I have this stupid addiction. I’ve been trying to play it cool. Keep it under wraps. Because it’s so NOT cool, this silly little habit of mine.
It all started as a kid, innocently enough. All the kids my age were doing it. Back then it was a fairly new thing — experimental even. Nowadays, it has mushroomed into an entirely addictive commodified beast.
Half my friends and family are doing it. The other half wouldn’t waste their time on it, and would likely be mortified to find out that I love it so dang much. I’ve decided that it’s time to face facts. Expose myself for the asinine addict I’ve become. Hello, world! My name is Amber and I am a reality TV junkie.
How I got hooked:
Growing up, I was fascinated with all things New York. I had recurring dreams about NYC starting at age 9, and began telling my family that I was destined to go there someday. As a bucolic California native, I had never been east of the Mississippi, let alone to any city large enough to be called a city. So when MTV launched The Real World in New York (1992) I was instantly smitten by the unfamiliar sounds of traffic whizzing past looming skyscrapers. And I wanted to be like Julie, a young country bumpkin artist-type on an uncharted adventure into a previously unknown world.
The entire audience, not just Julie, were on an uncharted adventure. Native New Yorkers would sometimes glare at the cameras as if to say, “What the fuck’s goin’ on here?” Although there had already been prior incarnations of reality TV, from Candid Camera to Cops, none had ever taken people out of their element and thrust them into such a lengthy sociological experiment. And it launched a new formula for entertainment in television: Joe viewer as the new TV star, unscripted everyday life as engaging drama.
How I’ve stayed hooked:
Although I’ve tired of watching The Real World with its original basic formula for reality TV (perhaps because I’m now older than the kids they cast, and I think they’re way too self-absorbed and drink far too much to be at all entertaining), I have grown to love the new and improved version of reality entertainment: real life game show. Primarily, I have Survivor to
thank blame for that.
People aren’t cast to be pulled out of their everyday lives to pursue the art of mindlessly drinking (although MTV still makes a killing off of that racket). Now there’s an incentive to being whisked away from family, friends and jobs that is greater than mere reality TV insta-fame. Now people pursue the chance to win cash and prizes with their determination, charisma and skills.
When Survivor first aired, I was a new young mother, and quickly identified with Jenna, a contestant of about my age who hoped to win in order to provide a better life for her twin baby girls. I began to imagine myself in her island-worn shoes. And I wondered, could I survive for so long without my baby? I rooted for her to win all the way until her torch was snuffed and Jeff Probst announced his now famous catch phrase: “The tribe has spoken.”
How it’s gotten bad:
My addiction to reality TV would be little — insignificant even — if I could say to you that it’s only Survivor. But that would be a lie. I did go cold turkey after season two in Australia due to no longer having cable, but have renewed my love of reality-based game shows ever since I bought my own computer and discovered that I can watch just about anything I want on it (sometime around the Fans vs. Favorites season).
Now I’m hooked on shows that are truly embarrassing time suckers, shows that often keep me from doing more useful things with my time (like writing). Shows that I don’t want my really cool (“Kill Your TV” type) friends from knowing about. But I somehow manage to justify their usefulness every time I attempt to narrow down the number of reality shows on my watch list.
The Biggest Loser comes to mind as a show I could easily wean myself off of, but I keep watching it every season, perhaps to remind myself that (as a former fat kid) I need to be mindful of my health and weight on a daily basis.
Project Runway isn’t a must-watch show for me (as I can’t sew and have little fashion sense), yet I can’t help but want to know how my opinion of fashion stacks up with the show’s panel of expert judges.
Top Chef is hard to watch because I do know my way around a kitchen and can actually imagine myself cooking some of those elaborate meals, but I don’t know how those contestants can pull it off with such strict time restraints. It’s more of a stress inducer than source of entertainment for me. Yet I keep tuning in.
Sadly, the list goes on and on. From Amazing Race to Hell’s Kitchen to Big Brother to — well, you get the gist. I’ve gone from a love of Survivor to a love of the formula that gives just about anyone the opportunity to undergo televised challenges entailing hope, endurance, inevitable catharsis and the potential for victory.
I don’t know how to get my reality TV addiction under control other than to admit to myself that it’s largely a huge waste of my time and then take baby steps from there. Or maybe I could plan on auditioning for an upcoming season of Survivor, in which case I won’t have time to be dillydallying around watching TV because I’ll be busy learning how to: construct/deconstruct three dimensional puzzles, make fire without flint or matches, fish with my bare hands, cling to a pole for dear life as if the ground was made of hot lava, and become more charismatic with strangers (that last one sounds the most difficult). America’s Next Top Model won’t be able to hold a candle to my newfound survivalist skills!