The Surreal Life: Bruce Malone
January 03, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

The eight worst reality TV cliches

Real life can be predictable: You wake up, you go to work, you go home, you have dinner, you turn on the television. And if you’re like me, you turn on reality TV, which, for all its dramatic twists, can be just as predictable as real life. Because no matter how wacky, explosive, or irrational reality cast members/contestants are, they end up doing the same things that countless first-name-only players have done before them on other shows. Hence, as you get ready for 2003’s offerings — ”High School Reunion,” ”Joe Millionaire,” ”The Surreal Life,” ”The Bachelorette,” ”American Idol 2” — here’s a list of reality-TV cliches that may seem all too familiar.

The Connection True love is easier to find on reality TV than loose change under the couch. If one male says he likes Cheez Doodles, and a female has the same love for the orangey treat, one of them is sure to later gush to the camera, ”I really think we made a connection!” The word ”connection” is tossed around so haphazardly that it joins ”awesome,” ”genius,” and ”the American people want…” on the junk heap of superlative words and phrases that no longer have meaning.

Friends 4-Eva Though many find love on reality TV, it’s even easier to find a new best friend. Whenever a new group is assembled in a house/tribe/island, it only takes three minutes of conversation for Contestant A to disclose, ”Contestant B and me have soooo much in common. I think we’re going to be best friends.” Cut to three weeks later, when the rest of the house is trying to pry A’s hands from B’s neck.

Thank Me When I’m Kicking Your Ass! Looking for a way to kick someone off a show without hurting your own good-guy self-image? Why, just rationalize that you’re doing him or her a favor by giving them the boot. Tribal councils and voting booths are full of people saying, ”I think Contestant C really misses his family, so he should go home,” or ”Contestant D seems to be really suffering, and he needs to leave so he can get better.” These are the same people who might say, after running someone over in a car, ”I think that broken spine will give him more time to relax.” Sure, that sounds like an exaggeration, but just wait until Fox comes up with a new reality show called ”Hit and Run,” and you’ll be hearing it every week.

20/20 Hindsight Ethics The amount of lying you do on a reality show is proportional to the moral indignance you’ll feel after being ejected from the game. Final juries are full of evictees who magically forget every half-truth they told; they high-mindedly chastise the finalists for lying while proudly claiming that they themselves ”played the game with integrity.” As my friend Dave says, that’s like a football player getting tackled and whining, ”Why did you hit me? I never hit you!”

Keeping It Real This phrase is said so many times on ”The Real World,” Bunim/Murray probably patented it. In any case, when reality TV stars say they’re keeping it real, they usually mean they’re keeping it selfish. As in a slob saying, ”I’m confident enough as an adult that I don’t have to fit into your parameters of ‘clean.”’ Which basically means, ”I know I threw up in the hot tub, but I don’t feel like cleaning it.”

What? This Is a Game? There’s one in every reality game show: someone who claims to be there not for the money, but for the ”experience.” Which usually is a synonym for ”fame.” Turn off the cameras and see how willing they are to sit cooped up in a house or live on 14 grains of rice.

Take a Stand Every game now has an endurance challenge. Stand on a pole, sit in a car, squat in a pit, lay in a pool… whatever it is, do it for hours until you’re the only one left. At least with the omnipresent gross-out eating competitions, we get to see some visually compelling gagging. But when it comes to competitions where people just sit or stand around, the only benefit is that the producers get a break when the players shut up for awhile. By ”Survivor 7” we’re going to start seeing Jeff Probst yell, ”Quiet contest, starting now! First one to speak gets a charley horse!”

Epiphanies Confessional cameras are made for people to cry to and proclaim that they’ve just realized that they’re (pick one: selfish/bitchy/unreliable/afraid of love), and they are going to change, dammit! It provides a nice coda to an episode about a person being (pick one: selfish/bitchy/unreliable/afraid of love), but it has no relation to that person actually attempting to make a positive change. In the next episode, they’re right back to being just as (pick…oh, you know). If they did change, they’d probably get less camera time, so really, where’s the incentive?

What reality TV cliches have you noticed?

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