Siren call of reality television

2008-12-05 00:00

When Yau-man fell, we were bereft. My husband moved slowly around the house for days. Small occurrences made my nose water and my eyes prickle. What a man. What a fall. From what heights. He exemplified honour, honesty, hard work and discipline. He was faithful, truthful and skilful. And he was betrayed by a smiling, conniving huddle of liars.

“Well it’s like real life,” my husband said across a Sunday lunch table cluttered with empty dishes. It was the first Sunday after the final Survivor.

“The guys who play by the rules don’t always win in real life. Having integrity sometimes means that you’ll come in second place.”

“Yes,” my dad agreed heartily. He had also had a few days of moving slowly. “But Yau-man has really won. He’ll be remembered for how he behaved. He’ll be famous.”

“What amazes me though,” I jumped into the philosophising, “is that in a world where traditional ethics are being questioned, so many people still admire old-fashioned goodness. The whole tribal council would have voted for Yau-man. They lived with him for 40 days on a deserted island, and they saw that he behaved honourably.”

A year ago just the mention of Survivor made the corners of my mouth pucker in disgust.

“Reality TV, bah. That is for voyeurs. People who are bored with their own lives. Gossips, busybodies, idlers. Thinking people just do not watch reality TV.”

The first crack in my conviction came when I phoned my sister at 7.45 pm one Tuesday and there was no answer. On my second redial she picked up the phone.

“I’ll call you back,” she flurried, “I’m just watching Survivor.”

I hadn’t expected that from someone who only reads textbooks and who wants to make a T-shirt that says “I don’t do small talk”.

The second blow came when my dad explained that he watched Survivor for educational purposes.

“It gives you great insight into human nature. Watching a group of strangers trying to survive on an island, work in a team and win $1 million shows you what people are really like.”

Then when my husband started speculating each Tuesday about who was going to be voted off, I felt left out.

“It could be Lisey because she is not a team player. But Dreamz has been sleazy and so they may distrust his alliance. Definitely I think that Cassandra is the weakest link.”

So one Tuesday I sat down in front of the TV with a good book. The following week it was a laptop. And the next week just a cup of coffee. I was hooked.

Survivor became a springboard for discussions, arguments and lots of raucous laughter.

It bridged age, race and class as we all discussed what we would have done. And it provided much-needed human evidence for lots of much- needed theories.

And then? It was over.

Yau-man was famous, Earl was rich, Cassandra was suddenly glamorous and us? Well we were almost bereft again. We were almost left with nothing to talk about on Tuesday afternoons and nothing to ponder on Wednesday mornings.

But then, we found our solace in Brent. The intriguing, infuriating Donald Trump wannabe. And by the time he was fired The Apprentice had opened the door on a whole new group of people with a whole new group of issues. Which in turn gave us a whole new batch of raw material for our Sunday lunch tables.

“I’m calling you to the boardroom,” my dad bellowed at our next family meal. “Gee, but Andrea managed Brent well didn’t he?” my husband responded. “That’s how you should handle a difficult team member. Give them a clear, simple job to do.”

“I don’t think that approach works well. If a weak team player never gets given an important job then he or she never gets a chance to succeed or fail.”

“Well that’s what managers are for. They must work the strong people and control the damage done by the weak.”

“But sometimes the strong, competent people actually bumble along when they are given a real job. Take that English guy for example...”

I plan not to get emotionally involved this time.

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