Utne Blogs > Media

Reality Bites

 by Stephanie Glaros


Tags: media, reality tv, pop culture,

When auditions were held at the Mall of America for season two of Survivor, I had lots of people telling me I should try out. Being the adventurous type, I gave it some semi-serious thought, but (thankfully) realized that I was not interested in having my foibles displayed on television. I had enough insight into how television is made to recognize that producers encourage participants to behave badly, and that what we see as viewers has been highly edited for the sole purpose of making people come off like jackasses. I, like millions of viewers worldwide, find it highly entertaining.

Fourteen seasons of Survivor later, reality TV shows are more popular than ever. Recently, another round of auditions were held in town, this time for the Style Network’s Split Ends, a show (that I’ve never seen) that uses the common formula of a “swap,” where one stylist trades places with another who is from a dramatically different type of salon, and major drama ensues as the two cultures clash. I know two owners of salons who were asked to audition (but were not chosen), so I got a bit of insight into the process. My salon sources tell me that the salon that was picked had to adhere to strict rules in order to participate. For instance, clients who had appointments for the day of the shoot could not be told in advance that their stylist had been swapped for another. Those who go along with it are not compensated for the inevitably disastrous results. As is usually the case on television, everyone involved signs a release that allows the network to use and reuse the images they shoot in any way they see fit. The clip below shows the woman whose salon was chosen from the local round of auditions. How is she portrayed? The same way every single person who’s ever been on reality TV has been: like a complete psycho jackass.

Now, what on earth did this poor salon owner think would happen? Hasn’t she watched the show? Why do people continue to audition for certain reality TV shows? I ask myself this question every time I find myself watching Wife Swap. Just how is it that participants think they will be portrayed? Do they say to themselves, “I am so special that I will be the first person ever portrayed as an awesome human being?” I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. And so, with little sympathy, I will continue to watch until people check their egos and realize how they are willingly letting themselves be used so that advertisers get the captive audience they want.