That’s Just How You Play The Game… Right?


A few weeks ago, two friends of mine came over for dinner and to relax a bit on a Monday night.  It was nothing formal – just a little bit of respite from the week.  One of them arrived a little later than the other and just a bit before 8 PM, came charging into my house and wanted to be sure we were all ready for the show at 8.  Show?  What show?  Ladies and gentlemen… it came to my attention that we would be watching a little thing called “Bachelor Pad” that evening, brought to us by the fine folks at the American Broadcast Company.  God help me.

“Bachelor Pad” is fairly similar to most reality TV shows where contestants are competing for some kind of cash prize at the end: there are roughly two different groups (in this case, men and women who did not make the cut in either “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”) who compete in weekly competitions to gain immunity from being kicked off the show/out of the house/off the island, etc. There’s nothing remarkable in any of that – that’s the formula with the only real wrinkle being that almost every person on the show is really attractive and there are all sorts of… err… “romantic” entanglements.

Now, I try to avoid reality TV shows like the plague – I just find them absolutely awful on almost any level I can think of.  I will allow for a bit of leeway on a show that is really structured more like an on-going documentary (such as past seasons of “Hard Knocks” on HBO or something to that effect), but things like “Jersey Shore” just make my skin crawl since it’s really just a glorification of the worst elements of people’s lives recorded, cut down to the juicy bits and plastered on TV for viewing like a train wreck of biblical proportions.  I know, I know… that made no sense since there were no trains to be wrecked in the Bible, but don’t lie… you got the picture anyway.  Don’t get sassy with me, my friend.

Wait, where was I?  Oh yes – reality TV.  And you thought you could completely get me off traffic, didn’t ya?

The competition shows are probably what bother me a little more than the antics of other reality programs because there is this common theme that runs through all of them that just makes me nuts: every act of lying, backstabbing and conniving is justified under the notion “Hey, this is just part of the game.  I’m just doing what I need to do to win.”

*shudder*  Nails on a blackboard every time I hear it.

Lest you think I’m being puritanical, I get the idea of hard-fought competition and it’s one of the things I truly love about sports and such.  It reminds me of a passage from Vince Lombardi’s “What It Takes To Be Number One” speech:

It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.

On any reality TV competition show like “Bachelor Pad”, there’s always a focus on the win part and seldom more than a passing nod to the notion of winning fairly, squarely and by the rules… and maybe that’s just it.  These shows really don’t have any rules about how you play the game.  And why would they?  A big chunk of the reason people are watching in the first place is to see the lying, backstabbing and conniving that occurs week in and week out.  I guess that’s the “fun”.

But for me, it’s just nothing I can get behind.  It’s like the old rap adage of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”  Except here’s the problem: regardless of the game, every person has the opportunity to make choices for themselves and who they want to be in that game.  And hell, you chose to be in the game (whatever that game may be).

I don’t rush to view shows like “Bachelor Pad” as yet another sign that we are steadily marching towards the Apocalypse – I’m just not that prone to Chicken Little thinking like that.  I think every society goes through those kinds of moments where some new thing causes everyone to be convinced that everything is falling apart… and then it doesn’t really happen.

I just hate to think that our model for how to compete is increasingly becoming this kind of programming we see on TV, which would be sad.  And while sports is not perfect, I think it tends to get competition right a lot of the time and at least there is something or someone keeping most of it in check.

So pick your arena of competition.  Go out and seek to win.  But never, ever try to sell me on the eggshell thin notion that how you compete is somehow out of your hands.  The choice is your own.

One Reply to “That’s Just How You Play The Game… Right?”

  1. I refuse to watch shows like Jersey Shore, Bachelor, Real Housewives, etc. I have an absolute “no Kardashians in the house” rule. My standards may be low (don’t tell the authorities but I actually let my kids watch Tosh.0), but I do have standards. I cannot stand people being famous just because they’re rich, beautiful and/or incredibly stupid.

    That said, I’m a huge Survivor fan. Yes, it has its share of backstabbing idiots. I guess that’s part of what makes it good television. But what I love about it is that about 50% of the time, the person who wins doesn’t actually lie, cheat and backstab. Sometimes the person who wins is actually one of the nicest, most value-driven people that season. The show at least allows for the possibility that good guys can finish first. It’s actually a lot like real life. Sometimes the bad guy wins and the good guy goes home empty-handed. I hate the contestants that justify their bad behavior with “well, that’s just the way the game is played.” Because that’s just not true. It doesn’t HAVE to be played that way. On tv or in real life.

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