Things I Don’t Like about Television, Episode 31: Competition Shows

Before we began talking about competition shows, I must say that this is a momentous occasion. I have just published my 100th post on WordPress!

100-posts-SaM

This started out as an effort to re-post old thoughts before my first blog was lost (and that is still a possibility), but it has grown bigger than I could have imagined in August 2015. I still want to grow this blog even more. For that I would need help from the blogging community, while making my own strides. Thanks to everyone who has read my posts and even more to those who have chosen to follow this blog.

Back to my scheduled programming…


Now onto Competition Shows

While in the realm of reality television, some shows are more heavily predicated towards contestants’ talents and their desire to work towards the prize. I will not include shows like The Amazing Race, The Bachelor/The Bachelorette, Big Brother, or Survivor, since these shows are more about the interpersonal relationships between those involved. Again, I will state that I don’t like those shows.

The competition shows in the former category include those with various problems. At least one has long stayed past its welcome, several have copied elements from their predecessors in an effort to cash in on the ratings cow, and while all shows have their drama backstage, one show in particular actually denigrates its contestants more than the others.


American Idol

Beginning in the summer of 2002, Nigel Lithgoe and Simon Fuller gave us a show based on the British Pop Idol. According to the formula, thousands of contestants would compete over a number of weeks and try to advance past a few rounds.  Ten finalists would be selected and those rounds would be televised in their entirety. Additionally, the show’s viewers were able to cast telephone votes for each contestant.

The original judges of American Idol were Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul — who herself had a questionable singing career — and Randy Jackson. The two co-hosts were Brian Dunkleman — who would be axed after the first season — and Ryan Seacrest, who had too many jobs even at that point.

AI would lead to other shows like it being produced in even more countries. In the United States, and an ongoing trend of talent shows — which included the short-lived reboot of Star Search, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, The X Factor, and The Voice — would ultimately develop. It should be noted that The X Factor was spearheaded by Simon Cowell, and he would later migrate to it after leaving the AI at the end of its ninth season.

The two large draws of American Idol were Simon Cowell with his blunt, abrasive commentary and the discovery of real talent. For those who watched the first seasons, it was fun to see Simon go after some contestants, particularly when those off-key contestants needed a wakeup call. (They never got the got the message, but someone needed to tell them they couldn’t sing to save their lives.) One sentence from how Simon would hit right on what the viewer was thinking: “That was terrible.” One contestant from the first season who was highly memorable was Tamika Bush, who lambasted all the judges after being rejected at the end of her audition. Two standouts from the first season were Tamyra Gray and Kelly Clarkson. Clarkson was the winner of the first season and to this day she remains as one of the most successful alums of the show.

Now given what I said about Cowell above, I have always had complaints about the judges. Paula Abdul was too saccharine, although harsh criticism from her would have extremely ironic. Eventually, Simon’s act began to wear thin. At points, it looked like Simon was fishing for insults and trying too hard to give harsh commentary where honesty would have been enough. Randy Jackson often had some substantial commentary, yet he would try to take on more of a Simon role in later seasons. Over the years, the original judges on AI would be replaced by a lineup that included Keith Urban —another nice one  judge — and Jennifer Lopez, who suffers the same problem Paula Abdul did. However there was Harry Connick, Jr., whose honesty I appreciated when I watched the program for a few minutes one night.

Another complaint about the show was the evaluation of talent. Some great contestants who survived auditions would be conspicuously absent from later rounds and some terrible singers actually made it to the televised round. The judges would complain about them being voted up every week, but they were at fault for letting some of them advance in the first place. Some truly talented contestants like Tamyra Gray could have a bad week and pay for it, so viewers are denied the best final week possible. And this is not to mention how some of the winners of AI were forgettable. Do you remember Taylor Hicks? I had to look up his name because I keep forgetting the dude’s name and only remember the Soul Patrol moniker.

Anyway, that brings me to what I hated most: the voting process. First, some contestants would stick around because of sympathy votes or because some Internet users wanted to sink the shows by voting for the worst singers. Second, the voting gave some regions an advantage over others. Those in the Hawaii Time Zone could vote at least one full hour ahead of those in the Pacific Time Zone. Also, voters could vote for one person up to ten times, which could become an issue with those in high-traffic areas. Fourth, at times it seemed as if the producers all but eschewed the actual votes to promote who they preferred to win. Two questionable results came in consecutive seasons. At the end of Season 7, David Cook won when it was clear that David Archuleta was far more popular. At the end of Season 8, Kris Allen, the good, wholesome Christian boy, won over Adam Lambert, who was obviously gay, but was far more talented and popular with viewers.

