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The Tribe Has Spoken: Survivor is Reality TV's Finest Achievement
July 2, 2012 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Is Survivor the only great reality TV show? The AV Club argues yes.
posted by The Gooch (127 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is a use of the word "great" that I am apparently unfamiliar with.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:31 PM on July 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


Survivor is Reality TV's Finest Only Achievement
posted by schmod at 12:33 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


That is a use of the word "great" that I am apparently unfamiliar with.

"Can a reality TV show be great?"

Literally the first sentence of the article.
posted by absalom at 12:34 PM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


COPS may not say much thematically except that intoxicated people are prone to doing stupid things, but it achieves a minutes spent watching to minutes spent entertained ratio of damn near 1 to 1 with no prior knowledge or context of what's going on required.
posted by Blue Meanie at 12:35 PM on July 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


schmod: "Survivor is Reality TV's Finest Only Achievement"

I amend this comment. Antiques Roadshow is pretty good.
posted by schmod at 12:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I've been saying something similar for years, although for different reasons.

I still remember watching the first season of Survivor in 2000. I was living in Montana working on a hopeless political campaign, and despite what I thought at the time, I wasn't the world's most sophisticated person. Survivor was just unbelievably compelling television in a way that's hard to compare with other "great" shows.

Up until then, only the Sopranos had been able to engage me at a point where I excitedly wanted to see what happened next - but with scripted TV this isn't shocking. We've been writing cliffhangers and serials for centuries. Most fans of the Wire came to the show late and caught up by watching multiple episodes at a time. I don't think you could do that with Survivor - the pacing's different and the effect it has on the audience is different. I also doubt it will age well as an independent artifact - but that's sort of the point.

Survivor never pretended to be "real" in the same way other reality shows did - like Real World, Real Housewives, Jersey Shore, etc. It's clearly an artifice from day one with extensive interference with editors. You know you're being played by artificially created tensions - it's not as if the producers just stumbled across these people on an island.

And at the time it was amazing. These were great hours of TV, watching people react in an unscripted manner to scripted situations, unlike anything we'd ever seen before. I've found other "reality" shows to be enjoyable, even trashy ones (I loved parts of Shahs of Sunset this year). But that first season of Survivor was different. I'm not sure I ever tried to watch another season.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Can a reality TV show be great?" Literally the first sentence of the article.

The second sentence should have been "No."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Survivor can provide more drama and edge of your seat moments than almost any show out there, reality or not. It can also be mind numbingly boring for seasons at a time. But it's a new roll of the dice every season, and while I occasionally take sabbaticals from my viewing, I don't know if I'll ever be able to give it up completely.
posted by yellowbinder at 12:39 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


When it's Survivor is great, it's amazing to watch, to see what people do and how they react to situations they're placed in. When it's having a bum season, well, there's other stuff to watch.

Me, I never the show, it's like crack.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:40 PM on July 2, 2012


One of the ironies of Survivor's long life is that in present seasons, fans will become quite irritated and dismissive of those contestants which have never shown much interest in the show. They're the contestants who get the job because of casting agents going out and looking for players with the right background, personality, or appearance to help enrich the stew that is the Survivor tribes. Why this is ironic is because the very first very successful seasons of the show was populated entirely by individuals like these people.

As someone, who to his spouse's horror, still tunes in on a generally regular basis, what I find entertaining is the generally good mash of competition in the various challenges, the growing stakes that attach to those challenges, the personalities that are drawn into the game, and to a degree somewhat pointed out above, how well the contestants do play game (which a good knowledge of the show informs remarkably well and sometimes, disastrously).
posted by Atreides at 12:41 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the only one I watch, so yes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:41 PM on July 2, 2012


The problem here is semantics, great reality programming is filed under the "American documentary series" label. Hoarders for example, and yeah Cops.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:41 PM on July 2, 2012


No, here is where the Tribe has spoken.
posted by jonp72 at 12:41 PM on July 2, 2012


Literally the first sentence of the article.

Yes, and I was sort of left waiting for the answer by the end of it too.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:42 PM on July 2, 2012


I can't believe they didn't mention MILF Island.
posted by roger ackroyd at 12:42 PM on July 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


"Survivor" is a show that told both sides of its story in the first two seasons. A "bad guy" (Richard) won, which shocked everybody, and then the "good girl" (Tina) won, both because of the interactions that grew out of alliances.

Since then, it's declined rapidly. No, it never achieved the greatness of those first two seasons, and it never will, because contestants know how to play the game far too well. The article leans heavily on Andy Denhart, who is a wonderful reality TV reviewer, but his love of "Survivor" and hatred of latter seasons of "The Amazing Race" borders on evangelical, so they really could have asked one or two more people.
posted by xingcat at 12:47 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've got no interest in Survivor at all.

I love the trashy ones though, like Celebrity Rehab and all time sleaze classic, Rock of Love.
Project Runway last season managed to combine the sleaze of having a sex-tape-famous hot chick get constant screen time and eventually win, with the genuine artistic merit of having talented people realize their own artistic style every week.
posted by w0mbat at 12:47 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


xingcat, several seasons (Heroes v Villains, China, Amazon) far eclipsed Australia.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:51 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, it never achieved the greatness of those first two seasons, and it never will, because contestants know how to play the game far too well.

Nope, last year was incredible, with the first appearance of Russell and the domineering power of Parvarti. There's been a couple of other great seasons in there too.

The last season was pretty meh, because a lot of people don't know how to play the game. It's one thing to sitting at home, fully fed and rested and it's another to be in the game, where you're "fighting to stay alive" while dealing with the elements and the social game play. It's always interesting to see who thrives and who cracks.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:52 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen Survivor since probably the third or fourth season but man, that first season and second one were GREAT. I remember having a living room full of people over, cooking shrimp and pineapple skewers and just sitting on the edges of our seats! There was also later a computer (when internet was still new-ish to us) site for eliminating losers and picking final winner but I think it got hacked or something.

Anyway, they really owe Richard Hatch for that, for upping the drama in such a huge way with the alliances. I still remember little Colleen too, and the guy was she 'dating' in the show, lots of cute 'night vision' shots to up the intrigue.

Did Sue write that speech herself? I wonder.

Side note- I really thought she was a worn out truck driver when I saw that on TV the first time. Now I'm kinda scared...she just looks the same age as me.

Also- who's going to post the Larry David "Survivor" dinner bit? (And also effective marketing- I can't think about Colby without thinking about those weird Aztec cars you could camp out of).
posted by bquarters at 12:53 PM on July 2, 2012


Survivor is more game show than reality TV. It's closer to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy than Hoarders or My Teen Mom or COPS (the original "reality" show).

There are basically two sorts of "reality (non-scripted) shows" -- docu-dramas and game shows. Some (like Biggest Loser and America's Next Top Model) merge the concepts a little (i.e. background profiles on contestants), but most are pretty straightforwardly one or the other.

