Reality Roundup: Alternate Realities

The great irony of Reality Television is that the ‘reality’ part isn’t a singular concept.  When the lenses come into focus, you never really know whose version of events you’re going to get – and that’s why I can’t help but to come back for more.  This week, three shows in particular highlighted the many realities that reality has to offer.

Catfish

There are always at least two realities on Catfish – the internet reality (he texts me every day! We’re getting married and moving to Orlando!)  and the actual reality (I’ve been trying to meet up with him for three years and each time we’re close his pickup truck breaks down and he can’t meet me and also he told me his video chat is broken but what does that even mean?) Rarely is there an explanation for the coexistence of these two realities that isn’t some variation of on “he (or she) stole someone else’s pictures and used them to get my attention and kick off a relationship that was doomed before it started and now we’re all just sad but we’ll get over it eventually (probably).”

Rarely – but not never.

Last week’s episode featured April and Dean.  Following their meeting on a teen chat group (and following my ten minutes spent googling to refresh my memory of what a “teen chat” group might be) when April was only 13, the two never met in person but vacillated between nonstop electronic communication and ominous silence – brought on by Dean’s seemingly inexplicable tendency to fall off the face of the earth for years at a time.

Digging into Dean’s online presence, show hosts Nev and Max uncovered all the usual suspects of Catfish behavior – a phone number that may or may not belong to a married man with a kid, a second potential catfish victim, and multiple possibilities for Dean’s real identity.  Given Dean’s extremely catfish-y behavior, the shock value of the show’s reveal came when the human behind online Dean turned out to be…Dean himself.

April’s outcome is no doubt what every Catfish participant is hoping will happen for them.  But even though the person behind April’s internet reality and actual reality turned out, against all odds, to be one and the same, April was still stuck with the reality of an online boyfriend who, while proclaiming his affections in person, had been flaky throughout their time together at best.  Ultimately choosing to go their separate ways, April and Dean’s story shows that sometimes, it’s not about reconciling one reality with another – it’s about rejecting both realities and moving on.

New episodes of Catfish air 10:00pm ET Wednesday on MTV and are available the next day on-demand.

Adam Ruins Everything

There are many things I want to do with my time.  But with my tiny house obsession showing no signs of abating, The Real Housewives of Orange County returning last week (more about that below), and – you know – the demands of my actual job showing no signs of quitting, I’m not exactly signing up for a JSTOR subscription.

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I did, however, make time for the teachings of Adam Ruins Everything.  And that’s basically the same thing.

The show’s unique format, featuring actors in silly skits and breakaway scenes, essentially tricks you into absorbing the CliffsNotes version of current research on a given subject (only this time, there’s a cartoon stork binging pickles on the couch while you do).  Its second season premiere (the aptly named “Having a Baby”) hit the ground running last week with a multitude of specific issues: everything from getting pregnant after 35 to the formula vs. breastfeeding debate and even postpartum depression – in each case, not only offering properly-cited studies and expert interviews to challenge the commonly accepted realities of issues, but also exploring the origins of those realities themselves.

Regardless of whether you agree with the show’s conclusions, it has a compelling knack for highlighting assumptions that you may never have even realized were assumptions in the first place.  For example, its examination of the egg freezing industry (or what it describes as “a vanity industry that preys on fertility fear”) is undeniably harsh.

However, the show’s citations suggest that, although not everyone will have the luxury of making the choice, it’s worth re-evaluating the fertility findings of current research before investing the thousands of dollars required for the process.  Later on, the annoyingly chipper comments of a scenario character who justifies her uninformed advice with an assertion of “I read mommy blogs, like, for fun” demonstrated (once more, even though we shouldn’t need it by now) the many pitfalls of an aggressively uninformed internet.

Cartoons and all, Adam Ruins Everything ultimately leans more mini-documentary than it does towards traditional reality.  Still, the grownup Sesame Street vibe with which it clashes “common conception” reality with the realities of current research has me hooked – and feeling slightly smarter than I was before I started.

New episodes of Adam Ruins Everything air 10:00pm ET Tuesday on truTV and are available the next day on-demand.

The Real Housewives of Orange County

As a faithful viewer of the now twelve (TWELVE) seasons of The Real Housewives of Orange County, I watch the show with a creepy level of investment that borders on insanity (I literally teared up when Eddie and Briana, who I assumed to be estranged due to the tensions between Briana’s mother and Eddie’s wife, greeted each other with a warm hug.  Consider this my first step towards admitting that I have a problem).  But despite my deep love for these complete strangers that I have never met, even I’d be the first to admit that there’s never one reality at play in the OC.  Take, for example, the conflicting currents of this week’s episode.

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To all outward appearances, it was just another birthday party for a two-year-old (and by that, I mean for the two-year-old’s doting grandmother.  The toddler herself seemed satisfied with a solo stick of rock candy).  Complete with sparkly streamers, bursts of psychedelic-themed balloons and pastel-coated baked goods, what had once been a mere beer garden was magically transformed into a unicorn-saturated paradise.

But scratch the surface of the fantasy, and a darker reality took hold.  The gently waving pink turrets of a bouncy castle that would turn even a Nick-wooing Corinne green with envy became not only a reminder of the child-like joy enveloping the festivities, but also a portent of impending instability.  The cotton candy booth echoed the saccharine-dripped greeting that show veteran Shannon gave to relative newcomer Lydia (as any seasoned OC watcher will tell you, the old guard greeting the new rarely ever ends well).  Barely masked by the background shrieks of joy, the OC troops took their places.

Tamra held court in the center of the action, allowing guests to greet her amidst a bouquet of distractingly colorful balloons while keeping a careful eye on the action.  Cast member daughter Brianna, whose highly political attendance was blissfully lost on her own oblivious toddlers, managed to stay out of the fray by hiding behind the temporal barricade of the bouncy castle before making the strategic decision to bounce (from the party) herself.  And within minutes of meeting each other, Shannon and Lydia were in a screaming fight about who had screamed at whom and when.

There was no less fitting an end to the joyful occasion than for Shannon, anger accentuated by the cheery colors of the omnipresent bouncy castle, announced to anyone within earshot (which was…everyone) “I’m done.  I’m f*****g done.”

For the ladies of the OC, reality may not always mean the same thing as it does for the rest of us.  But I know that’s just one of the many reasons why I love them – and at the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?

New episodes of The Real Housewives of Orange County air 9:00pm ET Monday on Bravo and are available the next day on-demand.

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