When reality Is not Real


My 1st experience with reality TV was when we went to the Sally Raphael Show. Someone we knew was going to be on the show to tell her story about having a daughter at 16 and how her pregnant daughter (at age 15) would make her a grandmother by the age of 31. It wasn’t that simple.

Upon arrival, the producers told her that she would have to claim that the father would have to marry her daughter or she would kick them both out of her house. They wanted her to be mad, confrontational and make sure the show was full of fire. The only problem was that she liked the father and was looking forward to helping them raise this child.

It was 1994 and reality TV was being born, and it was far from reality.

A few years later, Tess and I visited Hedonism during the filming of the Jerry Springer Show. They were doing a Spring Break episode that featured a couple that was going to get married in Jamaica. What a lovely idea for a show.

Then we saw the reality” behind reality TV. We watched them practice the food fight that was about to “happen”. The producers had the resort take away the pineapple (it will burn their eyes, they said). “We need more whipped cream so it can be smeared on people’s faces”, but Hedonism doesn’t have whipped cream on the buffet bar, so they got some from the bar. They filmed two different takes, the 2nd one more violent than the 1st. Perfect, just what they wanted.

Afterwards, the couple that started the fight walked off, hand in hand for a stroll on the beach (with a little whipped cream still in their hair). It was 2002 and reality TV was more popular than ever.

Fast forward to 2014 and I am watching “Selling Naked”, a clone of the popular series House Hunters, but in clothing optional (nudist) communities. As I watch the show, I recognize one of the houses; it belongs to one of our friends, who lives in Paradise Lakes, a clothing optional community north of Tampa, FL.

They see two other properties and decide to buy our friend’s house. We thought this was really cool and immediately picked up the phone and called our friends to congratulate them on the sale of their house, only to find out that they never sold their house. It was all staged, it wasn’t even for sale. Welcome to today’s reality TV, where nothing is real.

Sunday night I watched, with a lot of anticipation, the new A&E show “Neighbors with Benefits” about a community in the Ohio suburbs with LOTS of “swingers”. When I hear about these types of shows, I cringe. I think to myself, how are they going to present swinging in this show?

The show starts with a couple that is looking for a house in this “swinger neighborhood” (ala House Hunters), except the couple and the real estate agent cannot stop smiling. I am watching the TV thinking to myself “really, look at them, they can’t stop smiling. They know this is fake and they couldn’t even keep a straight face”. It only got worse.

The show features a couple that are known as the leaders of the neighborhood, recruiting couples and throwing parties. They have couples that are on the fence and couples that do not agree with this “lifestyle”. The show has the standard roles covered, the popular couple, the antagonists (religious couple), the jealous couple, and the unsure couple. Everyone has a role to play in reality TV.

Our favorite part is the neighbor that is appalled by swinging but they show up at all of the parties to try to limit the “conversions” and talk new couples out of becoming “swingers”. How do these guys keep getting invited to the parties? You’d thing at some point, their invites would get lost in the mail.

Of course, there is a certain formula to these shows:

  1. Start off by developing the characters
  2. Introduce character flaws and conflict
  3. End the show with a dramatic scene that is cut off before something crazy is just about to happen
  4. Show a teaser for the next show that is even crazier than this episode
  5. Repeat

This show was no different. They introduce conflict by having one of the younger wives text one of the older husbands and sends him sexy pictures on his phone. This causes all kinds of drama between the two couples and it spills over into the Saturday night party.

The whole scenario is completely unbelievable. There is no way that a party could spontaneously happen with all of these issues and play out as it unfolded on TV. Swingers I know were really mad because they thought it portrayed their “lifestyle” in a negative light and didn’t represent their lives and their relationships.

Of course not. It’s reality TV. It’s not a documentary and it’s not even trying to be reality, they are simply following a tried and true formula where they could plug in any group to fill airtime. It’s sad how far reality TV has come. Or should I say, it’s sad to see how far it has gone.

The lesson here is that all couples have issues. Some have to deal with jealousy, envy, indecision, and communication issues. Don’t look to reality TV for advice or to learn about a new lifestyle. Watch these shows if you want to feel better about your own life, because you can always find someone that will make you feel a lot better about yourself (and your relationship) on reality TV.

JonGunnar Gylfason