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Reality Check

I’ll admit it: There’s nothing particularly artistic about reality TV. Granted, television itself isn’t exactly the most sophisticated medium. But despite its appeal to the masses, there’s almost always some level of artistic content. In dramas, you usually get some genuine character development. In comedies, the art of comedic timing. What can reality shows boast, aside from the frequent display of a plastic surgeon’s handiwork?

So goes the traditional argument against what many consider the bottom of television’s proverbial barrel. I’ve heard it more than a few times. And yet, try as I might to elevate myself above the draw of the nutrient-free mind candy that is reality television, I just can’t do it. And honestly, why should I?

I’ve learned a hell of a lot from reality shows, most especially the ones involving competition. The Bachelor taught me that in order to get the guy, I must be both sweet and mysterious, alternately warm and cold. Survivor taught me that though the squeakiest wheel does usually get the grease, the silent attack is usually the deadliest. But Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model have taught me the most significant lesson of all: the importance of looking fabulous.

Seem shallow, these lessons I’ve learned? I’ll agree that at first glance, they are. But look a little closer, and you’ll find the very bones of human evolutionary instincts. From The Bachelor, we see the intricacies of choosing a mate: Beautiful, intelligent women make beautiful, intelligent babies, who will surely succeed in this giant game of life. And as Survivor so aptly illustrates, humankind’s most powerful tool for survival is not the strength of one’s body, but the strength of one’s mind. It may not be new information, but an hour-long show is a helpful reminder that although the art of fiction may elevate the meaning of humankind, the building blocks of life-and reality TV-will always lay in a little thing I like to call science.

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