I can’t believe I’m writing these words, but today, reality blurred officially turns 10 years old, as you might have guessed from the slightly modified logo above. I’ve been doing this for a decade, since I was 22. Holy shit.
In those days, there were two reality shows on network TV (Survivor and Big Brother, which is four days older than this site) and two on cable (The Real World and Road Rules). There was no such thing as Twitter, or Facebook, or even Friendster or MySpace, and certainly no sites covering reality TV. So how did we get from there to here? With apologies to the show that started it all, this is the true story of how I started the site.
Though I’d been a fan of reality TV for years, and a fledgling journalist and writer since high school, I never combined the two until late in college. During a 1998 internship at Student.com, my fellow interns and I would talk about The Real World at lunch, and they’d make fun of me for my obsession with the show. A year later, one became an editor and suggested I write about the new season.
So, in 1999, I wrote a weekly column about The Real World Hawaii, and you can still read those recaps, although they’re a little frightening, as is the image that accompanies them. That was early in the dot-com era, and after the season ended, a new, awful editor came in and took over TV coverage. We didn’t get along, and essentially, he fired me, hiring someone else to write about the New Orleans season.
I was depressed and missing the weekly outlet to write and joke about the shows I loved, though at the same time, reality TV was finding its way to network TV, thanks to Making the Band (oh, O-Town) and later that summer, the two CBS series. I found myself looking around online for news and information about these shows, and while I found news and gossip scattered around the web, but no central place that aggregated it all. So, I created it.
When I started reality blurred, I read and knew only one blog that was something other than a personal journal or a collection of random links, and that was Jim Romenesko’s MediaNews. I completely ripped him off, borrowing the format but replacing his subject matter, media, with reality TV. I’d link to something interesting, summarize and comment briefly, and that was it. I color-coded different shows so they’d be quickly identifiable, though within years, that spiraled out of control and became untenable when a few shows turned into hundreds. That tradition remains with the colors lingering in the bolded names of the best and most noteworthy shows.
I did a few posts before publishing it to the world, and left those on the site. reality blurred officially launched on July 9, 2000, with three posts, including one about how Survivor contestants smelled like “hot garbage.” The next day, I started dinging the media for its pathetic treatment of reality TV, if you can consider a snarky sentence a “ding.”
I never advertised the site; I just submitted it to Google and Yahoo and other search engines. But people started finding it because, apparently, like me, they were eager for news about reality TV. Two months later, Entertainment Weekly reviewed it, giving reality blurred an A and calling me “a Virgil to guide you through television’s latest ring of hell.” That was weird. So was the MSNBC cable crew that showed up to interview me for a documentary and film the Survivor finale party I threw with some friends at work, where we all dressed up (I had a red X on my shirt; bonus points if you get the reference). Other surreal things would follow, like the way its stories are cited in books.
This was all very weird because I was still just a year out of college, writing and linking for an hour or two in the morning before I went to work, and an hour or two at night. Even now, it’s still just me and my TV and my laptop, and I’m often surprised that anyone is reading my bitching–which, as I explained during last night’s Q&A, always comes from a place of love and passion for the genre.
Obviously, the site has evolved a lot since the early days, especially the design (check out the first logo). In fact, those early posts are kind of embarrassing. Over time, I started doing more: quoting key sentences or phrases from the media (because publications would pull their archives and links would break, so I wanted to preserve that information), recapping episodes that were worthy of recapping, and doing original reporting like revealing Survivor’s rule book and contract for the first time. Although I am never shy about giving my opinion, I try my best to remain the journalist I was taught to be starting in ninth grade, whether that’s citing and attributing sources or correcting my mistakes. (Thanks, Mrs. Predmore.)
All along, the site has remained mostly a labor of love. I’m grateful that advertising eventually was able to cover its expenses and, later, allow me to do things such as reporting on Survivor from Gabon, Brazil, and Samoa (CBS doesn’t pay for those trips) and, now, going to L.A. twice a year to cover the networks’ press tours as a member of the Television Critics Association. That’s been especially fun not just to get to interview people about reality TV, but because I’m part of the same group that includes people whose work I’ve long respected, such as Aaron Barnhart (whose late show newsletter I read and admired in high school), Eric Deggans, and Mo Ryan.
But I’m most grateful for everyone who’s become a regular reader, whether you found the site 10 days ago or 10 years ago (is there anyone like that?), or you follow on Twitter or have become a fan on Facebook, or visit a dozen times a day. I’m especially thankful to those who take the time to write: with a kind word, a link, some juicy gossip, a big tip, or even with some criticism. A decade ago, I had no idea I’d someday be writing a 10-year anniversary post–hell, I didn’t think I’d write a two-year anniversary post–so I don’t know what will happen over the next 10 years, or even next year. I do, however, have some 10th anniversary things planned, so stay tuned for those, and for whatever television brings us.