2008’s Top Reality TV Whores

The holidays are here, and thus the time has come to acknowledge those people who have given the gift of their shamelessness this year. As always, there were many reality TV whores to choose from, so the selection was difficult, but there are always stand-outs, people who gave more of themselves than was required for our entertainment.

reality blurred will return Monday with breaking news and a wrap-up of the year in reality television. First, though, here are the people and institutions who I think became the year’s biggest reality whores, metaphorically or literally selling themselves for fame or fortune during 2008:

  • Bravo, The Weinstein Company, Lifetime, and the producers of Project Runway. They threw various temper-tantrums that contributed to trashing and sabotaging a once-great show that now is tied up in litigation, all over money. Meanwhile, we learned that the show’s star Tim Gunn wasn’t even paid for season one. What the fuck, people?
  • Dancing with the Stars’ exploitation of contestants’ injuries. There were more headline-making injuries on Dancing with the Stars 7 than any previous season, but despite the seriousness of many of those injuries, the show treated them as just another way to get people to watch. The show’s publicists released statements that insist people watch the show to learn the fate of the contestants, while the hosts teased those injuries as if they were just another upcoming cha-cha. The worst example followed Misty May-Treanor’s serious injury, which was played and replayed in slow motion and teased relentlessly until the very end of the episode.
  • Parents who use their kids to get their faces on TV. This category stars David Archuleta’s father, but its supporting cast includes people like Jon and Kate Gosselin from Jon and Kate Plus Eight and the 17 Kids and Counting parents, and most of the parents on VH1’s I Know My Kid’s a Star, particularly Rocky, whose insane behavior was always about her. While we never saw any Rocky-like behavior from American Idol 7 runner up and 17-year-old David Archuleta’s father Jeff, he was the year’s most high-profile stage parent, and years after being banned from Star Search’s set because of his behavior, Jeff Archuleta was banned from Idol rehearsals a few months after reports that he yelled at and made David cry. David Cook defended Jeff, as did David, but producers said they needed to take pressure off David, a damning indictment, and all along, as his son’s success grew, Jeff’s smarmy face kept appearing on television.
  • Anyone associated with product placement disguised as goodwill. Oprah’s Big Give was supposed to be about helping people, and while it helped many people, the series came across as an excuse to pitch products. That was thanks to obviously choreographed and pre-planned donations/advertisements by the show’s sponsors, which was rather similar to another ABC series that has shameless product placement, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which essentially suggests that Sears appliances make life better. Meanwhile, The Biggest Loser’s weight loss mission was used to help sell products, and that got even more insane during its now two-hour episodes. While trainers Bob and Jillian aren’t paid for doing commercials in the context of the show, and Jillian said there are ethical lines she won’t cross, that’s not true of the show’s producers or even cast, which willingly whores whatever product someone sticks in front of them.
  • Press and fans who obsessively cover and follow The Hills. Last year, the cast of The Hills appeared on this list because they’ve let their lives become co-opted and faked for fame, and it’s kind of impossible to ignore then again. As Heidi and Spencer’s totally fake wedding proved, the coverage and popularity of the show has made the show even more artificial, because the series itself never addresses the way the press and viewers affect it with their unpaid pimping of the cast. Ultimately, the show has turned into a big fantastic ball of irony because the lives that are written or blogged about aren’t the ones that appear on TV, and that gets worse the more popular the show gets.
  • Proud reality whores. Besides taking all the fun out of our jobs as viewers, people who proudly own their super-shamelessness seem kind of pathetic, whether that’s Jason Castro begging for money and stuff, Big Brother 9’s Matty charging fans $50 to call him, or Joe Rogan admitting he did Fear Factor for the cash. And when people say or do anything to get attention and then get mad when there are actual consequences, it’s especially pathetic.

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