Eclaire Fare

Enjoying Pop Culture, One Bite at a Time

Sorting the Lentils of Reality TV November 12, 2008

In the Brothers Grimm version of “Cinderella,” the step-mother gives Cinderella a long list of chores she must complete before she can go to the festival. The most difficult task she is given is that of sorting first one, and then two, dishes of lentils that her step-mother has thrown into the ashes. Cinderella cries out to the birds to help her “pick the good into the pot, the bad into the crop.”

That minute detail from “Cinderella” is a good illustration for how I feel about this week’s Hulu Awards nomination tasks. To me, reality shows are like lentils that have been thrown into the ashes. What started out as a good idea has been spoiled by too many bad seeds. However, I do realize that there are a handful of reality shows worth recognizing. With that in mind, it is time for me to “pick the good into the pot” (as potential Hulu Award nominees) and throw “the bad into the crop” (once I have looked at these briefly I will discard them from my memory). And so I am crying out to my readers, just as Cinderella called on the aid of her bird friends, to help me sort the good from the bad.

As a Hulu Award panelist, my task this week is to nominate shows in three different categories: Best Competitive Reality Show, Best Non-Competitive Reality Show, and Best Celebrity Driven Reality Show.

By what criteria should I evaluate these shows? There are always the production values (editing, cinematography, directing, filming locations, etc.) and the non-fiction narrative that the show runners create out of the supposed unscripted happenings. However, the most important aspect of a reality show for me is the mere premise. If the show’s main purpose is to humiliate its contestants, even if they know what they are getting into, it is immediately disqualified from being worthy of nomination. Sorry, Hole in the Wall and Moment of Truth. Also low on my list are shows that are quasi-celebrities’ attempt to stay in the limelight, and stretch their 15 minutes of fame into 20. (I’m talking to you, Rob and Amber. And you, too, Lohan family.)

For a reality show to capture my attention and respect, it must have some of the following elements:

  • Entertain and impress the audience with legitimately talented performers (like So You Think You Can Dance)
  • Challenge individuals/contestants to better themselves (such as The Biggest Loser)
  • Educate the audience on interesting social or cultural issues (like 30 Days)
  • Introduce the audience to unfamiliar and often distant lands (like The Amazing Race)
  • Present us with at least some likable “characters” (There are usually heroes and villains on Survivor)
  • Otherwise take a concept people are interested in and make a smart show out of it (the way Mythbusters turned urban legends into a fruitful topic, or how Dirty Jobs finds plenty of fodder in jobs that are often not given a second thought).

Now that my criteria for evaluating reality shows are in place, let’s take a look at some of the shows in the running for these three categories:

Best Competitive Reality Show (this list contains 15 of the 34 eligible shows. To see the full list click here.)

Best Non-Competitive Reality Show (This list contains 15 of the 39 eligible. For the full list click here.)

Best Celebrity Driven Reality Show (This list contains 15 of the 29 eligible shows. For full list click here.)

So there you have it. 45 lentils for you to help me sort through. Which of these have you seen, do you think would be worthy of consideration to be nominated, would you advise me to stay far far away from, etc. Hopefully, by receiving your feedback and doing my own sampling of these shows on Hulu, I will be prepared to reveal my proposed nominees in a few days. Also look for a post on the worst reality shows available on Hulu, because – believe me – I saw some real bad seeds listed there!

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3 Responses to “Sorting the Lentils of Reality TV”

  1. Leah Says:

    Well, you probably knew I would have something to say on this.

    I have seen 15 of the shows in the first category. Of those I have seen, the only ones I would consider award-worthy are The Biggest Loser, Hell’s Kitchen, and Ninja Warrior. My award would have to got to The Biggest Loser for making the biggest difference in the contestants’ lives.

    I have only seen 7 of the shows in the second category, and it’s a sad state of affairs when the one I have seen most often is Jackass. Obviously, the jackasses really shouldn’t be rewarded any more than they already have, so I would give the prize to 30 Days for being interesting and educational.

    Tabitha’s Salon takeover is the only show I have seen in the final category, and I would not give it any sort of award, so I will be no help here. I have no interest in these silly celebrities’ “complicated” lives. I wish they would just go away. Where is Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew? Now there’s an engrossing show centered around celebs.

  2. Casey Rae Says:

    What an undertaking…here are my choices!

    Competitive reality:
    Project Runway (adore Tim Gunn, love the challenges…but this year did lose a little steam)
    Top Chef (seems to be hitting it’s stride, always entertaining..and usually has really interesting cast members)

    Non-competitive reality:
    30 Days (always love this show)
    Whose Wedding is it Anyway? (great editing and story lines, the sound effects are quite hilarious)

    Celebrity driven:
    Kathy Griffin (can’t help by love her, as offensive as she is)
    Dress My Nest (I always learn something from this show)

    Good luck with your nominations!

  3. Emily Says:

    Leah and Casey Rae,
    Thanks for the suggestions. I have always enjoyed 30 Days and have seen Project Runway a few times. Although I’ve not watched The Biggest Loser, I always hear good things about it. I will definitely be checking out Biggest Loser and the other shows you both mentioned on Hulu as I narrow down my choices.


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