Finally, there is an issue of talent drain. How many good singers can one show find in one country who did not already have a professional singing career— especially with similar shows competing for talent? We have too many people already out who don’t hit the right notes. This issue was clearer with each progressive season, along with the repetitive evaluation process.

To be quite honest, I tuned out of the show years ago, only checking in occasionally. I skipped all of 2015 and this year, the final season.


Dancing with the Stars

This is another show based on a British competition show that spawned spinoffs in other countries. The format is like that of Strictly Come Dancing, with three judges who cast votes (with values of 1 to 10) for each dance. Each week of competition, those votes are tallied with an average of telephone votes. Since debuting in 2005, the United States’ version has included original host Tom Bergeron and judges Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli. Julianne Hough was eventually added as a fourth judge in 2014 after subbing for Goodmanin 2013.

Side Note: The addition of Hough is too much, as having 4 judges bogs the show down. It takes time away from the dancing and performances.

Besides that, I have similar complaints with this show as I have always had with AI. In particular, the two things I hate most are Len Goodman’s commentary and the voting process.

All judges have pissed me off at one time or another, but Len has consistently done so. Len loves to give harsh commentary and it is often over the top and rude. He is not like Simon Cowell, who was actually funny at one time. Some of his votes are two low (or too high, but rarely), and that negatively impacts the final tally.

Also, I suspect that the producers rig some votes, as well. I’m still mad at Emmitt Smith’s win over a more talented Mario Lopez and Sabrina Bryan’s early exits.

Additionally, with DWTS, there is another issue at play with the voting. Since these are “stars” who are dancing with professionals, some contestants are already well known, and that could affect the voting more than their talents. Too many times, I have seen an old celebrity or some cutie pie stay on over better dancers and that conspired with everything else eventually killed my enjoyment of the show.
Talent drain plays a role here, too. With each passing season, it looks like the producers are scraping the bottom of the barrel with some of the contestants they include, although there are some good ones still.


The Biggest Loser

Of the shows I mention in this post, this has to be the worst.

Starting in 2004, the show began airing in the U.S. The goal of the show was for contestants to lose the greatest percentage of pounds while surviving a number of rounds. In other countries, the rules could differ to include the greatest weight loss overall. Contestants can be voted off by others if they fall behind a certain line based on their percentage or total weight loss during one period.

Over the course of the show in the U.S., there have been two hosts: Caroline Rhea, who was noticeably overweight herself, and Alison Sweeny, who undoubtedly had a better weight-loss regimen than any of the contestants on the show. One mainstay of the show is Bob Harper. Jillian Michaels — who formerly had her own weight issues — would join the show during the third season.

Now, I always thought that the name of the show was kind of derogative; I know I can’t be the only one. As it turns out, the producers do not really care about the contestants, so maybe the name of the show was a big red flag.

Also: Even without considering the behind the scenes issues, didn’t it always seem wrong to send someone home before the competition was over? Once a contestant was off the show, they were on their own and left to their own devices. However, when you consider the practices of those shows, would they be better off there?

Look at this short list of abuses:

Contestants were shamed. This takes form in the attire contestants have to wear. Women have to wear sports bras and thus had bear their midriffs. The men were only allowed to wear shorts, so all their torsos would be bare for everyone to see. The exercises were also demeaning since they called attention to how fat the contestants were. For example, consider that some participants had to run on a track while carrying their weight in food. (Mmm…250 pounds of macaroni and cheese…) Additionally, the participants had various things yelled at them by trainers.

In Australia, Andrew Costello talked about truth behind the scenes. His complaints included information about how participants were kept on a ranch for four months without being able to contact loved ones, even during holidays.

The American version seems more extreme. Relationships were marginalized between contestants while they were fat. Weighing periods could be as long as three weeks or as short as 5 days. Contestants were urged to run regardless of leg injuries. On top of that, film was edited to make certain contestants look lazy. And let’s not forget how Rachel Fredrickson basically cheated to weigh in at 105 pounds, an unhealthy weight for someone of her height.

I’m not done with this show, as I have more to say about it in my next post…


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