Survivor - Game Show
The Real World - Docu-drama
Bachelor - Game Show
Celebrity Rehab - Docu-drama
Project Runway - Game Show
Wicked Tuna - Docu-drama

Using this paradigm, and judging Survivor as a game show, it's a pretty good one, IMO (though I've only watched bits and snatches).

Professional sports also falls into the "game show" bucket of "reality (non-scripted) television" I think, and it pretty generally crushes Survivor for quality.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:53 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, it never achieved the greatness of those first two seasons

Rewatch Pearl Islands (wiki so obviously spoilers) sometime. That was Survivor's high water mark for me, but I believe it's still capable of better.
posted by yellowbinder at 12:54 PM on July 2, 2012


Is Pawn Stars reality TV? Because they stuck to their "entertain and educate" formula long after other shows would have simply dropped the "educate" part of it (Lookin' at you, Deadliest Catch), which entitles them to a small measure of "greatness."

I mean, they have the historian dude who won't tell them what anything is worth come on the show at least once an episode to explain American and World history as it relates to an object, with the witty, charming characters listening attentively going "Wow, that's cool!" It's got this blue-collar, just-plain-folks vibe, but they have a solid respect for art, science and history. It's cool to know things, and it's cool to learn about stuff. This is a remarkable aspect to any television show, never mind a prime-time hit.

I think it's probably the only show on the History Network that actually belongs on the History Network. Even American Pickers is more about the item and it's potential worth than its place in history.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:54 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


all time sleaze classic, Rock of Love.

What, hello, Chains of Love?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:55 PM on July 2, 2012


I was all set to watch Survivor thinking it was really about survival. When I discovered it was more like a game and mostly intended to induce "drama" I ended up not watching it at all.

I do not regret this decision.
posted by tommasz at 12:56 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Colby's acting is actually not too bad..."I couldn't even work out!"

Survivor/Larry David.
posted by bquarters at 1:00 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing matches the drama of Ice telling Coco that she look good in them tights.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:01 PM on July 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was all set to watch Survivor thinking it was really about survival. When I discovered it was more like a game and mostly intended to induce "drama" I ended up not watching it at all.

For as much as the show stressed a certain amount of "survival" in the beginning, win or starve, in the recent seasons it seems to have given up on making players really miserable when it comes to food. Which, in turn, makes the win for food challenges more about winning a luxury rather than winning a necessity.

And also, win did it become acceptable to sit around in your underwear?!
posted by Atreides at 1:02 PM on July 2, 2012


Honestly, this is not a great written piece. You can't just dismiss something like The Amazing Race out of hand the way was done in the article and then talk more about The Wire and The Office.

On top of that, is the article saying it's the only great reality show ever or is it saying it's the only great reality show right now? Because I still think The Mole was pretty solid and yeah, I think it might have been great.
posted by inturnaround at 1:05 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Season 1 of the Joe Schmo Show is pretty much the best of Reality TV ever.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:07 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


The best reality TV show? Dirty Jobs, of course. Even though they seem to have run out of dirty jobs lately.
posted by vidur at 1:10 PM on July 2, 2012


xingcat, several seasons (Heroes v Villains, China, Amazon) far eclipsed Australia.\

MeFi's own Linda Holmes' most excellent recap of the finale of China shows exactly what was wrong with that season.

Heroes vs. Villains featured Russell Hantz (the most over-hyped contestant who was acting for the cameras and beloved by Jeff Probst) and Amazon featured Jenn Morasca (who decided that female solidarity was a "Hot or Not?" contest on her tribe, so I'm not sure I agree with your assertion.


Rewatch Pearl Islands (wiki so obviously spoilers) sometime. That was Survivor's high water mark for me, but I believe it's still capable of better.


Pearl Islands featured Rupert, who was given a million dollars because he was a middling player but the producers loved him, so they engineered a way for him to win for losing. I will admit that one of the best moments in the show's history was when scoutmaster Lillian beat asshole Johnny "Fairplay," but again that was an engineered reality TV personna getting his comeuppance, which is just unsatisfactory to me in the end.
posted by xingcat at 1:12 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is a gunshot to the head from 200 meters the only great way to die a violent death? The A.V. Club argues Yes.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:16 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this where we can talk about 30 seconds of an episode from 2004? Jerri Manthey recently said something interesting on Rob Cesternino's excellent podcast. She revealed that the weird tribal swap on All-Stars (in which the tribes remained exactly the same, except Amber) was completely predetermined. The buffs were tightly layered so that castaways could only select the top buff, and they were told to stand in a certain order. It seemed as though the producers were trying to either get Amber off the show (unclear why, although a revenge-fueled Boston Rob would be fun to watch) or force Rob to engineer a deal with Lex to save Amber (spoiler, it worked and they recently had a third child). Pretty amazing that they took such a big risk to influence what was already a good season. Poor Jerri.

They really need to stop hiding immunity idols in holes in trees, though.
posted by acidic at 1:17 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Because I still think The Mole was pretty solid and yeah, I think it might have been great

It was the first reality TV show with a now-out gay host.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:18 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Notice how we'll never get Survivor: Stuck on a Glacier: you have to keep the contestants in the skimpiest costumes.

And Richard Hatch has spent more time in prison than some murderers I've heard of. WTF?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:22 PM on July 2, 2012


it's not as if the producers just stumbled across these people on an island

Dude, spoiler alert.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:25 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I love Runway, I Found Celebrity Rehab more interesting than it had a right to be, but for the most part I find the constant emotive music, recaps and blatant goodguy/badguy narratives of US reality TV pretty off putting... It's particularly weird when it's a show you've seen elsewhere done better without all that crap, like Kitchin Nightmares.
posted by Artw at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2012


The best reality TV show? Dirty Jobs, of course. Even though they seem to have run out of dirty jobs lately.

I've always wanted Mike Rowe to narrate my commute on BART, a la Deadliest Catch.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the last season I watched all the way through was season 10. When one team so thoroughly dominated the other that they lounged around in their custom built beach cabana while the other team huddled in a cave for warmth wearing rags and were slowly eliminated down to one remaining member.

I'll usually watch the first couple episodes of a season but the casts just seem boring anymore.
posted by the_artificer at 1:27 PM on July 2, 2012


Where does Mythbusters fit in?
posted by brundlefly at 1:27 PM on July 2, 2012


Survivor has two big flaws that rendered the show unwatchable to me.

First, it focuses on the misogynistic script Mark Burnett prefers. That script is one in which buff, tall, rugged alpha males (and lithe athletic gym rats) winning a series of strength-based challenges on their divine path to victory. The emphasis on their sheer manliness and therefore entitlement to victory being clearly a way for Mark Burnett to work out his latent homoerotic feelings*. Maybe it's because he's Australian, but Mark Burnett has such a fondness for sheer strength versus actual cunning/smarts that it drips through the TV screen.

