So what, I like reality TV

Oct 062009
Authors: Matt Montoya

In light of last month’s celebration of TV — the Emmys — this week’s column will revolve around one of my guiltiest pleasures and what Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris called “the newest genre in television,” — reality TV.

It’s everywhere these days, from cooking shows to dating shows to competition shows. It’s hard to avoid their popularity and influence on popular culture.

I pride myself in acknowledging my fandom of reality TV nearly since its inception.

As a youngster, I watched MTV’s innovative celebration of partying and bickering “The Real World,” finding myself absolutely transfixed in watching other’s lives play out.

But it wasn’t until CBS launched “Survivor” that reality TV truly exploded. The successful show, still a hit today, sparked spin-offs of competition television, where audiences can actively root for their favorite participants to win.

Now, shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars” display their interactive qualities more than ever, letting the audiences choose the winner. Those two shows happen to be among the most popular on TV these days, and although some are long and drawn out, they offer audiences a window into undiscovered talent.

Reality competition shows are abundant, and many of them attract loyal and passionate viewers. Whether it’s “Top Chef” or “America’s Next Top Model,” I believe the common person enjoys cheering for others to fulfill their dreams.

Furthermore, most reality shows out there strive to meet these main goals to satisfy an audience: be dramatic, be thrilling and, most of all, be entertaining enough to create a buzz.

After all, how many people watch reality shows that his or her friends and family don’t watch? Half the thrill of watching these seemingly meaningless shows is reflecting on the action or characters with others.

Consider the vastly successful appeal of what I call “spectacle reality” shows, which follow celebrities (or at least wannabe celebrities). Whether following the dramatic and ridiculously rich crew on “The Hills” or watching the family fall apart in “Jon and Kate Plus 8” (who I suspect only got a show because her name happens to rhyme with the number in their brood), the fascination of watching the lives of the rich and famous seems to appeal to regular Joes and Janes.

Do these shows offer any socially redeeming value? Not particularly. However, some people can mildly relate to the experiences faced by those on the show.

Yet, these stars make it matter. Reality shows make them famous, and then their actions get publicity, which makes them even more famous. Then audiences in turn watch the show to see these narcissists in action.

During the first weeks of June, most of the entertainment news revolved around Jon and Kate Gosselin splitting up (I still don’t care) and Spencer and Heidi from “The Hills” making a train wreck of themselves on a bizarre reality show thrusting D-list celebrities in the jungle.

Because these actions became newsworthy illustrates how much drama, thrill and entertainment factor into the success of these programs.

Let’s face it, there is a lot of crap on TV these days. I’ve overheard comments that there is so much reality trash now that people barely turn on the TV anymore — an argument in which I can certainly empathize.

However, with every trashy episode of “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila,” a touching episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” — a show that builds homes for families in need — offsets said trash.

For every ridiculous episode of “Rock of Love” (I’m convinced VH1 only casts for their reality shows in Amsterdam’s Red Light District), there are talented singers competing to become the next “American Idol,” entertaining the hell out of their audience along the way.

What I’m trying to say is that reality TV isn’t all that bad. Just take it for what it is, with a grain of salt.

Go ahead and watch rich kids whine in Los Angeles or talented cooks compete to become the next “Top Chef.” Use it for what it is: an escape from your reality and into another.

Entertainment columnist Matt Montoya’s column runs every other Wednesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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