These days a reality TV show exists for just about every scenario: wilderness survival, gold mining, weight loss, preparing for doomsday, hoarding, drug addiction, marriage, polygamy, dating, home decorating, cooking, modeling, celebrity shenanigans, real estate. Some are little more than game shows, while some offer a “real life” peek behind closed doors. Others fall into the middle of the range.
I watch a few of them, and will concede the following:
a) Cameras do affect people’s behavior, both negatively and positively and b) Casting is self-selecting. It takes a certain personality type to be willing to expose oneself on national television, and producers select people who will create drama.
So “real” is not pure and unadulterated.
That said, I see a social science experiment aspect to reality shows that fascinates me. Take a group of strangers (or friends), put then in a controlled environment (in a house, on an island, in the wilderness, in a specific town) and introduce a variable (a stressor) and observe the reaction/response.
For instance, in the short-lived reality TV show, Lost, (not to be confused with an ABC drama in which a plane crash landed on an island) three teams of two were dropped in the middle of nowhere (Mongolia, actually) and had to find their way to New York City. They had no idea where they were. One team mastered the challenge. Another team handled it but with some difficulty. The third team had a meltdown and ended up calling the producers to rescue them (they had a special cell phone for that purpose).
Same circumstances, but different people with different reactions.
I have watched many reality TV shows since Survivor debuted in May 2000 and changed the nature of television by using ”real” people instead of actors (although traditional game shows have always done that). These are my observations:
- Mental stamina matters more than physical strength. The proper attitude makes or breaks a person. Example: Naked and Afraid, a Discovery channel show in which two strangers (male and female) are deposited naked and without food or tools in the wilderness. They have a certain number of days to get the pickup location to be rescued. All participants have some sort of survival background. But time and again, the person who may be weaker physically (okay, I’ll name it: the woman) triumphs when the stronger, brawnier partner (the man) caves to stress.
- Women do not hunt. Our caveperson programming in which males hunt and females gather remains true to this day. Now, I personally know women who have killed animals for sport and/or food. And many a farm wife has run down a chicken and wrung its neck. But: in the wilderness when there are men around, the women don’t even attempt to hunt (or fish, for that matter). The women will build shelters, gather firewood, excel in physical challenges, but they leave it to the men to hunt. Why is this?
- Women do not form teams with other women. In 28 seasons of Survivor over 14 years, only twice have women banded together to vote out the men whereas the men always readily and immediately target the women for elimination. What happened to feminism? Woman power? Why is it at parties that men and women automatically segregate by sex, yet on an island with a million dollars at stake, the women sell out their gender faster than you can say, “the tribe has spoken?”
- Some people are natural leaders. They can be “good” or “bad” individuals, but others willingly, almost blindly follow them. These leaders seem to be coated with Teflon. When they make bad decisions or if their motives are less than honorable, the “ick” doesn’t stick. People continue to support them.
I personally tend to favor the survival type shows and the relationship-oriented ones. I could argue that the latter amounts to “research” since I write romance, but I doubt anyone would buy it.
My current list of recent or current faves include: Survivor (Survival); Amazing Race (travel); Real Housewives (of various cities); My Five Wives (polygamy); Sister Wives (polygamy); Naked and Afraid (survival); Dude, You’re Screwed (survival); Millionaire Matchmaker (dating), Flipping Out (home decorating), and Million Dollar Listing New York/Los Angeles (real estate). It’s a wonder I have time to write, huh? I don’t watch The Bachelor—I have to have some standards.
What shows do you watch? What observations or conclusions have you drawn as a result?