Are you watching MasterChef Junior?

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If not, you should be. You really should be.

My first encounter with MasterChef Junior was through my roommate. I came home one day to find her on the couch watching a bunch of children cook food. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes, mumbling, “Troy’s just been sent home.” I’ve been hooked ever since.

The premise is simple. Like any other reality competition show, 12 kids (ages 8-13) compete in cooking challenges, and 2 contestants are eliminated each week. But what is so different about this show (other than the contestants being so young yet amazingly talented making it beyond adorable) is how positive the show is. Rather than each contestant tear each other down in the interviews and refuse to share ingredients or encourage each other in any way, these kids genuinely like each other. They high-five one another at the end of a challenge. They talk about how amazing each one is. They run to hug the winner of the challenge. And they cry when one of them is eliminated. It is ridiculously endearing.

Added on top of the positive atmosphere of the show, is the cute element. These kids are far better chefs than I am (not that it’s hard to be), cooking with ingredients and making dishes I’ve often never heard of. They move around the kitchen with ease, yet their faces say everything. They can’t hide their happiness, or keep in their disappointment. Their ambitions and creative dreams are delightful to hear. (I defy you not find little Abby’s Horses and Course restaurant plan to be the cutest thing you’ve ever heard.)

Of everything, I think my favorite is to see the usual hard-ass Gordon Ramsey being sweet and kind with the kids. He hugs, he praises, and lives up to the hero most of the kids see him as. It is, in my opinion, one of the best shows on television right now.

The current season is 4 episodes in. You can catch up on OnDemand, or Hulu Plus, or here at Fox.com. And if you’re looking to feel good, I suggest you do.

New episodes air, on Tuesdays at 8pm.

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Are you watching MasterChef Junior?

Zombies-’nuff said

Zombies have become a big thing in the last few years. That is definitely not news to anybody. But why do we gravitate to zombies, and how nuts is this whole craze going? Let us explore.

Old-school zombie stuff is very different from the modern zombie. If you want details, you can read about it on wiki (yes that’s the disambiguation page; there is that much content on zombies). Old-school really leans towards the non-fiction zombie page. I don’t know a lot about haitian folklore, nor religion, but I knew that zombies were associated with it. The basics are that a zombie is a corpse that is reanimated to serve some kind of purpose. That was the common view of zombies for a long time. There’s a few older monster movies with zombie stuff, but I don’t know that anyone really talks about them.

The popular zombie really changed thanks to Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” At that point the zombie became the undead, flesh-eating, infecting, mindless force of nature that we have come to know and…well…we’ve come to know it. What a crazy game-changer. Now we’ve got zombie everything. You can participate in zombie runs, you can go play zombie paintball to test your zombie-kill-shot prowess, you can watch plenty of zombie shows and movies from the last few years, you can learn the science of how zombies work, you can listen to songs by the Cranberries, you can read mathematical models and speculative essays about zombie outbreaks, you can see how Pentagon strategists use zombies to keep their strategic brains working, and you can even embrace the philosophical zombie (ok, that one’s a stretch). Clearly we are getting close to the critical mass of zombie-mania. (Is anybody doing a zombie reality show? I wanna see 12 strangers interact in a series of zombie-challenges: Clear the house without getting bit, refuel the car and get back to the group, create some kind of social structure, make decisions about who can join the group, etc).

Now, there are plenty of theories that get bandied about regarding why we as a society have an obsession with zombies. I do not have the answer. It’s possible that there is a fixation with the idea of killing people, but without killing people. Maybe it has something to do with the reality of death; death is something everyone either has some experience with, or will have experience with, and seeing that topic in an artistic medium could be some kind of catharsis. There might be something fascinating about a corruption of a common wish; it’s not unusual to wish that someone dead would come back to life, but seeing that idea twisted into something awful is psychologically powerful. There’s even something to be said for the perversion of the Judeo-Christian resurrection concept acting as a point of interest.

