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 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.

A Manila taxi driver scam and other doubts about blogging

I don’t know what to write about.

It happens.

I haven’t written anything on the blog for a couple of weeks now and know that if I leave it for much longer this habit of blogging will become harder and harder. So I’ll write this post.

What to write about when I have nothing to write about?

Idea 1: Lists

Where to start. One good idea for blog posts is coming up with lists.

  • 7 ways to make money with a blog
  • 5 types of people you meet at airports
  • 16 things that are supposed to be cool, but are not
  • 11 reasons FC Barcelona lost to Bayern Munich
  • 27 places I would love to visit this year

Idea 2: Anecdote

Another way to start is a short anecdote about something that happened to me, and a reflection on what it means.

This blogger standing in front of a Phillipine “Jeepeny” bus

Two days ago Raul and I caught a taxi at 6:45am from central Manila to the airport. We told the driver specifically to bring us to Terminal 3. We were in a little bit of a rush and were hoping that the terrible Manila traffic would not cause us to be late for our flight.

The driver made good progress. He informed us that it was a holiday, labour day, in Manila. This was our salvation. No traffic.

The driver sped up into the airport. I saw a sign for Terminal 1, another for Terminal 2.

The driver stops the car and says “We are here”. The fee is 180 php. He has no change (I suspect a “strategy”). I only have a 500 php bill, but Raul has 200 php so at least we are only ripped off by 20 php (about €0.40).

We make our way into the building. As we approach security we tell the guard our destination. He says “wrong terminal”.

This is not a great feeling. We had gone from a downer as we caught the taxi, to elation as we reached the airport on time… and now it is the wrong airport.

Another driver mysteriously appears and says “I can take you to Terminal 3”. He grabs our bags and makes headway for his nearby car.

We are too caught up in the rush to catch our flight to negotiate anything. We just want to know how long it will take.

We reach Terminal 3 in about 20 minutes… to find a massive queue, about 400m long, of people just trying to get into the terminal building.

We rush to the front of the queue and ask in our best polite words to be let in at the front. A kind family and an understanding security guard allow us.

We make the flight.

The question that remains… was driver 2 in an organized scam with driver 1? Raul and myself are still debating.

Idea 3: A photo

As we arrived into Manila and stood in line for immigration control we passed this sign.  “Naia is a no ‘Wang-Wang’ zone.  Please fall in line to avoid embarassment.”  Raul and I debated “what is ‘Wang-Wang'”?

Any ideas on Wang-Wang?  Answers in the comments below!


New Element Isolated: The Chemistry of Governmentium:

My father sent me an email that made me laugh today. The original source is unknown, but the meaning is universal…

The Chemistry of Governmentium

The new element is Governmentium (Gv). It has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of Teflon-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons or protons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction normally taking less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. All of the money is consumed in the exchange, and no other by-products are produced.


Have you experimented with Governmentium lately?  How did the reaction go?

Ethics in Persuasion: The Customer is Not an Idiot

Early in my seminars I tell participants that Persuasion is not Manipulation.  Manipulation is getting others to do something that is of benefit to me.  Persuasion is getting others to do something that is of benefit to them and of benefit to me.

Where is the line between Manipulation and Persuasion?  

Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

Where is black and where is white?  How close to the line can I be without being “unethical”?  How close to the line do I wish to go?

Professors Sherry Baker and David Martinson published a framework for Ethical Persuasion in 2001.  It is a useful framework to use when asking the question “where does persuasion end and manipulation begin?”

I like TARES because it is not a list of rules, it is not the minimum necessary.  It is a set of questions that are up to you as an individual to answer in your own way.

TARES is an acronym for Truthfulness, Authenticity, Respect, Equity and Social Responsibility:

  • Truthfulness: Is this communication factually accurate and true? Has this appeal deliberatedly left out important and relevant facts? 
  • Authenticity: Do I feel good about being involved in this action? Do I believe that the audience will see improved Quality of Life? 
  • Respect: Is the persuasive appeal made to the audience as rational, free, adult human beings? Do I care about them as people? 
  • Equity: Does this meet The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”  
  • Social Responsibility: Does this action promote and create the kind of world and society in which I myself would like to live in? 

You can read the full original academic article here: The TARES test for Ethical Persuasion.  It has 5 tables that provide many questions that help shape your ideas of what really constitutes Truth, Authenticity, Respect, Equity and Social Responsibility.

I moved the second part of this post, which is a discussion of Manipulators to a new post.

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