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Colorful Characters on Reality TVby Joshua Ryan -- 08/25/2002
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I've been re-watching Survivor: Africa (yes, voluntarily) and as I've been watching it play out again, all I can think of is one thing: reality TV needs colorful people to make it far in the game for the show to end up being good. If you don't follow me then keep on reading.
Let's start by looking back at various reality shows and see if any colorful characters were left and how that played out in the overall success of the show. When I say "colorful" I mean that they must have be fun to watch. The viewer must relate to them in at least the tiniest sense. They have to be controversial. They must be a mix of sweetness/meanness/craftiness/etc. that'll make us want to keep watching.
The first series of Survivor is a prime example of a cast of colorful characters lasting until the end. Who can argue that arrogant Rich, wishy-washy Kelly (although I think she was just a brilliant strategist caught in the middle of the first alliance), loudmouth Sue, and one-liner Rudy weren't colorful? Does anyone think that had the final four been Stacey, Sean, Dirk, and Sonja that the show would have attracted 50 million viewers in the final episode? Don't get me wrong, I love each of the Survivors, but the final four of the first series can never be topped as they each had so much personality and were so fun to watch. They were colorful and fun to watch and that definitely helped the show.
Now, on the other hand if colorful/interesting people are voted out early than it can make the series suffer. Take for example Big Brother 1. Very controversial Mega was first out, followed by stripper Jordan, emotional mother Karen, and funny/sassy Brittany. Yes the public voted out all these people but we had to learn the hard way: a cast of normal people simply isn't as fun to watch as a bunch of money hungry people are; and that's who was left in the house. The series limped its way to the finale and the whole cast is left in oblivion.
Survivor 2 definitely had some interesting people, but it just didn't have as many as S1 did. Their personalities just didn't shine through as the others had (most likely because they didn't want to offend anyone, a la Sue and Kelly) so it wasn't as fun to watch. Jerri and Tina are the only two that pop into mind when I think of people who were fun to watch (although I had no problem watching Amber). They were both crafty and cunning.
Next along was Big Brother 2 and in order to get ratings they got a new producer and promised more interesting people. Unfortunately they got "good looking" and "interesting" mixed up; but I can't complain. I loved the final six contestants of BB2 and enjoyed how it played out. But it wouldn't have been so successful without strong but emotional Nicole, her partner in crime Hardy, arrogant Will, unsure Bunky, and "It's aaawwwwnnn!" Monica. They were the reason Big Brother had better ratings than the predecessor, because they were fun to watch and very colorful.
Survivor: Africa suffered from a problem: most of the interesting people were booted pre-merge. Puerto-Rican firecracker Jessie was the victim of Kim J. dumping their water supply, and reading all the great things about Diane I know that those two would have been very entertaining to watch. Had Lindsay and Silas not been victim of the switch, they could have been a lot of fun to watch as well. Unfortunately, we got stuck watching the very nice (but sometimes boring) antics of Kim J., Ethan, and the craziness/weirdness of Lex and Tom. I'm pretty sure we got ripped off on that one. The ratings agreed, as it seemed viewers quickly lost interest.
S4 definitely had a lot of strong personalities and that helped the success of the show. John, Rob, Sean, Kathy, Tammy, etc. all had such colorful, interesting characters that it was fun to watch them. Big Brother 3 also has a lot of great personalities (Marcellas, Amy, Danielle) and the ratings are showing that as well: viewership is up over last year.
Although we don't want to admit it, a lot of us are as cranky as Sue was or as emotional as Lindsay was. A good show has characters like this not only at the beginning but also as the show progresses. Even when we rail against them, we need characters like Chiara, Brandon, and Kelly in reality TV, or it would be awfully boring.
Joshua Ryan is a student and reality TV junkie.
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