With Halloween coming up, monsters and ghosts and death are going to be all around us. There’s going to be more than a few zombies mixed in with that. Maybe next time you see one, take a second to think about why it draws us all in.

Zombies-’nuff said

A Deep Desire: Be a Contestant on Survivor and/or The Amazing Race.

 

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In my eyes, these are the two greats of reality TV. Sure, some amazing talent has come out of the many singing competitions, and watching an individual date 25 people simultaneously proves to be consistently entertaining. But when it comes down to surprising moments, twists and turns, and the essence of human nature, these two win the prize.

The place you can always find me on a Wednesday night is on my couch (with food and snacks, naturally) watching Survivor. I anxiously await this time each Wednesday. (Sometimes I am so eager, I even watch it starting right at 8pm, rather than waiting the twenty-or-so minutes in order to avoid commercials. What??)

I love this show. I love the insane amount of strategy combined with the insane amount of luck it takes to win it. I love that people are willing to get filmed for 40 days with no access to a shower or mirror. I love that it summons peoples strength they didn’t even know they had. While at the same time it brings out the worst in people and they justify it with, “it’s Survivor.”  I love that every week, I literally don’t know what is going to happen. We get to watch human nature display itself in one of the most challenging environments– contestants are hungry, exposed to the elements, and in intense competition with every single person around them.

Now, I’m not overly obsessive. I don’t remember every single past contestant. I often forget where the last season’s location was. And truth be told, I haven’t been watching the show from the very beginning (I was like, 12, so forgive me.) But sure, I sometimes sit and ponder, what kind of player would I be? Would I emphasize strategy? Physical strength? The social game? Would I try to be a leader, or hang back as a kind of dark horse player? I’ll never truly know unless I played the game, because no one can honestly predict how they will react to those elements. And that, is the beauty of Survivor.

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As much as I love Survivor, I equally love The Amazing Race. Every week it takes me to new places I wish to one day see, and exposed to new “challenges” the contestants must complete leaving me envious and fascinated. I have this on going list of places I wanted to go and things I want to do made known to me only because I saw them on The Amazing Race. And that list is long.

I’ve thought long about it, and have chosen 3 people in my life who I know would make fantastic Amazing Race companions with me. They each would complement my weaknesses with their strengths nicely, and vice-versa. While the human aspect of The Amazing Race is not quite as thrilling as Survivor (no one is backstabbing and voting each other out, it literally is just a race) the locations and scenery of this show are unparalleled. I applaud the producers for showing us each week unique and sometimes unknown places throughout our world. Because there are crazy, “amazing” places that more people should be exposed to.

Why I would want to be a on either show if I can just watch them each week from my home? Believe it or not, and as cliche as it is, it really has nothing to do with the chance of money. It is because I want to challenge myself in that environment. I want to see what kind of person I become under those elements and that level of stress. I want to see how loyal I’d remain, how strategic I could be, how well I could work with another individual. I would like to outlast, outwit, and outplay an island of survivors. And I would like to travel around the world preforming various, and slightly embarrassing tasks. The odds of me ever getting on are of course slim to none. But I’ll take that slim, and still remain ever hopeful. In the meantime, I’ll continue watching every week like I always have. But you better believe it, if I ever am a contestant on The Amazing Race, there had better be a challenge involving elephants.

 

A Deep Desire: Be a Contestant on Survivor and/or The Amazing Race.

In an Age of Reality TV Over-saturation, ‘Lindsay’ Is Meta Reality Series Gold

Lindsay receives words of wisdom from Oprah, including but not limited to, "Cut the bullshit."
Lindsay receives words of wisdom from Oprah, including but not limited to, “Cut the bullshit.”

