Writing and Editing Reality

Despite the fact that me and many of my friends and relatives would consider me a cinephile, I still love reality TV. I’d probably consider it one of my guilty pleasures – it’s not smart entertainment, but it’s entertainment nonetheless. To be clear, the types of shows that I like to watch don’t include those which follow rich and stupid people around, so as to see what shenanigans they get involved in. Usually, my favorites fall into two categories, involve shows involving experts who come into a situation in chaos and solve a problem, such as SupernannyKitchen Nightmaresand Bar Rescue

Originally, these kinds of programs were produced so hiring writers wouldn’t be necessary. Regardless, they still have crews and other workers, who sometimes work in unions. Despite my love for all of these shows, I don’t think any reality show tops my list more than Survivor, which I’ve watched pretty intensely since Season 10 – Survivor: Palau. My family and I have been watching since I was a little kid, and though I don’t remember the earlier seasons as clearly, I still remember tuning in on Wednesday (formerly Thursday) nights at 8:00 to see who’d get voted off next.

For those who don’t know, the premise is simple – sixteen to twenty contestants get sent to a remote location somewhere relatively desolate, such as an island or a forest, for 39 days. They’re given minimal food(usually a couple of bags of rice), have to construct their own shelter, and are isolated from society for the entire time. In every episode(which usually encompasses two or three days on the island), contestants compete in physical and mental “immunity” challenges. The losing players must go to a “Tribal Council” where they vote on one player to eliminate from the game. Once down to two or three players, the previous players who have been eliminated vote for one player to become the “Sole Survivor,” who wins a million dollar prize as well.

Spencer Bledsoe, two-time Survivor contestant and fan-favorite, on Day 1 and Day 39 of Season 31. Contestants usually lose a lot of weight due to the harsh conditions.

Currently, the series is in its 35th season, and while many of reality series on television today are fake, Survivor certainly isn’t. There do exist many reality shows on TV today which are blatantly fake, many of which hire writers from unions such as the WGA as “Story Editors.” Honestly, this still makes for great entertainment. In case you don’t believe me, watch these clips from another one of my guilty pleasures, South Beach Tow. I know that I said I don’t like shows like Jersey Shore or Keeping Up With The Kardashians, but you can’t deny that this is amazing:


Like I said earlier, it’s not smart entertainment, but it’s entertainment. Plus, shows such as South Beach Tow do actually have writers, but they aren’t credited as such. This means that writers from guilds such as the WGA can be hired for “reality” shows such as this. However, some shows which still are partially staged don’t have writers anyway. One episode of Bar Rescue supposedly ignited a fight between the show’s host and a bar owner, who was instructed to flirt with the host’s wife. He sued for defamation of character as well as suffering emotional distress since the episode, though the case has been since dismissed.

But, I digress. For series like Survivor, labor unions play a bit of a different role. Despite the fact that Survivor doesn’t have any writers, they still have production teams and medical staff, which work full-time during the time a season is filmed. Even more significantly, the postproduction team recently established a union contract. In my opinion, editing plays a large part in the quality of the series – it’s not exactly easy to edit together 39 (complete) days of footage, especially into a dozen or so hour-long episodes.

Originally, Survivor and other similar reality shows acted as financial security for the networks for when they didn’t provide it for the people who made scripted television. While no role-reversal has taken effect, it does go to show that labor unions have worked their way into reality television, whether they’re writing, producing, or editing the show. I find that this is good in two ways – we get quality entertainment(whether it has high production values like Survivor or low production values like South Beach Tow), and picket lines aren’t getting crossed. The little guys are getting more control over these shows, and the networks become more and more reliant on the unions to stay happy and satisfied. After all, should they upset them today, even the unscripted TV shows become a hassle to produce.

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