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At first, she tried to be good for the camera's sake — until she eventually realized that it did her and Nick no good to avoid dealing with what was bothering them. Such as when he decorated the house without her input. Or when she fails to pick her clothes up off the floor.

"You hold back because you know the cameras are there, but then they've been there so long that you just can't hold back another month, so you end up losing it all. Nick and I are like, 'Oh, I think we need to fight now because ... ' " she pauses, before bursting as if by example, " 'I'm really mad at you!' It shows us in love, but it also shows us wanting to wring each other's necks. I didn't expect that in marriage, and I didn't expect that in the show."

  "You hold back because you know the cameras are there..."
Not only was it healthier for Jessica and Nick to air their disagreements, she says, but it made for a better show. And she started to find that what was good for the show was good for the couple. Tapes of those fights — which she would at times regret having aired in public — were also there for them to review and to learn from. Simpson says it was an eye-opener to have such a direct line to another person's perspective. Not that watching playbacks of her marital missteps wasn't also painful.

"That's everyone's worst nightmare, to watch a fight back and realize that [you] were the one that was wrong," she says. "I mean, we just sit there, and I'm like, 'Gosh, I have to stop complaining. I complain way too much.' And he'll be the same way, like, 'OK, I see how hurt you were about me going to the Playboy mansion.' You know, stupid things like that, but it's just stuff you would normally bottle up and never talk about. But when it's in your face on [TV] Tuesday nights, you have to talk about it."

  "I don't want it to all be about my sexuality..."
Simpson knows she can come across as spoiled. Yes, she was a brat during the infamous camping-trip episode. And as she rattles off her reasons why — "Because I hated it, I did not like being there, I wanted to take a shower, I was scared of bears, my cute little Louis Vuitton bag I just got was getting dirty" — she laughs at herself before you get a chance to. She knows how her excuses sound, and she understands why her dad, who is a producer of the show, suggested the trip in the first place. It's a classic comedy move, the same one that motivated that other reality show featuring sheltered rich kids out of their element, "The Simple Life." Simpson — like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie — might ask a lot of dumb questions (Hilton's "Do they sell wall stuff at Wal-Mart?" ranks with Simpson's "Is Chicken of the Sea chicken or tuna?"). But unlike her reality-show sisters, Jessica begs the question: Is she a dumb blonde, or does she just play one on TV?

Either way, she's smart enough to know what works for her now (even though a part of her wants to deny it), and what will, she hopes, be her meal ticket into the future.

"I don't want it to all be about my sexuality," she says. "I mean, I know I can do a hot cover, but I want the longevity. Your body's only going to be hot for a couple years, you know? Like 10, 15 years, and then you have nothing. I wanna still be singing, you know? And it doesn't matter what my body looks like. I want to be the Aretha Franklin who still sings today."




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