Tag Archives: Judges

Trust in Reality TV: A Four-Letter Word? – A Cultural Learnings Reality Roundup

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Trust in Reality TV: A Four-Letter Word?

A Cultural Learnings Reality Roundup

[Since I find blogging about shows like Top Chef, Project Runway and Survivor: Samoa individually somewhat inconvenient, but often nonetheless have things to say about them, I figure we’d lump the three mid-week reality shows together in what we shall now refer to as Cultural Learnings’ Reality Roundup. Enjoy!]

Trust is perhaps the central tenet of reality television.

I don’t mean so much within the game itself, although clearly in a game like Survivor (whose 19th season, Survivor: Samoa, started this week) there is an element of trust between individual players. Rather, I speak of the trust relationship between the show and the viewer. Viewers hope that they can trust the judges on Top Chef and Project Runway to make the right decisions, and they hope they can trust the losing Survivor tribe to vote out the person who is making the new season nigh on unwatchable.

It is a highly tenuous sense of trust, of course: half of the dramatic value of reality television is having that trust violated, and the growing frustration as villains or talentless individuals remain while others go home instead. And, of course, that trust is forever complicated by the existence of editors, learning that the trust you want to experience is being manipulated at every turn.

So, what I find fascinating about this week’s trio of reality shows is that in each instance we are reminded of this trust relationship, and that the “worst Survivor villain of all time” is in fact perhaps the most trustworthy reality character (from a viewer/series perspective) the show has ever seen.

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So You Think You Can Dance Canada: Sugar and Spice, and Everyone’s (Too) Nice

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So You Think You Can Dance Canada:

Sugar and Spice, and Everyone’s (Too) Nice

Any good judging panel is kind of like the Seven Dwarves (stick with me here).

The people on the panel all play their roles, either productive (Doc, the wise leader), or conflicting (Grumpy, the curmudgeon), or entertaining (Dopey, the goof). Throw in a couple of variations here and there, and you have yourself a unit. It’s not an exact science, no, but the most important quality of those groups is that sense of diversity.

And So You Think You Can Dance Canada loves to talk about diversity. Where the American show tends to dumb down its categories to fit into more general categories (very rarely do you see them step outside of Hip Hop, for instance, outside of Krump), the Canadian edition loves to single out Dance Hall, and to indicate more clearly where they are drawing their inspiration. I don’t doubt that Canada has a diverse culture of dance, but the connection between this question of classification and our perception of Canada as a cultural mosaic of dance is pretty slim (and yes, this is my thesis bleeding into my viewing of a reality TV show – consider it my productivity for the evening).

The problem is that the judging panel doesn’t have any diversity in terms of how the judges actually, well, judge. They might represent a broad range of styles, but during this early part of the competition they have been beyond nice. There’s a place for a nice judge: Paula Abdul, now departed from American Idol, was an important part of that judging panel at the end of the day, even if I never felt as if she offered any substance. However, for some reason, the panel on SYTYCD Canada seems to be categorically focused on building up these dancers, focusing entirely on their strengths.

The problem with this isn’t that they shouldn’t be nice to dancers, or that they shouldn’t have positive things to say, but rather that it throws off the critical balance. When the judges are nice to everyone, including some admittedly flawed couples, but then rain down on the final performers, it creates an unrepresentative gap between the couples – in being too nice to almost all, they’re actually being CRUEL to the few people who they actually pan.

I’ve got a few more things to say about the judging below, and don’t worry – I’ll talk about the dancing a bit too.

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