April 15, 2022 | OPINION | By Karly Hamilton | Illustration by Daniel de Koning

It’s a Sunday night after a busy weekend and you just finished your homework. The weekend agenda included hiking, camping, and almost 100 pages of reading for class, plus starting an essay. After a great deal of physical and mental exertion, what do you turn to for your nightly wind-down time? For some, this relaxation takes the form of a reality TV show.

There isn’t much realistic about reality TV. So why is it that we turn to shows that far from mirror real life when we need to decompress?

An Insider article suggests that most people either love or hate reality TV—there is no middle ground. It shares that the biggest complaint against the genre is that viewers derive enjoyment from the degradation of participants, a claim I agree with. Although shows have varied levels of judgment, many are based on competition that requires most competitors to fail for others to win.

While not all competition is bad, reality TV often fosters a hypercompetitive environment where participants step on each other to get ahead. One of the big shows I think of in this respect is The Bachelor (and Bachelorette). For those who are unfamiliar with the show, the premise is that there is a lead—the bachelor or bachelorette—who is looking to find love. Throughout the season, the lead dates about 30 people, eliminating those they do not form a connection with each week on the path to finding their true match.

The biggest dilemma that occurs every season is that some of the participants are not on the show for the “right” reasons. Inevitably, competitors on the show approach the lead with information about other people, which causes a whole host of drama.

I will admit, there have been times when these shows have been my guilty pleasure. I can’t speak for everyone, but the reason I like the show is because it makes me feel good about my own choices. For the people who put themselves out there and go on shows like this, I respect the amount of confidence that must take. That being said, I have no desire to do so myself.

When I watch these shows, I am reminded of the good things in my life. My life is far from perfect but seeing some of the fights and disagreements between supposed friends or love interests makes me appreciate the people in my life all the more.

Aside from the moments where I delve into Bachelor Nation for a temporary distraction, I will also watch reality TV when traveling. My favorite shows to watch if I’m on a flight or in a hotel room are Food Network competition shows. When I was younger, I had a distinct affinity for Cupcake Wars.

I find that the intensity of cooking shows is less abrasive than dating shows, mainly because personal lives remain uninvolved in the conversation. If someone loses in an episode of Chopped, it’s not because another competitor went behind their back to sabotage them with the judges—it’s due to the quality of the food. Cutthroat Kitchen, another childhood favorite, has a bit more involvement between participants, but that’s also the point of the show. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Quite literally in this case.

To answer the question I started with, I think a lot of it depends on the person. I watch reality TV when I need something mindless to do, it doesn’t require much thought and can be entertaining. While I know there are more productive ways to spend my time, we all need a break sometimes, whatever that looks like.

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