The 6 Lowest Of The Many Low Points In Reality Show History
You might be shocked to read this, but reality shows are rarely produced by honest, altruistic heroes using art to make the world a better place. In fact, a lot of unscripted television is made by people you might describe as scumbags. If that seems harsh, consider ...
Dance Moms Lets Things With Kids Get Weirdly Sexual
You're trapped in a room with an emotionally unbalanced woman as she screams for young girls to dance while their horrible wealthy mothers complain. It sounds like a Hell designed for souls who died taking a cliff selfie, but it's actually a fair way to describe Dance Moms. It combines all the creepiness of watching children thrust their pelvises with rich people insulting each other. It's trashy in every way it can be, and you're now a worse person for reading about it. Sorry!
The show focuses mainly on a troupe of young dancers who compete with other young dancers in a pointless war waging beneath the surface of civilized society. They're lead by Abby Lee Miller, the owner of a dance school and possible supervillain. She throws chairs at children. Also, she's in a constant state of enraged disappointment when grade-schoolers can't memorize intricate choreography or navigate the complex political landscapes of preteen dance rankings.
"I'm OK with all that as long as I get to be on TV."
Obviously, no good would ever come of this show. But in one episode early in the run, Miller went further than anyone could have imagined. She decided to choreograph a Vegas-style showgirl routine for the girls. She looked at their precious faces (ages 8-13), and had the thought: What if they were, like, topless go-go dancers? There was no second thought.
The episode was called, we swear to god and you can check the IMDb link, "Topless Showgirls." Miller explained to the poor children and their terrible mothers that their skimpy nude-colored costumes would only imply nudity. It would, through a very small technicality, not be child pornography. However, the girls would dance with large, pink feathers over their chests to imply nudity to the viewers. Everyone would think they're real baby strippers hiding their nipples in a coy, titillating way! Isn't that cute?
"Wait, why are you arresting me!?"
The craziest part was that Lifetime, the channel on which Dance Moms airs, was totally fine with showing children strip on TV. It wasn't until every non-pervert viewer complained that they pulled the episode from rotation. But good news, perverts and sexually advanced 11-year-olds: Lifetime still shows all the other episodes featuring the same amount of bitchiness and just barely less child porn.
Punk'd's Precursor Was So Bad That A Couple Sued And The Show Never Aired
Long before Ashton Kutcher made us hate him as an actor, he made us hate him as an obnoxious TV host. In the years between MTV sometimes showing music videos and MTV giving up music entirely to air shows about pregnant teenagers and lonely drunks, it had a massively successful show called Punk'd. It was exactly like all the other hidden camera prank shows in which unwitting participants were humiliated, except this one targeted celebrities. Does the idea of ruining someone's day not interest you? What if we told you that someone was TV's Wilmer Valderrama!?
"Go Fez yourself!"
Still no? That sounds like the worst show ever? Well, it could have been worse.
Before Punk'd, Kutcher and MTV developed a similar show called Harassment. It was the same idea, only with ordinary people instead of celebrities. Unfortunately, instead of harmless goofs, blunders, and bloopers, Harassment focused on emotionally scarring its victims.
In April 2002, Harassment decided to prank a vacationing couple. Here's the gag: They would walk into their Las Vegas hotel room and discover, get this, a dead human body on their bed! Covered in blood! To add to the fun, the hotel security guards were informed to not let the couple leave the room. Not only were they spending their vacation with a corpse, they were now the lead suspects! In a murder! Ha ha ha!!!
The only things really dead were brain cells.
That's when Kutcher, star of That '70s Show, popped in to let them know it was all a fun, harmless prank. Hilarious, right? Well, according to the couple, it wasn't. They filed a $20 million lawsuit against Kutcher, MTV, and the hotel for "wanton, malicious, and oppressive" behavior. Lawyers argued there was nothing to sue, since the show never aired, but the other lawyers argued that yes there was -- MTV just changed the show's name to "Punk'd" and added Wilmer Valderrama. Then, as suddenly as Ashton Kutcher appears in a hotel room to tell you a dead body is fake, Punk'd was cancelled.
They claimed the cancellation was not a slimy way to dodge legal repercussions, but it seems suspicious to abandon a successful TV show that prints money every time you sneak up on Wilmer Valderrama and hit him with a fish. All we can be sure of is that surprising people with a dead body continues its winning streak in the Dumbest Goddamn Idea Championships.
NBC Aired Game Show In Which Low-Income Women Begged In Front Of A Live Studio Audience
The 1940s and '50s were the Golden Age of television. Well-off families lived in white homes with white picket fences solving white problems with wisdom and martinis. But real life wasn't exactly like that. Like today, a lot of people had it rough. And like today, there were people there to exploit it.
