Reality TV: when will it end?

Fox TV described There’s Something About Miriam as “6 eligible men, 1 beautiful model named Miriam, and an enormous secret reveal you never saw coming!”

Well, actually the reveal is pretty obvious from the web site. It’s your basic reality TV dating show, where a bunch of loser guys compete for the attention of a woman–but this time, the object of their affections is, unknown to them, a pre-op male-to-female transsexual.

The show was made in 2003 and shown in the UK in 2004. It’s currently finishing up its US run on the Fox Reality Channel; the final 2 episodes are next weekend. Because of the delay before the show aired here, the offscreen drama has already played out.

As you might have guessed, the male contestants were not very happy about the show, and felt they had been ridiculed. They launched a lawsuit claiming everything from defamation, thru psychological damage, all the way up to “conspiracy to commit sexual assault”. (Don’t flatter yourselves, boys.) Eventually the production company behind the show settled out of court.

Another “lie to the contestants” TV show soon followed. Space Cadets sent a group of ordinary mouth-breathing reality TV show contestants on a 5 day mission in earth orbit. That’s what they were told, anyway; in reality they were stuck in a fake spacecraft built on a disused military base in Suffolk. Apparently they didn’t catch on, and a cash payout at the end prevented legal unpleasantness. Viewing figures were disappointing, though, with many people refusing to believe that anyone could be stupid enough to fall for the hoax, and concluding that the whole thing was in fact a fake reality show made using actors.

The scenario reminds me of an SF short story, 50s I think, about a group of astronauts who are similarly sent on a faked mission–but who go insane after the accidentally get to see the far side of the moon, which is just a painted wooden mockup. (Perhaps someone remembers the author and title? I’m thinking Heinlein.)  Of course, in this case the astronauts were selected because they were borderline insane to start with.

TV as lie is hardly new. The bigger mystery for me is the content of some of the reality TV shows that are totally honest with the participants. Like A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila, aka some slutty bisexual woman with a MySpace page. The shock revelation in this case is delivered right at the start: there are contestants of both genders competing to win the chance to take home a Playboy model to meet mom and have her lap dance for grandmother. (No, really.)

Tila is cute, but she’s not that great of a catch. There are any number of good looking Asian women who are a lot less trashy, and won’t ask you to eat raw bulls’ testicles and crawl through mud for the chance to date them. So basically, the whole dating aspect is a farce, and it’s a show where people compete to over-act hysterically and perform degrading stunts in order to appear on TV.

(And in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t sit and watch any of this crap. I just watch the highlights (or lowlights) that are mocked on The Soup.)

It makes me wonder: in another few decades, will people look back on reality TV shows the way we now look back at 1970s variety shows, Vaudeville, and circus freaks? Will people wonder why they were so popular? Or will reality TV continue indefinitely, like game shows, albeit becoming less popular with time?

I’d like to think that eventually, the mystique of TV will disappear, as anyone can put their own video on the Internet for the world to see. You don’t need to eat eyeballs on camera in order to appear on screen. I suspect that what will actually happen is that reality TV will evolve to attract only the most desperate attention whores as participants. But in that case, will anyone else want to watch?