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Simon Cowell: Why We Love to Loathe Reality TV Villainsby Kelsey Poyer -- 08/17/2002
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I, for one, am a huge Simon fan. Boo me if you will, but for me, Simon makes the American Idol world go round. I tune in every week just to see what he's going to do next. Shaking my head in disapproval, I watched as he booted people for being "too big" or not having the "right look." I don't always agree with him, and occasionally, I find myself cringing into the couch as if it were me up there. However, as past reality TV shows have proven time and time again, the success of reality TV is only as good as its worst villain.
Go back with me if you will to TV's original reality show, Real World: New York. A pioneer effort on the part of MTV provided America with an inside view of the lives of seven strangers, picked to live in a house… Well, you know the rest. We were intrigued, we tuned in, and we got to know the house members. There was eccentric Norman, hard bodied Eric, outspoken Kevin, but there was no magic. Every Real World fan in America knows what happened next: We witnessed the once sweet, passive Julie lash out against Kevin (for those of you who missed it, he's the villain) outside on the streets of New York City. It was real. We were hooked. The reality TV villain was born.
Fast forward to the next huge reality TV series, Survivor. In the first season of Survivor, we met Richard Hatch. He was conniving, condescending, and, in my own humble opinion, had not one single redeeming trait to be found (unless, of course, manipulation counts here). I was hooked on Survivor because I was hooked on Richard. So was the rest of America. We couldn't believe what he did, we couldn't believe what he said, but we always wanted more. I moaned in agony when he won. Score one for the bad guys.
Villains like Richard make reality TV more fun. Why? The history of good versus evil goes back all the way to the Bible. We need a force to rally against. In most movies, you'll find that the good guy usually wins. In real life, however, we know this isn't true. A reality TV villain gives us the opportunity to commiserate with whoever their target happens to be. I will be the first to admit, however, that there may be a much simpler explanation: Maybe we just love a good fight.
Now, imagine for a moment, that there were no diabolical Simon Cowell on American Idol, only syrupy sweet Paula and go-with-the-flow Randy. Oh, and please don't forget those two bumbling idiots that some Fox executive most likely got fired for because he thought they were "host" material. Puh-leaze. Without Simon, there would be no dramatic tension, and the fact of the matter is, the kids wouldn't be trying as hard. We, as human beings, have an instinctive fight or flight impulse. Simon brings out the fight. I love him for that. Whether you agree with him or not (and truth be told, much of his criticism is right on when you pull the vicious barbs out of it), Simon makes the show what it is.
Some of you are still saying, "No, no, the show would really be much better if Simon were gone." Are you sure about that? Let's take a look here at the second season of Survivor, and our very own wicked witch of the west, Jerri. I have never seen so many people around me glued to television sets, crossing their fingers that this would be the week she would go. We seethed with fury and anguish every time Colby fell for her batting-eyelashes-bouncing-curls-seductive-giggling productions. When we were finally appeased and she was voted off, we all realized the cold, hard truth. Hating Jerri had made Survivor worthwhile. Survivor without Jerri was like Star Wars without Darth Vader. Our only villain left was goofy Keith, who was about as calculating as R2-D2. How much fun was that? In the end, how did we choose between all-American Colby, and mom-next-door Tina? They were both nice people, and we wanted them to win.
The moral of the story here is, yes, Simon Cowell is a villain. He is ruthless, he almost made RJ cry on numerous occasions, and I don't doubt that Christina got the ax, in large part, because Simon liked her. I love him because I loathe him, and that, my friends, is what makes tuning in each week so much fun. I hope Simon is around for next season, but if he isn't, maybe Jerri will be available.
Kelsey Poyer is a writer and college student from Northeast PA who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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