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Has "Reality TV" Become *Too* Real?
By: Jen W., Grade 12, Holy Heart of Mary High School, St. John's, NF

In a time where the average TV viewer of the world has become bored with the quotidian ideas for sitcoms and dramas, one longs for differentiation. In our capitalist economy, the bigger companies no longer concern themselves with how it will affect the public, but how will it increase their profits. And these days, people want to see these "real life" situations, where people from all over are plucked from their homes and then thrown into these situations where they must survive, resist temptation, or uncover a saboteur, usually in order to win the big bucks. Again, notice the greedy capitalist money motif.

But, of course, it wouldn't be real life unless the so-called contestants were chasing after an elusive pot of gold. Human life struggles to attain money, and will go to unbelievable lengths to achieve such wealth. CBS's Survivor, the most popular and probable instigator of the success of such reality shows, is currently airing their second season, The Australian Outback, where the Survivors are in danger of some of the most deadly and poisonous creatures in the world - not to forget the other dangers, such as lack of food, and unhealthy competition. And just think: it's all for a million bucks.

The success of Survivor's first season lead to the sprouting of more ideas among CBS's network geniuses, creating the show Big Brother as competition for ratings. This show gathered contestants that were to live in a house, blocked from the outside world, where the public would vote off people, by calling a 1-900 number. Cha-ching. Although the 1984 allusion existed in the title, the show lacked a certain amount of intrigue. Personally, I found it dull to watch people sit around a house. Sure, I could watch them whenever I wanted, but I mean, I could also watch my plants grow. But then again, my plants are "surviving" for a million dollars...

Making the Band, a new success amongst the reality shows, differed slightly from the rest. Twenty-five stereotypical teenage guys were chosen from all over the United States, in an attempt to be narrowed down to the final five, the number of success, to create the "next big thing"- yet another boy band. Not only was ABC playing on society's want of beautiful people and a need for a band of "hotties" to fulfill the hopes, dreams, and hormones of teenage girls, they attempted to create another ploy for the economy. A perfect blend, so to speak, for Lou Pearlman, the creator of such bands as N'Sync and the Backstreet Boys, who would not only draw fame onto the band, but would also make more money for the pop music industry.

As competition became more and more treacherous, TV companies had to find bigger and better ideas to keep the public's interest and ratings alive. ABC created The Mole, where 10 competitors were flown to Spain, and had to play detective. One of the people among them was the Mole, a saboteur who would attempt to ruin their challenges and, in turn, make them lose money for the "group pot" - the winner's final earnings. Fox also showed no mercy as they revealed their sleazy version of reality TV: the infamous Temptation Island. Four couples were sent to an exotic island, where they were to be split up and placed among 25 beautiful, young, single people of the opposite sex. Although no money was involved directly, the whole shindig appeared to be pricey, but hey, it was good, trashy television. It got ratings.

But, through it all, one must wonder where to draw the line with these programs. The psychological stress of having to deal with such situations fascinates the common viewer, because chances are, they will never be in that type of case, and question how they, themselves, would react. And if that doesn't take enough of a toll on their minds, the sudden shock of fame could do them in. Whether they acquire the winning position or not, these survivors will eventually begin to pop up everywhere once the final episodes have aired: not only did all the Survivors from last season appear on morning shows the day after they were voted off, many of them have been given movie offers, commercials, endorsements.

Yet, the stakes are getting bigger as the public intrigue needs new, exciting levels to attain. And as long as the broadcasting companies want profits, they'll supply the consumer's needs, whether they regard human integrity or not. On the last Survivor: The Australian Outback, Mike, one of the Kucha tribe members, was air-lifted off of the "set" after a shocking accident that has left him literally scarred forever. Although some rumors involved a crocodile attack, Mike actually blacked out and fell into the campfire after accidentally inhaling some smoke, burning his hands, shoulders, and face. This initial shock proved that reality TV - something that the viewer sees as merely another contrived TV series - became all too real. But where will the line be drawn? Are the big television companies so ruthless that they'll keep making these new and improved super reality shows, whatever the physical or psychological human cost may be? And are we, as viewers, going to give them a reason to keep making these risk-filled reality shows? Remember: only you can prevent forest fires.

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