I love reality shows. I’ve loved them ever since I was five years old and I was on a children’s reality show called Romper Room. It was one of the most popular shows on Ontario television, and it consisted of a different group of children each week just playing and doing activities under the supervision of a kindly, teacher-type lady. At the end of each show, Miss____ (there were several women who played the role—mine was Miss Grace) would hold up a magic mirror, and say, “I can see Johnny, and Sarah, and Ian, and….” Kids across the province would sit fixated, desperately hoping to hear their name. I don’t know why my parents decided to put me on the show, but two incidents cemented for me the fact that reality shows have only a tenuous relationship with reality. First, I kept jumping up and down, prompting the director to tell me to stop. “You’re TOO excited,” he said. But I was excited. A SUPER f*cking excited 5-year-old, and I had to stifle my real enthusiasm because it was TV. Second, they taped all five episodes for the week on one Saturday, and I kept getting into sh*t for contradicting Miss Grace when she would start the next segment with “What day is it today, boys and girls?” Everyone was supposed to say ‘Tuesday’ or whatever, but I yelled “Saturday!!” every time. Once again, the director had to talk to me about how we were only “pretending” and to just play along. Yep, that’s me—a non-conformist pain-in-the-ass from an early age.
Still, reality shows are the best, especially building shows. And I’m very lucky because:
a) There’s a renovation going on across the street from us, turning a church into a family home. And while I can see updates on Facebook, I literally have a bird’s eye view of the deconstruction AND reconstruction process from my window. Whenever I’m bored, I can just look out and it feels like I’m watching TV. And here’s where it gets really meta—the renovation is actually being filmed by a network in the States and it will be on TV when it’s done. How cool is that? Also, if you’ve read my new short story collection, At The End Of It All, there’s a story called Twist of Faith which is loosely based on the opening of the cornerstone last year at that very church.
b) I work at an antique market which could very easily be the subject of a reality show, a cross between Hoarders and Storage Wars. For example, the other day, a new vendor showed up. His name is Bob and he’s like 90 and he makes birdhouses. Bob’s Birdhouses. The intention was for him to display his birdhouses on a shelf above the till but everyone forgot to brace the shelf. So he arrived, and one of my co-workers had to immediately start cutting wood for braces because Bob was PISSED. And then my co-worker had to go find a drill. He found four of them in the basement. None of them worked. But we didn’t throw them away because if we did, the owner would dig them out of the garbage and make us put them back. Then we all—me, Bob, and Bob’s wife, watched my co-worker screw the braces into the shelf, which made him very self-conscious and irritated, especially when Bob kept inspecting the braces, and I kept saying, “You should be using a Robertson bit, not a Philips.” I know this because I WATCH REALITY SHOWS, DAN. In fact, I watch so many reality shows that I should pitch one of my own. Thus, I present to you several ideas for fantastic reality shows, starting with…
1) Cubicle Wars
Host: Hello once again, and welcome to Cubicle Wars, where each week, two co-workers compete to see who can create a stunning office space with little more than a $50 gift card to the Dollar Store and their own imaginations! Let’s meet our challengers! This is Jill, a temp worker with a fondness for frogs, as you can see by the many, many statues and stuffies that she has on her desk. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Jill!
Jill: Frogs are amphibians and can speak 7 different languages.
Host: Only one of those things is even correct! Welcome, Jill! And now here’s our other contestant, Josh. Josh is an engineer, so no one knows what he actually does!
Josh: That’s not true. I—I…
Host: Exactly! Now here are your $50 gift cards. See you next week, you crazy kids!
One week later…
Host: Let’s see what Jill and Josh have accomplished. Our live studio audience will then announce the winner!
Audience (which consists of a panhandler that the host found in the lobby): Does anyone have spare change for coffee?
Host: After the show, Stinky Pete! First up is Jill!
Jill: I used my $50 to buy aromatherapy candles and placed them strategically around my cubicle.
Host: That’s it? How many candles did you buy?
Jill: 50, obviously. It was the Dollar Store.
Manager (passing by): You can’t light those, Jill. I told you, it’s a fire hazard.
Jill: FINE, STEVE! But don’t come to me when the power goes out, you fascist!
Host: All right—let’s see what Josh has done. Ooh, a tiki bar theme! Very nice! I particularly like the inflatable palm tree.
Josh: Thanks. I’m very pleased with the way it turned out, although I’ve been getting a lot of side-eye because of the torches. THEY’RE CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE, STEVE! I’M NOT A NAZI!
Host: And now it’s that moment we’ve all been waiting for. Audience, who is our winner?!
Stinky Pete: Is there any whiskey in the tiki bar? NO? Then I pick the candle lady.
Host: Congratulations, Jill. Your prize is that you get to keep all the candles!
Jill: I just want my frogs back. Marcel was teaching me French.
Host: See you next time on Cubicle Wars!
I really think this show has potential. And while I was fleshing it all out, here are some other show ideas I came up with:
2) Souped Up! (a cheaper version of Top Gear)
In this show, two guys take cheap cars and try to make them look cool. With VERY limited resources.
Host: Tell us about today’s project, boys.
Gary: It’s a 1988 Ford Tempo, base model, beige, with rust accents.
Mitch: We got it for fifty bucks at a yard sale. The upholstery smells like cheese.
Host: And what are your plans for this car?
Gary: No spoilers!
Host: Oh, sorry I asked.
Gary: No, dude—we’re not putting a spoiler on it. Spoilers are pretentious.
Mitch: You’re goddamned right they’re pretentious!
The next day…
Host: Wow! What a transformation. Tell us what you did!
Mitch: We found bigger wheels at the dump and put them on the back. Now it’s slanty!
Gary: We used duct tape to make racing stripes. I probably should have used a ruler.
Host: Um…did you put a tow hitch on the back of this car JUST so you could hang a fake scrotum ornament off it?
Mitch: You’re goddamned right we did! We made it ourselves out of two oranges and one of Gary’s granny’s old kneehighs.
Both (highfiving): Our car has balls, b*tch!
Host: All right then. Join us next week when Gary and Mitch transform a Pinto into a fancy lawn tractor!
Both: Unsafe at any speed!
3) 19 and Counting: Feline Edition
Voice-Over Intro: “Meet Meredith, a ‘cat lover’, who roams the streets of her town at night, looking for more cats. She has a LOT—maybe more than 19 but who’s counting? None of them are actually hers; she stole them all from her neighbours. Her house reeks of urine, but she insists she’s ‘not crazy’. You be the judge!”
4) Cooking With Wieners
This show is simple. It’s just hot dogs. Every week. Audience of at least one (Ken) guaranteed.
5) Flip That Port-a-Potty!
While you might be thinking that this is a decorating show where people take old portable toilets and pretty them up, you’re wrong. This show is about Bobby “Flip” Johnson, a real douchecanoe who waits until people go into port-a-potties, then he sneaks up and tips them over. He’s killed in episode 3, and the remainder of the season becomes a detective show, where a slightly Asperger’s detective and his madcap female sidekick investigate Bobby’s murder. Kind of like Jackass meets Elementary. Will we ever find out who killed Bobby? No spoilers!