To me one of the greatest moments in Survivor history was in the China season (season 15). One tribe- "Fei Long"- was full of the 'weaker' contestants, by which I mean "women" in Burnett-ese. Well, the producers had a twist in one episode: each tribe would select their two strongest members and send them to the other tribe. Fei Long had been losing challenge after challenge, and was down to their last 5 members with a merge soon on the horizon, and had just sent their two physically strongest competitors to the other tribe. The odds were that they'd lose the next two challenges, and go into the merge outnumbered 7-3 and easy pickings.

Two of the members of Fei Long- Peih-Geh and Jaime, both petite, waifish women who weren't much use in physical challenges- realized that the producers had stupidly given them an obvious gift. With three original Fei Long members left, and the two strongest members of the other tribe having come over, that the very smartest thing they could do is intentionally lose the next two challenges- challenges they'd not likely have won anyway- and then easily vote off the two strong members of Zhan Hu who'd come over, and come the merge they'd reunite with their two original tribe members and a 5-5 split.

It was simple, obvious, yet brilliant... so naturally, Mark Burnett and his crew hated these contestants, because they weren't trying to "win the challenge". Never mind that they were actually doing the smartest thing to win: eliminate your competition. The editing, narrative, and condescension from Jeff Probst would have you believe that there is nothing more shameful and dishonorable than throwing a challenge. Which is batshit crazy if you aren't a testosterone addled wanna-be he-man, since the whole point of Immunity Challenges is to not lose tribe members. When Jaime was later eliminated playing a fake immunity idol (which she even noted she didn't think was real, but was worth a shot), the show reveled in her "comeuppance".


This plan ultimately didn't work for the other reason Survivor has fatal flaws: most people are apparently incredibly, incredibly stupid, even more so when they keep casting LA actors who are proud of not having watched the show regularly. The running joke at TelevisionWithoutPity was that most contestants are so narcissistic the only questions they asked at final tribal was "My question is, you suck!". So Amanda, one of the best contestants ever, went to two final tribal councils as a key organizer of alliances and winner of multiple challenges, and would have everyone hating her because a girl dared to be either successful or scheming. If she were a man, she'd have won the first two seasons she'd been on handily for her challenge toughness and smarts. Instead, the other contestants hated on her for having beat them.

People like to tout Survivor as some amazingly 11th-dimensional chess game because you have to both win challenges and scheme correctly, but truthfully you just have to be inoffensive and bland so that the shallow, selfish assholes who judge you cast their vote for you simply because they hate the other person who "beat them" even more. As a depressingly apt metaphor for American democracy, it's nevertheless still a shit TV show.


* Full disclosure: I lost a job at Microsoft because of Mark Burnett, and he is a fucking ass-clown
posted by hincandenza at 1:28 PM on July 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


The Contender was pretty gripping, and a really interesting attempt to educate the public about boxing in the context of reality TV. They showed no clock on the fights each episode so they could edit for drama (e.g. slow-mo ringside spouses looking concerned, jump cut combos). Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard being so upfront in the production was like watching the two avatars of boxing as a marketing exercise trying desperately to breath life into the sport.

The same year it got cancelled, I stumbled across The Ultimate Fighter on Spike, and it was pretty much the same show but with shoddier production values, no real attempt to educate potential MMA fans, and invisible families/girlfriends.

I've been watching it ever since because some of those people will eventually make it to the real UFC, and the manufactured beefs between the coaches add a little interest when they finally fight sometime around the season finale. That said, it's amazing to me that they've concocted a show that weekly involves two prime physical specimens trying to break bones and knock their opponent unconscious, but it's almost completely dramatically inert. Remembering how engaging The Contender was, though, I believe it's the fault of the producers and not the reality t.v. genre.

This past season they went to a new format where each Friday's installment was a mix of footage from the previous week plus a live fight, but they say they're going back to the traditional "tape a season, then edit the entire collection for narrative" approach. I don't think how they execute that part will help: The producers have a tin ear.
posted by mph at 1:31 PM on July 2, 2012


Where does Mythbusters fit in?

Game show. Like a modern video game, it has two types of "quests". The main quest is confirmed / busted / plausible. The side quests are "how big can we make this explosion" and "how creatively can we hurt Adam and/or Tory?"
posted by dirigibleman at 1:32 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never watched a single episode. What did I miss?
posted by robbyrobs at 1:33 PM on July 2, 2012


Eh, Amanda didn't lose so much for being a woman as she did for being terrible at Final Tribal. (Cirie got screwed by producers out of an obvious win the second time around). I will fully admit that Burnett and Probst have weird gender issues which only seem to get worse as time goes on (even in the latest season, Probst reamed the women for losing early on in a way he never would a tribe of men). One of the great things about Survivor though is that any type of person, age, race, sex or sexual orientation has a chance at winning and has won.
posted by yellowbinder at 1:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Amanda lost because she couldn't make that final "kill". I suspect she wanted to think of herself as a good person and wimped out, then fell apart.

Parvati, Ciri, Sandra, Danni and Jeanne didn't have the problem,
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2012


reality was seen as fundamentally trashy, as a place where the lives of real people were exploited and edited down into scenarios that weren’t recognizably human.

This is because reality TV is fundamentally trashy. It is a place where people are exploited and their experiences are edited down into scenarios that, if still recognizably human, are like the Snooki hairdo of human experience and emotion, inflated out of all normal proportion and smoothed out into sleazy self-parody.

Something like Temptation Island may have had its fans, but few of them would have admitted to considering it anything more than a guilty pleasure, or to finding it “good” on a level other than technical proficiency.

Wrong. Temptation Island was the greatest reality TV show because it most fully embraced the genre's fundamental qualities: conflict and trashiness. It wasn't a guilty pleasure; it was a social-freak peepshow par excellence. It did the things that are unique to reality TV best.

Put another way, if someone came out of a 20-year coma and wanted to know what this reality TV thing was in an hour or less, I'd show him an episode of Temptation Island.
posted by gompa at 1:53 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there should be a reality show about the making of a reality show. Give me a show where the producers and assistants, make-up artists, whatever are the on-camera stars. Show the drama of writing the show to fit the way the contestants are acting; I have no doubts that as a show like this goes on, producers start to think of contestants as characters: the heavy, the romantic, the loose cannon. Show how contests on the program are created to fit those characters, how the producers build a contest so that they can get a certain result from the contests, because you know that they have favorites. Show how the producers get numbers from the bean-counters showing who viewers like the most, and hate the most, and how they bend the structure of the show to force those characters into arcs.

