4 Classic Reality Shows With Dark Sides
When it comes to reality TV shows, it sure looks like they try to leave every pinch of human desperation on the screen for us to enjoy. But behind the scenes of many such shows, this hornily ruthless format can cause such sad and depressing aftershocks you'd almost feel bad for the reality TV stars.
All The Jackass Guys Became Full-On Addicts
Jackass, the show by and for your older cousin who had a store brand katana and German porn mags under his bed, was a rollercoaster demonstration in personal destruction. The boys of Jackass went hard, risking life, limb, and often scrotum in the pursuit of the most dangerous of stunts.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, and their band of merrily-getting-dickpunched men affected a lifestyle as wild and self-harmful as their pranks. This started by partying hard every day of the week. It makes sense that someone who knows they're scheduled to get trampled by buffalos would need some liquid courage to get through the working day, and that's exactly what the Jackass crew did. As Steve-O later recalled: "We have never really hung out without a reason except to get loaded" -- or hunt each other for sport.
But if booze was the painkiller of choice before the stunts, the painkillers of choice afterward were, well, painkillers. And cocaine. Lots and lots of cocaine. With an injury rate higher than at a Stormtrooper shooting range ('Danger' Ehren McGhehey recalls having needed "25 surgeries including nine knee surgeries and three broken backs"), the Jackass crew was constantly going in and out of the hospital. This gave them a steady supply of prescription-grade painkillers and a taste for class-A drugs, which they would snort with the same eagerness as they would French kiss a lobster's pincer.
In no time, every bad influence on the Jackass set was permanently under the influence. Again, not at all surprising if you were counting down the hours until it was your turn to get tased in the balls again. Sadly, their drug abuse quickly became far more life-threatening than any of their insane stunts. Before becoming sober after a stint in a mental hospital, Steve-O recalls snorting a bunch of coke that was tainted with HIV-positive blood. Bam Margera has never to get his life back on track, suffering from substance abuse issues to this day. Saddest of all, in 2011, CKY member Ryan Dunn got himself, and his passenger killed when driving with a blood-alcohol level high enough to get any vampire shitfaced.
Not that, in true Jackass fashion, some of the members haven't made death-defying recoveries. Steve-O has been clean-o for over a decade, while Brandon Novak has been heroin-free since 2015, proclaiming that he has never been happier. Some of that is being off drugs, the rest probably because he no longer has to get his butthole impaled by a raging bull.
Poop And Poverty Plagued Flavor Flav's Flavor Of Love
Flavor Flav, clock wearing hype man and little right hand to Chuck D, is to some the face of true hip-hop. So it was only a matter of time before the nineties icon got his own string of reality TV shows, culminating in the landmark program Flavor of Love, a dating show which tried to emulate the glamor and bling (this is a 2006 show so that word is still in play) of rap royalty.
But Flavor of Love definitely wasn't a show fit for a king -- except maybe for one of those weird Dutch ones with a suspicious amount of glass coffee tables in their bedroom. The producers had gone out of their way to gather a veritable clown car of the poorest, shoutiest, most mentally unstable group of club girls outside of a Ramada economy double. They openly admitted later that all they wanted were "loud," "hungry" women who "were interested in getting involved with someone like [Flav], whether it was because he was an artist, a legend, a millionaire — whichever it was."
This caused the "romance" aspect of Flavor of Love to evaporate quickly, replaced by quite explicit gold-digging, slur matches, and actual fistfights. So while the show tried on the outside to look as opulent and decadent as possible, on the inside, trouble was brewing. No, literally, someone shat themselves.
The nadir of the show happened in the second season when, during an elimination, a girl called Somethin' pooped in the middle of the show's Bel-Air villa. And it's hard to figure out what was the most shocking part of that: that the producers still aired the scene of an unwell drunk woman defecating on TV or, despite her accident, that the crapping contestant wasn't voted off that episode. Somethin' (and I hope we're doing her a favor by not referring to her by her real name) was allowed to continue for two more episodes before Flav voted her off for entirely non-human waste-related reasons.
And perhaps we should extend the same patience and kindness to Flav as he showed his shit-stained suitor. Because while a lot of the women in Flavor of Love were clearly interested in his money, they didn't realize that Flav was as broke as the rest of them -- nobody on Flavor of Love wanted to be there. In between his work with Public Enemy and his reality TV show career, Flav lost all of his money. To pay off his drug habit, fines, and ridiculous amount of child support, Flav had to make ends meet by scalping baseball tickets on the streets in front of Yankee Stadium. And while he was drowning in debt, it was only VH1 that threw him a yeah buoy. So let's not judge Flav or the women too harshly for dining out on A Flavor of Love. We all need to take shit jobs sometimes.
