Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back To Reality

First of all, thank you for your messages of encouragement. Blogging through low points is hard, not only because I'm depressed but also because I feel guilty for not blogging about anything other than my mercurial moods. But you guys are the best.

I apologize in advance; if you read this blog and do not watch reality TV you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about half the time. (Also, come on! Go slumming on the idiot box. It’s so great!) But this post is as close as I get to being analytical and science-y, so bear with me.

So this morning I was walking to the subway and mulling over the contestants’ chances of winning this season of Project Runway. As you know, I recap the show for The Huffington Post, and I’m debating whether or not I should make a bold move and try to call the winner now (although, on second thought eight weeks in is not so bold....). It’s not like there’s much at stake—if I’m right, I get to brag, and if I’m not, no one cares. Except me, of course. I care. I’ve been watching reality shows for so long that by now I should be the Nate Silver of elimination odds.

Before I drop my ridiculous knowledge on you, it must be said that there are many different kinds of reality shows, all of which have their own unspoken rules in determining the winner. Let’s dispense quickly with the following:

SHOWS WON BASED ON MEASURABLE FACTORS, i.e. The Biggest Loser (pounds lost), The Amazing Race (er... a literal race), Beauty and the Geek (correct answers to inane questions), Wipe Out or I Survived a Japanese Game Show (ability to leap over obstacles without hilariously face-planting...or willingness to wear giant diaper while pedaling a child’s bicycle through a sand pit), American Idol (based on votes, although you could argue that the voting process is corrupt), So You Think You Can Dance (ditto) and their ilk. These shows choose winners based on cold, hard math (or purport to, anyway). If you are an asshat on Idol or SYTYCD, people might not vote for you, so personality does count, but I’m MUCH more interested in shows where the producers have a heavy hand.

Also not counted are DATING SHOWS i.e. The Bachelor/ette, Rock of Love, Tila Tequila and all of the other, even shittier, iterations. These shows pick winners based on the taste and opinion of the person looking for love coupled with (I’m certain) input from producers. But for the purposes of my study, a formula for elimination odds is difficult when a large part of the decision-making is based on one person’s opinion.

No, the shows I’m most interested in are the meaty, week-by-week elimination-based shows that judge an unmeasurable talent and do not count on public voting. Project Runway, Top Chef, America’s Next Top Model... looking at the history of these shows can tell us a lot about who will win in the future. (Actually, I don’t watch Top Chef and so can’t really discuss it with any authority. But feel free to school me in the comments!)

After much (read: an hour or so) consideration, here are my tools for successfully deducing the winner of a reality show (Mom, Dad, I know you're so proud right now):

1. Assholes Never Win...Unless They Tattoo Their Babies Names on Their Necks
If a contestant is openly combative, mean or obnoxious on a consistent basis, they will not win. (Keep in mind that bitchy does not equal asshole, especially when gay men are concerned. A healthy dose of good-natured bitchiness could catapult someone into the lead). They will probably be kept around for awhile for entertainment purposes, but mark my words: assholes never win. The only exception to this rule is the asshole with a powerful mitigating factor. Take, for example, Jeffrey Sebelia from Project Runway’s third season. Jeff could be an asshole, but he was also a recovering drug addict AND had an adorable son who got trotted out every so often to remind viewers that Jeffrey was reformed.

2. Editors Know All
Keep in mind that editors of these shows have a TON of footage to work with. If you are seeing something, you are seeing it for a reason. Particularly in talking head interviews, if you see a lot of footage of someone being a bitch, the editors probably want you to think he or she is a bitch. Same goes for the nice guys. Bottom line: the producers want you to be happy with the outcome of the show so that you will continue to watch. They are helping to form your opinions of the characters, and 9.9 times out of 10, they are trying to get you to feel good about the eventual winner.

3. Look Out for Patterns
Every third season of ANTM, an African-American girl wins. This is a fact. Who knows if it’s on purpose? But it will help you win your Fantasy ANTM league! (Again, Mom, Dad, have you ever felt this much pride?) On Project Runway, there is no real pattern that I can find. In the first 4 seasons, the final three alternated between two women and one man (Seasons 1, 3) and two men and one woman (Seasons 2, 4). But Season 5 fucked it all up with three female finalists. IF we pick up the pattern again, look for two men and a woman in the final three. Also, PR has never chosen an African-American winner. So I would wager that the longer they don’t, the more the odds go up that they will. (Go Epperson!)

4. Winners Rarely Have a Smooth Road
The person who performs well every week and never stumbles is not as satisfying as a person who overcomes odds to emerge victorious. Everyone loves an underdog, and the producers know this. So look for someone who struggles in the first half of the season to take the crown. Interesting factoid: With the exception of Season 1 winner Jay McCarroll, every single Project Runway winner has at some point been in the bottom 2. And on ANTM, in 9 out of 12 cycles, the winner has at some point been in the bottom 2, giving us pretty decent odds that the eventual winner will narrowly miss elimination at some point.

5. The Letters of the Winner’s Name will Always add Up to 8 in Numerology
Okay, that I made up. But I got excited about my Bottom 2 Theory, so I’m probably going to spend much too much time over the next few weeks looking for intricate patterns.

Given all of the above, I’m inclined to peg Christopher as the favorite to win PR6 (unless he keeps up the poor taste of last week). He’s nice, easy to root for, obviously talented and had a major setback last week that put him in the Bottom 2. If Epperson gets bolder, he might have a shot, too. What do you guys think? And please let me know if Top Chef fits my theories; I’m totally going to geek out on this project all season.

Off to read The Economist now, to save my brain cells from atrophy! Toodles!



  1. Anonymous4:47 PM

    I always believed the theory that anyone shown first or last in the credits (Survivor, The Amazing Race, ANTM) could not win. TK and Rachel from Season 12 of Amazing Race killed that one. And there was always the Curse of the Car on Survivor, but they seem to have superstitiously gotten rid of that reward, so I'm plum out of ideas. Sorry. :)

  2. My roommate convinced me Christopher would be the winner a few weeks ago. I'm hoping for big things from him tonight. I have him winning in my PR fantasy tonight... yeah, you're not the only one with proud parents.

  3. bridget6:13 PM

    This is my first time commenting and I'm only doing so to tell you how much I love that one of your labels is Tyra Mail. Hilarious!

    Una, I love your blog. Found you from Huffington Post and have read the entire thing!!

  4. This comment is so late it's ridiculous, but I have to point out that (Meana) Irina's recent win on PR completely invalidates most of these theories where PR winners are concerned. Which is probably why I never expected her to win, not for a second. I'm looking forward to following your Huffington Post recap from the beginning of this next season!


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