Reality check: Reality shows are peak TV

fall 2021 lariat mugs

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor

Despite being one of my absolute favorite genres, reality TV has quite the difficulty separating itself from one highly judgmental, severely generalized descriptor: trashy.

Oftentimes, reality TV is seen as bottom-of-the-barrel content that is a lot more “TV” than “reality” — its stereotypical poster child almost always being “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” What people don’t know, perhaps, is that reality TV encompasses so much more than a 24/7 look at the Kardashian-Jenner family. But even then, what’s wrong with that?

As a preface, I’m an absolute sucker for reality TV. You name it, I’ve watched it: “Survivor,” “Love is Blind,” “Million Dollar Listing,” “Big Brother,” “Say Yes to the Dress,” “Masterchef,” “The Amazing Race,” “The Real Housewives” (of pretty much every city). I could keep going, but I think you get the gist.

As an aside, though, I also find it pertinent to clarify that reality TV is not the only kind of entertainment I consume, and I would encourage people to receive more formative content through other mediums. For example, I avidly listen to theological podcasts, and I love to read classic works by authors ranging from Thomas Aquinas to Jane Austen. In these ways, it’s important to diversify the kinds of media you’re taking in.

Above all else, it’s important to recognize that reality TV is an immensely broad field. If you couldn’t tell by the truncated list of shows I’ve watched above, it’s pretty difficult to stick a label on them. After all, a group of castaways being taken to an island to scavenge for food and compete in physically demanding challenges is a whole lot different from women walking into Kleinfeld Bridal to try on wedding dresses.

As a result, it’s almost impossible to make the sweeping argument that all reality TV is good or bad. What connects these shows, then? What is their appeal? What draws diverse audiences to tune into them for a new episode every week?

Perhaps the greatest appeal of reality TV is that it highlights real people — not actors — in an unscripted fashion. Reality TV is natural. Everyday people are playing themselves, not an obscure character whose personal life and struggles were dreamed up in the mind of a director. Sometimes, this may mean reality TV gets to the very core of contemporary existence, offering an accurate and organic picture of humanity and the societal issues we are facing today.

However, it’s important to note that reality TV doesn’t have to be groundbreaking to be worth the watch, just like not every book has to set forth a riveting or life-changing lesson within its pages in order to be worth the read. Fantasy books and young adult fiction may not have a ton to offer in the realm of personal improvement and education, but that doesn’t mean they should never leave the bookshelves of the library. Some things can just be about enjoyment and rest, and the TV shows you watch are one of them.

There are a lot of binge-worthy shows out there that offer riveting plotlines and grand character arcs. Next time you’re taking a break and scouring your streaming services for something to watch, though, give reality TV a chance. Its lighthearted, competitive, down-to-earth nature might be just what you need.

Jenna Fitzgerald is a senior University Scholar from Dallas, with a secondary major in news-editorial and minors in political science and Spanish. In her third year at the Lariat, she is excited to learn from her staff and walk with them through the daily joys and challenges of publication. After graduation, she plans to attend grad school and hopefully teach at the college level.