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Ask Andy: Do you fear change in reality TV shows?

Ask Andy: Do you fear change in reality TV shows?
This illustration of my central metaphor will make more sense once you read the story. (Photo by Shutterstock)

You don’t like change much, do you, Andy? —Brent, via Twitter

I love change. Now get off my astroturf lawn so it will look exactly like it always does.

Seriously: To start, I realize this was less of a question and more of a point, but it was a point that I appreciated because it made me think. But I couldn’t fit my response into a tweet. Also, while Brent was responding to my comment that I wasn’t fond of a new twist on Survivor, I’ve heard variations of that idea before. I understand: My writing can often seem like it came from a grumpy old man who wants everything to stay the same.

But do I really dislike change?

As I thought about it, I realized that, in many ways, I love change. I have such a short attention span that I’ve already forgotten what this sentence is about kittens and puppy GIFs. So, change keeps me interested and invested.

Stagnation often leads me to bail on a TV show, reality or scripted. Playing the same note on a piano over and over again may be music, but it’s usually not for me.

To be more specific, I like incremental change that improves something—for example, when Chipotle changed its logo, the new one seemed fresh and more modern but wasn’t insanely different. It’s not like it was suddenly a neon color and set in Comic Sans. But if Chipotle changed its cilantro-lime rice to anchovy-orange rice, no thank you.

I’m fine with change as long as it doesn’t fundamentally shift the experience and is not too far outside the expected. That’s because, yes, I dislike change that strays into the unfamiliar. It’s uncomfortable and even disorienting.

So, when change shakes the foundation and stuff falls off the walls and breaks, I crawl under a table and type angry words furiously.

Here comes another metaphor. Apologies.

The best way to explain my relationship to change in reality TV is to use my favorite metaphor for reality shows: pizza. So, let us imagine that a reality show is a pizza.

There are different kinds of pizzas, such as one from a chain restaurant or a homemade one with gluten-free crust. And there’s wild differentiation even in the same category: even among frozen pizzas, there’s a lot of variation in quality and type.

In the same way that there are certain kinds of expectations one has from a category or brand of pizza, I try to evaluate a show based on what I expect from it. And when a show has established its parameters and then changes, I can have a range of responses. (Warning: way too many pizza metaphors ahead.)

For example, when Hoarders tried a live episode, it was like shifting from a deep-dish crust to a rectangular cafeteria pizza with cube pepperoni: jarring and not a change for the better.

Over the past decade or 15 years, The Real World has gone from a pizza that changed the world to a pizza that’s soaked in alcohol.

The Amazing Race is a pizza that once was fresh and homemade, and has gradually replaced some of its ingredients. The new version might still be better than others, but I remember how good the original used to be and mourn the change. I should probably get over it, but back in my day, teams had to find their own flights and challenges were challenging.

When Survivor adds a twist, like the vote veto introduced in episode nine of season 31, it arrives like a new topping. It has the potential to change my enjoyment for better or worse. Even if I don’t like it, the pizza’s still otherwise the same. So, my response is often one that’s like: I love this pizza and most bites are great, but I’m getting tired of these chunks of pineapple. Sometimes, like last season, Survivor delivers a pizza with several rotten slices.

If I sense that the chef has unnecessarily screwed it up or, worse, given us food poisoning, I can react to those changes emotionally. Sometimes I do a bad job of explaining all of this and just do the equivalent of saying “ew!” or spitting out my food.

Whatever my response to change may be, I do my best to think about why I’m reacting that way. And, when I write, I offer those responses in the spirit of sitting down across from someone and sharing our reactions together. Feel free to tell me what you think. We don’t have to agree, but we can still share a pizza. We might just like different toppings, or brands, or whatever.

I will stop with the metaphor now.

If you have a question about reality TV or my take on it, send it right now, and I’ll do my best to answer.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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