With The Completely Unverified True Story of a Reality Television Star now out and social distancing in full effect, Headlong Into Harm wants to draw the obvious connection and tell you to kill some time with the book (buy it on Amazon or buy it at Barnes and Noble). We’d also like to really, really implore you not to succumb to watching garbage TV while you’re shut in. Reality TV sucks.
In order to remind you just what you’re not missing out on when you skip reality television turned off, we corralled Completely Unverified’s author and prominent reality-TV hater to do what he does best. Haters gonna hate and all that.
I’m really not a reality television fan, although the concept obviously fascinates me, and not just in that “pandering to the worst Americans possible” kind of way, either. (Though that’s also fascinating, too.) The whole culture that’s sprung up around these things is just amazing. I occasionally covered reality television when I was an A&E reporter, and loved watching it develop from the outside. Here are some of my favorite reality television moments that the reality television industry wants to forget.
The Denver Post sets out to Spoil MTV’s Real World Denver
One of the things nobody really knows about coverage of reality television is that it’s hemmed in to a ridiculous amount by nondisclosure agreements and all sorts of threats of legal apocalypse if reporters leak info ahead of the show. Most places, I guess, wanting a piece of that sweet, sweet reality-T.V. scoop, go along with it, despite the fact that it’s bad journalism, plain and simple.
Not John Wenzel from The Denver Post. When MTV demanded the Post embargo coverage and jump through a million hoops, he did what any good journalist would do: He told them to go fuck themselves. Then he set up a blog dedicated to reporting on cast members’ activities around town, deliberately to wreck the suspense. They even went so far as to install a webcam on the building across from the Real World house, to leak sightings to the world as efficiently as possible. Needless to say, MTV was not impressed.
Everything About The Surreal World
I first heard about The Surreal World when a friend told me he thought had a crazy dream about Webster, MC Hammer and Corey Feldman living together in a house, then the next day realized it was actually a real show when he saw the commercial for it the next day. Is there any better way to introduce that show to someone?
Now, I never watched a single episode of this, as I’m sure it was basically the worst thing ever. But the whole concept was everything I love-hate: Reality television, faded celebrities degrading themselves for one last paycheck and turn in the spotlight, a concept that’s actually more ridiculous than Completely Unverified, all bookended by a complete lack of reason to exist. I looked this up, and apparently, there were six seasons. The biggest star on the final series was Sherman Helmsley. Any time people hint that my reality television novel is too kooky, I remind them that this was actually produced.
Everything About Eden
Eden was supposed to be some sort of post-apocalyptic, reboot society bullshit where a bunch of people were essentially dropped off in the middle of the Scottish countryside with next to nothing, where they’d establish a new, idyllic and self-sustaining society. Oh, and they were cut off from the rest of the world for a year as part of the experiment.
Of course the experiment failed. In a straight-up riveting account, The New Yorker chronicled the unraveling of the show, as factions formed, people escaped, outside items were smuggled in, cast members went on strike. It became more like J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise or Kingdom Come than anything else. It was an unmitigated disaster and the fact that dozens of people were involved in green-lighting this catastrophe, nobody foresaw the obvious end to this experiment.
Real Housewives and Real Security Breaches
There’s a lot to hate about the Real Housewives franchise, but how a cast member crashed the 2009 White House State Dinner is completely lovable. As far as television goes, it was pretty tame when Michaele Salahi slipped into the White House and mingled with the President wearing a garish, red sari at a black-tie event.
Dig past the footage, and the story’s gold. Her SUV was turned away at the gate, when Salahi and her husband talked their way into the state event. While they didn’t get filmed in the event, it became fodder for the press, mostly because a pair of vacuous assholes was able to penetrate one of the most high-security events in town.
I know it’s kind of gauche to cackle about breaches in Presidential security, but man, if a couple tinpot socialites can work their way into the inner circle, it’s sort of a miracle that Putin’s death agents haven’t taken down half the VIPs by now.
Everything About The Hills
I’ll admit I was only vaguely aware of MTV’s The Hills when it was running. On its surface, it was a pretty tired concept that focused on the lives and dramas of a well heeled set of beautiful young things. They do all the crap reality-television assholes do: steal each other’s boyfriends, destroy and reconcile friendships and generally flit through life with a limited amount of adult responsibilities. Yawn.
But … across the four seasons, the show drew criticism for being a little too polished, and supposedly off-the-cuff dialogue was allegedly scripted for the stars. The final scene found lead dude saying goodbye to lead lady, then the camera pans out to show they’re actually filming on a studio back lot. Fans said it was MTV’s way of trolling everyone who claimed the whole thing was fabricated, while doubters said it was an explicit admission that MTV had actually been trolling the show’s fans all along, and fed them soap-opera garbage under the guise of “reality.” You can probably guess which explanation I support.