Becky Flaum
October 24, 2013 4:00 pm

As much as we hate to admit it, we live in a world of reality television. At its best, reality TV inspires you to do good and at its worst, it alienates an entire region of the country from the rest of us.

Reality junkies love to talk about their shows like they are really happening to people they know. Maybe it’s because they aren’t really “stars”, they are just actual people wearing way too much make up and large chunky necklaces. Gossiping about reality stars is like talking about the popular kids at school. You kind of know them, but you’re still in awe of them in some weird way.

So approach a conversation with a reality show fan like you would talk to them about someone you both know who’s on drugs/getting a divorce/going bankrupt/just a big ole bitch. If you want to know who to mention, watch 5 minutes of whatever show it is to get the gist of it. Watch any more than 5 and you’ll get sucked in. Tip: If they love a “Real Housewives” series, Kim or Lisa are good names to use.

At this point in the conversation, you can switch to real reality, talk about people you have actually known that have gone through something like that. This is applicable with almost any reality show conversation. Get the gist of the problem of the reality show, and then translate it to real real life.

JUST REMEMBER: When talking about reality TV, it’s important to take all judgement away. Reality TV isn’t that bad. And reality fans know you are judging them, deep down. Except for cooking show junkies, they think what they’re watching isn’t reality…but I’ve got news for you, Chef Couch Potato, “Top Chef” is a reality show.

THE BASICS

At it’s roots, reality television started pretty reputably. The first sort of reality show was the 12-part PBS series “An American Family” documenting the life of a nuclear family in 1971 as the parents went through a divorce.

But the real beginning of the reality phenomenon we know today is with the first season of “The Real World” — “seven strangers picked to live in a house and have their lives taped. Find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” Those first few seasons were magic and some actual talent emerged from that show – actress, Jacinda Barrett (London), VJ and host, Eric Nies (New York), and radio personality Lindsay Brien (Seattle) to name a few.

After that “Survivor” and “Big Brother” crossed the pond from the UK and paved the way for everything from “The Amazing Race” to “American Idol” to “America’s Next Top Model”. America yearned to watch people compete with one another in humiliating contests for money and fame.

So let’s get right in to all the different kinds of reality and maybe you judgers like me can find something that might not make you feel like your brain is going to ooze out of your head.

GLOSSARY

Not all reality is created equal. There’s loads of it that is totally watchable, interesting, and at times, disturbing (I’m looking at you “Hoarders”).

Fly on the wall: This usually involves the cast in a special living environment like “The Real World”, “Big Brother” or “Temptation Island”. Anything that takes people out of their comfort zone and puts them in with others outside their comfort zone, like “The Real World” spin-off, “Road Rules”

Celebrity: At first it meant real celebrities, like “The Osbournes”, “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels”, and “Nick and Jessica: Newlyweds” (RIP), now our definition of celebrity is a little loose and  Snooki and JWow have their own show. You can also take celebrities and put them in crazy living situations like “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” or early reality staple, “The Simple Life”.

Dating: From “The Bachelor” to “Flavor of Love”, this sub-genre of reality focuses on finding love for anyone from a washed up rock star (“Rock of Love”) to a reality show darling (“I Love New York”). Contestants do outrageous things to win the heart of their paramour and usually fight a lot…or in one contestant’s case, poop on the stairs.

Competition: Anything that involves a winner and a loser. The dating shows are also a competition, there are cooking competitions, competitions to be a model a pop star, a dance star, a fashion designer, an interior designer, the best cupcake maker, the best makeup artist….the list goes on and on….if you want to be it, there is a show that will help you become it.

Home improvement/makeover: Do you want to look better? Lose weight? Do you hate your dining room? These are the reality shows you want to watch. These are also the ones mostly likely to make you cry and include “Extreme Makeover Home”, “Biggest Loser” and “Extreme Makeover Weight Loss”.

Professions: Ever wanted to know what it was like to be a hog wrangler? Well thanks to these types of reality shows, you can find out! The origins of this is of course the long running 1989 smash hit “COPS”. But now we can see what it’s like to be a fisherman (“Deadliest Catch”) , a pawn shop owner (“Pawn Stars”), people that buy abandoned storage units (“Storage Wars”), a bounty hunter, or a tattoo artist in just about any city in America. And how could we leave out the owners of everyone’s favorite duck call company, “Duck Dynasty”.

Sub-cultures: Any show that gives you a window into a culture you wouldn’t normally encounter. This covers all those TLC shows that show you how strange people can be like “My Crazy Obsession” and shows about people that eat weird stuff. This also includes the series of shows on rednecks, the Amish, little people, people with multiple kids…..and pageant moms. This is where they would categorize all the “housewives” too.

Kardashian: There are so many spinoffs of the original show it is practically it’s own genre now. Plus, I couldn’t bring myself to call them celebrities. But they’ve got a lot of drama.

WHO’S WHO

To even begin to name all the people you should know in reality, you have to pinpoint what everyone is really watching. Here’s a few Housewives, a member of the Robertson clan, and reality show producing giants that are good to know.

Lisa Vanderpump: This Beverly Hills housewife is a British restauranteur with a dog named Giggy that has a really bad skin problem and wears sweaters. She has her own show now, “Vanderpump Rules”.

Andy Cohen: If you’ve ever watched anything on Bravo, Andy Cohen has had his hand in it. He’s the vice president of original programming for the network and the host of all those crazy “Housewives” reunion shows. He’s got his own show “Watch What Happens Live”, that’s like a call in show with celebs.

Nene Leakes: The Atlanta housewife who was actually acting for a while on NBC’s “The New Normal” is now back on Bravo with “I Dream of Nene” where she’s planning her wedding to long time beau and on again off again husband, Gregg.

Si Robertson: Crazy uncle on “Duck Dynasty”. Si is a Vietnam vet and clearly suffered a little bit of brain damage…or has always been this crazy. Anyway, it’s amusing and utterly bewildering what Si deems appropriate sometimes.

Mark Burnett: Thank Mark for bringing “Survivor” to the US.  He’s is also responsible for “The Voice”, “The Apprentice” and “Shark Tank”, where people pitch their small businesses to moguls in the hopes of getting investment money.

Big Ang: You guys, I love that this woman is a real human being. The breakout star from VH-1’s “Mob Wives”, Big Ang has big lips, big boobs, big personality and she talks like Harvey Fierstein. She has a new show now called “Miami Monkey” following her as she expands the brand of her bar, The Drunken Monkey.

TAGLINES

Besides just nodding and saying “uh-huh” when your friend goes off on the latest reality feud, there’s a lot that can be said about it.

“Who cares about the Richards anyway? Lisa rules Beverly Hills.”

“Kris Jenner is like the Joe Simpson of the Kardashian girls. Ruining relationships for business and money…” (I truly believe Nick and Jessica would have made it if it weren’t for Joe)

“The creepiest “My Crazy Obsession” is the one where (insert any crazy thing you can think of here)”

FOR MORE INFO

Watch television. Actually, how the whole industry came into being is pretty fascinating. But if you want to actually get into this, I don’t know… for scientific research purposes or a bachelorette weekend with your cousin and her sorority sisters. Check out these books, shows and websites.

Books: Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market by Troy Devolld, Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture by Andy Cohen, and tons of books by reality stars themselves.

Shows/Docs: Watch “The Soup” seriously. It’s comedy and doses of reality TV where you can get the gist of what is going on…some higher brow viewing: PBS’s “An American Family”, The “Up” series (a filmmaker follows a group of kids from the age of 7 and returns every 7 years…it started in 1964 and they just did “56 Up” in 2012)

Websites: Reality Tea and Reality TV World

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