Reality TV has become a staple for U.S. television. We all know that a majority of the shows are complete trash, and yet millions tune in religiously to watch them. In some cases, it is no different than watching a car wreck or a scene of utter amazement. Almost everyone who watches TV has at least one reality show they watch, even if it is a guilty pleasure. I certainly have a few.
Survivor used to be an entertaining show, but went downhill over the years as their attempts to inject a fresh angle were poorly executed and simply not creative. Hell’s Kitchen is entertaining, but primarily because Gordon Ramsay delivers a level of verbal abuse that would make some drill sergeants nod in respect. COPS has become routine, but I still enjoy it when a dumbass shows the textbook way to get tased. Ninja Warrior (Japan more than US) is entertaining, as it demonstrates a level of physical ability that few will ever know. I watch these shows because of the entertainment value, but also as background noise while working. They simply aren’t engaging enough on their own to warrant full attention.
There are two reality shows that stand out to me, as they went in a different direction. Instead of throwing people into a scripted and absurd situation before calling it ‘reality’ (e.g. Big Brother, Jersey Shore), some shows throw people into a very different situation for our entertainment, and education.
Solitary is a reality show on the Fox Reality Channel whose contestants were kept in round-the-clock solitary confinement for a number of weeks with the goal of being the last contestant remaining in solitary…
And that is the beauty of this show. For most competitions determining elimination, contestants were competing against themselves. Confined in their rooms, with only a robotic voice giving direction at times, they would keep doing a given task that got more difficult until they could take no more. At that point, they would hit a buzzer to indicate they were done. Each time they hit the buzzer, they had no knowledge of the other contestants so they never knew if they were the first to buzz out. As such, each contestant gave it their all. In addition to the eliminations via contests, some physical, some mental, they were participating in a larger contest every minute. When the pressure of being alone after having their identity stripped (they were only referred to as a number by the computer voice) was too much, they could buzz out of the entire contest.
No social game, just a test of self determination to see the extent a person can persevere.
The Colony is a reality television series that is produced by the Discovery Channel. The program follows a group of people who must survive in a simulated post-apocalyptic environment.
Season 1 is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, with 10 people living in an abandoned warehouse. While food and water is a daily struggle for them, the group is well-stacked for creativity and ability. Handyman, carpenter, machinist, computer scientists, and more. By the end of the show they have solar power, lighting, a shower, working radio (transmitter and receiver), and a lot more in the way of living. The group is put through many tests, often in the form of raiders, or other survivors begging for food and water to test the group’s unity. After surviving for almost sixty days, and losing one group member to an unknown incident, they are given a chance of escape and do so. The simulation is pretty well done and gives a rough idea of what life might be like. It shows how each person copes, how the group bonds as well as fights, over the smallest things. Commentary from an engineer, psychologist, and disaster consultant give insight as to what they are building, their mental state, and what options they have given the landscape.
Some of my gripes about season 1 are addressed early in season 2. Instead of attackers that push, shove, and menace, the colonists in season 2 are instantly pepper sprayed by the first large band of marauders. This forces them to use precious supplies like milk to neutralize the stinging. Season 2 also carries more dead weight; not everyone has life training in a discipline that has immediate use. A 22 year old model and a 70 year old man are in the group, giving a better spectrum of who may survive. Set on the edge of the bayou, this colony simulates a viral outbreak where every encounter with marauders must be done with masks and the threat of exposure. If possibly exposed during the struggles, they must self-quarantine themselves for 12 hours, and are only allowed to rejoin the colony if there are no signs of infection (e.g. fever, vomiting). In each case, while simulated, it gives a good glimpse into what a lack of society looks like. It shows how our minds work and how we can quickly descend into the types of people we looked down upon weeks earlier.
Know of any other reality shows along these lines? Let me know!