The sad truth about summer is that it really isn't that much different from the other seasons. While pop culture would have us THINK that summer is basically a three-month beach vacation with tons of margaritas, flattering swimwear, and nonstop frolicking (and who doesn't love a good frolic?), most of us just work the same hours in the same climate-controlled, fluorescent-lit room. You know? It can be hard to appreciate all that sunlight and good times when you're just trying to get those bills paid. That's why summer TV programming is so important: The bright, loud, frequently dumb network offerings are sometimes the greatest indicator that summer is even happening. If we can't actually get to the beach, we may as well watch other people go!
Like every other genre of television, summer reality TV has a wide spectrum of quality. Typically much of it is straight-up garbage (not that there's anything wrong with that!). But some of it actually does have redeeming creative value and could even be considered amazing (lookin' at you, SYTYCD). Because it's already a given that every last one of us has impeccable taste in scripted dramas, it can take a bit of bravery to admit that you hold a summer reality show (or two) near and dear to your heart. So let's do this: Which summer reality shows will YOU admit to watching? Here are some options to help jog your brain (that's a saying, right?):
Now in its ninth season, Fox's other reality mainstay was originally conceived as a companion piece to American Idol but never quite achieved the same kind of pop-culture penetration. Which is a shame since this show is actually slightly better in a few of key ways: SYTYCD's dancers are better at dancing than Idol's singers are at singing; the competition itself is as high-profile as dancers will ever get, which guarantees top-shelf talent season after season; and week in and week out we see brand new, original, and occasionally breathtaking choreography (as opposed to hearing a Billy Joel cover for the millionth time). Add to that an engaging roster of guest judges, a truly great host (<3 u Cat Deeley!), and a voting system in which judges actually have power, and So You Think You Can Dance is not only a show I'm unashamed to rave about, it's one of the few summer series I look forward to year-round.
Summer's seen its share of athletic reality shows ranging from the corny (American Gladiators) to the slightly soul-deadening (Wipeout). But for a few years now, the cable channel G4 has been holding its own American version of the cult Japanese game show Ninja Warrior, the rare athletic competition that prizes nimbleness, quick-thinking, and endurance over brute strength. Noticing the growing audience, NBC's gotten in on the action this year by elongating the early rounds and co-broadcasting the show alongside G4. That's TWICE the coverage! But seriously, this show is a fun one, and it's actually—dare I say it?—inspiring!
Okay Big Brother is obviously something I SHOULD be ashamed to admit I watch, but sorry, the shame just isn't there for me yet. Maybe it's because I snobbishly ignored it until last summer when I accidentally became addicted to the three-hour nightly live feed on Showtime 2? I wasn't even watching the edited CBS primetime episodes, so I rarely had any idea what the house guests were talking about, but still: I was riveted. I love live feeds as a rule—they make me feel like a couch potato Jane Goodall—but it's particularly strange to watch the Big Brother ones. Most of they day everyone sits around staring into the middle distance, but every now and again there's a truly exciting moment where two of them quickly connect eyes and strategize in hushed whispers the second someone leaves the room. I don't know what to tell you, but there may not be a weirder thing on television than Big Brother and I love it.
The three series above are my personal admissions, but that's not say there aren't a ton of other widely watched guilty pleasures on the air. America's Got Talent continues to bring in solid ratings for NBC particularly now that Howard Stern has joined the show as a judge. Of all the talent-based reality competitions, AGT is one of the more loud-and-proud fluff exercises (I mean, does anybody even remember its past winners?). But it's still one of the best-produced and frequently fun shows on TV. Credit where credit's due!
The first time I saw Wipeout I couldn't believe it. Was there a huge budget for the CGI removal of bloody noses? I don't care how soft those obstacles are, the human body can only withstand so much! But I will admit my addiction to this show came on strong and flamed out early. After six or so episodes it lost the fun for me and I moved on, but I know a lot of you guys still watch. I ain't judging!
I'm gonna be honest, most of my exposure to these shows is limited to Lily Sparks' recaps. But few shows are as devoted to an endless parade of scantily clad himbos 'n bimbos as The Bachelor(ette)(-Pad), and if that doesn't represent summer, then I don't know what does.
Or maybe you're the kind of person for whom summer means a bleach-blond Brit shouting at chefs? In which case Fox has you COVERED with not one but two Gordon Ramsay-hosted reality competitions. I think there is a difference between Hell's Kitchen and MasterChef, but I'll have to get back to you on that.
I'm not even sure what this thing is, but it's back for a second season with unlikely controversy-stoker Jenny McCarthy as its host. I think it involves photogenic young'uns gallivanting around in the jungle before making out over Mai Tais. Maybe you watch it! I don't know.
Any of these new ones?
In addition to the above biggies, there are a couple of possible future guilty pleasures currently on the air. Will you admit to watching Duets, Take Me Out, The Catalina, The Choice, Dogs in the City, or Breaking Pointe? Or what about basic cable novelties like Food Network Star or HGTV DesignStar? And did I miss anything else? There's a lot on! NO WONDER we haven't made it out to the beach yet.
YOUR TURN! Which summer reality series do YOU admit to watching?