Show us how that happens. Show us the man behind the curtain.
posted by nushustu at 1:55 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I never really got into Survivor, but this 100 Episodes feature is fascinating. If this hadn't been posted, I might never have known about the fact that the final moments of St. Elsewhere dismantle the continuity of decades of TV history.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:56 PM on July 2, 2012


Well, I think Amanda's poor showing at Tribal comes down largely to not owning up to her immense impact- especially when Todd won in her first season, as xingcat linked to in the scathing recap of the final/reunion episode. The lesson we're taught is that you have to be "nice" to win at final tribal, but you never quite know if any one voter will hate you for winning or respect you for winning.

But I think the landscape of Survivor is such that it's harder for a woman to actually own up to being dominant: looking over the list of female winners, they by and large were quiet go-alongs who didn't offend people. The inherent sexism of Survivor is such that a dominant woman is despised by men who hate losing to her and women who hate her for "betrayal" in a game that's based on betrayal.

Granted, Survivor has almost no truly deserving winners- Yul in the fabulous Cook Islands was as good as it gets: good at challenges, smart, and the show had twists and turns and watched a decimated tribe be resurgent. The finale of that show was great: you had two people as almost Platonic ideals of the Survivor Winner: the human dolphin in Ozzie, and the Yale-educated leader/motivator/plotter in Yul. If only Jonathan Penner, our one-man stand-in for every fan who ever hated Probst, had made it further.
posted by hincandenza at 2:00 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am an ardent fan of Survivor. Great TV. It's 'Human Chess.'
posted by ericb at 2:01 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's particularly weird when it's a show you've seen elsewhere done better without all that crap, like Kitchin Nightmare

Seriously. Kitchen Nightmares UK is a different show from the US version, which is all about the personal drama and OMG LOOK AT THE DISGUSTING STATE OF THE KITCHEN and not so much about cookery and business plans.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:03 PM on July 2, 2012


Maybe it's because he's Australian, but Mark Burnett has such a fondness for sheer strength versus actual cunning/smarts that it drips through the TV screen.

I doubt that's because he's Australian. For one thing, he isn't.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:10 PM on July 2, 2012


Brandon Blatcher Yeah, Amanda lost because she couldn't make that final "kill". I suspect she wanted to think of herself as a good person and wimped out, then fell apart.

Parvati, Ciri, Sandra, Danni and Jeanne didn't have the problem
Didn't see this until I hit post. But that actually proves my point: Parvati was a non-factor in her first season, and then won against... Amanda. Granted, I think Parvati had a good game her second time around, but still. Cirie was a great scheming player, but never made a finals did she? The closest she came involved being voted off because she was seen as a finals threat for being too likable- we don't actually know if people would have voted for her, but plausibly if she'd had a mediocre competitor in the finals. Danni was a joke- she did nothing in her season but ride coattails, and got voted as the winner because Stephenie- who at least tried- was widely disliked and thus Danni was the lesser of two evils.

Looking over the list of winners, when a woman has won it's by and large by being inoffensive over the runner-up who people hated. I mean, Sandra is the only two-time winner by simply staying out of the line of fire. That's a perfectly valid strategy- but I think the culture of Survivor is such that it might be the only successful strategy for a woman to take.
Sys Rq: I doubt that's because he's Australian. For one thing, he isn't.
I stand corrected, I thought he was. Regardless, he's still a misogynistic overgrown boy.
posted by hincandenza at 2:12 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Faint praise; you're damning with it.
posted by clvrmnky at 2:15 PM on July 2, 2012


I was all set to watch Survivor thinking it was really about survival. When I discovered it was more like a game and mostly intended to induce "drama" I ended up not watching it at all.

To each their own, I guess. I didn't watch the first season of Survivor, initially, thinking it was really all about survival. Towards the end of the first season I was talking with my brother about it and he, like you, was disappointed it was more like a game. But what disappointed you and my brother fascinated me, so when CBS re-aired the first season (over a span of just two weeks on consecutive nights, IIRC), I watched it all.

I haven't stuck with it—I watched parts of seasons 2-4, then not much at all after that, finding I liked The Amazing Race much better, but I can't deny that TAR owes a lot to Survivor.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:18 PM on July 2, 2012


Any discussion of "great reality television" cannot be complete without including The Edwardian Country House/Manor House.

For shame, people. For SHAAAAAAME.
posted by tittergrrl at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Great seasons of Survivor not yet mentioned:

1.) Cook Islands (season 13). The "four tribes initially divided by race" season which started out controversial, but that gimmick got abandoned quickly as the tribes intermingled anyway and it became a playoff between some of the best players the game has ever seen (Jonathan, Ozzy, Parvati and of course Yul, who essentially invented immunity idol game theory on screen in about ten minutes). Good players contended and competed and won, and the stupid alpha dogs Burnett and Probst love got handed their asses.

2.) All-Stars (season 8). Boston Rob makes his name in this season as the game's greatest player ever, engineering a win between himself and his future wife Amanda while at the same time defusing the secret alliance between Big Tom and Lex before it ever got a chance to be a threat.

3.) Gabon (season 17): Won by Bob, a science teacher in his late 50s who very cleverly constructed fake immunity idols in order to rig the game to his preference, but who also was consistently decent and nice to everybody else.

4.) Samoa (season 19): The first Russell Hantz season - Russell may be a prick who never understood how the social game of Survivor really works (setting up your case at final tribal council is just as important as getting there and Russell never understood that), but he was a genius who figured out in advance that, really, you don't need permission to go search for an immunity idol from the show, and what's more, if you think about it logically they're not too hard to find.
posted by mightygodking at 2:22 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Survivor - Game Show
The Real World - Docu-drama
Bachelor - Game Show
Celebrity Rehab - Docu-drama
Project Runway - Game Show
Wicked Tuna - Docu-drama


I'd say there are at least four categories:
Shows for gullible people - Derren Brown's Trick or Treat, Man vs. Wild
Talent competition - Chopped, Project Runway
Humiliation spectacle - Survivor, Fear factor
Occupation drama - Deadliest catch, Pawn Stars
posted by Pyry at 2:28 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh god this thread is infringing on my copyright of being the only one to remember how AMAZING Survivor S. 1 was.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:29 PM on July 2, 2012


For a blast from the past: Metafilter's first Survivor thread, from May 31, 2000.
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:31 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also let us not forget the painful genius of the show Average Joe.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:32 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy shit I just found out that the first person voted off the island in the original Swedish version of Survivor Expedition Robinson in 1997 committed suicide a month afterward. Note: 1. THEY CONTINUED WITH THE SHOW AND IT WAS A HUGE HIT. 2. She must have glimpsed what was going to happen.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there should be a reality show about the making of a reality show.

That show was made. It's called The Joe Schmoe Show and it's the greatest reality TV show ever made.

Supporting evidence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqH5WmUJV18
posted by gonna get a dog at 2:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Survivor might be the best US reality show (although Amazing Race is up there as well) but there are some fine shows coming from down under. Specifically:

Masterchef Australia
Junior Masterchef Australia (My niece is staying with us this summer and she got instantly hooked on watching 9 year old kids cooking some incredible food.)

