Sunday, June 01, 2008


Reality Show

Though my job, I've been forced to watch a lot of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance this week. Through my job I also had to watch other reality crap-fests like The Bachelor (and Bachelorette), Farmer Wants a Wife, Beauty and the Geek, Big Brother, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. I don't like any of this crap. I realize that some people do, and in truth, I've softened a bit on Dancing with the Stars and American Idol.

Idol and Dancing are just competitions. People tend to go a little overboard in their fanatical devotion to these shows (more people vote for the next American Idol than vote for the President of the United States..) but I can live with that. Idol even provides some fantastic talent.

We're in the early stages of So You Think You Can Dance right now, the stage of the program where contestants are selected. Thousands of people show up at locations a ridiculous number of hours before the event in hopes of getting a chance to be considered to be on a reality TV show. Idol has a similar stage early in their show.

Now you've got essentially two classes of prospective contestants; the person who truly thinks they're good enough to be on the show and the person that wants to dress up like a fucking idiot and make a spectacle of their self in hopes of getting on an early episode of the show ("Dude! Did you SEE me? I was on freakin' TV!!!").

The first class of prospective contestant has two sub-classes; the person who is truly good enough be on the show and the person who has no business dancing or singing in public. None. They should never engage in these activities where anyone else can see them.

This second sub-class is the saddest. You see deluded people have their dreams crushed. They swear at the judges, they scream at the camera. They make a spectacle that assures them of getting on an early episode of their chosen show.

I saw a touching moment this week, though. A woman on So You Think You Can Dance who thought she was good enough to be on the show, who when asked "Why did you try out for this show?" calmly answered "I wanted to see if I was good enough to compete with these people."

She wasn't. She wasn't a complete embarrassment to herself, she was a good dancer, just not that kind of good.

It got me to thinking about myself in 2002. I wanted to see if I was good enough to be on a game show, the best game show ever, Jeopardy!. There's really not much difference, structure-wise, between Jeopardy! and American Idol. You have to try out for the show so that producers know you're good enough, Jeopardy! good enough, to be on the show.

You have to take a test consisting of questions (or answers, as it were) that are the equivalent of $1600 and $2000 clues on the show. A score of 35 correct out of 50 is required to be even considered to be on the show. The test is so tough that a score of 70% (a 'D' when I was in High School) is good enough to be considered as a Jeopardy! contestant.

I've been to two testing sessions, each consisting of about 150 people who thought they had what it took to be on Jeopardy!, a vast majority of them went home unhappy. The first time, 13 people passed (very high for the test), the next 6 or 7.

Like the woman on So You Think You Can Dance, I wanted to see if I was good enough to compete with these people. I was, and in truth, that's all I wanted. If I had never been selected to be on Jeopardy! I would have been disappointed, but I would have known that I was good enough, Jeopardy! good enough, to be on the show. In my book, that's pretty special.

Of course, cameras weren't rolling during the testing. Nobody who had no business taking the test was there to make a spectacle of them self to get on an episode of Jeopardy! where they showed the selection of contestants. There was no chance of getting on TV by just showing up to, and being outrageous at a testing site.

There were people at both testing sessions I attended who probably shouldn't have been there, I can think of one person in particular. He was in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals (we were told to dress like we would on the show) and asked if he should put down that he was in the "mile high club" on his contestant information sheet. I don't know what he scored on the test, but it wasn't enough to be asked to stay.

Which brings up another point, I don't know what my scores were on the test I took, other than that both were greater than 35. They didn't tell us scores, we were just told to stay or go home. The people who didn't make the cut were not subjected to embarrassment. They were told to tell their family and friends that they "missed by on question."

While I'll admit that competition based reality shows have a lot in common with Jeopardy!, they tend to be mean spirited. They subject prospective contestants to national ridicule. Jeopardy! goes out of its way to make contestants feel good about themselves even among the other 149 people taking the test with them.

And the producers of Jeopardy! had the good taste not to name their show So You Think You're Smart Enough to be on a Game Show.


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