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When Reality Blurs With Unreality
Gordon Pepper

Before I start with this column, let me preface it with this - of course we know that 'reality' game shows aren't real. The game is real, but not everything going around the game is real. I'm not nearly going to be naive enough to suggest that everything that goes on in a reality show actually happened and nothing was somehow manipulated by a producer to make certain pieces magically fall into place.

This has happened many times in the past few years. The most notable one was UPN's Manhunt, which got yanked due to those allegations. The idea of the game was to have contestants avoid bounty hunters, who go after them with paintball guns. The problem was that the hunters with the paint ball guns may have been a little too good, as allegations were brought up that they were sparing a specific female contestant with nice... assets, and that female eventually won the game. After the tapings completed, a lawsuit was immediately filed, which led to the show - and people behind the show - being suspended.

That has been the only show to smack of '21' style game-show rigging, but there have been other shows that have come dangerously close. During the first season of The Apprentice, there were two specific incidents in episodes that could have been disastrous for the Donald had people voiced their concerns legally. In the episode where the candidates had to renovate and then sell an apartment, there was a New York Times article claiming that one of the people who wound up buying the apartment was shooed into the place at the last minute by a producer. Another article intimated that the person actually lived in that apartment, and her signing the deal wasn't her buying the place as much as it was just a lease renewal. Neither of these allegations made it to a courtroom, but it would have been interesting if it did.

What did make it to a courtroom? Lawyer Stacey Stillman's suit against the producers of Survivor. According to her, a producer spoke to contestant Richard Hatch and 'convinced' him to vote her off instead of Rudy Boesch. As we all know, Rudy came in third and Richard won the whole thing. As you may not know, according to Survivor rules, it is illegal for a producer to call anyone over in private and talk to them, so this could have derailed Survivor from even getting to a season two. After a denial from Hatch (who would have been the only person to make the charge stick), the lawsuit was dismissed and Survivor continued it's juggernauting rampage.

The objective of a show is to garner ratings and to provide entertainment for the masses. How do you get that excitement going when you have either a dull show or dull contestants without completely manipulating them or the scenes? You use something that has been an effective tool or garnering excitement since the beginning of time - the almighty power of booze. Alcohol is incredibly effective in loosening people's lips and eliminating their inhibitions, which will make them be at the very least entertaining, and at the very most, controversial.

The most effective use of that tool has to be in Big Brother 2, when an intoxicated Justin Sebik thought it would be a lot of fun to hold a knife against the throat of fellow contestant Krista Stegall. That got him immediately booted from the show and set the stage for the tool to be used in other shows. The bottle has also been effective in the Bachelor series (and most reality love shows, because let's face it, the genre would be stupefyingly dull without it), Paradise Hotel (which wound up being a hit for Fox), Forever Eden (which was another show which was on the verge of being pulled into the courtroom with accusations of manipulation, but it didn't last long enough on Fox for people to care about it), and even Survivor, as the bottle led to 2 significant happenings in the Thailand series - 1. Robb's breakdown, potential maturity and consequent ejection, and 2. Ted's grabby-grab of Ghandia (which led to her primordial scream and a firestorm of discussion both on the show and from the viewers watching). The most latest booze sighting - Beauty and the Geek, where it has been spotted near the Jacuzzi in an attempt to have the geeks and beauties get closer together - but don't forget, it is NOT a relationship show ;).

That brings us to the latest offending show - Hell's Kitchen, who brings us into a new genre of manipulation. The charge? Manufacturing drama that doesn't affect the competition per se, but is clearly manipulated by the producers and is not real. On the first episode of the show, Gordon Ramsay, the mad chef, delayed all of the food from being served, which led to an over 2 hour delay of food and eventually, the chef's closing. What would most people do when their food is being delayed 1 hour? Leave the restaurant. What do these people do? They go over to the kitchen and get into a cursing match with Ramsay. The result was certainly entertaining television to hear Gordon and the eaters spout off at each other, but it felt manufactured and the cynical alert went on. Despite the signs that the confrontation was fake, I shrugged it off...

...until the second episode, where I was convinced that the people who were yelling at Ramsay were actors. What was the kicker? The people who got so sick and tired of waiting that they ordered pizza, which was brought into the restaurant and promptly eaten in front of Ramsay. Not only does it smack of ridiculousness, it is also borderline illegal (pending on the rules of the state on a restauranteuring license) and could result in legal action against the people who brought in the food and/or the restaurant. Any legitimate restaurant would never have let the food get past the door, much less inside the eating room, but Ramsay's squad just let them waltz in with minimal resistance, which convinced me that the whole scene was a planned ruse. Sure it was funny, but those 10 seconds for me ruined the legitimacy of the show and got me wondering if there was anything else that was fixed...

We all want the ratings, but there's a problem when producers try to get them by sacrificing the idea that the show is run on the up and up. It's happened before, and it will happen again, but do we want a competition or do we want a spectacle with a little game (which may not be as honest as we think it is) thrown in? The ratings show that we want a solid game show, but let's make sure that the show that we eventually do get looks less like a horse and pony show and more like the Kentucky Derby.
 


Let's look at some more shows that have premiered this week and my quick look at them -

The Next Food Network Star - Marc Summers, who was had a reputation of delivering quality shows (we'll forget Wickedly Perfect) has another goodie as we see eight potential people (actually, seven people and one team) competing for a Food Network spot. The best part of the show is that it treats both the contestants and the audience intelligently, and it even tells you what part of the show/competition they rig up and what part they let the contestants hoist themselves up by their own petards. Like the America's Next Top Model series, they tell the competitors their good sides and what they need to improve as they all get ready to create their pilot show. If you think that Gordon Ramsay's show is too cloying for your tastes, then THIS is the food show you should be watching.

The Scholar - 10 students compete in weekly challenges for $50,000 and attempt to win enough money to not worry about college tuition. The rules are a little confusing, but the idea is sound and their heart is in the right place. The contestants are also likeable and this show, which stresses academics over attitude, could be a great message for the youth of America. Unfortunately, the youth of America have also sent their own message, as they would rather be watching...

Fire Me Please - ...this dreck, about people competing to be canned from their jobs before 3 pm so they can win $25,000. I'm not going to say that there weren't funny moments, but I just don't find people doing yoga, getting arrested, making idiots of themselves and forcing a legitimate company (assuming that they are legitimate) to have any sort of work delayed for the sake of entertainment. And to add to it, to not tell the company that they are going to have their production halted for this mess is unconscionable. I only hope that the poor people that did have to deal with the manic contestants from Hell got compensated - a lot.

The Cut - Tommy Hilfiger combines elements of The Apprentice, Project Runway and America's Next Top Model for this new show that features a set of hopefuls who are looking for a $250,000 fashion line from Hilfiger himself. I happen to like these sort of shows, and I think that the contestants are unique and fun enough to carry the show. That being said, these sorts of shows aren't for everyone's taste and a huge Bravo rating for Runway may not translate so well for the sort of ratings that this sort of show needs. Time will tell to see if this show gets pampered or if it gets rejected.

That's all for this week. Join us in 7 days for more shows and more opinions.

Gordon Pepper can be reached at gordon@gameshownewsnet.com.

 

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