By the title, I’m sure many people would think this is some introspective piece on how life sends you unexpected challenges. However, anyone who is a fan of CBS’ Big Brother knows “expect the unexpected” means something else.
Reality TV shows have always, somewhat embarrassingly, been present in my life. When I was younger, I remember my sister, who is eight years older than myself, watching The Real World and Road Rules on MTV. I would plop down on the couch only for my mom to walk in and usher me away, mumbling about how the stuff on MTV isn’t great for third graders. (I mean she’s probably not wrong…)
Throughout elementary and middle school, American Idol was a family event. I remember the week before the fifth season finale, my entire family was diligently using any technology we could find to vote for Katharine McPhee, only to be heartbroken when Taylor Hicks was the winner. I, the youngest, was stuck calling in on our landline phone.
Now, I’m a die-hard fan of long-running shows like Big Brother and The Challenge, a show that pits reality stars from different shows against each other in physical and mental challenges, which is arguably a reality TV fan’s dream show, and a casual fan of shows like Are You The One? and The Bachelor franchise.
Everyone treats reality TV like a guilty pleasure, and I feel like a lot of people are afraid to admit they actually like reality TV. Honestly, it’s because reality TV gets a really bad rap. There are a ton of reality TV scandals, including racist contestants, sexual assault allegations, and of course, never-ending rumors that the “reality” TV is actually fake.
I definitely don’t condone companies or brands that give airtime to contestants harmful behavior, so I try to support shows that take action against such behavior, like when Bachelor in Paradise stopped filming due to a sexual assault allegation. Also, of course all these shows aren’t 100% real (other than Big Brother which is 1000% real) — without production staff directing stuff during The Bachelor, there’s no way it would be nearly as heartwarming.
But, why do many of us feel drawn to reality TV shows, even though we know it might be scripted? Well, Dr. Jana Scrivani, a licensed clinical psychologist, says: “Every genre of television…gives us a false sense that we really know the people we see on the screen each week…Modern life has us pulled in many different directions, and close ties between family and friends are at all-time lows. Over time, we come to see the folks portrayed on the screen as friends. We identify with their struggles and triumphs.”
As it turns out, some professionals think reality TV is actually good for our brains, in moderation, of course. According to Alex Hedger, cognitive behavioral therapist, “Many people use TV and social media, in particular, to increase either passive or active relationships with others. [These tools] can be really helpful, however like all things, balance is the key.”