“reality” tv? not so much.

When it comes to television, everyone’s got a guilty pleasure. Everyone has a show they hate to admit they watch, but can’t wait to talk about it with a fellow viewer. In most cases, it’s likely to be a “reality” show. I put it in quotes because majority of these shows are anything but real. But that’s beside the point.

I’m hardly a television snob. I’m not one of those self-righteous dweebs who likes to feel superior by telling his friends, “I never watch TV,” yet binges on three seasons of Walking Dead, thanks to Netflix. “Never watch TV,” my ass. Again, not the point. I was just venting.

The current crop of reality TV shows out there are completely lost on me. Like I said, I’m not a snob, but shows like Duck Dynasty, Hardcore Pawn, Storage Wars and whatever else is out there on cable doesn’t pique my interest. You may regard me a dinosaur, but I still enjoy watching Survivor and The Amazing Race.

The drama on every reality show is rigged to some extent. The networks call them unscripted programming, but producers and directors know how to create drama. There’s a difference in the drama being created on a show like Hardcore Pawn (about a Detroit pawn shop) and The Amazing Race.

I watched a clip from Pawn Stars (about a Las Vegas pawn shop) where one of the characters did something so addlebrained it was clear to me it was staged. There’s being dumb, and playing dumb. This guy was obviously playing dumb for the camera.

Reality-based game shows like The Amazing Race create drama as well, but not by prodding their characters to do something contrived. The game itself is constructed to force drama by way of something called a “U-Turn,” where contestants can make a rival team perform additional tasks in the race to slow them down. Naturally, this creates drama. People take it personally, they get slowed down and have to work to make up time.

It’s sort of like the difference between carnival games at the State Fair vs. table games at a casino. The games you play at the carnival look simple, but always have a variable manipulated to tilt the advantage away from the player. Weighted balls, smaller basketball rims…something is askew just enough to make you screw up.

Blackjack, roulette and craps at the casino are completely different. Yes, these games all have one thing in common: a house advantage. But the advantage is built into the rules of the game, rather than screwing with the games’ variables. Contrary to popular belief, there are no loaded dice. The cards in the shoe on a blackjack table are not manipulated. The roulette wheel is not magnetized.

Cable-based reality shows are like carnival games, where they monkey with the variables to create drama, while game show-themed reality shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race already have the math built into the game to create drama. Get it?

Yeah, an awful lot of words about a totally meaningless topic, but I needed to get it off my chest. Consider this a cathartic blog entry. And now you can probably surmise which I prefer: casinos or carnivals.

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Filed under opinion, pop culture, television

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