By, Kian Kiasaleh | Arts & Entertainment Editor
June 1, 2016
Deceptive and alluring, reality-based television has held the viewer and participant captive to its irresistible charm for many years. Fans consider it a “guilty pleasure,” and critics a sign of the decline of western civilization. Although contrived situations and skillful editing are hardly an accurate reflection of reality, the phenomenon of constant exposure and quick fame has undoubtedly left an imprint in our culture. For the viewers, the ambiguity of truth – what is real and what is fiction – captivates them in the same way a horror film does with fear of the unknown. Dreamers can embark on the fabricated reality and live vicariously through the Kardashians. Sadists can receive a thrill from witnessing the contestants on Survivor break down under extreme stress and contractual exploitation. With hotel heiresses milking cows and duck hunters finding fame, there exists no limits on the arena of reality television.
The 2000s began with an out pour of reality television shows, starting with the landmark premier of Survivor. Over 125 million viewers tune in to witness sixteen castaways endure both the harsh terrain of the tropical island, and the mind games between one another for a prize of $1 million. Each week, the contestants would undergo challenges in their tribes and subsequently vote off one person who they believed served no use to their survival. However, as the show progressed, it became clear that winning the show had nothing to do with starting fires or gutting pigs, but rather a mastery of manipulation and formation of alliances.
The reality competition format offered a fresh perspective on Darwin’s idea of survival of the fittest: the victor may not be the most skilled, but best knew how to play the game. Psychological experiments in the past have proven that placing a group of relatively like-minded individuals in a controlled situation where they compete for a prize; tensions escalate and some could resort to Machiavellian tactics. To entertainment producers, this translated to high ratings for a low cost. From there, anyone could compete for anything: a record deal in American Idol, a modeling contract in America’s Next Top Model. Some could even compete for love in shows such as The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.
These shows shared the common appeal of rivalry, failure, and triumph among competitors. Additionally, these shows have given few of its contestant’s careers that they might not have
“I can’t get enough of the crazy characters and freak-outs,” noted Senior Brandon Collins. “Some reality TV are almost better than any scripted show.”
Reality TV show has redefined the term celebrity as now anyone can have their shot at fame, offering social mobility to nearly anyone – as long as you make good TV. A seven-year-old and her family secured themselves financially off their hit TV show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a look into obscure and campy world of child pageants in the South. Similarly, a teen mom like Farrah Abraham can capitalize off an otherwise tough situation.
As a true examination of the human condition, Big Brother allowed the viewer to observe how a diverse group of people react towards each other. The clash of differing views and backgrounds, paired with constant surveillance of everyday activity among the housemates, offers viewers a look into an artificial society, where the inhabitants are stripped of any contact to the outside world. Ranging from political incorrectness to abnormal habits, the show affirms to its viewers that “people like that” really do exist.
“I definitely see myself participating on a reality show,” boasted Senior Sterling Tudor, “and I would win because I know how to play the game. I may make some enemies.”
With competition, shows were spawning international editions; reality television had become ingrained in modern culture. Soon enough, even fading celebrities jumped to reality television as a medium to rekindle their fame. Anna Nicole Smith and the Osbourne family opened up the doors to their estates for a camera crew to document their everyday actions, ranging from a working a remote to inebriated phone calls. This voyeuristic view into people’s lives transports the viewer into the world of the show. One can feel like their part of the popular crowd of Laguna Beach (The Real O.C.). The low-quality and unstable footage of the long-running shows such as Cops provides the impression that the viewer is on duty for the arrest, and suddenly something as commonplace as an arrest becomes a fixture in entertainment.
“Even though I am not a fan of the Kardashians, I must admit their show is actually pretty good,” Senior Ryann Wagner admitted, “They’re definitely entertaining.”
Whether taking pleasure out of watching a celebrity train wreck in slow motion or seeing how different people react under unusual circumstances, viewers look to reality television to the answers of many of their curiosities about human nature.