March 13, 2013

Survivor and the Ethics of Reality TV

In 2011, I read this article by Linda Holmes about the ethics of reality TV. In it, she laid out a proposed code that reality TV producers should follow. Read her article. And if you have time, read the ones she cites. (You can find the Seitz article here and the Dehnart one here.)

These articles, although they are two years old and mostly refer to non-competitive non-network reality shows, say most of what needs to be said in response to Brandon Hantz's breakdown on tonight's episode of Survivor

After last week's episode, when the promo for "Persona non Grata" came on, I was a little worried. Worried that I'd lose my willingness to watch this show if the outburst wasn't dealt with well. But all in all, I think the Survivor crew dealt with it ok. Even though a vote technically took place, it was clear that Brandon was being removed from the game. Twitter is scattered right now with snide comments - from fans and former contestants - that Jeff's physical calming and restraint of Brandon in the midst of his tirade was awkward or strange. I don't think so. I think it was necessary. In that moment, I almost wondered if Jeff Probst is a trained crisis counselor.

This episode was unquestionably hard to watch. And the producers probably could have more responsibly and ethically handled the unstable state of things on the Caramoan islands. Perhaps by not bringing back a contestant who proved himself not fit for the task the first time around. But before we blame CBS or anyone else, consider something Rebecca Hertz once said about a show she produced. "There are no victims in reality TV, only volunteers."

The ironic part is that Brandon was right about so many things. About Phillip's egomania, the childishness of Stealth R Us, and the fact that Boston Rob is the only reason Phillip made it to the end of "Redemption Island." He was right about so many things. His mistake was pointing them out. 

The only other thing that needs to be said was articulated so well by Dawn when Jeff asked if the Bikal tribe was better off. "Brandon is better off, and that's better for the tribe." I hope so.

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