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Cars and bonhomie beat Survivor any day

I'm going out on a dangerous limb here, but let's just say it: TV's most admirable Ñ and most unexpected Ñ heroes can be found every Monday night on the Discovery Channel's 'Monster Garage.'

Call 'em car customizers, mechanics and engineers, or just gearheads. They are men and women (mostly men, as you might guess) who finally get their chance to come out from under the chassis and explode into prime time. What Martha Stewart has done for table settings and flower arrangements, these folks do for axles and crankshafts.

There's no need to apply makeup to this crew; the grease would pretty much cover it all. But this merry band of piston-blasting, blowtorch-bearing compadres brings a new energy to the most bizarre reality show this side of 'Shadetree Mechanic.' It's suitable for the entire family and an entertaining testimony to talent, teamwork and good cheer, with enough laughs to keep you glued.

The first time I tuned in, the challenge for a handful of guys and one woman was to convert a 1996 Lincoln Town Car stretch limousine into a firetruck. They were given a budget of $3,000 and a week to get the job done.

Despite the long odds against mounting a pump that had enough oomph to spray water 300 feet, the participants pulled it off, occasionally working through the night.

Anyway, that's the idea: to transform ordinary cars into monster vehicles you'd never want to be next to at a red light. It's harder than it looks, and it looks practically impossible. But good vibes and stick-to-itiveness reign.

As fascinating as the end result is, the creative process and the scrounging for parts are the best parts. Who knew that converting a Ford Explorer into a garbage truck could be so mesmerizing?

The same applies to other projects, such as taking a Chevy Suburban and creating a mobile wedding chapel complete with pipe organ, or turning a VW bug into a swamp buggy.

Other shows have been built around converting a 1990 Ford Mustang GT into a lawnmower and a Ford F-150 pickup into a tree-shaker to harvest fruit and nuts.

The mantra of 'Monster Garage,' as we were reminded during the limo conversion episode, is 'a tisket, a tasket, put a hole into this gasket.' I don't know what it means, either. But you will find no other participants in the TV reality show landscape so totally into the task at hand.

There's something endearing about people who obviously love what they do. Make no mistake: The show may be about cars, but the real stars here are the driven artisans themselves.

The only weekly mainstay is Jesse James, a distant relation to the Jesse James. By day, he makes his living as a motorcycle customizer for Hollywood celebrities; Monday nights, he acts as the 'host.'

Actually, he's the organizer of the project du jour. The breathless yet sprightly narration ('Mike Ñ the pontiff of pipe!' and 'If the pump crashes down, somebody is going to lose a finger'), never lets the action wane.

Continuous music and goofy graphics give the experience a special, innocent charm.

If this is reality, I want more.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..