When I watch reality shows, I like to take consider all aspects of what goes into the final product. What are the subjects and crew showing? What aren’t they showing? How does editing affect the “story” of the show? Which encounters are “real” and which are scheduled commitments for the purposes of filming? In an age in which consumers complain about the overabundance of reality shows and yet continue to eat them up, viewers are savvy to the lack of actual “reality” of reality series. It’s in this over-saturated, jaded TV age that “Lindsay” serves as a new standard for reality TV. Rather than cutting out the presence of production crews, producers, and directors like most docusoaps, they are front and center on “Lindsay.”

Three episodes in, “Lindsay” is quietly establishing itself as more of a portrait on a troubled celebrity’s recovery — it provides a fascinating glimpse into the drama behind creating a reality show. Just as fraught with tension as any Real Housewives dinner, the process of filming “Lindsay” has become the show itself, and other channels with their repetitive reality formulas should take note. (I’m looking at you, E! and Bravo.)

The premise of “Lindsay” began with Lindsay Lohan’s famous post-rehab interview with Oprah Winfrey last July. Oprah offered her the opportunity to film a docuseries to essentially chronicle her process of rebuilding her life and making a comeback. Lindsay agreed. While not explicitly stating this, it’s evident that Lindsay saw the series as a means to control her narrative and how the public perceives her as a celebrity and actress. That’s not exactly what happens. She repeatedly reneges on previously agreed upon terms with the production company, Pilgrim Films & Television. She has plenty of excuses — plenty — but the show’s creators aren’t going to edit around their difficulties with her. No, they’re going to feature them as the main storyline of the series.

In skirting the responsibilities involved with shooting a docuseries of her life, Lindsay loses the very control of the show’s narrative that she wanted. The series could have happen about her glorious return as a stable, serious actress. Instead, it’s about the tug of war between Lindsay and the show’s creators/production team. It’s astounding the dichotomy between what she wants to put out in the world about herself and how she actually acts.

In one conversation with her health and wellness coach AJ, not to be confused with her sober coach Michael, Lindsay complains that the show was “supposed to something real and gritty and cool and normal.” And yet, she also argues, “I don’t want all the negative shit that’s going on and the stress that might show through on camera because that’s not fair because people only see that and that’s all they know.” Huh? How is not including the “negative shit” in your life part of shooting a “real” reality show?

In the latest episode, Oprah makes her scheduled visit with Lindsay to Dina Lohan’s house in Long Island. While the Dina portion of Oprah’s stay is still to come (Can’t wait!), Oprah has a heart-to-heart with Lindsay. Filled in on the production company’s difficulties with shooting the series, Oprah offers to Lindsay the chance to back out of the commitment. If she’s not ready, then it’s okay to kill the project. Lindsay says something about how filming a documentary is soooo haaard to get used to, but Oprah isn’t having any of it. Recognizing Lindsay as a professional woman who understands business obligations, she tells her to “cut the bullshit.” Unfortunately for Lindsay as an individual attempting to reclaim the public’s perception of her, the “bullshit” doesn’t do her any favors. Fortunately for reality show consumers, “bullshit” makes great TV.

Just as Lindsay stated herself, “Lindsay” is no “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” It’s also not a series-long promotion of the return of a talented actress looking for work.  Instead, it’s a paragon for the future of reality TV — rather than hiding the fact that it’s a produced show and not pure reality, it celebrates its fabrication, becoming all the more “real” for it.

In an Age of Reality TV Over-saturation, ‘Lindsay’ Is Meta Reality Series Gold

Screw True Love, ‘Are You the One?’ Is a Logic Puzzle

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As a pop culture writer studying for the LSAT, I sometimes find myself blurring the line between worlds. Reading comprehension passages on Star Wars keep my interest more than passages on gun control. The Good Wife acts as an instructional video on law firm dynamics that just so happens to also be a taut drama. MTV’s latest dating reality competition series serves better as a logical reasoning test than a can’t-miss TV show.

Are You the One? sets up 10 single women with 10 single men as “perfect matches,” according to extensive matchmaking processes. The trick is that they must all determine their own perfect matches. If they correctly pair up in 10 or less perfect match ceremonies, they share one million dollars.

