Before I begin, let me admit that reality television is one of my guiltiest pleasures. I watch way too much MTV for my own good, and while I find myself poking fun at a lot of what I see on television, I also find myself continuing to tune in every week.
Nevertheless, as the original Teen Mom cast (first seen on 16 and Pregnant) films its third and final season, and the stars of Jersey Shore relocate to Italy to shoot a fourth season, I begin to question the producers’ decisions to continue a reality show cast past its first season. Yes, they are attracting plenty of viewers, but the shows no longer serve their original purposes.
For example, on 16 and Pregnant and the first season of Teen Mom, we are introduced to a group of girls who had children when they were young, and then we watch the struggles they face as teen mothers. By the second season, the girls have become somewhat of celebrities, and now, as the third season is being filmed, we begin to see the faces of Amber, Maci, Farrah and Catelynn on the covers of tabloids and on the front pages of our favorite celebrity gossip sites. They may talk about their financial problems on the show, but after being paid for several seasons and appearances, how can we really believe that? The show depicts these girls as normal teenagers, but at the same time they are followed by paparazzi and treated as celebrities.
Of course, after three seasons of Jersey Shore, who wouldn’t be able to recognize The Situation from a mile away? In the first season, the characters (I know they are “real” people, but I consider them characters) are just seven strangers with penchants for fake tans and drinking, and the people they meet have no real preconceived notions about them. Now, on the third season, you’d better believe that the girls that Mike, Vinny and Pauly bring home are only there because they know who Mike, Vinny and Pauly are. Snooki may lead you to believe that she is about to find the Guido of her dreams, but in truth she will never find someone who doesn’t know her already for her poof and her love of pickles.
When reality shows go on for longer than a season, they no longer serve their original purpose, and strangers’ reactions to the cast members are skewed by what they already knew about them from television. Instead, they become a place for fans to recognize inside jokes and feel like a part of the cast themselves, regardless of how “accurate” the depiction really is.