Reality television” and the American reality that produces it
By Noah Page
31 March 2005
It is tempting to suggest that large portions of American television programming have reached such an advanced state of decay that subjecting them to serious analysis, or even satire, is invariably to encounter the law of diminishing returns.
Consider the NBC program “Fear Factor.” The show requires contestants to “compete” in outrageous stunts that are either dangerous, nauseating or—what producers surely regard as the ideal scenario for “must-see TV”—both. Among the features at the show’s web site are transcripts of interviews with the contestants about the stunts they’ve completed. The following is an excerpt from a discussion about one program in which a woman guides a blindfolded teammate to a small hole in a transparent wall so they could transfer leeches into each other’s mouths.
Fear Factor: Amber, what was it like dunking your head in the leeches?
Amber: It was definitely slimy and it wasn’t very pleasant. It didn’t smell very good in there either. That smell alone made me want to gag. It was the most disgusting thing I think I’ve ever smelt. The leeches were really slimy and you could feel them moving around all in your mouth, it felt like you had a big loogie in your mouth. It was definitely horrible.
Fear Factor: Were they clinging on to the inside of your mouth? Were they biting, were they sucking at all?
Amber: The leeches definitely suctioned onto your tongue and the sides of your mouth. It was difficult to get them to come out of your mouth once they had attached themselves. When I was trying to pass them off to Tabitha the little boogers really didn’t want to come out.
As grist for television entertainment, public degradation has come a long way since Chuck Barris’s “The Gong Show,” much less Alan Funt’s “Candid Camera.” Confronted with “reality TV” today, difficult questions arise. One is struck by the sense that everyone involved is in new,...