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Is there anything real about reality TV?

The quality of reality TV shows and how they affect a viewer's brain has been a constant topic of debate. Some viewers claim the shows give a wholesome and unfiltered view of real life. Others point out that many series focus on cheap gags, trashy content and careful editing to entertain and build tension. 

When you're debating the quality of shows like "The Jersey Shore," "The Swan" or "Amish Mafia," you've already lost. The quality doesn't matter. The programs have attained some semblance of viewership and thrived regardless. In fact, an Opinion Outpost poll shows the majority of people tune into reality TV programs.

When asked "how often do you watch reality TV," over 12,000 respondents answered:

  • All the time - 24 percent
  • Sometimes - 33 percent
  • Every now and then - 24 percent
  • Never - 19 percent.

At the end of the day, some people watch reality TV simply because the quality is so poor - kind of like how "Sharknado" earned such odd appeal. 

The question some should be asking is this: Are these reality TV shows even showing reality anymore? The whole premise is that the content is unscripted and genuine, but that isn't always the case.

The real shows
Perhaps the only uncorrupted territory in reality TV are the tournament-style programs - the shows with contestants that complete right before your eyes. 

  • "American Idol" may have its unreal moments, but all those winning singers are legitimate. Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson - they were all found by "American Idol." Even the least successful winner - Lee DeWyze, according to The Boston Globe - released a major debut album after his victory.
  • "America's Got Talent" may have included some lying contestants - Timothy Poe is a good example, according to TMZ - but the talents are all real. There have been allegations about producers picking favorites and encouraging applause for particular candidates, but the central premise - finding talented Americans - isn't necessarily hurt by that. What happens onstage is really happening.
  • "The Voice" may be the one exception here. May because there have been allegations the show has been prerecorded before, and that the audition process is much longer than what is shown on TV. Still, the talent of the singers isn't faked.

The fake shows
Even if those real shows are a bit overproduced, they're volumes more genuine than these scripted, edited and entirely unreal "reality" TV shows.

  • "Amish Mafia" has been called "a fabrication in the minds of the producers," by Amish scholars from the Pennsylvania community where the show allegedly takes place, according to NPR.
  • "Dancing with the Stars" was sent through the ringer when former contestant Hope Solo bashed the program in her book "Solo: A story of Hope." "I started out thinking I was in a competition, but the longer I lasted, the more I realized that it wasn't really a competition - it was an orchestrated reality show with a preconceived plot line," she wrote, according to Today.
  • Everything else you find on a reality TV program is at the very least questionable. There have been accusations of scripted scenes and highly edited content about everything from "The Bachelor" to "Long Island Medium." Take your reality programming with a grain of salt - the genre is more focused on entertaining than factual storytelling.

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