In the Summer of 2012, I reluctantly watched my first season of The Bachelorette. As the weeks progressed, the plot thickened. Was Emily really falling for that guy? Ugh, why do I have to wait a whole week to find out who is eliminated next? As the season continued, I was hooked. I became a faithful viewer, sending in my tweets and checking social media to see what other fans were thinking. When I went out in public, I started to notice contestant look-alikes. Just weeks before the season ended, I finally realized that I had a problem. Emily was down to her final four men, and I was going to miss it all because I was taking a two-week vacation to Europe. Sure, I could record the grand finale, but I would be two weeks behind. My reality had begun to mesh with Emily’s, and suddenly, regardless of my own bountiful circumstances, I wanted Emily’s more.
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Whether you keep up with the Kardashians, secretly wish that you owned a shop like Pawn Stars, aspire to be the next contestant on Dancing With The Stars, or simply want to feel better about your own life when you watch the latest episode of Hoarders, there is a reality television series that will suit anyone’s preferences. Sure, you may actually learn something when you learn how Alaskan fisherman live while watching Travel Channel’s Deadliest Catch, or learn about the lifestyle of a little person on what was once TLC’s Little People Big World, but there is something beyond our desire for education that reels us in to our population’s various forms of reality. From the Real Houswives of Orange County to the group of friends on Jersey Shore, Americans have a passion for peeking into the lives of their “neighbors.”
As Tracie Egan Morrissey states in The New York Times, reality television shows may not depict the America that we like or the lifestyle that we know, but they certainly represent a part of America that exists. Think about it: Here Comes Honey Boo Boo documents the life of a child beauty pageant participant who lives an eccentric life with her unconventional family in rural Georgia. While some Americans might never associate themselves with a family like Honey Boo Boo’s, we still take part in the daily joys and struggles of the Thompson and Shannon family from the safe confines of our couch. Similarly, most Americans don’t find it very cool to make friends with drug addicts and alcoholics, and if we are related to one ourselves, we don’t typically advertise it. However, when watching Intervention, all judgement is put aside as we watch the addict struggle through their life until their worrisome family requests an intervention. Whether they have the world at the tip of their fingers, 25 women who want to marry them, or a voice that’s being judged by Simon Cowell, the stars of reality television let us get a glimpse of a life that we may never have, filled with people that we may never meet.
As Andy Dehnart writes in The New York Times, reality television serves as both a window and a mirror – it reveals a lot about ourselves and humanity, and it shows how people react and interact in abnormal situations. Just how I wanted Emily and Jef to get married after The Bachelorette ended, reality television gives ordinary people the opportunity to consider how we would respond. Although we get pleasure out of watching the crazy and different lives of our fellow Americans, we can also relate to little moments that they experience – through the hectic mess in which they live, they remain human, just like us. Jon and Kate had eight children, a seemingly rare American situation. However, when they began to have marital problems, some of us could begin to relate. As fun and carefree as Rob and Big’s life was during most of their reality TV stint, things suddenly got real and life had to settle down when Big became a father.
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Emily ended up picking Jef, my favorite contestant, to be her final man in The Bachelorette. I was so excited – I had predicted this all along. However, I was brought back to reality when, just a few months later, the flame of Emily and Jef’s romance blew out. Reality TV reminds us that no matter how perfect someone’s life may look through the window of television, at the end of the day, their imperfections reflect off of the bathroom mirror, just like ours.
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