Things I've Learned From Reality Shows
Well, firstly, I like "reality television" when the reality isn't too contrived. In other words, the less pretending that something happened naturally, when it didn't happen naturally at all, the better. Big Brother is a good example of contrived, and so is Survivor and The Real World. Their dialog is real, and so are their reactions to what's going on, but the rest is from the minds of the writers and what they decide is going to go down. And, for me, the less the show involves jerks or dumb people, who couldn't win a competition requiring real survival skills, or any type of actual talent, or even charm (even if their life depended on it), the better.
I suppose that sounds harsh, but that's how I feel about it. Putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations isn't entertainment to me. If I want to see that, I just look at actual reality all around me.
So, basically, the gist of this article is about how I like learning new things, and how reality television, for all its cons (far outnumbering its pros), has taught me some things.
For example, what I've learned from some reality shows, is what to do and how to be. And at times, just as important as learning what to do or what to be, is learning what not to do or what not to be. And you will definitely learn this from watching a reality television show or two!
And another thing I've learned from watching reality tv is that, no matter what you know or don't know, or what you have or don't have, what you are, or what you are not, remember this lesson...
Lesson #1: Don't Ever Give Up
The number one lesson is that until you're voted off: don't ever, ever, (ever! did I mention ever!?) give up! Even in the case where you've made some huge mistake like serving raw meat, or sewing a garment that shows the model's crotch, or doing a flip and landing on your head (or making someone else land on their head), it's okay, press on, if you fall, just get up for pete's sake! Because it's not over until it's over. And then it's over. Got it?
And while you're not giving up, a real talent in life, in any situation, (except maybe money management) is creativity, which is one thing I have learned to value from watching reality tv (and from reality.) You can win the game sometimes with just a little bit of creativity, not necessarily by what you possess to win the game, but by what you do with what you have. Which brings us to lesson 2.
Lesson #2: Make Do With What You Have
Just like in real life, you don't always get the proper tools, or the right materials, or enough time, or a helpful assistant. It's what you do with what you have that counts. If they give you salmon and figs and 45 minutes to make a spectacular entree, or tell you can only make your competition-winning dress out of items you find in a hardware store, or if you have to try to out-swim your opponents after only eating a small bowl of rice every day for the last three days in a row, while trying to figure out a puzzle, then that, quite simply, is what you do. That is what life is all about. If life gives you lemons, you make the most spectacular lemon meringue pie ever!
And that's lesson #3: Be Prepared
Making do with what you have often includes a little or a lot of preparation.
Contestants on Survivor, if they win a challenge and get a prize, maybe a fishing pole, or a net, or a knife, they now have the edge over the other team to be able to get food, or better food, and then have enough energy from eating a nutritious meal (that the other team didn't get to eat), to maybe have the edge win the next challenge. And, not to mention the emotional boost to their egos, that, with a tool that they won fair and square, they were able to get themselves a satisfying meal. And then, with their spiritis high, and their belly full, on to possibly winning all the challenges that come their way! And there is a parallel in real reality, any advantage gives you an advantage over other people to win more, to get more advantages to win more, and on and on it goes.
Contestants on Hell's Kitchen often mess up a food service by previously winning a team challenge. This happens when they over-indulge in their prize for winning. (Maybe they had a little too much to drink, or ate themselves silly, or played until they were sore, or any combination of those things.) When a team loses a food service (Chef Ramsay decided that the other team performed better), they lose a teammate, and then they are down a man for the next challenge, which may be the beginning of a trend, and the beginning of the end for them. What also happens is that the losing team often has taken the time to prepare for the coming food service, while performing their punishment. And then they go on to win the dinner service. So, the lesson is that, like in life, a punishment isn't always a punishment, and a reward isn't always a reward. It's how you handle it that makes it what it is, and the key to that is preparation.
The common denominator of the Survivor-type shows, and many reality shows, is that there is some kind of competition, and people can get voted out of the game, and then they don't get their prize, and therefore no more time in the limelight, (unless they go on to other shows or commercials.) The other common denominator is that they have competitions within the competitions. And finally, the other trait they share is that if what's going on isn't all that interesting, the producers of the show shake it up by adding something, or changing something, or taking something (or someone) away, if they have the power to do so.
Sometimes no amount of preparation can help a situation, but it never hurts.
On the first season of The Colony, the producers decided that it would seem more real and less like an experiment if, while they were out scouting for supplies, they removed "The Doctor" out of the experiment. At some point they had to stop looking and get back to the warehouse where that they had made their homebase.
And that brings me to the next lesson...
Lesson 4: People and Things Go Away
Assess your situation, because in reality, like reality television, at some point in any life, something or someone you really need will go away, and what else can you do but adjust? You'll find out, eventually, hopefully, that all you really need is yourself, and a little bit of ingenuity to make it in this world.