In 1945, NBC debuted a radio show that would get adapted for TV called Queen For A Day. The premise sounds sweet: Four or five women would get interviewed by a host who asked them about a dream they wished could come true. If it's the best wish, the show granted it! A new car? Done! A dishwasher? Sure, yay! Something symbolizing your pain and struggle in a tragic way? Oh my god, YES PLEASE.
"Women's right to choose? Ha ha, you got about 20 more years, sweetie."
For instance, one woman went on and wished for a housekeeper for two weeks. Sounds nice, right? After all, every pretty dame deserves a break sometimes! Well, it wasn't so she could drive up to Napa and gossip with her girlfriends. She had seven kids, a truck-driving husband, and an ailment that required surgery. So in order for her and her family to not die, she had to go on TV and beg a smarmy game show host for help. It was an entire hour of sad women struggling to smile while they begged for lifelines right after a few bored housewives asked for Caribbean vacations.
In this single episode, a miserable woman asks for bunk beds for her four children because three of them are currently sharing a bed while the youngest sleeps in a folding crib that keeps collapsing in the night. Another lady wants a hospital gurney for her polio-riddled son so he can see the outside world for a bit. A third woman wants to go to trade school so she can get a job. Why? Because her husband is dead. Again, this all takes place in one episode.
After the jobless widow leaves, a pregnant woman asks for food. Not to eat, but to sell in her family grocery store, which they can't afford to restock. And finally, a woman comes out who has a child too sick to go to school. She wants a set of encyclopedias so he can still get an education. It's an endless barrage of tragic problems being patched with terrifyingly short-term solutions. At the end of the show, the audience votes for the winner based on applause, and that winner becomes the "Queen for a Day." Not only is their wish granted, but they get other prizes from sponsors, like appliances, furniture, gift certificates, and jewelry. So the next time your family has no food to eat, at least you'll have stylish earrings!
Oh, right. What about the non-winners? Remember those other women who went on national TV and begged for a meager handout to entertain viewers, only to find out their wish wasn't good enough? They get cheap consolation prizes, which aren't quite nothing, but they are nothing-adjacent. Sorry your kids have nowhere to sleep, lady, but at least they can stay up all night playing the home version of Queen For A Day!
HOW TO PLAY QUEEN FOR A DAY, THE HOME VERSION!
Begin by having Player One ask Player Two for a low-to-medium-cost item only a sad person would want. Food stamps? Tuberculosis medicine? Professional kidnapping negotiator? Player One should now cheerfully add a grim detail about their personal life. For example, "My entire family died this morning" or "My rotten foot has nearly fallen off!" The game ends when Player Two says "No! Fuck you!"
For ages six and up.
A Reality Show Forces A Woman To Do A Dangerous Stunt -- It Goes Badly
A newer trend in reality shows is filming people who live odd or outrageous lives under the guise of "education." One of these shows, Life Below Zero, is on the National Geographic channel and documents people who live in rural Alaska, one of the hillbilliest locations in all of America.
One of the cast members is a woman named Susan Aikens, who lives in Alaska's remote northern wilderness, 500 miles from the nearest city. She led a rather ordinary life, which did not sit well with the show's producer, Aaron Mellman. In order to enhance "reality," he would make her do things she'd never normally do. This frustrated her, but she kept doing them. It's likely she didn't move 500 miles into the woods to refine her negotiation skills.
And producing Life Below Zero demands zero ethics.
Their drama came to a boiling point in February 2015, when Mellman wanted to film an episode of Aikens camping. According to a lawsuit Aikens filed later, they told her to go to a camping site further down the river from her usual spot and to take a snowmobile instead of her safer ATV. They demanded she drive the thing over an overflow (ice covered by water) at high speeds. She insisted that was dangerously crazy. The producer reminded her that she literally sold her life to TV, and if TV wanted her to slide to her death on a snowmobile, then shut up and hit the gas. And also, lose the helmet. The viewers can't see your face in that bare minimum of safety equipment.
"Also, do you think you could turn to the camera and say, 'Drrrr, what's a hal-mutt.'"
As you might have expected, it did not go well. Aikens ate shit, in fact. She broke multiple bones, and was exposed to brutally freezing temperatures when the crew tried to pull her clothes off to access her injuries. To make matters worse, they didn't call for help because they wanted to get a shot of her walking it off. When they finally did call for a rescue plane, they asked it to land at a far distance to film a more dramatic journey. These assholes almost killed a woman for a single episode of a show you probably haven't even heard of.
