Nov 142011
Authors: Allison Sylte

Here’s my idea for the best reality show ever.

Picture this: Snooki, the Situation, Lauren Conrad, Sarah Palin, Kate Gosselin, Donald Trump and Clay Aiken are packed in a massive, obstacle-filled arena. The arena is stocked strategically with weapons, and the contestants are forced to fight to the death.

The week before the competition, Tim Gunn dresses the contestants for success, mainly as a way to garner advertising revenue. Bob and Jillian from “The Biggest Lower” get the contestants in fighting shape, all in a series of shorts narrated by a cheery Ryan Seacrest.

During the battle, which could last for weeks, viewers have the opportunity to send their favorite contestants supplies, playing a huge role in who ultimately wins. The last person standing receives millions of dollars, and worldwide admiration.

And the losers? Well… the losers are dead.

Sounds pretty entertaining, right?

Those of you who have read “The Hunger Games” know that I pretty much just ripped off the entire plot, deviating only by replacing badasses like Katniss and Peeta with Snooki and Clay Aiken.

But, in today’s entertainment landscape, even if I got my golden reality show idea from a dystopian young adult novel, the show that I highlighted may seem pretty darn plausible.

After all, what really separates watching Jon and Kate Gosselin abuse their kids from watching Donald Trump duel Snooki? At what point does laughing at somebody taking a crotch-shot on “Wipeout” translate to watching someone actually receive fatal injuries? And where exactly do you draw the line between watching shows like “Celebrity Rehab,” which make a person’s personal pain and addictions entertainment, to an even worse sort of exploitation?

Reality TV has pervaded our entertainment landscape, providing some of the defining pop culture moments of this generation. Together, we watched as Richard Hatch outlasted his opponents on “Survivor,” we laughed as William Hung had his hopes and dreams crushed on “American Idol” and our jaws have dropped over the years at the poor decisions made by our bachelors and bachelorettes.

We’ve dramatized real-world love and hate, and we’ve watched it for our entertainment. While a person being sent to the hospital or having their heart-broken would be a major event if they were a friend or family member, for the people who we see on TV, it’s a must-watch event.

While reality TV supposedly chronicles people’s “real lives,” the way we perceive it is no different from fiction. Part of this is the way it’s presented to us. When you’re separated from someone by a TV screen, that person is no longer a person –– they’re a character. A character who exists in an entirely different sphere, an entirely different reality, than the television viewer.

And yes, reality TV is contrived: anyone who has seen the series finale of “The Hills,” can attest to that. Even in “The Hunger Games” (spoiler alert), Katniss pretends to be in love with Peeta, simply so she can gain an advantage.

And yes, for most people, being in a reality TV show is entirely their choosing. But the bad consequences aren’t.

On shows from “The Hills” to the fictional one in “The Hunger Games,” for those supposedly soulless characters separated from us on a TV screen, the consequences are very real.

Arguably, partially because of his stint on “Celebrity Rehab,” Jeff Conway died of a drug addiction. Jon and Kate’s kids are probably going to need therapy for life and many of the finalists on “American Idol,” who were told that they were going to become big stars, are singing on cruise ships.

In “The Hunger Games,” Katniss alludes to this idea, saying that while to those whose friends and family are not involved, the games are the television event of the year to those who have someone whose life is at stake, they’re painful.

Somewhere out there, Snooki’s mom is watching as we laugh at her, wondering if her daughter will ever get her life together. The state of Alaska is hanging its head in shame, wondering why Sarah Palin is allowed to speak. And tragically enough, Jeff Conway’s family probably wishes that he had sought real help, instead of getting on a TV show with Dr. Drew.

Reality TV has given us intimate looks into a lot of people’s lives. The only way I can think of for it to get more intimate, while maintaining the entertainment value, is if we got an intimate look into their deaths.

Cue “The Hunger Games.”

Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte is a junior journalism major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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