I have a confession to make. I like reality TV shows. I don’t watch lots of them, but I love the ones I watch. I find them fascinating from a psychological standpoint. Here are a few observations I’ve made.
It’s just a game. I’ve seen people lie, cheat, manipulate, and behave in absolutely deplorable ways. They usually explain away their behavior by saying that they’re usually a good person; they’re just playing a game. I’m sorry, but what they’ve done is reveal their true character.
There are times and places when people must weigh their behavior against their innate character. Most of us would steal bread to feed our children. During WWII people lied and broke the law to save the lives of others. These are people who chose to do things they wouldn’t normally do for a very good reason. And, I know anyone can make a bad choice in the heat of the moment. But, if you’re willing to make compromise after compromise in order to win a game, you’re not a person of strong moral character.
I’m not here to make friends. With very few exceptions reality shows involve playing nice with others. Most of them involve people getting voted off—either by viewers or by the other contestants. Other shows depend on the occasional cooperation of competitors. (The Amazing Race, which I watched for the first time this season, comes to mind.) Treating others with kindness and respect is always the best choice. No matter how badly you want to win, if people can’t stand to be around you you’re likely to be sent home. One of the few exceptions that comes to mind is shows like America’s Next Top Model where eliminations are made by a panel of judges. Even there, though, an inability to get along with your competition can backfire. You never know when you’ll need someone else’s help.
I will not do that. During the first season of any show, I can understand a contestant saying, “Wait, I didn’t sign up for this.” After that first season, though, you have to have a fairly good idea what to expect. If you’re on Survivor you’ll most likely have to swim and/or eat something disgusting. That’s the game. If you will not do those things, don’t audition for the show.
One thing these shows have done is to make me examine my life. What would I be willing to do? How do I imagine myself handling that situation? Am I a person of strong moral character who plays well with others? Hmmm.