My Culture/Teen Culture/TV

The Reality About Reality TV

Sometimes I can be a sucker for reality TV. In an act of marital charity, I recently sat down to watch an episode of The Bachelor with my wife. In less than five minutes I found myself shouting at the screen “NOOO, NOT HER!” when the so-called perfect man handed an immunity rose to a girl that seemed like the worst possible version of a human being.

But then like a classic Captain McJerkface, I had to ruin our bonding experience by pointing out all the moments I thought were fabricated or totally misleading.

Reality TV Isn’t Real at All

Way back in the day when the career of Ryan Seacrest was just getting popular, I used to work for E! Entertainment Television. I was the personal assistant for the director of E! News and one of my jobs was to stay on top of all things celebrity and make sure our competitors didn’t have scoops that we didn’t. The job basically required me to perpetuate as much celebrity worship as I could without breaking the first commandment. Ugh! But it was a start.

And in the process, I gained some exposure to the secret world of fake reality TV — also known as reality TV. I also had an industry mentor on the side who served as a producer and editor of America’s Next Top Model. He gave me a tour of his office one time and talked all about how the story that ends up on screen has very little to do with how things played out live in front of the camera.

So in the spirit of exposing real reality — and being that jerk who ruins things just because, — here are 4 ways reality TV lies about reality.

  1. The Shows Have Writers
  2. True, there aren’t traditional scripts on most reality shows like you would find on a feature film set or sitcom, but the producers often write and plan the general plot of episodes and the larger story arcs of a season. So something as seemingly innocuous as Khloe Kardashian going to a high-end boutique to pick out a dress, has been planned by the producers who feel it will provide good drama, high ratings, and maybe sponsorship dollars from the fashion designer whose dress she “decides” to buy.

  3. The Stars Are Cast
  4. The producer’s job is to squeeze the most drama she possibly can out of every episode. So they purposely pick people who either have personality types that will add drama, or they have people “play up” certain traits that are particularly obnoxious and riveting. Who you consider to be the most annoying girl on a particular dating show was probably cast – or directing to be – the most annoying girl on the dating show. Especially in reality TV, people love to hate characters that they find repulsive. These characters drive up ratings.

  5. The Stars Are Directed
  6. If producers are looking for a particular emotion or reaction to a situation and don’t feel they got it, they’ll ask the “non-actors” to simply try it again until they deliver what the producers want. The show also controls things like make-up, wardrobe, and home furnishings and decorations. So the visual elements of a featured house, for example, are highly controlled. And reality stars often wait around on the orders of the producers to tell them what to do and where to go.

  7. Editing is Everything
  8. I know first-hand how powerful editing is and how easily it is to build moments and scenes that never happened they way you originally wanted as a director. For my film work, I’ve often “stolen” moments from before I called “action”, or after yelled “cut”, because it was accidentally exactly what I needed to tell the story. Reality TV is uses the same tricks and is even more shameless about it. The look of sheer horror on Katie’s face when she “discovers” Jen kissing Greg could be a reaction to something completely unrelated that occurred a week before the kiss happened. If you ever hear a character talking when he is not actually on screen, the audio could be stolen bits recorded from anytime talking about anything at all.

These are just four examples of how reality TV manipulates stories into something far less meaningful than – but far more entertaining than – actual reality.

Comparisons Aren’t Worth It

I might be jaded because of my work experience, but I do know some things for sure: it is vital to separate entertainment from reality. It’s okay to be entertained by things we know aren’t real, but we do ourselves a great disservice when we start comparing our lives to what we think are the real lives of others on TV and start stumbling down the path of envy; or simply feel dissatisfied with the seemingly ordinary lives that we live.

Watching enough reality TV gives the impression that some people have lives that are continually exciting, adventurous, and simply better. Even their drama seems more interesting than ours. It would be a no-brainer to trade lives with these people right? But incessant comparison only brings dissatisfaction. And the lives we see played out on our favorite show are not real at all. We are only seeing moments – artificial moments – that TV executives feel would get the best ratings.

“God Moments” Aren’t TV Moments

I know that becoming the best version of myself- as God would have me be – means embracing all the highs and lows of my not-interesting-enough-for-TV life. If God were to cut his own “highlight reel” to show me the day I met him face-to-face, I bet it would look pretty boring to everybody else. That’s because the key moments in my life – the moments that have helped me to become more like a saint – are probably moments like going to Mass on Sunday even though I really really didn’t feel like it, or moments where I was tempted to take a “shortcut” like cheating on a test because it seemed easier than doing the right thing; but didn’t.

These aren’t TV moments at all. But they’re infinitely important. I want to live each day worthy of God’s highlight reel. Because in the end, only his ratings matter.

About the Author

Ryan O'Connell

After a hard day of work, I look forward to a little exercise, some blues guitar, and a moving-picture creation by my ex-employer and fickle lover, Hollywood. I’m also a fan of basketball, sketch comedy, and vigorously defending my beliefs using this academic gimmick called “truth.” God has blessed me with the most loyal friends a guy could ask for, and a disturbing inability to not laugh at stupid jokes.

Want to write for Life Teen? Click Here to learn more.