Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"The Real World" vs. "American Idol," And Why I Like/Dislike Reality TV

A new season of MTV's The Real World premiered a few weeks ago. I've yet to watch an episode. I wouldn't consider myself an avid viewer of the show, but I'll tune in on occasion, if I can't find a better option on TV.

What I like about The Real World is that it's easy to follow. The plot is very straightforward: party, curse, fight, and repeat. If I miss an episode or two, I won't be confused.

I've watched at least part of the previous six or seven seasons, so I know the score. I won't wonder, Hey, how can they afford to live in a mansion, or, How did they land such a cushy job -- all of them with the same employer -- in this economy? The show recycles itself over and over again.

The first episode of each season is emblematic of what I'm talking about. It mostly follows each cast member as he or she arrives at the Real World home. It's similar to what you experienced when you were a college freshman and moved into a dorm for the first time, except you didn't have cameras following you, or an outdoor jacuzzi, or a billiards room, or a stocked refrigerator...and so on.

The cast members' arrival to their mansion is always the highlight of any season for me, simply because you discover right away how naive many of them can be. I know their house will be extravagant, you know their house will be extravagant, but for whatever reason, there are a few people in each Real World cast who fail to realize this. They step out of their cab, run into all of the rooms inside the mansion, and, yell something to the effect of, "This is our house?!?!?! All this for us?!?!?" Of course it is, silly! You earned it!

And then they go out and party, setting up the cursing and fighting to come in subsequent episodes.

The American Idol contestants act the same way when they move into their home. However, you can be reasonably sure over the course of an Idol season that no one will throw a glass cup at another finalist or throw a chair into a pool at any point.

If I had a choice between living the life of a finalist after Idol, or living the life of a cast member after The Real World, I'd prefer the latter. As an Idol finalist, you can tour the country and maybe land a record deal, but then what? Chances are you release an album or two and then get dropped from your label -- if you're lucky.

But a Real World alum is set for the next 20-plus years, or however long MTV plans to continue airing The Challenge. It is ironic that many cast members of The Real World actively avoid living in the real world by repeatedly competing on The Challenge. If you've never watched it, it's sort of like The Hunger Games, but there are no deaths or sympathetic characters.

I propose that MTV throw a few past Idol stars a bone and create a Real World vs. American Idol challenge. Imagine: Tyler vs. Taylor, Johnny vs. Sanjaya, Wes vs. William H....if nothing else, if would make for great alliteration.

My one quibble with The Real World and other reality shows is that they operate under the premise that these people are commoners, just like you and me. But they're not at all like you and me, not when they're living in fancy houses (The Real World, American Idol), traveling or relocating to exotic places (The Real World, The Amazing Race, Survivor), having verbal arguments with feisty Brits (most Fox shows), and losing 200 pounds in eight weeks (The Biggest Loser).

Once The Real World cast members move into the home, I can no longer relate to them. They begin to live the high life and stop getting real. You know what I would do if I lived in the Real World mansion? I'd lie on the couch and watch the occasional episode of The Real World. Because that is my real world.

And I'd quit my job, hit the gym inside the mansion and train for the next 10 seasons of The Challenge.