The Evolution of Reality TV

Before I begin to tear into today’s topic without discretion, I will have you know that I love reality television. There is something about the ingredients poured into reality shows that borders on genius. We have to credit someone; one brilliant production company, the intern with a sick mind, the casting agencies- anyone who was involved in starting this lasting craze.

Of all the prime time shows that ever were, scripted and non, The Real World hands down is my favorite. The 1992 debut of this melting pot of youth fame whores really did start it all. There is something about throwing a sheltered Mormon virgin in a house equipped with hot tubs, liquor and the stand-out hunky player type that has kept my eyes peeled for so long. Although, I am sure this can be argued, I found The Real World to have an entertainingly educational value to it. There were real struggles, like Pedro of the San Francisco season who was living with AIDS, overcoming stereotypes and racism, and the battle between morality in terms of  homosexuality and religion. 

But as much as my love for The Real World used to border on obsession, it has slowly diminished into boredom. The cast is too young and reckless now with not a brain cell to provide for an interesting argument. I cannot relate anymore. However, on January 25th, the season premiere of The Challenge: Battle of the Exes airs on MTV. It is a Real World, Road Rules infused challenge where cast members new and old come together to overcome a series of somewhat grueling and scary obstacles to win a lot of money. I watch because I enjoy the old-timers take on the know-it-all newbies. While there is some drama, it is more manipulation and plotting behind opponents’ backs that has me sucked in. And once a new season of The Real World comes on, I go back to boycotting. I know, I am a strange lady.

Even after sending in my homemade video tapes since 18 years-old, and finding a string of success in callbacks for the Hollywood season, I have retired from full-on fanship. I stopped in 2009 after the Cancun season because it became too much of the same thing. This time around, the cast knows what to do and say to get their name out there, to be provocative … to become a “reality star.” When a reality show becomes too predictable, it should lose viewership. But instead, more people feed into it because they are almost promised drama and negativity. We know what to expect so we make sure to set the DVR.

Any dating show with a D-List celebrity as the prize is embarrassing now. Innovation has seemingly decreased over the past few years due to the overwhelming amounts of over the top reality shows, which still garner ratings because a sex-violence cocktail is apparently fun to watch.

According to a simple look up of The Real World on Wikipedia, I noticed some numbers that may or may not say a little something about its place on television. Up until 2006 with the Sydney season, The Real World has aired an average of 24-26 episodes per season. That number has dropped to only 12 for the past five years. Because The Real World has been renewed until season 28, I do not see any money or budget issues here. I feel it is simply that production cannot find a way to fill 24 episodes of the same monotonous nonsense. There is no educational or captivating value anymore which was the foundation of show’s success 20 years ago.
Granted, I continue to test out new shows like Mob Wives, that one seems to be the only that stuck. Through the years, I have found myself clearing my Sunday night of anything that did not have to do with Flavor of Love or Rock of Love, both of which were entertaining and simple, but with a trashy twist to the dullness of shows like The Bachelor- which is too plain for me. Not to mention, an audience should be smart enough to know that women really do not want the true love of Flavor Flav; unlike The Bachelor, where women do a fine job convincing the world they are pathetic and need a show to find marriage. After the third or fourth season, though, we get it. There is no allure and the women become so ridiculously degrading in the name of attention of fame. It becomes hard to watch.

This past weekend, for some God awful reason I watched three episodes of Love and Hip Hop. The show is about girlfriends, exes, and the women who slept with rappers. All done up in too much makeup and shiny clothes, they all teeter-totter between hooker and somewhat normal. For three straight hours of my precious life, I sat in awe. Lunch and dinner at restaurants every day, arguing about who is the “badder bitch” everyday, heels and full-on makeup while they lounge in their pricey pads everyday. Do they work? No. Who has time to work when you are too busy fighting? Literally, 30 minutes of the show is drama. Is that why we watch? Apparently.

Once these women begin fighting, like this past Sunday’s Mob Wives fight scenes, I feel like I am doing something wrong. I feel so embarrassed when watching three girls gang up on one, that I almost cannot look. Kicking and screaming, throwing dinner plates, all while wearing a nice dress. Where is the respect, self-dignity and maturity? Oh, but to make the catty girls feel better about attacking one another, they are always sure to end with, “I’m classy, hunni, I got class!”

Sequential order of a reality TV catfight:

1. Name calling. The infamous “whore” always gets the blood flowing. Unless you are a prostitute who cares deeply about your profession, one should really never take offense to this.

2. Face to face exchange of words. Dumb and dumber are now two inches away from each other’s faces. They begin to wave their freshly pressed acrylic nails dangerously close to the other’s eyes and throat. Similar to wild animals battling for territory, the louder and more annoyingly persistent one is, the better.

3. Drink toss. The cranberry and vodka cocktail that she has nursed all night finally makes its way onto opponents dress and bling, resulting in total catfight chaos.

4. Hair pulling. Did you think I was going to say punching? How silly would that be? And so the weaves and extensions are plucked from each others heads like the preparation for chickens to the grocery store, squawking the entire time.

5. Retreat and continuation of name calling. A team of security, after ten whole minutes, is able to remove the two one-hundred pound girls away from each other where they use this time to shout more insults and threats such as: “Watch your back,” “I’m coming for you” and on occasion you will hear, “How did that feel, you bitch,” as if her hair-pulling was more successful than the others.

So why on Earth does Sarah still watch reality television? I am making progress, my friends. Now limiting my reality TV intake to one or two shows at a time, I feel smarter! Maybe because I am an old lady now at 24 years-old, but I prefer reality television that shows, well, reality. Anything on the Travel, Discovery or National Geographic channels that show people walking the streets of foreign towns, eating weird food, showing culture in a far away land- I am there with full attention.

Like any other former addiction, there is a part of me that can potentially be drawn back full-fledged. While I will always have the urge to watch a petty catfight, I need to remember that like everything, moderation is crucial. I never want to be that girl who shouts my status as a “fucking classy lady” louder than my female counterpart or to engage in a slapfest over a man. Those days never really began, but they sure are over! 

The worst part of the reality TV show pandemic is the influence it has on pop culture and our growing youth. A type of escapism of sorts, a great majority of reality television has become dangerous to developing minds. When I was much younger, sneaking off to watch The Real World was the only way I could watch it. Now, we have pseudo-celebrities like the moronic Kardashian bunch who refuse to return back to nothingness. We all have somewhat succumbed to the insistent croon of totally unrealistic and unrelatable reality stars. This show, like many others, is proof that Americans buy into whatever a pretty face will sell. We love to hate.

The questions still loom. When will big corporate production industries realize they have gone too far? (I am assuming never). When will it stop? (I am assuming never). Do we really want it to end? (Some of us do). Do I want it to end? (I just want something different). As long as there is a balance between these shows, books and common sense, I think we have the potential to make it through our lives without withering away into sex-frenzied superficial drama queens. Here’s to hoping!

Trying my 5th hand at Real World stardom!