When I was a kid, wrestling was a big thing in my house. We all gathered ’round the television to see who was going to beat who up and who was gonna finally agree to that cage match that everyone wanted to see. The adults encouraged the kids to imitate their favorite wrestler and the kids practiced their pile drivers in the back yard with no mats or pads. We all thought it was real. These guys loved and hated one another and the drama was so intense that we just couldn’t miss a single chance to see what would happen next. Then it all came crashing down. I was too young to remember exactly what happened to expose the whole thing, but it was scripted. Imagine that! Wrestling was scripted! At that point, the whole thing began to move down on my family’s priority list when we turned on the television. Over the years we each individually stopped watching it all together. It was fake…and we just couldn’t be bothered with a bunch of fake stuff.
Nearly three decades later, I find myself glued to reality TV…but it’s different now. Looking back, it’s absolutely amazing to me that technology has gone so far that once the Big Brother or Survivor or Amazing Race season is finished, I can get on Twitter or Facebook and actually talk to the people I watched for months. I can have real conversations with them and get some insight into how they go about moving on with their lives after their show. A large majority of them really are ‘real’ people and do have an appreciation of their fans. Many of these people are given opportunities for new careers and travel after their time in the spotlight and some choose to go back to their normal lives. In most cases, they keep some type of contact with ‘their people’ in varying degrees.
It’s particularly interesting to find someone who is a few years out from the experience and has moved on with a somewhat normal life. One example is Natalie Cunial from Season 9 of Big Brother. Keep in mind that for three months, I watched her brush her teeth every morning, strategize in bed every night and everything in between. So, even though I didn’t find her until a few years after the show had aired, it was like I knew her. It was like finding a friend on Facebook that you thought you’d never see again. The strange thing was, she didn’t know I existed…and I’m just another ‘friend’ on her massive list of people who took an interest in her life. Natalie is an amazing artist and has just given birth to her first baby. She and I have spoken a few times about pregnancy and being a new Mom. I’m sure she’s spoken to thousands of people just like me but that’s the thing that draws me to these shows. She is real. Even though I realize that Big Brother is at least partially scripted, Natalie is a real person and somehow felt enough of a connection to her fans, who she had never seen, that she has kept in touch and continues to let us care about her and her life.
There are others active on Facebook and Twitter, who have a show currently airing. Speaking to them is just a little different. They won’t generally tell you that they are under contract to keep certain secrets until they hit prime time, but you just know by the way they clam up when you ask certain questions. CBS is currently airing the 26th season of Survivor and among the castaways, you’ll find a few Facebook junkies. My favorites, John Cochran and Dawn Meehan are both actively speaking to a few thousand of their closest friends on a regular basis as we all learn a little more about their fate in the game each week. Phillip Sheppard, Malcolm Freberg and Brandon Hantz are also on my ‘friends’ list and I have spoken to each of them very briefly.
Even though I know that scripts do come into play with these shows, I also know that after the show life goes on for these people…unscripted life. Just like everyone else, they have good and bad times…joy and sadness. They are real and many of them don’t hide their ‘realness.’ I can’t imagine what it must be like to get online everyday and speak to a few thousand of your closest friends but I’m sure it’s a great comfort in the hard times to have a few thousand people send their well wishes. We all want someone to care…and that’s something that hardcore reality fans just do. We care.