The Real Reason Why Audiences Love Reality TV

The Real Reason Why Audiences Love Reality TV

I was watching the UK version of the TV show “The Apprentice” a few months ago.  This particular week’s challenge was to sell caravan and camping equipment at a trade show.

Early on, there was a key decision to make: Which model of caravan would the team try to sell?

Now, this was a trade show where the typical attendee was 60 years old and the teams had this information.  This was not a show directed to young people, nor was it an audience that would be represented by the word “innovative”.  This was people looking for solid, reliable caravans.

The contestants on BBC's The Apprentice show
The contestants on BBC’s The Apprentice show

The team lead, lets call him Joe, asked for advice from one of his team members, who I will call Tom.  Now, Joe has already agreed with the rest of the team that they should choose a proven, well-priced model…

Joe: “So, Tom, what do you think? Should we go for the hip, modern campervan or the older, proven model?”

Tom: “I think we should go for the modern one.”  (I am surprised at this advice)

Joe: “Really?  I like it a lot more…  but… are you sure it is right for this market?”

Tom: “I think we can manage it.”

Joe: “Right, ok…  I’ll go with your advice.”

Skip forward to the end of the week…  Joe is in the boardroom defending why his team did so incredibly poorly.  It was clearly because he chose a caravan that would be impossible to sell to the actual audience of the trade show.

Tom was playing the game supremely.  He was being friendly to Joe and acting the part of a loyal team member, whilst really setting Joe up for a fall.

We see the Manipulators for what they are

In real life this happens all the time, but it is very hard to see – because the manipulators like Tom are very good at the act, and we only see how they deal with us.  We don’t see or hear what they are saying to others behind our backs.

Modern western society forces a dilemma onto its citizens: How do I maintain a good balance between good, long-term, trusting relationships and individual achievement.  The achievement often has to come by me winning and another person losing.

Machiavelli first put down the principles of individual achievement over trusted relationships back in 1500s in his book The Prince.

TV Series such as The Apprentice, Survivor and Big Brother are exquisitely designed and edited to open a clear window for the viewers into the scheming, manipulative words and actions of the competitors.  They can often go for weeks believing that Tom is a wonderful friend in the house, whilst the audience has known for weeks that Tom is playing the true friend to several others and manipulating the whole house.

It is addictive watching.

I think it is addictive, because deep down we all know the game.

3 Comments

  1. Aristotle might classify this type of relationship as a friendship of utility (the other 2 types he describes in his “Nichomachean Ethics” are friendships of pleasure and of the good).

    This type is based on the exchange some kind of benefit. When the benefit is gone, so is the friendship.

    What do you suggest we do to anticipate manipulation?
    When should we suspect of manipulation?

    1. Hmmm… when should we suspect manipulation… hard one… if we start always with an attitude of mistrust, then we don’t build our half of a trusting relationship. I am happy for somebody to let me down once or twice (because I am living in line with my principles), but it is rare for it to happen a third time.

      1. Go about your own measure of success and stay true to your principles and decisions, if someone takes advantage he is competing in a different game. No point in playing their game unless you can win (and sleep at night of course)

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