In Defense of Reality Television


It is hard to flip through the television channels without coming across a reality television show of one kind or another – real housewives battling it out in a major U.S. city, chefs duking it out with their best dish, dance battles, sing offs and more. There is never a shortage of a trashy reality television show, and I love every single minute of it. I love reality television, and I will fiercely defend it.

This genre of television became popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and from the beginning, I was hooked. I didn’t miss an episode of the first season of American Idol and cried tears of joy when Ryan Seacrest announced that Kelly Clarkson won. I watched with anticipation as week-after-week, the contestants of Survivor battled to remain on the island.

These shows claim to be real and unscripted events in the lives of real people, not actors. Reality television has thrust some previously unknown people into the spotlight. If not the MTV series Jersey Shore, it is likely that no one would know of Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi. Side note: The sound of Sammie yelling “Stahp it Rahn” in her distinctly Jersey accent will always be burned onto my brain.

Despite the high ratings – nearly eight million Americans tuned in for The Bachelor season finale – reality television faces pretty harsh criticism. Many people claim that there isn’t much reality in reality tv. There are rumors of spliced clips and timeline sequences that are altered to create controversy or tension.

While some question the reality, others feel that reality tv exploits participants, and it is difficult to dispute this claim. Fear Factor, a competition reality show that ran from 2001 to 2005, had contestants eating bugs and performing extreme stunts to win the $50,000 grand prize. Even feel-good shows like American Idol exploits the less talented people who try out for the show – airing their failure for the world to see. In 2004, William Hung tried out for American Idol singing Ricky Martin’s catchy tune, “She Bangs.” He didn’t make it onto the show, and his off-key audition was highly criticized and mocked.

I experienced first-hand how the producers of these shows manipulate the truth for entertainment. In 2013, A&E premiered a series called The Governor’s Wife, which chronicled the life of the disgraced former governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards and his much younger wife, Trina. At the time, I went to church with Edwin’s youngest daughter Victoria. She and her husband frequently attended church activities with my husband and I. In real life, Victoria was kind, gracious and compassionate, but on the show, she was portrayed so differently. The show made her seem angry, conniving, and vicious. It was hard to rationalize that this was the same person I knew and loved, but it made so much sense. Angry was so much more interesting than someone kind and agreeable. Without the tension, it would be far less appealing.

So, I get it, I understand everyone’s criticisms, but it still doesn’t make me love reality television any less. I am okay with it being scripted, and I understand that there isn’t a lot of reality in reality television. What I love about it is how flawed everyone is. For years on television, I watched the Tanner Family on Full House and envied how perfect their life was. I didn’t understand why my life wasn’t perfect, and why I never got the ideal closure that they seemed to achieve after every episode. Every show I watched growing up featured people facing adversity who managed to fix everything in under half an hour, and even as a young child, I knew that this wasn’t realistic.

Reality television doesn’t give a false impression that everything is going to be okay, because sometimes it just isn’t. In an hour of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, women will celebrate their victories and cry over their defeats, and when the show is over, it isn’t always better – sometimes things are worse. These are real women, facing real issues – parenting, divorce, conflict, work problems, and the struggle of trying to have it all and do it all. On the surface, these women do have everything – big houses, fancy cars, beautiful clothes, yet they still have problems. In a materialistic culture, it is comforting to see that money won’t buy happiness and all the beautiful things in the world won’t make people like you.

Maybe reality television isn’t real, and that is okay. Most people aren’t watching it for stellar role models, and at the very least, we can learn that fame and success is not the path to true happiness.

One reality television show I always wanted to be on was The Amazing Race. If you could go be on a reality show, which one would you choose?

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash