Summer is a time to relax, lay back, and detach. It’s a time for guiltless beach reads that are a bit less thought-provoking than winter’s heavy, thematic tones, and it’s a time to indulge in one of the greatest pleasures of modern tv — competition reality shows.
I’m not talking about the high-end reality shows — no Top Chef here, or even Project Runway. I’m talking super trashy, super silly, alliance-making, scheming tv, complete with silly “challenges” and more in-fighting than anything else. So what are the options on the table right now?
Whoddunit?, Siberia, Summer Camp, and Big Brother 15. If, unlike me, you don’t have two hours a day in which you are brain dead, you can’t watch all of them. So which is worth your time?
This season, Big Brother 15 is your best guess. It’s been in the news significantly, based upon houseguests making racist, sexist, and homophobic comments. While that’s enough to turn most people off, it also makes for really compelling television. After all, the main reason we watch reality tv, why, as a culture we are fascinated by it, is because it has the potential to reflect our lives, or give us insight into the lives of people we would never know. Many of us are fortunate enough to not be subjected to homophobia and racism, and half of us have no experience with sexism (looking at you, men). But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the prejudices don’t exist, and Big Brother this season is providing insight into the kind of casual racism that occurs every day. For those of you who have no desire to watch “filth,” it’s important to note that most of the comments are relatively innocuous. What’s startling isn’t the cruelty of the comment taken in isolation: it’s the off-handed use.
Don’t watch the show to see negative comments — instead, it’s worth watching because, by having real, legitimate villains, we’re also able to watch heroes. The two black “houseguests” are consistently rising above. The one Asian houseguest gets to “turn the other cheek” and the one gay houseguest maintains a friendly demeanor even around the most negative members. Plus, one righteously indignant female houseguest has become the voice of America, shaming the people who make slurs and reminding everyone to be a better person.
And if that’s not enough, every episode includes a wacky challenge, ranging from hanging off a giant popsicle, to tearing apart feather pillows after having crawled through a pit of honey. Fun to be had by all!
If that isn’t your thing, your next best bet is. . .
Siberia. Okay, granted, the show isn’t actually a reality show. It’s scripted (or improved, maybe? It’s hard to tell). But, 85% of the time, it feels like a reality show. The interviews are stilted, occasionally repetitive, and entirely un-self-aware. The conversations between competitors have the regularly awkward pauses and lapses, and every once in a while a competitor makes a statement that was clearly couched by production. Just pretend it isn’t scripted — trust me, it’s possible.
No random competitions in this show — but competitors regular “die” off, which still manages to cut the cast down. Besides, with actors playing all of the roles, production is able to play more games than on other shows, including having wild tigers, gigantic monsters prowling the forest, and a seasons-long mystery that they don’t have to worry about having anyone actually solve. Occassionally it’s silly, and at this point it’s seeming unlikely that they’ll be able to maintain the “reality show facade” for the whole season, but it’s still better than much of the drivel on tv.
Still not your thing? Third ranked on the list is “Whodunnit?” the murder mystery series on ABC. Each episode is a little mini murder-mystery game, and in theory, at the end of the season we’ll find out who was the “murderer” throughout the game (though it’s clear at this point that either the producers haven’t decided who it will be, or just don’t care — don’t bother playing along, there aren’t any clues being dropped as to who the murderer is). Instead of figuring out who committed murders, the contestants have to figure out how.
The show suffers the most from an inconsistent premise. On the one hand, both the competitors and the audience knows that the “deaths” on the show are staged. Nobody really dies, and nobody is in any danger. Yet, in interviews, the contestants vacillate between playing the “game” and being in terror for “their lives.” This creates an unsettling feeling as the show tilts back and forth between the two separate premises. Unlike Siberia, this show is not scripted, and the contestants are not actors — which means that their “fear” is usually relatively laughable.
But, on the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to play along at home, and try to piece together how the murders were committed. Just suspend any knowledge of how reality works (after all, a slingshot from 50 feet breaking a spinal cord. . .I don’t know about that one).
Finally, if you’re really not digging rude people, fake people, or real people pretending to be fake people, there’s always USA’s first reality show, Summer Camp. The show takes a group of people to camp, to live and compete in summer-camp themed activities. Every week there is a “social” (aka a chance for the girls and the boys, who are housed in separate dorms, to meet and flirt) and there’s a Color Wars Challenge, with boys competing against girls. The loser of the challenge has to send someone home.
The show suffers from regular, freshman attempts — the characters are semi-flat, nobody knows how to plan ahead to strategize, and the contestants fluctuate between earnest do-gooders and scheming, Machiavellian villains. Still, it’s light, and airy, and requires no brain power — perfect for a lazy, stormy summer night.
And on that note, it’s Sunday night at 8, which means a brand new episode of Big Brother. . .