Ah, such a bold statement. Reality television has always been my shameful secret; an addiction I hate to admit to, and when forced to say aloud the names of the shows I love, I duck my head and mutter the answers under my breath.
The Real Housewives NY, NJ, Beverly Hills, and Orange County
When I meet a fellow reality addict, we whisper and gossip and discuss all the aspects that thrill us. The break-ups. The melt-downs. The secrets. The relationships that work and don’t. Because the camera lets us dive deep into the lives of these people, we feel like we know them.
Today, I shall be bold and proudly proclaim the reasons I adore reality television and the ways they have helped me in my career as a romance author. Here we go:
The Lesson: What You See is Not Always What You Get
I have watched this show from its inception. The first time, I was horrified at the distribution of roses and how each of the contestants lined up with puppy dog expressions as they waited to be picked by the one man in the room. They silently screamed: Love Me! Pick Me! It was like watching a train wreck unfold and I was caught up in the disaster.
But I was hooked. I watched every season faithfully, and at one time, I actually tried to get on the show.
I’d had a long line of horrific broken relationships and had become a tad desperate. I recruited my girlfriends with their camera to meet up Friday night at my apartment so we could create a video to accompany the application. After an intense giggling session and zero progress, we decided to go to the local bar for some inspirational drinks before returning to my project.
I met my husband there.
He was sweet, and funny, and entertaining. We exchanged numbers. When I returned home, I told my friends I’d like to hold off on filming the video until I knew if he’d call me.
He called. We dated. We got married.
Fifteen years later, we watch the Bachelor together. He makes fun of me while I swoon and we trade jokes back and forth about my previous potential mate, and if I would’ve made it through one rose ceremony.
Throughout the years of watching love unfold on my screen, I learned a valuable lesson. The beautiful bodies and shiny limos and over-the-top dates are all surface trappings. But the couples that made it scratched to the rawness underneath, and decided to accept the entire package of their mate—warts and all. Imagine having no phone, no television, no books, and no other entertainment but the one male/female you’ve chosen to date. Yes, it’s definitely a set up and manipulated to get the contestant to be “all in.” This makes for better television.
But in those weeks leading up to the final decision, distractions and barriers are removed to focus solely on emotions. Connection. Deep Discussions. In a strange way, the show is a tangled web of shallowness and depth. When this couple steps away from the glamour and cameras and is stuck in their own living room, dealing with daily life, can they survive? Have they gone deep enough in their conversations and connection to make it? Can the beginning of attraction and love go the distance?
As a romance writer, I love exploring these types of themes in my stories. How a disastrous first-meet can turn into friendship, or love. The classic enemies-to-lovers trope. A heroine’s realization that the man she thought she loved isn’t the right match for her. How trappings of glamour and money and fame can turn from fiery interest to burnt ashes once the surface is peeled back.
These are the nuggets within the show I keep returning to. Also, there’s nothing better than kicking back on the sofa with my hubby, munching on popcorn, clad in our pj’s, while watching couples dress up, date, and be fabulous. Our gazes meet and we silently agree on one thing.
Thank God that’s no longer us.
The Real Housewives Franchise
The Lesson: Things Change
If you watch any of the housewife franchises, most of them have been on for several seasons. This gives viewers a rare opportunity to watch family, friends, and relationships evolve and erode over the years and leaves us with an important lesson.
Everything changes. Some are good. Some are bad. But it’s a part of life we need to get comfortable with.
What viewers once believed was strong marriages end in heartbreaking divorces. Kids grow up and become successful, or struggle with pitfalls that tear apart the parents. Children get sick. Friendships that were once tight begin to dissolve when care and attention is not put into the relationship. Cast members age and soften, and their once over-the-top tantrums and chaos turn quieter as they gain maturity.
When I glimpse older episodes, and analyze where they are years later, it’s a comfort. Even with the bad stuff, each of the housewives are forced to grow and change and find new paths. It proves we are all alike, no matter what type of money, career, or status we come from. Heartbreak, illness, and bad choices are something we all struggle with. Exposing this to the camera gives me a rare opportunity to analyze how I can create my character’s paths. I can take a hero or heroine and make them screw up big time. In one of my books, Searching for Disaster, my heroine was a drug addict. Instead of choosing love, she chooses drugs in the first chapter. Taking her from that disastrous path to a new one was a journey for the readers and shows a hero and heroine aren’t supposed to be perfect. The housewives’ franchise is a great reminder to me of this.
The Lesson: Forgiveness
This show follows a group of young servers at the famous SUR restaurant and their friendships and love relationships. It’s full of drama, angst, fights, cheating, blow-outs, and some of the most dramatic moments I’ve ever watched on screen. Even my husband declares it’s the worst show he’s ever seen. I agree- but it’s in a good way for me. It’s completely addicting.
What’s the lesson here? This young, passionate, crazy group blow up their lives, including beloved relationships, but the strangest thing always happens at the end of the season.
They forgive each other.
They forgive infidelity and betrayal and meanness. They have tons of ups and downs which remind me how it was when I was in my twenties and everything was passionately intense. But each year, they mature a bit more and make less mistakes. It’s fun watching a character grow and change in a book, and I use this nutty group to inspire me to let my characters blow up now and then.
Epic battles with the people you love may occur, but you can choose to forgive and move on.
They seem to decide each time that the relationship is worth forgiveness. Now, I think this can sometimes be a bad thing if it’s a toxic relationship, but most of the time, it’s kind of amazing and epic. There’s a power in the acceptance of each other—both good and bad.
The Lesson: You Can Do More Than You Think You Can
Ah, another show I’ve watched from inception. Each introductory episode shows the new group entering the island with bravado and an arrogance in their ability to not only survive, but thrive. Each week, you watch them break down a bit more under the raw elements of weather, starvation, and a ruthless game play that challenges their mental power.
My favorite characters are the ones that seem destined to fail. The ones that can’t build a shelter, or make rice, or win a challenge. The ones who whine about the elements. But the true surprise is watching some of those characters turn a corner and begin to change. They survive the cut week after week, proving their strength. They dig deeper within themselves and flourish. It’s inspiring to see people realize they had something bigger within them the whole time: they just didn’t know it.
Using these realizations in a romance novel adds depth to my characters. Readers love to watch an underdog succeed. Sketch out a character who doesn’t believe in herself, and then throw her the greatest challenge she can face. Watch her struggle, dig deep, and transform, with the hero by her side as witness. Those are the type of romance stories I love to read and write.
These are my arguments to defend my choice in reality television.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to watch the new episode of Project Runway for further inspiration.