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Decisions don’t come easily to reality TV judges

In just one week, "American Idol 7" will debut, ready to capture the nation's attention once again. Here, then, are the most frequently asked questions about the show.
/ Source: contributor

Wondering about how a certain reality show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant?

Whether it's "Survivor," "American Idol," "The Apprentice," "Real World" or another show, send in your questions. Andy Dehnart,'s Television Editor and creator of Reality Blurred, will try to answer them.

Q: Do you have any idea how long deliberations last in ‘Project Runway’ or ‘America's Next Top Model’? They collapse it all into the last five minutes of the show and it would be interesting to know if they talk for 10 minutes or an hour or two, considering that the contestants are waiting, waiting, waiting to hear who stays and who goes. (I'm talking about the weekly challenges, not the big finale decisions.) — Liz, Madison, N.J.

A: Reality show deliberations can last a long time, often for hours. Tim Gunn revealed to The Chicago Tribune that the final deliberation for season two lasted for two hours, and said in interviews leading up to this season that deliberations for normal challenges for "Project Runway 4" sometimes went on for four or five hours.

No wonder that footage of the contestants sitting in the greenroom, waiting, makes them look bored. (Incidentally, after the "Project Runway" judges have made their decision, that's not even the end of the evening, as Heidi's teaser for the next challenge is typically taped that night, after everyone has changed clothes. That happens because the models and Heidi are all right there.)

Cast members on "Top Model" haven't been as revealing in interviews about the duration of their deliberations, but Tyra has discussed how the judges have voted off a girl that she wants to keep, so there are clearly heated discussions. In addition, as you mentioned, we often see greenroom footage of the girls sitting around, or even fighting or arguing, so clearly they spend some time back there.

Long periods of time being condensed into minutes are a staple of most competitive reality shows, especially when it involves deciding who to eliminate. Tribal Council on "Survivor," for example, typically lasts about an hour, yet ends up being at most about 10 minutes during the episode.

Q: When is reality TV going to finally fade out? — Jason H. Beverly Hills, Fla.

A: Never. I'm not kidding.

The most immediate reason is the writers' strike, which has led to a proliferation of reality TV on network television, and these new shows are doing quite well in the ratings. Some cable networks air nothing but nonfiction programming, and their shows — from MTV's "The Hills" to Carson Kressley's new Lifetime series "How to Look Good Naked" — keep breaking ratings records.

In other words, reality TV is what people want to watch right now. That may be distressing; it's certainly troubling to me that "Celebrity Apprentice" drew more viewers than "The Office," which is a phenomenal scripted series.

Even if unscripted programming fades out, these kinds of shows are going nowhere. In the form of game shows such as "Truth or Consequences" to personality-driven news programming, it has been part of television since its earliest days.

It has certainly evolved (or devolved) significantly since then, but this latest wave, which we call reality TV, shows some staying power. It began with MTV's "The Real World" in 1992, and nearly all reality shows on the air today borrow from the conventions it established. There seems to be great interest in what regular people do when placed into artificial situations, however contrived, and for that reason, reality television is going nowhere.

Q: Have there been smokers on ‘Survivor’? How do they smoke, or not, during the show? — Vicki, Lincolnville, Kan.

A: There have been smokers on "Survivor," but they cannot smoke during the 39 days (or however long they remain in the competition) because they don't have cigarettes. Unlike CBS' show "Big Brother," where many of the contestants spend their time chain-smoking in the backyard, the contestants on "Survivor" aren't allowed to bring anything with them, and that includes cigarettes.

"Survivor Panama" contestant Shane Powers may have been the series' most notorious smoker. He smoked three packs a day and quit the day the show began — cold turkey — just because he no longer had cigarettes. However, during a reward visit to a village, he bummed a cigarette from a local and got his fix, at least for a few minutes.

Afterwards, he told People that quitting so rapidly after being so addicted "was an experience that was unlike anything I've ever experienced. I talked to some doctors afterward and they were pretty amazed. They were like, 'To smoke that much and then to quit cold turkey without water is the big problem because you need water to flush nicotine out of your body.' And I had NO water for three days! So they just basically explained that the nicotine was stuck to the fatty cells of my brain and I was probably experiencing schizophrenia. I feared for my emotional state. I was a crazy person."

is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.