How Real is Reality TV?

May 20, 2014

realityEvery network seems to have their own “reality” show.  I put reality in quotes because it’s becoming painfully obvious that other than the people being physically present, there doesn’t seem to be much “reality” going on.  I experience more reality eating a Little Debbie Swiss Roll.  I had to find out how much “real” was in “reality”.

I was subtly duped one night watching Mystery Diners on the Food Network.  I know what you’re thinking, I actually watched Mystery Diners on the Food Network.  This is the show where an investigative team sets up hidden cameras and inserts their own moles to discover the nefarious goings-on behind the demise of some eating establishment.  I had seen the show before in passing but never paid much attention to the little clues of the fix.  This particular episode started off harmless enough.  The proprietor of this particular establishment couldn’t understand why he had been losing money the past couple of months.  He needed help.  He needed the Mystery Diners. They came in and set up cameras all over the establishment and planted their operatives to catch unsuspecting employees in the act.  Immediately the suspects began engaging in suspicious behavior.  They were making up items and prices from the menu and pocketing the money, telling the patrons it’s for a charity.  It goes on and on like this throughout the show, until somehow– and this is when it seems to fall apart–one of the mystery diner operatives agrees to donate money if someone from the establishment shaves their head.  Of course they find someone, and egads!  It’s one of the suspected employees.  He agrees to get his head shaved, and the manager lets him.  By this point my naive little head was spinning.  They weren’t scamming the boss; they were collecting money for his favorite charity.  The boss can’t believe it, but he’s mad, and calls them into the surveillance den to confront them.

This was the point where I felt like ramming my fist through my beautiful flat TV.  The acting couldn’t have been more contrived.  The employees and general manager are shocked at what they see.  They’ve been filmed secretly.  The owner is upset, and the employees explain they were just gathering money for the boss’s favorite charity.  The manager pleads for his job, the boss lightly scolds them, and the lead investigator (or whatever he’s called) states that this has never happened on Mystery Diners.  “Are you sure?” I questioned the TV.  I couldn’t believe I had been had.

I immediately went to where all the answers are–the internet, of course.  It was an easy search.  There were plenty of stories about Mystery Diners faking it.  One report said they had used actors as the suspects in order to play up the drama.  There’s even a website devoted to exposing it called Mystery Diners Fraud.  Their purpose is clearly stated as not trying to hurt the show or the Food Network, but to punish the businesses that profit from being on the show.

But I didn’t really need this information, if I would have been my own detective.  I then thought about it rationally.  The suspects in the show all have microphones.  You can clearly hear everything they are saying.  I doubt there was one of those guys with the giant saucers that you see at football games gathering sounds.  These people were clear as a bell in a noisy restaurant.  The acting during the show and especially during the confrontation was clearly a put on.  It was no different then watching someone with no acting experience attempting to say a few lines.  Another thing was somehow, someway, everything happened in one night.  I’ve worked in many restaurants as a bartender and waiter in my earlier years and things happened over time, never all in one night.  The statistical chance of them capturing all these things on camera was just to astronomical.

So it’s hard to tell what is truly real and what is not.  I won’t be watching this show again, but I’m sure there will be enough other people to take my place.  But what about other reality shows?  Is this a pervasive practice?  How much is actual reality?  My guess–not much.  Real life really isn’t that exciting.  Here’s a few others that might not be all that real.

The Real Housewives of Orange County – Unfortunately you probably know what this show is about, and I don’t plan to waste the energy in explaining it.  They’ve been accused of scripting scenes and faking it for the cameras.  Real shocker there.  You can read the story here.

Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares – This is the show where Ramsey blows his top and rehabilitates a dying restaurant business.  This one doesn’t seem to be faked, I guess.  What’s interesting are the outcomes.  Over a third of the restaurants the show has done have ended up closing.  Half the restaurants in the 2011-2012 season have closed, and all have closed from the 2008-2009 season.  See for yourself here.  Heck, even for the 2014 season, two have already closed.  I guess you can’t really blame the show since most of these places shouldn’t have stayed open in the first place.

The Kardash…Ah, who cares.

Storage Wars – Find a storage unit, buy a storage unit, reap unknown treasures from said storage unit.  But wait, maybe not.  One of the storage buying people (don’t remember his name and I don’t want to look it up) claimed that much of what was going on was scripted and faked.  He was canned.  This article pretty much sums it up.

South Beach Tow – Seemed like there was a momentary plethora of these towing shows.  This one, however, got caught in the act of faking it.

Pawn Stars – We all know the scenes between the transactions are scripted which gives the show some asinine storyline .  I just choose to ignore that part.  I only want to see someone have their hopes dashed when they come in thinking they have an original Picasso.

The Bachelor/Bachelorette – Where do I begin.  Although there have been no real controversies about a clear scripting of the show,  obviously it is heavily produced.  It should be in the game show category.

There are plenty of shows that are closer to true reality.  Car shows, comedy show (Impractical Jokers), home shows, renovation shows, cooking shows, and on and on.  I guess we can’t be too upset that there are a few bad apples in the bunch.  Now I have to go, No Man’s Land and House Hunters is coming on.

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

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