We’ve seen glimpses of contestants making lists to determine perfect matches, but we haven’t seen any contestant treat the game as what it is — a logic game. Who cares about Brittany’s fixation with Adam? Who cares about Shanley and Chris being “together” when they know they’re not a perfect match? Who cares about the meltdowns and fights? Not even host Ryan Devlin cares all that much. Although I must admit, the super high-tech iPads and random lasers are hilarious. It’s all about the puzzle — not much else.

Like on most reality shows, the contestants are far from the brightest of their generation. Brainy may be the new sexy for some — but for MTV — sexy is the new sexy. At their first “ceremony,” they managed to get two perfect matches. In the second, they secured four matches. In ceremonies three and four, the contestants guessed only two matches each. By ceremony seven, they matched seven pairs albeit only two of which are confirmed perfect matches.

MTV seems to be bothered by the slow progress of the contestants. Two matches were confirmed on the official MTV channel blog Remote Control — before they were ever revealed on the show. MTV is already casting for the second season, so the next group of “sexy singles” will have had the privilege of watching and learning from the inaugural season. Will it help them find their perfect matches in 10 tries or less? Probably not.

As of ceremony seven, Coleysia and Dillan, Paige and Chris, Amber and Ethan, and Brittany and Joey are the only four confirmed perfect matches (including clues from MTV). Nonetheless, through process of elimination and (too) many group matching diagrams, I’ve determined the rest of the perfect matches.

Are You The One? Perfect Matches

Confirmed: Coleysia and Dillan

Confirmed: Paige and Chris

Confirmed by MTV: Amber and Ethan

Confirmed by MTV: Brittany and Joey

Ashleigh and JJ

Jacy and Ryan

Jacy and Scali

Kayla and Wes

Shanley and Adam

Simone and Dre

Perhaps that’s the unique appeal of the series. It appeals to regular MTV viewers and lovers of all things sleazy, well-produced reality TV. And, it appeals to geeks who can’t help but solve the logic game dynamic inherent to the show. Here’s to hoping next season features 20 bisexual men and women. Now, that would be a brain teaser.

UPDATE: I was right!

Screw True Love, ‘Are You the One?’ Is a Logic Puzzle

when reality tv actually gets real

This week’s season of finale of “The Bachelor” drew much ire from its fans and at points during the live finale, even appeared to be working host Chris Harrison’s last nerve. Bachelor Juan Pablo ended his “journey” by opting out of the proposal, telling Nikki Ferrell those words that every girl who has expressed her love for a man on national television loathes to hear, “”I like you a lot. A lot.”

In the “After the Final Rose” special that followed, Juan Pablo’s blatant refusal to reveal any personal details about the progress of his relationship with final rose winner Nikki had Harrison at a loss for words.  Juan Pablo still had not said that other more serious “L” word and their plans for where to live were up in the air, but they were looking forward to starting their relationship out of the spotlight.

In reality TV, not sharing the intimate details of your life is the cardinal sin.  In reality, expressing love to a woman and proposing when those feelings don’t actually exist would be the real cardinal sin.  Wise reality TV viewers know that the term “reality” is being used loosely at the best of times on their favorite shows and perhaps this is why “Bachelor” fans still expect their perfect, almost as if it were scripted, happy ending.  However, when it is going to have real world effects on the participants, can we begrudge them trying to have a say in their own definition of said happy ending?

Needless to say, in the end, we don’t want our reality TV to be too real, otherwise every season of “The Bachelor” would end with participants updating their relationship statuses on Facebook, every season of “American Idol” would end not in a shower of confetti, but in a room full of lawyers asking the winner to sign their lives away in exclusive recording contracts, and every season of “Survivor” would end with the winner realizing how much of their prize money is going to taxes.

We’ll let you have this one, Juan Pablo, but future reality stars should note that we don’t want your real problems.

when reality tv actually gets real