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Celebrity Survivor: The Key to Unlocking the Mysteries of Reality Television
Reality television is being shoved down the throats of each and every one of America's television viewers, ever single God-forsaken day. And yet, we keep on watching with smiling, unflinching veracity. Is this because we're stupid? Well, yes, probably. But there is another, far easier-to-swallow explanation for our life-altering addiction to reality television: In general, we all love people. Now this may seem obvious to some and completely ridiculous to others (those who actively hate people, like my tenth grade math teacher), but it is fundamentally true. Being human, we identify most with other, real humans. And, on reality shows like Survivor, it is undeniable that the contestants are real, live humans. Now that reality television has infiltrated what used to be the universally fictitious land of TV, viewers are now stuck. We can't go back and we (likely) never will.
The reason we all crave human interaction (as opposed to scripted interaction) these days is because, where scripted characters have become predictable, humans are especially unpredictable. On scripted drama, the good guy wins 99.9% of the time. On reality shows, the bad guy wins, the good guy wins, the hot girl wins, the gay guy wins, and sometimes even the really boring person wins; just look at Survivor. You never know.
With this in mind, I had an idea: What if (and I admit this is a fairly outlandish hypothetical) CBS created a celebrity season of Survivor, but with all famous actors playing versions of their most famous screen character. Now, I would not be expecting flawless method acting. The strategic decisions they make within the game would not have to be made by “their character”. However, they would have to interact as their “character” with the others as well as to the camera.
This Survivor would create a sociological experiment far more enlightening than this year's racially segregated version; it would question our motives in watching reality television, put in doubt any notion that contestants on reality shows are “real”, and possibly shatter my (admittedly weak)thesis back in the first paragraph. If the Survivors who we know are “acting” end up being just as engaging or (gasp) even more so than normal people, what would that say about previous incarnations of Survivor (or any other reality show)? Although (as evidenced in the first paragraph) I'd like to believe that us humans are perceptive in our enjoyment of reality TV, it's possible we are being manipulated much more than first thought.
I do believe that we all love to watch human interaction and conflict, but what happens when we know it's not (completely) real? I suppose we know this now; everyone agrees that shows are creatively edited. However, we still like to think that the people are essentially real and, therefore, their interactions, opinions, and decisions are wholly their own. What happens when this is, outwardly, not the case? Through the prism of made-up characters portrayed by well-known celebrities, how would any conflict that arises be consumed by the viewing public? If we were to enjoy this quasi-ficticious conflict as much as the typical Survivor conflict, does that mean that the realism of reality TV is not only overrated, but unnecessary?
If Celebrity Survivor came to be as I envision it (which it never, ever will), it would do a lot to help us understand why we love reality television. Is it simply drama packaged in a new, exciting way? Or does the fact that people are real truly add to the viewers enjoyment and sense of connectedness?
I still can't decide whether reality TV is good or bad for us, but until then I'll just keep watching Survivor and rooting for the bad guy.
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