It's amazing how different contestants treat each other between the US version (Just mean spirited and back-stabby) and the Australian (Polite, respectful, encouraging, etc.).

I can't watch an episode without asking Mrs. GoodPuppy if we can move there.
posted by GoodPuppy at 2:51 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looking over the list of winners, when a woman has won it's by and large by being inoffensive over the runner-up who people hated. I mean, Sandra is the only two-time winner by simply staying out of the line of fire. That's a perfectly valid strategy- but I think the culture of Survivor is such that it might be the only successful strategy for a woman to take.

Not sure if you watched the most recent season of Survivor won by Kim Spradlin. She was arguably the best Survivor player ever, to the point that the season itself was kind of dull since it was obvious about halfway through that she was playing on an entirely different level than anyone else on the island. Watching the past season of Survivor was kind of like watching a several month long pro wrestling squash match.

She completely defied the "The only way for a woman to win Survivor is to slip under the radar" strategy. She was the head of what turned out to be several separate alliances, and was charismatic enough that each individual member of those alliances believed she had a special, unique relationship with Kim that would get her to the end. She spearheaded several bold, game-changing moves. She was both athletic and intelligent, giving her a string of multiple immunity and reward challenge wins, which is generally a huge target on your back in Survivor since it makes you a threat. Most importantly, she was likable enough that she was able to get several people she had personally lied to and screwed over to vote for her to win the game. It was a very impressive, if kind of boring, performance.
posted by The Gooch at 2:55 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kim also benefited from some of the stupidest and game ignorant players cast in years. She knew how to play the game, but she's not the best ever.
posted by Atreides at 3:14 PM on July 2, 2012


I'm a Bad Girls Club fan myself. I can think of no better portrait of the human condition.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:21 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kim's greatest strength was her social game, she had everybody trusting her, and somehow even still liking her after she manipulated their exit. Dominating the game is hard, winning it is harder. Just ask Russell.
posted by yellowbinder at 3:25 PM on July 2, 2012


I'm a Bad Girls Club fan myself.

That sounds a lot like Ladette to Lady, which was another guilty pleasure of mine.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2012


I mean to say dominating it AND winning is harder. Certainly there have been undeserving winners. But it's rare for clear dominator like Tom or Kim to win.
posted by yellowbinder at 3:31 PM on July 2, 2012


For me, the show didn't really become interesting until that one weasel lied about his grandmother dying to score sympathy points.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:38 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It should be noted that every time it's Men vs Women, the Women win. Why? Because the guys act stupid and think their strength will allow them to dominate.

Looking over the list of winners, when a woman has won it's by and large by being inoffensive over the runner-up who people hated.

The last several seasons have had three people at final tribal council, to avoid the "bring along someone everyone hates so I can win" tactic.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:39 PM on July 2, 2012


I have to agree with Slap*Happy, Pawn Stars is better than I expected.
posted by JHarris at 3:45 PM on July 2, 2012


The Gooch: Not sure if you watched the most recent season of Survivor won by Kim Spradlin.
I hadn't seen the most recent- like I said, I stopped watching when I got tired of the He-Man Woman Hater's Club of production. And if Atreides is correct, it highlights my other pet peeve, as I mentioned- they mostly avoid casting Cirie or Yul type players (Cirie was a superfan, and Yul was an all-around savant who had written a paper on social dynamics and strategy on the show itself) who had seen and adored the show, in favor of meatheads, wanna-be actors, and "controversial" types like the abominable Coach. Ugh. Fucking "Coach", man. Repeatedly having him on was getting into American Idol-levels of "exploiting the emotionally unstable". It's also why I found TAR boring: instead of interesting pairings, it seemed more and more to be either stunt casting, or the indistinguishable parade of loathsome "newly dating" L.A. 'couples' who seemed to find travel itself terribly inconvenient.
gotta get a dog: That show was made. It's called The Joe Schmoe Show and it's the greatest reality TV show ever made.
I agree it's right up there, and that show was actually the subject of a FPP not too long ago.
mightygodking: Great seasons of Survivor not yet mentioned:

1.) Cook Islands (season 13)

4.) Samoa (season 19): The first Russell Hantz season
I'd mentioned CI above, as it's probably my favorite of any I'd seen both for the dramatic arc and the general quality of casting (especially since the unlikable "cool kids" had a severe and delightful comeuppance).

For me, I didn't hate Russell, but my spidey-sense started to ping when he found like the third hidden idol. The general rule is that game show rules stemming from the Quiz Show scandal prevents shows like Survivor from outright tampering- but more and more I got the sense they were extraordinarily heavy handed when it suited them.
Potomac Avenue: Holy shit I just found out that the first person voted off the island in the original Swedish version of Survivor Expedition Robinson in 1997 committed suicide a month afterward. Note: 1. THEY CONTINUED WITH THE SHOW AND IT WAS A HUGE HIT. 2. She must have glimpsed what was going to happen.
Sadly related, in addition to one of the contestants on "The Contender" committing suicide, another Mark Burnett production- the rather ludicrous and poorly conceived Pirate Master ran for only one season, and was a total disaster. I don't recall the (often shifting and unclear) gameplay dynamics, but I do recall that the armchair game theory analysts at TWoP were having a field day with how the show could have been improved. The show did so poorly that by the 9th episode, they'd effectively canceled it and were airing it solely online.

However, I mention it because one of the contestants, Cheryl Kosewicz, did kill herself while the show was still airing- although only three days after the first online-only episode. Apparently she had been having a hard time dealing with the suicide of her boyfriend two months' prior, and her decision to appear on the show had been a rift between them. I guess the fact that the show had done so poorly as to basically be canceled acted as something of a trigger.
posted by hincandenza at 3:45 PM on July 2, 2012


Also, for the amount of commenting I'm doing on this thread, it's becoming painfully apparent that I watch way too much fucking TV. I'll have to consider this a wakeup call...
posted by hincandenza at 3:46 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That show was made. It's called The Joe Schmoe Show and it's the greatest reality TV show ever made.

That was a perfect show. Season 1 also featured a young Kristen Wiig. In Season 2, one of the "real" contestants actually figured out what was happening and she was recruited by production to keep the lie going, which was brilliant.
posted by xingcat at 4:07 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dominating the game is hard, winning it is harder. Just ask Russell.

I've always thought Russell was overrated in terms of being some kind of all-time great player. He was good at finding hidden immunity idols without clues as well as forming strong alliances early on in the game that stuck together. And I could see how someone could find him entertaining, although I didn't personally*.

But you can't be that aggressive of an asshole to anyone outside of your alliance when you are simultaneously expecting those same folks to reward you with a million dollars. The fact that he didn't seem learn any lessons from one season to another and adjust his social strategy accordingly makes it hard for me to consider him a great player.

