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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Reality TV ready to jump the shark?

Mouth of an abandoned gold mine in Rhyolite, Nevada.
Mouth of an abandoned gold mine in Rhyolite, Nevada. - Russell Wangersky

I’ll admit — I have a weakness for reality television.

People catching crab off Alaska or digging for northern gold? I’ll watch either of those for a bit, even though the evidence is clear that many are either outright faked, or use their miles of taped material to create fake drama where none existed originally. (I have less time for survival-type shows that seem unable to grasp that hats and gloves are a good idea in snow, but to each their own.)

But the new raft of reality shows make me wonder if the overall franchise isn’t heading for a cliff.

New offerings that have either just started or will be coming in a few days include “Kings of Pain”, where two hosts … well, I’ll let History Channel explain it: “‘Kings of Pain’ follows wildlife biologist Adam Thorn and professional animal handler Rob ‘Caveman’ Alleva as they get bitten and stung by some of the most dangerous animals and vicious stinging insects in the world — from a reticulated python to a rove beetle — to create a complete and comprehensive pain index to help save lives.”

(Admit it — this is a show where you sit on your couch and watch other people suffer, along the lines of the already-existing “Naked and Afraid”, where people are dropped off in hostile terrain without, well, clothes, and then get bitten or otherwise injured for your amusement.)

Another new offering?

A joint venture between snowmobile manufacturers Ski-Doo and the Discovery Channel, “‘Escape Mountain’ features five professional snowmobile riders, skiers, and snowboarders dropped in the frozen wilderness with no gear or sense of direction. Pro snowmobile riders Ashley Chaffin, Tony Jenkins, and Rob Alford join pro snowboarder Craig McMorris and pro skier Sean Pettit to conquer the world’s most extreme escape room. With nothing but their Ski-Doo snowmobiles and some clues to guide them, they must work together to solve a series of intense, will-testing challenges. However, one massive obstacle stands in the way — a mountain.”

Sounds more like a barely disguised extended advertisement for snowmobiles than anything else. But hey — since the field seems so open, I’ve got a few suggestions for new shows of my own.

How about “You-kuza”? It’s a show where “Contestants have the tips of their left little finger removed, and are covered in near-total-body ritualistic Japanese tattoos. Using only their own resourcefulness, the contestants are then embedded with members of Japan’s infamous Yakuza crime gang. Follow the hilarity and dramatic tension of trying to fit in with a close-knit and violent criminal gang.”

The new raft of reality shows make me wonder if the overall franchise isn’t heading for a cliff.

Or how about “Minecraft”? “Contestants are brought to the mouth of abandoned Nevada mine. Armed only with their wits, a ball of string, a miner’s helmet and lamp and a digital video camera, contestants venture deep into tunnels and shafts. Follow the ups and downs — way, way downs — as our cavers strive to be the one who goes deepest into darkness, and stays the longest among snakes, possible cave-ins and other hazards.”

And no one’s suggested a series on volunteers running through a gamut of medieval torture devices, from the thumb screw to the rack to the iron maiden, for a chance at $10,000 and fleeting reality show fame. (There’s a new star every week.)

The long-dead, mostly forgotten sit-com “Happy Days” was considered to have reached the end of its popular run in a particularly pathetic episode where Henry Winkler, as the show’s character Fonzie, jumped over a shark on water skis.

“Jumping the Shark” became a term for television shows that, unable to retain their popularity through such things as good writing, start relying on gimmickry instead

I mean, you could have a reality show where contestants actually did jump sharks… as long as enough of them failed to keep it painfully entertaining.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire publications across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky


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