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February 9, 2008

Unreal Reality – Survivor reality TV show

I’m pretty sure I could never be on a reality TV show. There’s just far too much clapping. I mean, they clap all the time! I just wouldn’t be able to keep up with it, emotionally, mentally or physically. If I ever did find myself in a situation like that, where I’m expected to clap for every little thing, it would certainly be the hardest trial of my life. The problem is just that: contestants in reality TV shows seems to demonstrate far too much enthusiasm for the smallest events. Is the vacuum of constantly living in the public eye so draining that even the introduction of a new person into the ecosystem sets off a blind orgy of noise-making?

Admittedly, I am not the biggest consumer of reality television. However, I do follow one show every week: Survivor. I’d like to be able to blame my interest in the show on the writer’s strike and the lack of any compelling dramas on television, but, let’s face it, I’ve been watching Survivor for long before the writer’s strike was even planned. And as much as I enjoy Survivor for all the usual reasons, if there was one thing that would make me stop watching, it would be the incessant clapping.

It just seems too fake, which is of course the antithesis of reality TV. Why so much enthusiasm, so much happiness, for the smallest things? The clapping is usually just the beginning: it is then shortly followed by, usually, some excited squealing, high-fiving with people in your proximity, jumping up and down energetically, and, in rare cases, group hugging. It’s all madness. I can understand showing this much emotion for winning the reality TV contest, or even winning one of the contest; but when the day’s contest is announced? Or, in Survivor’s case, when they get mail from their stoic host, Jeff Probst? It’s all a little too much.

And yet, theoretically, it’s totally appropriate for Survivor and its kind. It would not make for very good television to see Jeff announce something, and then have the camera cut to 20 people who stare skeptically at him, as if to say, “Stop with the bullshit, we’re not eight anymore. Move on to the interesting shit, Jeff.” The camera needs to see such hyper-displays of emotion, cued on the slightest flash from the camera lens. It’s no mistake that reality TV personalities are usually transmitted as one-dimensional: there’s always the crafty person who lies, the foxy city girl, the girl next door, the testosterone-dripping ape-like man, the heartthrob, the gay/sensitive guy, the hard worker, the intellectual, etcetera. Casting for Survivor must be ridiculously easy. Instead of looking for someone that can play the best part for the role, they look for someone who is played the best by the role. Reality TV shows fill a special niche in television programming, whereby they are very cheap to produce and usually have pretty solid returns on their investments. Reality sells pretty well these days. And so, since television audiences are largely just commodities to be sold to advertisers, it makes sense that the content of reality television — the people — should appeal to the broadest range of audiences possible. Reality television personalities are just that: neat categories where everyone will find at least one of their own personal qualities isolated and magnified in a character on television.

The hyper-displays of emotion are largely a function of one-note characters and the nature of canny television. Unfortunately, mass television on a budget can’t really comprehend subtle changes in emotion, complex rationales and convoluted personalities. Which is why people on Survivor clap, and they clap a lot, and they clap for anything. They have to. They may be very complex people in their private lives, but in front of the camera, they are, almost by necessity, clappers. Regardless of what cinema direct filmmakers may have you believe, people will act in front of the camera, even if they pretend that the camera is not there. The only way to not have people be afraid of the metaphorical fart in front of the camera is to film them without their knowledge. If not, they will clap and jump and squeal when presented with even the smallest bit of good news. Because that is Happiness. They need to clap for everything, because, if not, the camera would not understand the situation in front of it. It just seems too real, which is of course the thesis of reality TV.

This thought is brought to you by: Sebastian Buzzalino

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