*One major criticism I do have about Survivor in its later years is that too many people, Russell being one of the guilty parties, seem to go on the show with the intent of playing a particular outlandish "character" (usually the "Outrageously Evil Villain"). In the first season, it really felt like you were seeing the legitimately dark side of some of these peoples personalities, while in later seasons it feels more like people auditioning for future roles.
posted by The Gooch at 4:08 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Producers will always rig it so those folk stay in a long time. If Game of Thrones were a reality show Joffery would be making it to the final round, to everyone's confusion and outrage.
posted by Artw at 4:17 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that the first few seasons of Survivor there was more emphasis on the actual day-to-day surviving aspect: for example, when a winning team would go win a reward challenge involving food after days without real sustenance, they would talk about how really unpleasant it was after stuffing themselves (diarrhea, vomiting, bloating).

I also tire of the "characters" but boy oh boy did I want to see Colton swallowed whole by a large snake.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:18 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's the evlotution of these shows - the early incarnations of Big Brother were like some kind of Skinneresque psychology experimenet, very minimal, but even before it got to the US it had become some shrieking gameshow thing.
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on July 2, 2012


Where does Mythbusters fit in?

In the same category as Dateline, 48 Hours, or 20/20: scripted non-fiction.

Shows for gullible people - Derren Brown's Trick or Treat, Man vs. Wild
Talent competition - Chopped, Project Runway
Humiliation spectacle - Survivor, Fear factor
Occupation drama - Deadliest catch, Pawn Stars


Fair enough. I would throw Man vs. Wild in my Docu-Drama camp, and combine your Talent + Humilation = Game Show. They all feature people competing for a prize, ostensibly on their merits (not arbitrarily awarded by producers).

Derren Brown (Criss Angel, David Blaine) I would again say scripted non-fiction. Same goes for Punk'd, Candid Camera, etc.

hincandenza really got to the main problem with Survivor for me (although I have not watched much). Unlike pro sports or regular game shows, where producers have to follow previously agreed upon rules, the producers of Survivor seem like they change the rules whenever someone they don't like is winning (or is winning in some fashion they don't like).

Also, I don't know how it works now, but, if you remember, the first season was pretty much decided by coin flip. Greg, the deciding vote, asked Kelly and Richard to pick a number from 1-10. The one who was closest got his vote.

All this bullshit about who's a "better player" (ha!) blah blah blah, and the results are almost completely arbitrary. I'm sure the voting works better now, but the end of Season 1 was a ridiculous way to end it.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:30 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The other thing that bothers me about Survivor (besides the dreadful product placement) is the keening and wailing these contestants do when talking about being separated from their loved ones for MY GOD A WHOLE GODDAMNED MONTH.

Seriously? Are these people high or what?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:48 PM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Gooch: "seem to go on the show with the intent of playing a particular outlandish "character" (usually the "Outrageously Evil Villain")."

Yep, I gave up on this last season a couple episodes in because of the "bigoted, gay republican." Only so much of that I could take.
posted by the_artificer at 4:54 PM on July 2, 2012


I've said it befor an I'll say it agin: The Ultimate Reality Show would consist of a dozen people sitting on a couch watchimg reality shows and bitching about them. Each week somebody would be voted off the couch.

Have your people call my people.
posted by jonmc at 4:56 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who is Jeanne? There is no Jeanne.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:25 PM on July 2, 2012


Is the AV Club nothing more than another source of mediocre 'entertainment' reporting, a hateful conglomerate of sub-Perez Hilton snark?
posted by item at 5:37 PM on July 2, 2012


Who is Jeanne? There is no Jeanne.

Oops, Jenna Morasca.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:42 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I miss Kid Nation.

The best seasons of these shows are almost always the first. When the second season airs, it is obvious if the new contestants have been 'tainted' by watching the first (like right now with "The Glee Project"). I used to be a huge fan of Survivor but by the time you've got these All-Stars of All-Stars seasons (plus, I watch and love The Amazing Race, so how much more Boston Rob do I need in my life? None.) it's boring. I also loved the original Mole and Apprentice, but the celebrity versions? Meh.
posted by candyland at 6:08 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really, really want to hate Pawn Stars. I've watched the Detroit and Cajun rip/spin-offs, and they're not great. But Pawn Stars just hits this magical spot for me. People find the weirdest things in their houses or at yard sales. They bring these things in, and we get to learn fun facts about the things. The people usually have ridiculous, high expectations for what they want to get for their goods. The family has a lot of interesting personalities, and their dynamic is fun to spy on.

I remember really enjoying Beauty and the Geek the first two seasons, but I can't tell you why.
posted by Night_owl at 6:24 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


No love for Yau? WTF?
posted by dobbs at 6:33 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've never watched a single episode of Survivor. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I am friends with one of the winners. I met Tina Wesson through my husband; they were friends when he and I started dating.

She's a pretty normal person. We ride motorcycles together sometimes. She lives down the road a ways and has a Plott hound who smiles on command and can't resist pestering venomous snakes.

Tina has never talked about her Survivor experiences with me, except for one under-the-breath comment about having to pay taxes on some godawful car (an Aztek, I think) she won during the show and had no love or use for.

I imagine a lot of people wonder what kind of person can win Survivor. I can tell you that at least one of them is a good human bean. Can't vouch for the others, though.
posted by workerant at 6:49 PM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Never watched a single episode. What did I miss?

It was pretty good, until Rudy (ex-Navy Seal) got eliminated in the first season.
posted by ovvl at 6:49 PM on July 2, 2012


except for one under-the-breath comment about having to pay taxes on some godawful car (an Aztek, I think) she won during the show and had no love or use for

WHAT!? Now you'll be telling me that she doesn't bathe in Mountain Dew or sleep with her Sprint smartphone!

Good for her, though. Winning crap on TV seems like more bother than it's worth.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:00 PM on July 2, 2012


Look, the best reality series EVER was BBC's The Choir.

It's not a competition. There's nobody eliminated each week or whatever. It's people struggling against themselves with a task they choose to do that isn't outlandishly staged or even takes them out of their regular lives. Gareth Malone steps into these people lives and helps give them a vision of who they could be and what they might achieve if they commit to the process, and then he works his ass off to make it happen and to inspire all those who join him to work their asses off, too. There is reticence to be overcome, reluctant participants to be inspired, community attitudes to be changed.

In the end, there is no need for a winner or a loser or elimination or any of that hokum. The result of each series is a testament of joy in drawing together as a collective and achieving something. Even if that achievement isn't winning the grand prize, the goal was never to win -- it was to build community and to sing. Any competition or big event the choirs participate in is a Macguffin, used to provide focus for the group instead of being the Big Reason They Are Doing This Thing.

