and the wealthy few; Madonna's version is just ugly and awful, possibly the worst trapped-on-an-island movie since Return to the Blue Lagoon.

Van den Berghe--known to fans of TV's Survivor simply as Lex, the colorful hero/villain from 2001's Survivor: Africa--knows a few things about being stranded in the wilderness with unsavory people, and even he would rather be dropped back into the sunbaked savannah for another 38 days than have to rewatch a single minute of Swept Away.

"Sitting in that theater, I felt just as captive and stranded and castaway as they were," he says. "Never have 90 minutes felt so much like 90 days. One moment she's spitting in his face. Then he's hittin' her. Then she's kissing his feet--and the next thing they're naked in the shack, and they're, you know, doing it. It was pretty ridiculous. The ending was the only thing I liked."

"Because it meant the movie was finally over?" I ask.

"That, and because I loved that they both ended up heartbroken and miserable. After what they put me through, I was just happy for a little payback."

Still a happy resident of Santa Cruz, the 39-year-old Van den Berghe--easily the coolest human being to play Survivor so far, in spite of his only making it to third place during the African version of the game--has been working hard, hard, hard to turn his television notoriety into something more satisfying than the computer-marketing job he was holding down before being picked for the show.

He is a major presence on the Survival Central website (www.survivor-central.com), where you can read his weekly review of the current Survivor season. He writes an edgy humor-and-advice column for a South Bay magazine, and has made serious inroads toward a career as a television commentator. Meanwhile, his agent keeps him busy, constantly auditioning him for various acting jobs.

In fact, Lex's presence here today is only due to the fact that he missed a last-minute plane flight to L.A. for yet another audition. Characteristically, Lex takes everything in stride--even while enduring a film of epic mediocrity--all the while projecting that easygoing, nice-guy-in-a-scary-package attitude that made him one of the most popular Survivor players ever.

Faced With Certain Death and Lookin' Great!

"I'll tell you one thing," he says, tearing into a pepperoni pizza at a restaurant around the corner. "I've never seen better-looking castaways. Those two people looked better after a month on that island than we did after a single day into the game. What's with [Adriano Giannini's] beard? It looked so coifed through the whole thing. I was out there for 38 days, I started with no beard at all, and I looked like hell. This guy started with a full beard, and after a month he still looked like he'd just been professionally groomed. Maybe he had one of those George Michael beard trimmers in his pocket. Whatever it was, the guy was stylin' the whole time he was on that island."

As for Madonna, "She looked hot," Lex laughs. "That woman is in good shape, and she looked pretty damn great all the way though the movie. But I still hated her guts."

"To be fair," I suggest, "I think the movie was attempting to say something about power and money and human nature."

"Yeah, I got that part," he grins. "Over and over and over. It was like getting hit in the head with an encyclopedia. 'Stop! Please! I get the metaphor!'"

Sliding another slice of pizza onto his plate, Van den Berghe shrugs. "You want to look at this movie seriously? OK. Think about this. Being stranded on a deserted island--even going through the kind of game show experience I did--it will change you; it will have a profound effect on you. And there are some people in the world who are more ready for change than others and those who still have a lot of growing and developing to do. Clearly, in this movie, Madonna's character is ripe for change. She was unfulfilled, unhappy and angry in her life. The whole castaway experience would definitely change a person like that.

"There are people who do Survivor," he goes one, "and they come back different people, usually for the better. You can't help but have epiphanic moments out there, because you are pushed to your physical and mental limits--and you have a lot of time to sit around and think. I don't think I came back a different person, exactly, but what was so powerful about it was I came back having confirmed to myself that there is nothing I couldn't do, nothing I couldn't get through. In Africa, I proved it, I proved that to myself."

"So, what if they put you and Madonna on an island, for real?" I ask. "What if Swept Away really happened, but it was Madonna and Lex Van den Berghe on the island instead of the smelly fisherman?"

"Oh God! Had I been stuck on that island with that character," he considers, eyes widening in mock horror, "I'd have ... I don't know! I have very little patience for that kind of bullshit, so I really couldn't say what I'd do.

"But," he adds, smiling again, "it would make a really great TV show."

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From the October 16-23, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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