Present reality shows are reflections of the society that created them:
-Obsession with zero sum competition.
Nearly every show focuses on eliminating others, often by isolating and removing the ‘weakest.’ This weakest is usually the one who made the least ‘friends’ or who may have been good, but simply lacked the right demographic appeal.
-Popularity is strength, money, virtue…winning.
There is often a host and/or judges, but this doesn’t change the fact that it’s a popularity contest. Approval of the collective body is what separates winners from the losers.
Whether on a tropical island or in a Hollywood studio, these shows are high stakes versions of the typical school or workplace social life.
This fundamental lack of imagination is the hallmark of reality shows as we know them.
What sort of alternate, worthwhile reality shows could be come up with?:
I know what alternate reality show I’d create.
I’d make a show that organizes groups of people into different types of governments and social structures and then observe the dynamics that develop over the course of several months. I’d explicitly keep the ‘losers’ on the island to see how the society deals with them. No voting out undesirables. Real societies have to find a place and role even for those on the margins.
Better yet, I would have society ‘teams’ in direct competition. Thus, groups that alienate their less competitive members would have to deal with the formation of an entire disloyal caste if they chose to be heavy handed with domestic policy.
For me, at least, this would be pure fun. Fun with a purpose. I don’t think English really has a commonly used word for something fun done for a higher end.
Meanwhile, ‘entertainment’ seems synonymous with something that is gratifying but pointless.