The best thing about The Choir, aside from the sheer joy and marvel of being able to watch this process in several different settings across the different seasons, is that this is truly a life-changing event for the people and communities into which the show came. These choirs still exist. These people are still singing and performing together. And they aren't celebrities, they haven't won a million dollars, they aren't doing the talk show circuit. Instead, they've actually undergone a real transformation which is continuing to change the lives not only of them but of others in their communities and will for years to come.

Fuck all this American TV competitive bullshit reality TV. Watch The Choir, if you can find it to watch. It's real, it's reality, it continues to be real, and it's the best reality show ever made.
posted by hippybear at 7:06 PM on July 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Pawn Stars soothes the savage part of me that's experienced too many people overvaluing their stuff. Seeing potential sellers shake their head and walk away upset because they aren't gonna get $5000 dollars for their heirloom typewriter? Somehow, it's a balm.

Anyway, I have a soft spot in my heart for I Get That A Lot. See, there's a famous person. Like Martha Stewart, or Wynona Judd. And then they have them work someplace, like at a craft store, or tire shop. And then people are like, hey, has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like... And then they deny it. I love it. It seems completely goodnatured, goofy, and harmless. Pamela Anderson as a lingerie saleswoman! Jeff Probst at a cash register!
posted by redsparkler at 7:07 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would trade all of the Survivor series to get a few more seasons of those Eco-Challenge adventure races instead.

*runs off to see if Expedition Impossible was any good*
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:09 PM on July 2, 2012


I kind of loved the middle-englandy passive aggressiveness of Come Dine with Me, but it just got too grim.
posted by Artw at 7:14 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heh! Come Dine with Me is great. Especially as the participants got more and more sloshed and gave their scores in the back of the cab. And the cheating! Good lord, the cheating.

Here's a behind-the-scenes account (sorry, Daily Mail link).
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:37 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


*runs off to see if Expedition Impossible was any good*

Spoiler: It was not.
posted by xingcat at 7:38 PM on July 2, 2012


Jeff Probst at a cash register!

That sounds about right.

(I kid. Plus -- who knew he was so well... endowed?)
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:51 PM on July 2, 2012


The only way I'd ever watch Survivor is Clockwork Orange-style.

I guess I'll be taking AV Club recommendations with significantly larger grains of salt from now on.
posted by pmurray63 at 9:08 PM on July 2, 2012


I like Pawn Stars, but it's fake as hell, even by reality TV standards. Pretty much the whole thing is scripted. The shop itself is tiny and sells pretty much what any other pawn shop sells (plus Pawn Stars-branded merchandise). Chumlee is derping all the way to the bank, and the "sellers" are frequently (usually?) actors hired for the segment.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:14 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


the "sellers" are frequently (usually?) actors hired for the segment.

Or they're stunt casting for that episode, like when they were evaluating Robosaurus (the Monster Truck Jam car-eating thing) to be pawned. Yes, that's right... TO BE PAWNED.

Yeah, right.
posted by hippybear at 9:42 PM on July 2, 2012


Why do people watch this fakery and act as if it were real and see all sirts of moral imperatives in it and get mad. It's fiction.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:54 PM on July 2, 2012


I thought Surviving Nugent was even better and over in an episode, instead of taking all my evenings for a full season
posted by Redhush at 10:46 PM on July 2, 2012


Why do people watch this fakery and act as if it were real and see all sirts of moral imperatives in it and get mad. It's fiction.

Given that we can get moral imperatives from actual, admitted-up-front fiction, and find ourselves angry at openly fictional characters acting like jerks, why should fiction-with-a-thin-veneer-of-reality affect us any less?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:52 PM on July 2, 2012


I'm guilty of watching the early episodes but finally tired of the underlying message (as I perceive it). The participants compete to be the ultimate survivor. They use every strategy they can in the quest for the ultimate jury vote of winner. My perception is, this program is supposed to be some statement on our greater society; dog eat do and all. A microcosm of Social Darwinism and all. Every episode seems to weave moral lessons, right versus wrong, right versus might, loyalty versus betrayal, family values (these reunion competitions - get to visit with your loved one), within a carefully structured, contrived environment. Most recently we've seen religious participants proselytizing their faith (I'm sure God is on the edge of his/her seat). Man, is this thing supposed to be a projection of broader society?

And here is where I lost it. The contrivance will not allow any participants to form coalitions with the goal being mutual benefit or victory. The meta-message of this show, writ large for society, is dog eat dog. And this irks me in that, for how many years, twelve plus, the viewing public is conditioned to view life as a singular effort at self enrichment to the detriment of all the other participants; never a cooperative effort for the benefit of the group. I want to see a coalition who works together to share the grand prize. Opps, not allowed and you'd likely get booted from the show. I can't help but think this is another media contrivance that conditions Americans, or the viewers, to view our participation in society a bit, ah, unrealistically. No wonder Americans can't get along?
posted by WinstonJulia at 12:28 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Spoiler: It was not.
posted by xingcat


Sadly, I have to agree.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:51 AM on July 3, 2012


No wonder Americans can't get along?

Yes, it is a game show's fault.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:19 AM on July 3, 2012


You know, Korea is all about "real variety" these days, which is sort of equal parts game show, celeb-reality, and the 4th-wall breaking stuff that nushustu was talking about; a good example is Running Man, which I think is the most popular at the moment.

Basically it's formatted a bit like The Amazing Race, except much, much shorter (every "race" is concluded in 1-2 episodes) and has a permanent cast of celebrities, with occasional guest stars. They don't attempt to generate any drama save for the "family"-like dynamic that the cast develops or the (lighthearted) scheming that occurs to "win" a race (also prizes tend to be like, "here's a bunch of steaks," etc. so it's really impossible to feel too bad for the already well-paid celebrity contestants). As for the 4th-wall breaking part - everyone basically makes no bones about the fact that they're all essentially employees, openly talk about each others' respective audience polling, joke about being edited out/getting screen time, developing a funny character, coming up with snappy catchphrases, etc. Also featured fairly regularly is the casts' banter with their VJs (guys with handheld cameras who have to chase them around), producers, ADs, etc. The VJs themselves have developed a fanbase (in Thailand), apparently.

Anyway, it's kooky like a lot of Asian shows seem to the Western world (i.e. Japanese imports like Ninja Warrior or that Takeshi Kitano show) and this whole description may well be worthless if you don't speak Korean (though I understand subtitled versions exist... somewhere), but this is pretty much the only reality show I watch.
posted by Tikirific at 3:27 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


why should fiction-with-a-thin-veneer-of-reality affect us any less?

Suspension of disbelief. Asking people to additionally suspend their disbelief that a presentation is fiction crosses a line that comes close to fraud. Just ask Mike Daisey how uncomfortable this can make people.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:39 AM on July 3, 2012


I like Pawn Stars, but it's fake as hell, even by reality TV standards.

Well, yeah. The premise is that an unusual historic item winds up at their shop - they bring in an expert to explain what the item is, why it might be important, and how it would fit into history if it was.

