Reality TV can’t get any worse…

By James Keller

The disgust that filled many an American television viewer during the now waning Survivor craze was dwarfed long ago. Then America took a short-lived trip to Temptation Island. Shortly after, we greeted The Bachelor (and then The Bachelorette), Meet My Folks and, more recently, Joe Millionaire. Now, viewers naïvely thought, things can only get better from here.

Not surprisingly, they didn’t.

The latest crop of low-budget, high-return reality shows to hit the networks–and certainly not the last–have proven there may be no limit to the lengths networks will go to score coveted ratings. Although if it’s any consolation, things really can’t get worse; we’ve finally hit rock bottom.

Why do our stomachs turn so much when we hear about the latest episode of Married by America or tune into Are You Hot?, complete with green laser-pointer in hand? These shows shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, because like it or not, we’ve seen them all before. Sort of.

Both shows represent the very root of all reality television to date. So far, save for Survivor (let’s be honest, those people were in real danger), reality TV has either been about good looks or destined-to-fail marriages. These new programs simply strip away the supposed purpose of reality TV and eliminate any attempt at legitimacy. Instead of masking the bastardization of marriage as an experiment to see if women will be interested in love and not money (I am convinced now that they are interested in money; if Joe Millionaire can get laid by pretending to have $50 million, surely anyone can), the new shows have removed the gimmick.

We saw contestants marry strangers, but at least they knew their would-be partners had money, or we had to go through their parents and friends and pass a rigorous screening process. And if in the end, he turned out to be a wife-beater, we could plead ignorance: after all, he did have a million dollars. But the newer shows are unapologetic about their true motives. Are You Hot? is concerned with nothing but “sex appeal” (no dating skills required) and Married by America is all about watching strangers’ marriages fail, all without polygraph tests.

We’ve sunk to the bottom and, try as they may, the brilliant minds at FOX won’t be able to top their latest masterpieces. Who Wants to Marry My Mom will seem like a whole lot of waiting to get to the good parts, and the long-running Blind Date won’t be as fun without first weeding out the ugly people. Yes, it can really only go up from here. Just don’t count on it anytime soon.

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