Remember how American TV game shows used to be so simple? Shows like Win, Lose or Draw, Spin the Wheel, Charade and Jeopardy were played on our TV screens daily. Families enjoy some quality time together while learning a thing or two. Its entire objective was to test the participant’s general knowledge and the stakes were low. It was fun, innocent, stressless, unsuspenseful and above all, non-commital.
Now, these shows have mutated to a completely different level. The primal psychological behaviours of human beings are being tested more than their general knowledge as these shows begin to incorporate the element of realitism. Now, we get to watch human beings being stripped naked by baring their most ugly and disgusting side before our TV screens.
Yes, you know what I am talking about. Reality TV game shows are now taking the world by storm with the manifestation of programmes such as The Amazing Race, Fear Factor, The Bachelor/ette, The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Ten Model, etc. Some countries have even adopted their own version to accomodate the huge demand of local population.
We don’t actually need soap operas anymore because we can catch a glimpse of couples fighting, girls bitching and backstabbing each other, groups of people ganging up against one and other miscellaneous emotional drama. All these in their quest for money, fame and success in a short period of a season. It is no longer fun or innocent but in fact, hostile and adversarial.
I remember Survivor, one of the first few ones which kept me in suspense every week. I liked it because I enjoyed watching the psychological factors which revolved around the participants. It was all about politics at its most primal level, developing strategies, making calculative moves, building alliances, anticipating counter-moves, and diplomacy. All that with the added value of soap opera entertainment of course.
Well, to be honest, the person who invented this concept is pretty smart because at the end of the day, he or she understands the core natures of human beings. What are these natures? The seven mortal sins (lust, sloth, gluttony, envy, pride, wrath and greed) sum it up quite succintly, with the exception of one. You’ll find out which one I mean as you read on.
While some of the shows have its merits because it probably starts off by providing regular people an opportunity to strike it rich, have their talents discovered or to have that five-minute fame. Sometimes, even if you don’t win and make a complete fool of yourself, you still stand a chance to become a global phenomenon. Remember that Asian guy who sang Ricky Martin’s She Bangs or Booms (I actually can’t remember but who cares? Nobody really remembers what Ricky actually sang after the song became “Siew Peng”) in his audition for American Idol?
So, no wonder they are so popular because nobody loses. The producers are happy with the popularity of their shows, the participants get their fame and the viewers can’t seem to get enough of them.
Bottomline is, what really makes these shows so successful is simply because it feeds on our human nature. As we become more capitalistic and competitive in this world, we want to become rich, successful or famous as quick as possible and the only way to do that is to eliminate other people’s chances of getting to it before you do. And we all enjoy watching this because we, as regular people form our own alliances with the participants and then cheer them on.
How often do you overhear conversations where people are asking each other who they support in these shows? I bet you that reality TV game show finalists are more popular than McCain and Obama combined together. The majority of people in this world don’t really care about the future of international policies because they care more about who will win that one hundred thousand dollars in The Amazing Race. At the end of the day, that relates to them more than the war in bloody Iraq.
The participants will do almost anything just to win the competition. In Fear Factor, I’ve watched participants drank Madargascan coakroaches smoothie...hmmmm...delightful! But nothing takes the ultimate toll than my current favourite, The Moment of Truth.
The Moment of Truth is in fact a very simple game. There is no opponent as such but your only enemy is actually yourself and the stakes are higher than the half a million jackpot. The participant is required to answer a series of twenty one increasingly personal and embarassing questions while being strapped to a polygraph. So, at the end of the day, it boils down to how truthful you are or how well you can lie to the polygraph.
What shocks me most while watching the show is not as much as the questions asked, neither is it the answers given. The truth is, I don’t really care whether Jim has slept with his wife’s sister or Kate had sex for money. Even if Andy had slept with Bob, his pet dog, I wouldn’t fall off my chair in shock.
What these regular people had done will not affect anything in my life but wouldn’t it be a nice thought if they can do the same with our politicians? (Just imagine asking Najib, “Did you order the murder of Altantuya Shaaribuu?” I hope some kids will spook this on YouTube soon.)
Anyway, what baffles me is how often the participant’s beloved ones break down emotionally as soon as they hear the truth. What? Do they expect the host to ask, “Have you ever digged your nose in public before?” For the prize of half a million dollars, they better be asking some damn tough questions. These people enter the game knowing full well what to expect and all these feelings of betrayal and hurt are just plain pathetic. As if by displaying their dirty laundry in public, with the motivation of cashing in huge sum of money is not shameful enough.
Where is their pride? Yes, they have all the mortal sins but pride. (Ok, where does gluttony fit in but if they can swallow sheep’s testicles, they can qualify as gluttons!)
This is how some societies have become in this day and age. Self-dignity, human relationships and interaction are being compromised in the name of individualistic gain. The worrying thing is, as much as media has given us a lot of joy and entertainment, it also changes our world and the way we think. If we do not watch it with discretion or take it purely as a form of entertainment, such capitalistic and degrading behaviours will be glorified as ways of fulfilling one’s ambition and dreams.
Are you game for that?
Written on 21 September 2008