Ways Reality TV Can Go So, So Wrong
On paper, reality TV should be pretty easy. You put people in a swamp, and bang, you got Swamp People. You find an American with a talent for playing a kazoo with their butthole, and bang, you got America's Got Talent. But every job is harder than it looks. So let's take a moment to appreciate the craft of good reality TV by looking at all of the ways it can go embarrassingly wrong.
Food Network Cake Shows Are Unintentional Disasters
As many of you know, I have a psychologically crippling obsession with the Food Network. I can watch it for about 18 hours straight, regardless of what's on. Unless it's Beat Bobby Flay, because no one ever physically beats Bobby Flay, and I feel that is false advertising.
But one thing I have noticed is that the Food Network has a strange penchant for putting on shows like Cake Wars or Food Network Challenge or Holiday Baking Challenge, in which people who we are assured from the opening credits are professional bakers are tasked with baking a theme cake ... which often ends up looking like something birthed from the anus of a fondant demon. Here's a screen grab that sums up the Food Network Challenge Pokemon episode:
Now, I'll be the first to say I'm no professional decorator of cakes. If you give me a piping bag and ask me to write "Happy birthday" on your cake, you're probably just going to get sugar-laden projectile vomit shrapnel, and maybe a random curse word. That said, I've never gone on TV claiming that I could do any better than that. I'm sure the stress of being under a time limit is limiting, but when the result looks like black market Pokemon knockoffs that were recovered from a warehouse fire, perhaps you're in the wrong competition.
Steven Seagal: Lawman Was More Tragic Than Campy
It's hard to know where to begin with a show like Steven Seagal: Lawman. It was clearly intended to be wacky at the premise level, only the star wasn't in on the joke. (Though I suppose that could have just made it funnier.) The idea was that they'd follow Seagal as he did real-life cop stuff. Seagal claimed he had been a police officer for 20 years In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, completely unbeknownst to the entire world. He apparently only decided to reveal himself for the purposes of a show in which he occasionally runs behind actual cops and yells things like "Where you at?!" Here's a clip from the show. If you can't watch it, just know that it's Steven Seagal and his angry zen energy explaining to an officer how to fire a handgun:
The conceit in the scene seems to be that Deputy Doofus has either never fired a gun before, or that when he does, he somehow shoots himself and several other people in the foot with each shot. But Seagal is here to make sure he gets it right this time. After popping off a few rounds, his sage advice to the officer is to aim using the gun's sight and then squeeze the trigger. You might know this as "how everyone shoots a gun."
But here's where it stops being amusing: An LA Times article pointed out that Seagal doesn't actually have the police credentials he claims he does -- at least, not according to the organizations that give out those certifications. Technically, to do police stuff where Seagal was working, they can pretty much say "Hey, you're a cop now" and bestow you with a ceremonial title that lets you arrest people. But that only makes the whole situation depressing. "Even Steven Seagal qualifies as a cop here!" isn't a joke; it's the sign of a system that gives even less of a shit than Seagal does.
Then there's the time Seagal teamed up with Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona, whom you may remember as the guy who likes to torture people. They rode in on a goddamn tank to break up a cockfighting ring.
I used a TV news link, in case you thought this was a staged bit or a terrible SNL skit. It's neither of those, unless you subscribe to the increasingly popular theory that we've all secretly been sucked into a terrible SNL skit that we can never, ever escape.
Man vs. Beast Scientifically Proved That Humans Are Out Of Ideas
Holy shit, this show. Man vs. Beast may have actually been a joke that was made up on The Simpsons but became a real thing back in 2003, when someone at Fox thought it would be a good idea to have a human man compete in a hot-dog-eating competition against a goddamn Kodiak bear. This wasn't a metaphor for man's struggle against the rigors of modern life; it was literally a dude and a bear eating hot dogs.
Another part of the competition involved an Olympic gold medalist sprinter racing first a giraffe and then a zebra. The zebra won, then they called it out for cheating and made it race again. I wish you could read this in the mercilessly sarcastic tone of voice in which I'm writing it to fully appreciate how goddamn stupid this is.
Probably the most staggering example came when an Asian elephant competed against 40 little people to see who could pull an airplane the farthest. I can't stress enough that no one involved seemed to grasp the obvious, which is that none of the animals could possibly be aware that they were expected to actually compete. So when a Navy SEAL got through an obstacle course ahead of a chimpanzee, it wasn't really the shining victory for the American armed forces the show suggested.
Proving no idea is too dumb for a sequel, Fox made Man vs. Beast 2 one year later. This one featured four little people competing in a relay race against a camel. Please read that sentence again and try to imagine in what universe someone sat down in a writers room to decide what little people and camels have in common. They like to relay race, don't they? Fuck yeah they do! Alright, I realize I've accidentally made this show sound amazing, and that a good number of you have abandoned this article to look up clips.
Opposite Worlds Was A Test To See If Food And Shelter Are Good
In 2014, Syfy brought us this show, which sought to answer the one question every other reality competition was afraid to ask: Who would win in a competition of physical endurance, a caveman or a future person? Unable to adequately answer this question in any way whatsoever, they instead put a group of random people in a house with food, heat, and a robot toilet, and then another group of people in a freezing cold mud hut with raw vegetables and straw bale sofas. Then they ran a series of tests to see which was better.
The two groups were pitted against each other in physical competitions. You might be shocked to hear that the group that was basically sleeping outdoors with no heat source, fur for clothing, and nothing but raw vegetables to eat did poorly against the well-fed, well-rested group that didn't wake up with icicles hanging from their taints every morning.
Every week, the winning group got to choose which side of the house they would live in, and surprise, every chance they got, the people from the warm side of the house chose to go back to the warm side of the house. Did this prove that people from the future are more able to handle themselves than our caveman ancestors? Well, since the future was just people from the present using present technology and the past was people from the present deprived of present technology, it mostly just proved that low-key torture doesn't make for compelling TV.
The poor contestants really tried to play along, but consistently had to point out to the show's host (and presumably production staff off-camera) that they were all freezing, it was impossible for them to make fire because they'd been given wet wood, and none of them were actual cavemen. But hey, how could anyone have known this would be an issue prior to filming? Sometimes you just have to try things and see what happens.
MTV's Ghosted Turned Its "Victims" Into Stalkers
Here's the premise of the MTV relationship reality show Ghosted: Happy Person A and Happy Person B had a relationship, then one day Happy Person A just freaking disappeared with nary a word of explanation. Happy Person B is now Desperately Sad Person B, while Happy Person A is now a Ghost. This show is about tracking down said Ghost to make them explain their actions.
You may be surprised to learn that the explanations are unfortunate and sad 100% of the time. No one left because of amnesia or because government agents were going to kill their loved ones. It was because they were cheating, or their partner was so loud during sex they were going to be evicted. Both of those are real excuses from the show!
The idea was, I guess, to shine a light on the inconsiderate practice of ghosting and help the rest of us understand why people do it. The problem is that the moment you enlist the aid of MTV to stalk your ex across social media (escalating to interviews with their friends and finally showing up at their house), it seems like you become a prime example of why they ghosted you in the first place.
And it's right around here that you realize that the moment you point a camera at a subject, you've already corrupted it, because it now exists only as fuel for the content machine. That's when you see that none of these shows actually have a point. They exist only because somebody thought we might watch them, to distract ourselves for a bit from the fact that we've all been ghosted by the system, and that our generation is in fact just a poorly made Pikachu with a pipe shoved up its ass.
For more, check out 5 Shady Tactics Reality Shows Use To Trick You - The Spit Take:
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