5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

#2. Oprah Makes People Pay for Their Free Cars


Oprah is famous for giving out free stuff to her audience (which is a big switch for older readers, who may remember when she was famous for being fat and losing a bunch of weight). She started small, slinging gift cards and promotional material from her various guests, until she finally decided that all of that nonsense could kiss her billion-dollar ass and gave away 276 brand new cars to members of her studio audience.


This was followed by images of hysterical people crying tears of joy over Oprah's saintly generosity.

Why It's Depressing

Unfortunately, receiving a luxury item as a prize on a television show doesn't exempt you from having to pay the accompanying taxes (see Extreme Makeover, above). Which is the precise situation faced by everyone who has ever been given a car by Oprah Winfrey.

You see, for the purposes of her own tax records, Oprah declared all of her giveaway cars "prizes" instead of gifts. This may seem like a trivial distinction, but as far as the IRS is concerned, anything that's designated a gift is non-taxable, but a prize is basically just like any other income. This is why you never had to pay taxes on that Super Nintendo your grandmother gave you.

"For tax reasons, I can't give you Donkey Kong Country in the continental U.S."

But Grandma wasn't able to deduct the purchase of the Nintendo from her taxes, either, which is why Oprah didn't want to go that route. So, Oprah listed the value of each car at its full MSRP of $28,500, and that money counts as income whether you received it in the form of a car or a paycheck. And like any income, the audience owes taxes on it -- this meant that each lucky audience member who received a car from Oprah had to immediately pay as much as $7,000 out of their own pocket for a car they neither asked for nor were expecting.

This isn't like getting $28,500 cash, where you expect to get less after Uncle Sam takes a bite. This is a car -- you can't just lop off a quarter of it and keep the rest. So if the winners didn't happen to have that kind of cash sitting around, their only options were to either sell the car to pay for the property tax (hooray) or forfeit the car and get nothing (hooray).

Oprah's official comment? "And why should I have paid for them ...?"

"Just because I'm a billionaire and the giveaway generated millions in free publicity?"

She's got a point -- this would be an awfully expensive giveaway if she weren't able to write off the loss ... oh, wait. Oprah never paid a cent for the cars in the first place. They were all donated by the manufacturer.

#1. Storage Wars Capitalizes on People's Misfortune (and Is Probably Staged)

Karim Mansouri/Getty

Storage Wars documents the adventures of a group of uninsurable heart disease risks who buy storage lockers at auction to (hopefully) sell the contents for a tidy profit. These are lockers full of what were once people's prized possessions that have since been abandoned.

They don't find nearly as much feces as you'd think.

The risk/reward aspect of the program has proven to be a huge draw, resulting in two spinoffs and a handful of copycat shows, because evidently the thrill of watching a bunch of slouching millionaires pay hundreds of dollars for garages full of porn and old mattresses is simply too compelling to be confined to a single television series.

Why It's Depressing

If you've ever watched Storage Wars, you may wonder why a person would leave a $6,000 coin collection in a storage unit and then default on the rent. The answer is really sad, no matter how you look at it.

Yes, even if you hold a puppy in front of your face.

You see, originally the show's producers intended to delve into the background of each locker featured on Storage Wars, but unsurprisingly, all the information they uncovered was pure, unmitigated misery. The reason these abandoned treasures are abandoned is that the original owners of the units failed to make their rent payments. This is because they could no longer afford them due to unemployment, homelessness (hence putting all their belongings in a storage locker), divorce, or illness, or because they had freaking died and were therefore no longer able to pay.

But don't worry, because according to former Storage Warrior Dave Hester, the show is all rigged anyway. Hester claims that all of the valuable items found inside the lockers are actually planted there by the show's producers, which would explain how the bidders could inexplicably find something like a Rembrandt stashed in a 6-by-12 unit alongside a box full of GamePro magazines. He also insists that all of the auctions are staged, meaning every "bidding war" you witness on the show is actually entirely scripted.

We should point out that he was totally fine with the deception until being fired from the show after three seasons.

Furthermore, the producers apparently give the "weaker" cast members an allowance, more or less, so they can actually afford to make bids (you know, on the show about people who supposedly bid on storage lockers for a living).

Big deal, so it probably isn't real. It's just entertainment, right? Well, according to this article, people in dire financial straits via debt, unemployment, or a vicious combination of both have been completely taken in by the show's "hidden treasure" aspect and have begun showing up to storage locker auctions ready to bid every penny they have left in the hopes of scoring a valuable haul. If the show is fixed, those (literally) poor bastards have zero chance of finding anything more than some old gas cans and a mummified rat, which you may notice are items that have very little resale value. They've been tragically misled into dumping what little remains of their personal assets into a fictionalized enterprise. They'd have been better off trading their money for magic fucking beans.

So in summation, Storage Wars is either staged and dupes desperate people into financial ruin, or it is real and capitalizes on painful misfortune. Either way, you're watching a bunch of assholes laugh and joke as they make money off of the tattered remains of people's lives.

Karl Smallwood recently wrote a book containing dozens of email exchanges with people who hate him, read about it here. He also has Twitter. Mohammed Shariff's cousin is on a quest to discover the coolest cafes in London.

For more on ridiculous reality television, check out 5 Secrets of Making Reality TV They Don't Want You to Know and 21 Reality Shows We'd Actually Watch.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Works of Propaganda That Prove Dictators Suck at Photoshop.

And stop by LinkSTORM to see what happens when Cody and Brockway sit and compare beards.

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