As the year winds down, here are several great pieces of journalism and analysis about reality TV that I’ve read and appreciated in the past few months.
Perhaps they’ll make for good reading if you’re traveling for the holidays, or give you something to look at on your phone instead of interacting with your family. Or, if you’re like me, they’ll give you information and insight into the reality TV that we love to watch. Enjoy!
Kevin O’Keeffe examines RuPaul’s Drag Race‘s influence on the art form it celebrates. In a tweet, he summarized the major points of his deep dive: the Logo/VH1 show “has expanded the available revenue streams for queens to previously unthinkable” levels, while “the queerest, most ‘underground’ charms of drag have been flattened out as drag has become more mainstream.” (Xtra)
RuPaul is on the cover of Vanity Fair, which proclaims “It’s RuPaul’s world, and you’re lucky to live in it.” The profile includes an in-depth look at RuPaul; RuPaul’s Drag Race; and his new (scripted) Netflix show, and how “he’s moving beyond the limits of reality TV.” (Vanity Fair)
Love and Hip Hop is one of TV’s powerhouse franchises—helping to launch K. Michelle and Cardi B, among other stars —and Gerrick D. Kennedy went behind the scenes, exploring its success and “its ability to float somewhere between reality and heightened fantasy.” That starts with the article’s opening scene, when a producer tells Ray J and Princess Love Norwood, “Give me something interesting!” (Disclaimer: While I’m quoted in the story, I’m sharing it because I learned so much from it, in part because I don’t closely follow the franchise.) (Los Angeles Times)
The longest-running unscripted series, Seven Up!, released 63 Up this summer, and Gideon Lewis-Kraus looks at Michael Apted’s project as it “is reaching its conclusion.” (The New York Times Magazine)
Snooki may be done with Jersey Shore, but the real news is that the franchise just turned 10 years old. Jacqueline Kantor looks back at the show and notes that “a decade-long friendship—with all of its nuances, dramas, betrayals, breakups, and reunions—is much harder to find on cable, let alone in the real world.” (The Ringer)
Salon TV critic Melanie McFarland wrote this essay connecting the events of Survivor: Island of the Idols, impeachment hearings, and a November Democratic debate. Our pop culture and politics are all wrestling with the same things. (Salon)
This piece about the lack of diversity on some Real Housewives series is very interesting—and also has a wild quote from Bravo, which tries to defend its shows by pretending that the cast members are actual real-life friends, but then gives up midway through and admits that’s bullshit. It says the shows “follow groups of friends who are organically connected, often through long, pre-existing relationships but in some cases only casually through a wider social circle or six degrees of separation.” (New York Times)
Other news and quick reads
- The highest-rated TV episode (not sports, or politics) of the past decade was the premiere of Undercover Boss. (Hollywood Reporter)
- A new Channel 4 show will ask families to raise a pet (cow, chicken, lamb, and pig) and then eat it. It’s called Meat the Family. (The Guardian)
- Remember the podcast Serial? Its subject, Adnan Syed, will remain in prison for the rest of his life: The Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal. (NPR)
- Authorities in Spain are investigating what happened during the 2017 season of Spain’s Big Brother, which was called Gran Hermano Revolution, when a contestant was, as the BBC reports, “shown images in which she is subjected to an alleged sexual abuse that is now the subject of a criminal investigation.” (BBC News)
- The Challenge cast member Amo is transitioning. (Us Weekly)
- The Real World Boston’s Sean Duffy was the first reality TV cast member elected to Congress, but that ended Sept. 23 when he resigned from the House of Representatives, declaring that “the time has come for me to focus more on the reason we fight these battles – family.” In late October, he started his new job as a CNN commentator. (Daily Beast)
- Sean and Rachel Campos-Duffy’s ninth child, Valentina StellaMaris Duffy, was born Oct. 1; Rachel wrote on Facebook that she “was born with a heart defect (2 holes in the heart and valves that need to be fixed)” and “will need surgery in 3-4 months,” and also said that Valentina has Down syndrome.
- Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski thinks a $90 t-shirt “lands right in the middle” of t-shirt prices and is “not offensively priced, but pricey enough where you feel like a boss when you wear it.” (The Strategist)