Thursday, July 25, 2013

When Reality TV Gets Too Real

I do not attempt to hide the fact that I'm a reality TV junkie. It's just part of who I am. I watch the competition shows like Project Runway and Top Chef (and please, can someone bring back Rock Star???), the adventure shows like The Amazing Race, and even the back-stabbing, conniving shows like Big Brother and Survivor.

In fact, it's that last grouping of shows that I am really drawn to. Why? They take real people (though there could be an argument made that many of them are real characters portraying real people) and place them into unreal circumstances, and then just sit and wait for the drama to take place. These kinds of shows give me great inspiration for characters to write, because they're over the top and they spark a reaction in the audience. It isn't always a good reaction...but they always get a reaction. For me, it's a great escape because it is all so very unreal that I can't help but forget about the troubles of my own life, at least for a bit.

One summer on Big Brother, a man came on named Dick Donato, aka Evel Dick. He looks like a tattooed biker, but underneath it all, he was trying to repair his relationship with his daughter. He had a soft side, and if you were watching the show at home you could see it, and feel for him...but if you were in the Big Brother house with him? All you knew was he was the crazy guy who was waking the whole house up by banging on pots and pans as loud as he could, trying to get all the attention on him so his daughter could slip under the radar. It worked. He and his daughter somehow got all the way to the final two, and he won the half million dollars at the end because his strategy of making everyone hate him was brilliant. I don't know that he made much headway with his daughter through it all though...

A few years ago, Survivor brought on one of the greatest characters ever to grace the island. Not great in a heroic sense. Great in an OMG-he-really-didn't-just-do-that-but-wait-no-he-really-did sense. Russell Hantz didn't care who he lied to, who he stabbed in the back, whose socks he burned, whose water he dumped out--despite the fact that he was just-this-side of certifiable, none of that mattered. All that mattered was getting to the end of the game, because he was sure that if he managed to get to the end after doing all those things, no one would be able to deny him the million dollar prize.

He was wrong.

Twice, in fact. He was so much fun to watch, waiting to see what devious trick would come to his mind next, that the show's producers brought him back for the very next season, where he did the same exact thing. His third time back, the other contestants had seen his antics, and they decided not to be fooled. They got rid of him early.

Those two guys make these shows fun to watch. No, they wouldn't be much fun to live with. But that's what is brilliant about reality TV. You live with them for an hour on your TV screen each week, and then they go away.

But sometimes, those people go a little too far.

The aforementioned sock-burning, water-dumping Russell Hantz had a brother named Willie who was cast on Big Brother. The producers, no doubt, were hoping to capitalize on the Hantz name. They surely hoped that Willie would also reside just-this-side of certifiably crazy, so he could wreak havoc in the Big Brother house like Evel Dick had done. Well, it turned out that Willie was on the other side of that line, and he assaulted another house guest, and he was forced to leave the show.

The reality TV folks didn't stop there, though. Russell and Willie have a nephew named Brandon Hantz. Brandon went on Survivor, and was determined to change the image of the Hantz family. He didn't. He only proved that most of the Hantzes belong on the other side of that line with his Uncle Willie. One minute, he was on top of the world. The next he was crying. Then he was fighting down his lust/anger/whatever strong emotion he was experiencing, barely holding on to reality. He had no business being put in that situation.

Brandon was so emotionally unstable while he was out on the island, I was shocked when I heard he was coming back for another season. How could the producers allow him to return? Was he psychologically capable of handling the pressure of the game? I didn't believe it.

But he supposedly passed their tests, and he was brought back to the show for the current season, and he seemed as emotionally imbalanced as he had been before. Maybe even more so.

Then on the episode that aired two weeks ago, I knew that he should never have been allowed back. He got upset, which wasn't unexpected. Because he was upset, he dumped out all the rice and beans that his entire tribe had to eat, throwing the containers viciously away from him. It was like he was trying to channel his uncle Russell, but when Russell dumped the water or burned the socks, it wasn't in anger or frustration--it was a planned, strategic move.

It didn't end there, though. When they went to their next challenge, there was a huge confrontation between him and his tribe. Thank goodness the show's host separated Brandon from the others, because the look in Brandon's eyes, the rapid breathing, the inability to hold still...I've seen all of things before. The host kept Brandon away and calmed him down before he became physically violent. But he was right on the edge. I know. I've been on the receiving end of that sort of anger--not from Brandon Hantz, but from people I care deeply about.

That moment on a silly little reality TV show left me shaking, my pulse sky high, for hours after watching it. It got too real, delving away from the delightful unreality that they normally provide and taking me (and I'm sure others) back to unpleasant moments from my past. It's made me think hard about whether I want to continue watching, because the show that was supposed to provide me with my escape did anything but. Not only that, but it felt exploitative of Brandon Hantz. If he was so unstable the first time, why would they ever ask him to return?

Just writing about it makes me feel like I need to go watch a happy Disney movie again.

Are there certain TV shows or types of shows you avoid because of how close they come to the real world? Do you avoid certain movies/books/etc. for the same reason? Any suggestions on a new reality TV show I can watch that won't send my heart into palpitations?

**Originally published at Lady Scribes**

No comments:

Post a Comment