When a show is about how much stuff people have, and the show takes all that stuff away, including clothing, what’s left? Naked and Afraid without the need to do anything to actually survive. Survivor without a game or challenges or a prize.
That’s basically what Bravo’s new series Stripped (Tuesdays at 10) comes down to: a reality show where people are naked and bored.
Naked people and unblurred butts are now as common on reality television as arguments and brunch, but Stripped’s premise is one I find fascinating: How would my relationship to material things change if I had no things for three weeks? Would what I truly miss? What would I be able to do without?
But in its zest to strip its participants—who change in every episode—of their material objects, the show seems to have boxed up the point and tucked it away among the soap and underwear that the participants miss so much.
The first episode follows an L.A. stylist, Ali, and her husband, Justin, who thinks they have too much stuff and also wants to have a baby. (Ali doesn’t want a baby, at least not yet.) Both of these conflicts have some resolution by the end of the episode, but neither resolution really seems connected to this experiment except via some awkward exposition.
In fact, they don’t really start talking about getting rid of their 10,000 possessions (the show counts how many things they own) until their stuff is returned to them on day 21, which is essentially the end of the episode.
Instead, they end up standing and laying around, their butts exposed to the world without a single censor’s pixel while talking about what they miss and which of their own things they’re going to take back.
The show’s format—it’s an Endemol Shine format that originated in Denmark—allows them to take back one item every day. Items are counted in curious ways: a phone and a charger are considered one, but toothpaste and toothbrush are separate.
In the early days, those items tend to be basic necessities, because pants and a shirt are necessary to go to work, or comfort, because sleeping on a hardwood floor is not pleasant.
Justification for these selections is like the episode’s very-Bravo soundtrack: amusing but thin.”I’m getting pants because having your dick out all day’s no fun,” Justin says. Ali explains, “Yes, they are $1500 [shoes] but I think I picked a very sensible footwear.”
The fourth wall has been carted away along with the participants’ stuff, so we see camera operators and hear producers asking questions as they try to elicit exposition to turn internal thoughts into watchable television.
Stripped has simple rules and some surprises
What seem like reasonable rules—participants receive food, water, and toilet paper from the production, and can retrieve one item each every day of the experiment—take two surprising turns.
Halfway through the first episode, we learn that “participants have no money, but friends and family are allowed to buy them food and services.”
That’s a loophole the first couple doesn’t quite use beyond Ali getting a spray tan and a lunch. Why not have friends get takeout food every night so they don’t have to eat MREs, or take them to the gym so the participants can shower? Why not order Lyfts for them so they can go to work? Perhaps future participants will exploit this more.
The production also requires the participants to get their stuff by walking a half mile to a storage container. At first this comes across like flimsy excuse to get naked people outside, because what’s a reality show without a little public humiliation?
Yet that challenge ends up being the best part of the episode. That’s because we see Ali and Justin go through it together: creating makeshift clothes, walking barefoot down the sidewalk, asking neighbors for help in transporting their couch home.
We see them do something and actually change, not just talk, which is a significant difference from the rest of the episode.
One-off formats like this, where the cast changes every week, mean that some episodes can hit and others can fall flat, so I’m curious to watch more even though Stripped hasn’t yet delivered on its promise, nor made me start purging possessions.
But it has managed to strip away the trappings of most Bravo shows, the ones that are just Real Housewives repackaged and/or relabeled, even if it has replaced them with reality TV’s now-familiar soggy bottoms.