Surviving Reality

Now that Richard has fattened himself back up on a million dollars worth of Twinkies and all Joel’s friends are sick and tired of his ‘this time on the island…’ stories, millions across America have been left with a large hole to fill in their Wednesday nights and perhaps their lives.

To meet what will likely be a long trend in the demand for so-called “Reality Television,” legions of production companies are churning out show after show featuring real people in every manner of outrageous scenarios. Currently in development is a Canadian version of Survivor where two families are forced to survive in the Manitoba wilderness in mock pilgrim circumstances, or the British version where contestants are left stranded in a barren island in the North Sea.

The only problem with this trend is that reality television seems largely devoid of any reality. Survivor, the most popular example, was nothing more than tropical escapism, a voyeuristic summer at camp, and closer in vein to Who Wants to be a Millionaire than any anthropological documentary on human nature. Examining the cancellation of other, more reality-heavy shows like American High and the sinking ratings of the perpetually unexciting Big Brother — which will institute a number of unrealistic situations in future episodes to attempt to drum up more viewers — it seems that the television-watching public is realizing that watching other people’s lives is as boring as watching their own.

What television executives don’t seem to realize is that reality television’s draw is not its reality but its lack of formula. Hypothesizing who will be the ultimate survivor is more fun than discussing the on-again/off-again Ross and Rachel debacle, because viewers aren’t assured a predictable outcome.

Reality television isn’t new; anyone who has watched The Learning Channel or Real World will tell you that. It is only in the past few years that the derivative nature of television has begun to weigh on the viewing public. They say that truth is stranger than fiction and if they’re right, the legions out in TV land are in for a a few more years of watching their neighbours fight over the Thanksgiving turkey.

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