“Survivor Panama: Exile Island” contestant Shane Powers is one of the most irritating people on reality TV right now. He walks around looking dazed and confused, and appears to have drool sliding out of his mouth, which constantly hangs open. Shane describes himself as “psycho ADD boy,” and sometimes he screams at people. Other times, he arrogantly orders people around and pretends as if he’s in charge of the game.
One week, he sat on a stump and declared, “I really like this seat. This is for when Shane’s thinking, okay? This is my ‘Shane’s thinking seat’.” Just when it seemed that he was being playful, he suddenly got angry, demanding, “Please actually, could no one else sit on my thinking seat?” Then, after someone asked him why, he screamed, “If you want this one, I’ll go get another one!”
Shane stopped smoking the day the game started, and considering he previously smoked three packs a day, that’s some serious withdrawal. But the lack of nicotine doesn’t quite explain his behavior.
Early on, he formed an alliance with Aras, Courtney, and Danielle, and then kindly promised that he’d end their lives if they turned on the alliance. “If any of you screw me, I’ll find you and kill you,” he said.
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He swore on his son’s name — a son he cruelly named “Boston Powers” — that he wouldn’t betray them, but then weeks later begged them to be free of his alliance, in no small part because he and Courtney fight constantly. Following whatever shiny object is in front of him at the moment, he’s like a cat without the intelligence or personality.
Bad personalities, good TV
He’s also great television — and one of the best reasons to watch “Survivor.”
Therein is the Reality TV Paradox: Fans of reality shows tune in to watch those people who are the most extreme, the most unpredictable, the most obnoxious, and wait eagerly for them to be voted off or otherwise punished for their detestable behavior.
But once the hated contestant leaves, the show loses a large part of its entertainment value. These truly are people viewers love to hate.
Scripted shows don’t have this problem, because their cast and storylines are determined by writers, who can keep a character around as long as they want. On reality TV shows, especially competition-based shows, the outcome is unpredictable.
Some reality TV stars have turned the public’s loathing for them into a career. The best example, of course, is Jon “Jonny Fairplay” Dalton, who lied about his grandmother’s death on “Survivor Pearl Islands.” Because people hated him so much, and particularly loathed his alleged alter-ego Jonny Fairplay, his new mission in life seems to involve becoming Fairplay all the time, getting drunk and destroying property.
That’s what he did on E!’s “Kill Reality,” where he defecated on “Bachelor” star Trish’s bed . That action caused him to be kicked off the show, but he walked away from it as the most memorable cast member of the series. All of this happened in the final episode, but had he left earlier, the show’s entertainment value would undoubtedly have dropped significantly.
In season one of “Survivor,” Richard Hatch managed to irritate most everyone in the audience before he won their respect for his masterful game play. In the first episode, he arrogantly sat in a tree and watched as others worked; he also tried to get the group of have a quasi-therapy session. If the audience’s wish had come true, Jeff Probst may have snuffed out Richard’s torch the very first episode.
Instead, Richard went on to forever alter the way people play competitive reality TV games, and was incredibly entertaining along the way. Of course, he was primarily entertaining because he was so ridiculously annoying.
Shane does not have Richard Hatch’s intelligence or wit, and his erratic game play doesn’t suggest that he’s devised a masterful strategy, although he has managed to make it to the jury.
Perhaps that’s because he’s really good at what he does. Although the show identifies him as “marketing executive,” Shane is also an actor. As his IMDB listing shows, he’s had a career mostly playing guest roles on TV shows, including a part on the first episode of “My So-Called Life.”
Is this all just an act, then? The withdrawal, the unpredictable behavior, the mood swings? Did Shane just decide before the game started to adopt a persona that would irritate everyone so much they’d keep him around until the end? Is he playing us, too, manipulating viewers so they’ll hate him and sustain his post-“Survivor” career?
If he is, that’ll only make us hate him more. And thus viewers will keep tuning in week after week to see if he gets voted off. That’s the fun of it, watching someone fall who deserves to fall.
CBS announced this week that viewers will be able to select the cast of its next edition of “Big Brother,” which will be an all-star season. The network will allow viewers to vote on a pool of 20 contestants, and 12 or 14 of those will enter the house and compete all summer long. As exciting as it is for viewers to have the chance, for the first time ever, to cast a network reality series, the potential for disaster is huge.
That’s because, although we love to hate people, we don’t like to admit it. Thus, the irritating go home (on this season of “American Idol 5,” for example, Brenna Gethers) while the bland stick around ( Bucky Covington , who departed only this week). Thankfully, most reality shows don’t let the audience control the outcome, because then we’d be responsible for our own boredom.
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