To keep viewers engaged, they set up an intergenerational family comedy to bookend each bit, and establish drama through the item's valuation process - real or fake? Valuable or worthless? What will they bid for the item? Will the seller accept?

Would the show work as well if it was explicitly stated the shop was fictional and the sellers were hired by the show to show off their item, and that the experts had a few days to research the item beforehand? Maybe, maybe not - but even as it stands, it's not hard to figure out, and once you do, it's (usually) easy to suspend disbelief and get wrapped up in the premise.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:45 AM on July 3, 2012


Why do people watch this fakery and act as if it were real and see all sirts of moral imperatives in it and get mad.

I would like to submit, by way of explanation, a much earlier enterprise which has the same affect.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:11 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would the show work as well if it was explicitly stated the shop was fictional and the sellers were hired by the show to show off their item, and that the experts had a few days to research the item beforehand?

I think that's a couple of different shows already.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:11 AM on July 3, 2012


The contrivance will not allow any participants to form coalitions with the goal being mutual benefit or victory.

"Boston Rob" and Amber seem to have gotten around that. Much as I didn't care for their two appearances on The Amazing Race and wish they would have stayed over on Survivor, I have to give them credit for that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:40 AM on July 3, 2012


Asking people to additionally suspend their disbelief that a presentation is fiction crosses a line that comes close to fraud. Just ask Mike Daisey how uncomfortable this can make people.

True, but also irrelevant to my point that people become emotionally invested in fictional characters and in the moral themes of fictional works, and can become equally invested in reality TV characters and in the moral themes of reality TV. My answer was in response to Ironmouth's question as to why people do care about reality TV. Your comment is perhaps relevant to whether people should care about reality TV, but not to why they do.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:48 AM on July 3, 2012


Your comment is perhaps relevant to whether people should care about reality TV, but not to why they do.

Interesting that you would say my comment was irrelevant as I was responding to this question:

why should fiction-with-a-thin-veneer-of-reality affect us any less?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:19 AM on July 3, 2012


Fair enough, poor phrasing on my part. What I should have said is "why would fiction-with-a-thin-veneer-of-reality affect us any less?"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:09 AM on July 3, 2012


And here is where I lost it. The contrivance will not allow any participants to form coalitions with the goal being mutual benefit or victory. The meta-message of this show, writ large for society, is dog eat dog. And this irks me in that, for how many years, twelve plus, the viewing public is conditioned to view life as a singular effort at self enrichment to the detriment of all the other participants; never a cooperative effort for the benefit of the group. I want to see a coalition who works together to share the grand prize. Opps, not allowed and you'd likely get booted from the show. I can't help but think this is another media contrivance that conditions Americans, or the viewers, to view our participation in society a bit, ah, unrealistically. No wonder Americans can't get along?

Respectfully, allowing groups of players to "share" a victory on Survivor would make for the most boring show ever. I mean, if you have an alliance of six who successfully eliminate the other players, what would be the next step? Say, "We're done" and end the show after only 7 or so episodes?
posted by The Gooch at 8:16 AM on July 3, 2012


Respectfully, allowing groups of players to "share" a victory on Survivor would make for the most boring show ever. I mean, if you have an alliance of six who successfully eliminate the other players, what would be the next step? Say, "We're done" and end the show after only 7 or so episodes?

This reminds me of the time my friends convinced (conned) me to play the Lord of the Rings boardgame ...

Sure, I was drunk, but it took about an hour of the game to convince me, yes, we are actually playing together, not against each other. ... OK ... Then we failed to destroy The Ring. The world as we knew it was over.

I Get That a Lot is a great idea. Not surprised it's on CBS.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:47 AM on July 3, 2012


I remember watching some of the first season of this, and enjoying it, but it drifted out of my attention after that. If I was to pick up and watch a season or two, which would be best? Form the above it sounds like season 2 is a good one, but do any other seasons really stand out?
posted by rtimmel at 9:20 AM on July 3, 2012


The contrivance will not allow any participants to form coalitions with the goal being mutual benefit or victory.

Actually, I've gotten the sense that some 2nd or 3rd players are fine with just getting $100,000. Yes, everyone who goes on the show gets money, with those who stay the longest getting progressively more. I think it starts at $2,500 for the first person voted out and then goes up to the $100k for second place. Third place received $85K, fourth $75K and so on. Actually, since the final tribal council has 3 players, then the remaining two (There's not a 2nd or 3rd place anymore, right?) probably get $100k apiece.

My point here is that there's already mutual benefit built into the end game., there's just big difference in the amount of money received.

Also, I don't know how it works now, but, if you remember, the first season was pretty much decided by coin flip. Greg, the deciding vote, asked Kelly and Richard to pick a number from 1-10. The one who was closest got his vote.

Nope, Greg always intended to vote for Richard, he was just messing around.

Form the above it sounds like season 2 is a good one, but do any other seasons really stand out?

Season 2 is ok, it suffers from the final 5 or so challenges being forgone conclusions. Season 3 was pretty brutal and set in Africa. The cast was really struggling and probably caused the producers to make the setting not so difficult.

That said, here's my personal favorites, in no particular order. I won't reveal any details, as the seasons are easy to spoil, but I like the seasons with memorable characters and decent gameplay. Here they are:

Samoa (Season 19)
Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20)
Micronesia (Fans vs Favs, Season 16)
Palau (Season 10)
Panama (Season 12)
Pearl Islands (Season 7)
Vanuatu (Season 9)
Amazon (Season 6)

Do not, under any circumstances, watch Season 5, Survivor: Thailand. It was incredibly bad.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on July 3, 2012


Much as I didn't care for ["Boston Rob" and Amber's] two appearances on The Amazing Race and wish they would have stayed over on Survivor

I said this before, but upon further reflection I've changed my mind. There are teams on TAR that I just plain hate (I think they make TAR a worse show for being on it and wish they had never appeared on my screen), and there are teams that I love to hate (that I'm decidedly rooting against, but are worth having on because they improve the drama and make for good villians). And while many stunt-cast teams fall into my "just plain hate" bucket, Boston Rob and Amber, I think, were more of a "love to hate" team for me, so I withdraw my comment about them being on TAR.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:44 AM on July 3, 2012


Greg faced heavy criticism after the show for apparently allowing the whole game to come down to guessing a number, but he later explained that he had always intended to vote for Richard.

Oh come on. You don't think the producers may have influenced that explanation with some cash? Or that he felt some pressure to lie about it?

Season 20?! And I thought America's Next Top Model was out of control with their 19 seasons in 9 years...
posted by mrgrimm at 12:35 PM on July 3, 2012


Oh come on. You don't think the producers may have influenced that explanation with some cash? Or that he felt some pressure to lie about it?

Is there anything you can cite to back up those claims?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:25 PM on July 3, 2012


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