By: Leslie Hamilton, Features Editor
You know how people say something is like watching a car accident, “it hurts to look, but you cannot look away,” that is exactly how I regard reality television. I grew up on a steady diet of trashy, VH1 dating shows, I am above the Bachelor, the Bachelorette, and Keeping up with the Kardashian. If I am going to watch reality television, I want it to be so bad that it is almost good or a really intense, time-sensitive competition that requires some specialized skill. I want to not be able to look away and even go as far as getting stressed out from empathizing with a competitor. There is no doubt that I am not alone in seeking out reality television that satisfies a similar criteria, mostly stemming from an immodest and vain need to feel better your current existence in watching someone else’s life struggles or – what I assume to be – the desire to relate or connect with others. I cannot speak for everyone, but I personally tune in for my own fiendish enjoyment and particularly, to have a false sense of authority on cooking. Perhaps my criteria thus predisposes me from losing sleep just to squeeze in one more episode and in a way, I am responsible for my own addiction. Anyway, while I might not have any authority on cooking, having set an oven and electric grill on fire several times now, I feel as though I do have a real authority on reality television. It may be a very vain self-declaration, but I assure you that it is well supported, to which I intend to prove in the coming paragraph(s).
If I am going to spend my precious down time watching bad television, I want to spend my time wisely, I want to have some satisfaction or gratification in letting my brain cells wither away. Like I said before, my soft spot is reality television that is so bad, it is good at the same time, hence my loyalty to VH1 and the pre-2010 reality television series they produced. The main attraction to this particular era of VH1 reality television is part disgust and part fascination in trying to understand their behavior. My personal favorites were Flavor of Love, I Love New York, Daisy of Love, Rock of Love with Bret Michaels, Strange Love, Real Chance of Love, Charm School, New York Goes to Work, The Surreal Life, Hogan Knows Best, and New York Goes to Hollywood. In all honesty, I probably should not have been watching most of it them at the time of their production, but my parents never stopped me. The appeal of these reality television shows was the perceived authenticity of it. Many ex-reality television stars, specifically from MTV and ABC, talk about how the producers and directors would stage a lot of the fights, whether it was through manipulation or forcing the characters to act out the dispute in order to get off camera. While this surely happened at VH1 as well, it appeared more authentic.
In contrast to my love for trashy reality television, there is the more mature side of me that seeks learn from a competition-based show that requires a particular set of skills and criticize contestants like I know what I am talking about. This seems to be a very common thing to happen in cooking competitions. While others chose, shows like Top Chef or Hell’s Kitchen, I have a preference towards Chopped Junior and The Great British Baking Show. There is something about watching kids under the age of 12 getting anxious and stressed out, making mistakes, and being catty off camera that is so enjoyable for me. Granted, they are cooking dishes beyond my skill level so I have no place to make fun from the comfort of my home, but it never stops me from putting in my two cents. When making fun of children grows tiring, The Great British Baking Show is never one to disappoint. In contrast to many cooking competitions in the United States, there is no reward when a contestant wins and they have no professional experience, they are all hobby bakers. The rules of the reality show are also vastly different than those that you would typically see in the States. The pure nature and contestant interaction is also considerably different, contestants will help each other out even when the competition is tight. The comradery is quite refreshing and the interaction between the hosts, judges and contestants is always cheeky. Unfortunately, another network bought the show from BBC causing the hosts and one of the judges to leave – there is doubt if the show will still be same. Another reality series that I enjoy acting like an authority of and criticize contestants is Naked and Afraid. I am especially critical when they start to sanitize water. If you have not seen any of these shows, I highly recommend them.
While the series presented above fit into my desired criteria in some way or another, there are a few others that do not fit perfectly into my description. MTV’s True Life series, “True Life: I am an albino” is my all time favorite episode, and TLC’s My Strange Addiction are two that do not quite fit my criteria, but still are noteworthy. In the end, if you are going to waste your time in front of a TV, give some of these reality television series a chance.