A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila Was A Shot In The Arm For A Neo-Nazi
Like the canary in a shitpost mine, Tila Tequila was the earliest warning that social media was a mistake. But the first MySpace celebrity did not just warn us of things to come; Tequila provided a blueprint for every unhinged social media celeb to follow, from the early days of random attention-grabbing to the inevitable decline into Neo-Nazism.
Born Nguyen Thi Thien Thanh before renaming herself to something you'd expect to find on the bottom shelf of a New Mexico liquor store, Tila Tequila is veritably ancient in online celeb years. So old, in fact, that her fame still took the form of another ancient vehicle: the celebrity dating show. A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila was a reality dating competition with a surprisingly progressive twist: leaning heavily on Tequila's self-professed bisexuality, both straight men and lesbian women (this was still a very 2007 interpretation of bisexuality) could vie for the party girl's hand.
But the mistake the MTV producers made in trying to exploit early 2000's open-mindedness was that Tequila's mind was neither open nor all there to begin with. That she later revealed that her bisexuality was a marketing stunt was somehow not even the worst of it. During and right after A Shot At Love, Tequila began openly sharing her obsession with the Jewish people: first weirdly positive, then predictably negative. By the time her reality show money had completely dried up, the increasingly irrelevant celeb showed her true desperation when, in 2013, she turned up at Auschwitz with a Nazi armband and a new name: Hitilla.
Anyone remotely online today can recognize a very familiar decline: from faded daytime TV personality to anti-PC shock pundit to, you guessed it, actual white supremacist. By 2016, the Singapore-born Vietnamese immigrant had fully transformed into that living waifu pillow the alt-right boys had always dreamed about, showing up at alt-right conventions and posting videos of her giving the Nazi salute. Now returned to her social media roots, Tequila mostly concerns herself with blog posts like "Why I sympathize with Hitler" and series of very poorly spelled (like a jubilant "seig heil") pro-Nazi tweets in a desperate attempt to stay relevant -- likely longing for the days, like all of us, when openly being bisexual instead of an anti-semite was outrageous enough to remain in the spotlight.
Behind The Scenes, Cops Were In Control Of Cops
No discussion of trashy reality TV is complete without mentioning Cops. Since its cancellation in 2020, the televised ride along remains the longest-running American show of all time, coming in at 32 seasons, 1,103 episodes, and thousands of exposed buttcracks on the pavement.
Except that Cops was never really a reality TV show. A better term for it would be state propaganda. With its shaky-cam images and sparse editing, it was easy for audiences to think that they were watching a really repetitive documentary when watching Cops. When it first hit screens, even The New York Times described it as showing "The Real Thing." But behind the scenes, the subjects were running the show. Across its many seasons, Cops producers have always given the police departments the final cut of their episodes, every drug bust and busted head shown first okayed by the very people whose bodycams keep switching off accidentally.
This soon gave Cops the reputation of handing out free PR for PDs -- of which they made ample use. The year after the Rodney King beatings, the LAPD invited Cops to come shoot with them, safe in the knowledge that it would rehabilitate their image. The same went for Omaha, Nebraska, and Salinas, California, where Cops filmed right after their respective departments were protested for excessive violence.
But getting to cherry-pick footage as often as they would pick up women named Cherry didn't just give the police a PR boost and a "helpful recruitment tool." It also allowed them and the show to gaslight the American populace on the state of crime in America. In the fake world created by Cops, there are three times as many drug arrests, four times as many violent crimes arrests, and 10 times as many sex work arrests compared with the "real thing." The show would also systematically give top billing to crimes perpetrated by minorities, with 71% of white arrests tucked away at the end of the episode -- when your Fox News watching grandpa had already fallen asleep on the remote.
Cops and similar shows have always defended these practices by claiming that their cameras create more cop accountability. But if anything, they lessen it. Without comment or critique, Cops often showed police officers being violent, racist, and downright criminal, all while getting away with it scot-free. (In that regard, it's actually a pretty good documentary of American law enforcement). Not to mention the times when the Cops' crews themselves engaged in highly questionable acts, such as having their cop buddies intimidate people into giving their consent to be on the show.
What Cops created was not a low-budget piece of reality entertainment, but a state-approved propaganda machine for law enforcement, one where scary crime remains rampant, minorities terrorize the streets, and the only people who can stop them are a bunch of Dirty Harrys who know when to bend the rules to keep precious suburbanites safe. It was only due to the change in the wind brought about by BLM and other activism that the show is now finally gone from our screens for good. But the damage has already been done. Cops has irrevocably warped the way the average American looks at both crime and law enforcement. And in the words of its opening theme: "whatcha gonna do?"
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Top Image: Paramount, 20th Television