Give me a show where someone, having lost someone or something that they thought they could not do without, not only gets by, but perhaps even after their loss wins the competition anyway, with flying colors, any day of the week, over the show where someone cries the whole episode over what they lost.
I also like shows that feature professional people while they go about their jobs (or sometimes hobbies) like The First 48, or Dr. G: Medical Examiner. I also enjoy shows where the camera follows people who are involved in some kind of experiment, documentary style, like The Colony, or Lockdown, or Intervention, or Jail. Other shows with such a format are Hardcore Pawn, Pawn Stars, Dirty Jobs, Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, and Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, An Idiot Abroad, Stuck with Hackett, 30 Days, Paranormal State, Survivor Man, Dual Survivor, Master Chef and Family Plots. (I'm mixing current shows with one long cancelled.)
But even interesting, smart, talented professionals make mistakes sometimes. And sometimes big mistakes. Which brings us to our next lesson.
Lesson Number 5: Admit Your Mistakes
Trying to explain why you did something you did that was wrong... dropping the chicken on the floor and serving it anyway, lifting your dancing partner not quit high enough which made them fall, not having bought enough fabric for your design, or your wow factor isn't as wow-y as the other guys... whatever happened, no matter how convincing your argument... you were rushed, you were nervous, you slipped, it was the other guy's fault... just makes you look even more like a screw up if you don't put the blame squarely on your shoulders. If you were the one in charge, it was your mistake. Just own up to the mistake and say you know you can do better next time, and that it won't ever happen again. That's all any reasonable person can ask of you... nobody's perfect.
Keeping that in mind, that's lesson Number 6...
Lesson Number 6: Even If You Lose, You're Still a Winner
You know the phrase, "It was an honor just being nominated." It's true. Even just getting picked to be put on a television show over hundreds or thousands of other people who weren't chosen is quite an honor. Or at least lucky. We're lucky everyday, but we don't always see it. And just because you didn't win, doesn't mean you're a loser.
For example, you have Adam Lambert on American Idol, who lost to Kris Allen (who?). And then there's Ruben Studdard, who won over Clay Aiken. Compare the two careers. Aiken's career has been much more successful than Studdard's. Jennifer Hudson finished in seventh place! (Fantasia won that season). Chris Daughtry, only made it to the top 4, and was beaten by Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, and Elliott Yamin. And on and on it goes. (I had to look it all up because I never got into American Idol.) My point is, and I do have one, is that those who won haven't always fared better than those who lost.
But, let's talk, specifically, about Colby Donaldson. It is my opinion that he is the biggest hero of all the reality shows. And maybe that's why Survivor was all over for me after the second season, nothing can compare to that. He made it all the way to runner up. People also know him from the Schick commercials, and also from appearing in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Reba, Just Shoot Me!, 8 Simple Rules, and Bones. Donaldson also appeared as one of Rachael's buddies on The Rachael Ray Show from 2006 to 2009. And, Donaldson had a minor role in Wes Craven's 2005 film Red Eye, and as the host of Top Shot.
His decision to take a contestant that was well-liked to the final two, instead of the the contestant everyone disliked, was listed in an online poll as one of the "dumbest moves in Survivor history". But he stayed true to his word. He had promised, and he kept his promise. Some would say that that was a colossally stupid mistake that cost him a million dollars. But, unless you're a huge Survivor fan, do you know the name of the person who won that season? You probably don't, and yet Colby is still famous and still on television, and movies. And isn't hurting for money, either. And he didn't have to lose his honor or integrity. Which I think is worth more than all the money in the world. So, what did he actually lose, really?
Finally, we come to three more lessons which I have learned from watching reality television.
Lesson Number 7: Stay In Shape, or Get in Shape
If you're not in shape, even if the competition (of life) doesn't really involve anything all that physically challenging, just the stress of it all might make you have to bow out of the competition. Have that edge over the other guy. Get, or stay in shape.
Lesson Number 8: There's More Out There Then We Can Explain
If you've watched any supernatural or paranormal reality shows, then you can see that this is true. Don't close off your mind to all possibilities, even if we don't, now or anytime soon, know the explanation. And that's okay.
Lesson Number 9: Reality Shows = Democracy
Shows like we watch in the western world are hardly tolerated in other parts of the world. Anything resembling reality television usually gets booted off the air. That is, in certain traditional countries, if it ever made it to television in the first place. Sometimes reality shows let people vote on the winner. In certain places in the world, they are not friendly to letting people vote, on anything. And if they let them vote on the winner of a show, then what's next? Voting on their leader? I don't think so. Those places would rather not let people get a taste for that kind of democracy. Also, reality TV sometimes features men and women co-habitating. And that's why some Arab countries call us "The Great Satan", because there, it's a big no no. Here, it's not a big deal, and we'll do it even just for entertainment purposes.
So, if you're watching reality TV, take a look around, and be thankful, because you must be living in a free country. Which is good, right?