Aikens is now suing, claiming that literally everything that happened was the producer's fault and she has lasting, painful injuries. And before you accuse her of being a greedy little baby like those people who think they deserve $20 million of Ashton Kutcher's money for seeing a fake dead body, know that Susan Aikens is a legitimate badass. She once fought a grizzly bear and won. Unfortunately, a lifetime of surviving in the wilderness was no match for the lunacy of Hollywood's reality TV machine.
Rehab Shows Care More About Drama Than Helping People
While often depressing, violent, and heartbreaking, rehab shows can have a positive benefit. They help show how devastating addiction can be to victims and their families. They might even give a viewer some basic tools on dealing with it. But those people ON the shows? They're fucked. Because TV shows need to be entertaining, and producers will always pick drama over someone's well-being.
For instance, there's the A&E show Intervention, which follows alcoholics and drug addicts around for a few days before filming an intervention staged by their friends and family. It's as soul-crushing as it sounds. To make matters worse, the crew treats these troubled sacks of human misery like they're wild cheetahs. They let them do anything, even if it's obviously dangerous or illegal. At least twice they stood by and watched while their subjects drove drunk. Are you telling us the camera guy couldn't get them a cab? People could have died. At a certain point, you're no longer a documentarian so much as you are an asshole.
"Can we get that shot of you throwing your life away one more time? The lighting was off."
When people became upset at this, a lawyer for the network said, "The law in the United States doesn't require you to step in and save people ... and it doesn't require you to stop a crime that's in the works." It means they can legally film the subjects stealing, selling drugs, even doing drugs in front of their kids, and Uncle Sam can't do shit about it. The movie Running Man was supposed to be set in a dystopian future wherein prisoners were murdered for ratings, but that seems downright respectful to human life and decency compared to Intervention.
Then there's VH1's Celebrity Rehab, in which Z-list celebrities try to kick their addictions at the Pasadena Recovery Center. Former teen idol Leif Garrett agreed to be on the show and tried to get clean himself before shooting began. He was four days sober when the producers asked for footage of him using, presumably to show how miserable he was before the miracle of reality TV. He initially refused, but later agreed. VH1 somehow managed to convince a drug addict to do drugs. Kudos to them!
"What if I just pretend to do them?"
"What if we just pretend we didn't hear that?"
Another cast member, Grease's Jeff Conaway, said he was always aware he was being filmed and would sometimes act up and be more dramatic for the cameras. He also said he couldn't wait to leave the show and do more drugs. He was not a well man. But instead of convincing him to quit, they simply asked him to shut up about it and let the viewers think he was done with drugs. It was a terrible, irresponsible plan, and the worst thing happened: He died a few years later. No one's saying VH1 is responsible for keeping drug addicts alive, but for fuck's sake, they should at least be able to say "We tried our best" at their funerals.
A British Reality Show Drops People Into The Wilderness For A Year, Doesn't Tell Them The Show Is Canceled
A little over one year ago, a British TV channel decided to do the most original thing on Earth and throw a bunch of strangers into the remote wilderness and film their descent into desperation (both for food and for attention). The show, Eden, called itself a "social experiment," because it involved more than filming them for a few weeks. It abandoned 23 people in the Scottish Highlands for an entire year. Oh, and then they abandoned them.
The producers started releasing episodes while the "social experiment" was still going on. Filming started on March 2016 and the first episode aired in July. The public responded with resounding boredom. By the time the fourth episode aired, only about only about 800,000 people were still watching. And it wasn't much more fun for the participants, 13 of whom decided to quit. Disinterest caused the show to be cancelled and soon forgotten. Unfortunately, this included forgetting to tell the contestants.
"Didn't you get the email?"
The 10 remaining contestants slept in sheep shit, having no idea it was all for nothing, for the entire 12 months. They finally emerged in March of this year to an entirely new world. They had no idea Brexit or President Trump happened. And to them, the phrase "Taco Bell Naked Chicken Chalupa" meant nothing but vaguely delicious-sounding gibberish.
Expecting a warm welcome from their TV fans, they instead found out they wasted a year of their lives wallowing in thirst, hunger, and petty drama. The show's official Twitter account hilariously died off, forgetting to promote the people starving in the woods to even its loyal 2,200 followers. The producers have since said they plan on airing the rest of the episodes sometime this year, presumably for people interested in watching the train wreck of a show for more train wreck-y reasons.
Alyssa Feller shares her life on Twitter, so why not follow her?
For more evidence that reality TV is absolute garbage, check out 17 Depressing Things Popular Reality Shows Don't Tell You and 14 Dark Realities That Reality TV Shows Don't Show You.
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