When “The Survivor” made its debut on network television I’m sure that no one foresaw the onslaught of the reality shows that it would give birth to. In the first season, which aired in March of 2000, millions of viewers tuned in to see who would be the victor.
During the weeks of the show, viewers grew to love and hate the challengers. Strangers became household names. There was obviously a connection. Viewers loved the show’s rawness and lived vicariously through those who dared to take up the challenge of becoming “the survivor.”
Viewers could perhaps see themselves, more comfortably, in these competitions because the contestants weren’t superstars like Denzel Washington, Halle Berry or any other award-wining actor. The show had the “Joe Schmo” appeal, among other attention-grabbing qualities. These contenders were average people, with average jobs. They were not household names until they rose out of obscurity when millions saw them intrepidly devour live, giant roaches or shamefully forfeit the task only to be voted off as the weakest link, symbolically having their torch outed at the tribunal gathering.
The Survivor still airs, but now battles The Real World, Super Model, Tyra Banks’, America’s Next Top Model, The Donald and his apprentices, The Bachelor and (of course to reach the female demographic) The Bachelorette, aspiring starlets, and the surreal lives of washed up celebrities.
Every network is vying for their piece of the “reality show pie,” and in so doing they must constantly strive to outdo each other. And why not? The ratings for these shows are shooting off the charts. Just ask Nielson. The presence of reality shows may, coincidentally, provoke stimulating, intellectual conversation such as does life imitate art or does art imitate life? But, how is life enriched by a grown man nearly killing himself trying to eat 12 cow testicles for $100,000 and bragging rights? Could millions of television watchers be losing brain cells by watching these shows, while public television is waiting to be supported by “viewers like them?”
I have anticipated that those with opposing beliefs about reality shows hold to the idea that entertainment can and should, at times, be just that -Entertainment. They say that there is nothing wrong with producing programming that has absolutely no educational value because as the cliché goes, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Under normal circumstances I would agree since entertainment and human existence are inseparable. We humans need it to maintain mental health. But these are not normal circumstances. According to the A.C. Nielson Co., in 1998, the average American watched about 3 hours and 46 minutes of television, which amounts to 52 days of non-stop TV per year. And this trend has steadily increased.
The Writer’s Guild of America predicted that reality shows would take up 700 hours of the 4100 hours of prime time network by 2005. This means that people spend less time doing other things like playing sports and other physical activities, or reading.
But I can’t say that all of the reality shows are worthless. The Apprentice is a great example of “edutainment.” Thousands of applicants fight to become one of 18 apprentices, and the one who becomes “The Apprentice” earns the privilege of heading one of Donald Trump’s building projects. Each week the two teams compete, each person displaying their leadership and management skills.
While there are weekly personality clashes and the necessary catchy phrase (You’re Fired!-with the cobra-like hand gesture), viewers can learn real business principles from “the Donald.” The team leaders must always delegate the work load appropriately, which means that they have to know the strong points of each of their team members.
Every team member must be sure to conduct him or herself well in a business setting and be skilled negotiators, and let’s not forget work well in groups, because after all, each team member is also a competitor who will not hesitate to shrewdly communicate in the boardroom (where Trump decides who will be fired) how incompetent the other person was during the task and will be if they are allowed to become “The Apprentice.” It’s a tough competition, but it teaches practical lessons. The only problem is that for every beneficial show there are several others that should not be seen by anyone’s eyes.
The reality is, just like every other trend, these shows have to run their course and reality TV doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any time soon; like the energizer bunny, they just keep going and going and going. Until a new trend comes along or until people feel the need to flock to the library in outrage about their lack of intellectual stimulation reality TV will live on. Apparently our brains have been voted off the island, the torch outed, marking defeat.