Everybody Hates Lisa

It seems every reality show has one contestant who gets very far, maybe even wins, even though a) the audience hates him/her and b) he/she doesn’t actually seem to be doing a very good job. On the current season of Top Chef, it’s Lisa Fernandes, who fits all the requirements: she displays a bad attitude, doesn’t come off as that good of a chef, is cited as the most-hated contestant in fan polls, and, oh, yeah, she made it to the finals. In interviews she comes off better than on the show, but that’s not unusual; the way people come off in the artificial environment of reality shows tends to be, well, artificial. And the environment turns normal people into heroes and villains.

This may in its way be an advantage reality shows have over the two types of shows to which they are related — fiction shows and game shows. It’s actually really fun, in a strange way, to see the character you don’t like triumph over the characters who were nicer and more talented. This happens sometimes on fictional dramas, but fiction writing has all these built-in rules about how to write make the characters rise and fall based on their own choices and mistakes. Meaning that when the “bad guy” wins in a fiction show, it’s either depressing, because it’s unsatisfying (if there was no dramatically valid reason for him to win), or the villain kind of deserved to beat the wussy good guy, meaning that we can’t bring ourselves to root against him entirely. (This is the J.R. kind of thing, where the supposed villain is really the hero we root for.) And game shows are based on a combination of skill and luck, and the losers don’t stay on long enough for us to get to know them, so it’s rare that we see someone win big whom we really consider undeserving.

Reality TV, because it’s sort of real, is able to violate dramatic rules by letting incompetent assclowns win, or at least make it to the next episode, arbitrarily and doing basically nothing to redeem themselves. A drama show can’t really get away with that.

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