Reality TV has come a long way. In the past 10 years, it’s gone from just being a cheaper alternative to scripted shows to a powerhouse phenomenon that has infiltrated all facets of media and politics, and is also a cheaper alternative to scripted shows. Even if you never watch the shows … well, you’re a liar, but you know who Speidi, The Situation and the Kardashians are, although you might not be able to explain why they’re famous. This year, the influence of the genre was felt far and wide … even in the White House! Let’s take a look back at the top moments of what may be the wildest year of reality TV to date. — Martin Moakler for Hulu
President Obama Enjoys ‘The View’
In July, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to appear on a daytime talk show, and the ladies of The View grilled him on everything from war and the economy to what is on his iPod. The Commander in Chief even got tested on his pop culture IQ, wherein he confessed that he had no idea who Snooki was, despite using her as a punch line for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in May. Perhaps he was just flustered trying to get a word in edgewise with the notoriously fast-talking quintet.
Mr. Colbert Goes to Washington
With the President’s visits to The View and The Daily Show, Washington certainly went to the talk shows, but the talk shows also went to Washington when Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report testified before Congress on behalf of migrant farm workers. After slipping into his on-air persona during his testimony — despite having submitted a report that he would address the lawmakers as himself — he received fewer laughs than he was used to and was even asked to leave … by a Democrat!
Oprah OWNs Up
Media mega-titan Oprah Winfrey announced that she would be shutting the doors on her successful, eponymous talk show in 2011 after 25 years to focus her attention on her new television network, The Oprah Winfrey Network (or “OWN,” for short). Even though OWN will be open for business on New Year’s Day, Oprah made sure her last season will be her most notable, with huge publicity stunts including flying her audience to Australia in a plane piloted by John Travolta, expanding her popular “Favorite Things” episode to two days, and, most recently, nearly gouging out Hugh Jackman’s eye by accident.
‘Dancing’ with the Tea Party
The midterm elections spilled over to reality shows when Bristol Palin outlasted Brandy on Dancing With the Stars, stirring up quite the scandal. Despite consistently being on the bottom of the leader board throughout the season, teen activist Palin made it all the way to third place. Conspiracy theorists postulated that Tea Party activists rigged the voting after message boards instructing Tea Partiers to vote for the daughter of the former Vice Presidential candidate multiple times were discovered. Host Tom Bergeron shot down the scandal, noting that those complaining probably didn’t even vote at all, but a nation learned that politics can rear its ugly head onto the most unlikely of dance floors.
A Rose for Any Other Name
The bitter breakup between Bachelor Jake Pavelka and his fiancé Vienna Girardi played out in the tabloids mere months after he gave her a rose and ring on the popular ABC show in March. More shocking than the end of a Bachelor relationship, however, was when Chris Harrison interviewed the former couple on a special episode in July. The cold, calculated Pavelka accused Girardi of cheating, while the frazzled Girardi accused Pavelka of only playing out their romance when the cameras were rolling. The truth may one day come to light in another reality show, but legions of stay-at-home romantics were forced to grapple with the possibility that people go on reality shows for their own personal gains instead of love.
Weave Got the Beat
The kids from Jersey Shore went to Miami this year, but there was still plenty of drama to be had in the Garden State. The Jersey girls of The Real Housewives of New Jersey made last year’s table-flipping incident seem subdued when what started as a civil (by Real Housewives standards, anyway) conversation between Teresa and Danielle erupted into the North Jersey equivalent of the last two minutes of The Blair Witch Project. And after Danielle’s hair extensions were ripped out, she made young Ashley out to be the most feared Jersey resident since Tony Soprano.
The popular karaoke contest received more attention for its judges this year than its contestants. In January, Simon Cowell announced it was his last season. Ellen DeGeneres followed suit, citing that the show was not a “right fit.” Kara DioGuardi left because the other judges didn’t know she was even on the show. Jennifer Lopez signed on as a new judge, as did Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Randy Jackson is staying right where he is, dawg, and Paula Abdul is still off the show but remains forever our girl. (Her new show, Live to Dance, premieres on CBS January 4.) Oh, and some kids sang some songs.
Housewife in the White House
With all of the energy exerted to keep terrorists out of the United States, Homeland Security let under their radar a more imminent threat: reality stars. Last year, DC socialites Michaele and Tareq Salahi crashed a State dinner at the White House, where they mingled with various Heads of State, including President Obama. When it was revealed that they were participants in another edition of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, The Real Housewives of DC, and the events leading up to the dinner had been filmed as a plot line, a nation wondered to what ends hopeful reality subjects would go to get attention.
XXI Olympic Winter Games
One could say that The Olympics is the original reality show: the heightened drama, the fierce competition, and athletes who go there to win, not to make friends, and the Vancouver Winter Games lived up to that tradition. The International Olympic Committee praised the Canadian city for having a “great atmosphere for these games,” a fact with which the Americans can no doubt disagree, as we brought home the most medals. In fact, the general consensus throughout the world was that the Olympiad was a success, although there were a few negative reactions to the cold.
Aisle Be Seeing You
Scores of reality shows over the years have well documented the stunts and sociopathic behavior in which people are willing to engage in order to win a reality competition, but this year marked a new level of outrageousness with the premiere of Bridalplasty. On the E! show, brides not only competed to get a dream wedding, but also their dream plastic surgeries before their big day. Of course, this isn’t the first reality show to offer plastic surgery as a prize; The Swan did it six years ago. But, whereas The Swan at least made the pretense of rewarding hard work and inspiring behavior, Bridalplasty unleashed twelve bridezillas on a wild free -for-all chase of Who Wants a New Nose!
The Death of Fox Reality Channel
This year, the Fox Reality Channel went off the air. At first glance, one might assume it was taken down because America ran out of reality subjects to film, but many wondered if it marked the beginning of the end for the genre. Probably not, but it could well be an indication that the viewing public reached a saturation point for reality shows about former reality stars who compete to get another reality show (yeah, that’s a thing).