John Johnson: The Five Worst Reality Game Shows

My daughter was born in the spring of 2000.  That summer, as many new parents with infants do, we found ourselves around the house quite a bit, learning the ropes of parenthood.  As it turned out, lucky for us, Summer 2000 was also the summer that network TV discovered reality TV game shows!  With the launch of Survivor and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, my sleep deprived wife and I could get our nightly Regis Philbin fix and watch the exploits of nude Richard on the island (“the tribe has spoken”) without having to think at all!

Strangely, that summer launched the reality TV genre.  More than a decade later—where it seems the majority of TV is reality—I have found my own personal obsession…the bad reality TV game show.   Who needs American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, or the Amazing Race? (I can hear some RP readers already saying—aren’t those bad reality TV shows?  Not compared to the rest of this list!)  Bad imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Or, Rule 1 of Bad Reality TV Game Shows: If it is cheap, and it might draw any summer ratings, rip off the idea!

To that end, I offer my pop culture tribute to 5 worst reality game shows of all time.  (A side note for the analytic amongst the RP Nation: “Reality” TV probably has a more precise meaning, but in my world, it is a broad genre encompassing any show where contestants compete as themselves in some less than realistic setting…)

5. 101 Ways to Leave A Game Show.  The only one on my list that is still on TV…though not sure how long it will last.  How can you beat a show where in one episode, contestants were eliminated by being: 1. dropped off a barge going 30 mph at sea, 2. sent to the bottom of the ocean by an anchor around his leg, 3. dumped into a river with dead fish, and 4. ejected off a 10 story platform from a bed face down into water.  Purely sensational…even down to the smarmy host cackling the whole time.  I call that must see TV.

4. (tie) the Joe Schmo Show/ Joe Millionaire.  Double the Joe for the average Joe.  Joe Schmo was a guy from Pittsburgh.  They created a fake reality game show for him (The Lap of Luxury).  Hire 10 actors to fit every stereotype…the blond bombshell, the gossip queen, the quack doctor, the retired army general.  They create a fake world, completely get the guy to buy in for several weeks.  After playing with the guys emotions, getting him to embarrass himself repeatedly on TV, they reveal everyone was actors and he was a total mark! But, they justify the whole thing because they gave him the prize money…and play up what a special, trusting  person they had to find to make this all work.

What’s worse than that?  How about a reality game show where you can find “true love” with a millionaire?  But after you think you’ve found the one, you find out he’s not a millionaire.  I hate when that happens.  Rule 2 of Bad Reality TV Game Shows: Deception is ok as long as you get money in the end.

3. I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here

I think someone should have filed a lawsuit for false advertising…because there were no celebrities here.  Unless you think Bruce Jenner, Melissa Rivers, and Robin Leach are celebrities…  The premise is simple.  Dump a bunch of C-level stars in the jungle.  Make them do stupid stuff.  Someone leaves every night.  Broadcast live every night.  Someone wins.  Poor mans survivor meets Ed Mcmahons star search.  Bad!  (Another side note:  In checking the web today, I found NBC is actually remaking this show again.  Wow.  See Rule 1 of Bad Reality TV Shows Above).

2. The Benefactor

It’s the Apprentice…starring Mark Cuban as Donald Trump.  But instead of a board room, it’s a house.  And the task is hanging out with Mark Cuban.  Yes, if you can stand him, you win a large sum of money.  My favorite task on the show was the very competitive game of Jenga.  That was compelling TV.

1. The Family

Before Jersey Shore, no show said stereotype like The Family.  George Hamilton is your host.  A large Italian family from NY is castaway in a Florida mansion, jockeying to win a 1 million dollar prize.  Uncle Michael, Aunt Donna, Cousin Anthony.   The family is jockeying to win the inheritance, and a “secret board of trustees’ watches their every move and votes one member of the family off the show each week.  It turns out the secret board are the servants in the house.   Family members behaving badly.   Dysfunction everywhere.  Truly stupid and offensive too!  Every one in the family  kisses and makes up in the end when Cousin Anthony agrees to split the 1 million dollar prize 10 ways.  Just like reality…


Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




The Recovering Politician Bookstore


The RP on The Daily Show