Olympic Reality TV

So, I was browsing the web just now, and found this interesting blog post about the Olympics as the world’s original reality TV show.

It’s an interesting post, and the blogger shows several examples of moments that have been particularly reality-esque.  Now, I don’t know about you, but the thought of society craving “reality TV” so much that we even need drama in the Olympic Games is kind of disturbing.

But it’s true.

So let’s take a moment and discover what makes the Olympics so appealing to our reality-hungry brains.

An important element in every reality show is The Pain.  Without The Pain, you can’t pull at the heartstrings of your audience.  The Olympic Pain comes from the tears, the disappointment and the crushing losses.  And let’s not forget the hype that builds up glory and then suffers the terrible fall when hundredths and thousandths of seconds don’t quite go your way.  Mellisa Hollingsworth is probably the best example of The Pain to date.  Favoured to win the gold medal in skeleton for Canada, the poor woman placed fifth in the world and came off the track in tears, saying, “I feel like I’ve let my entire country down.”

If you think about that for a minute, just like if you actually stop and think about any reality TV show (case in point, The Bachelor), there’s a huge problem.  But we soak it up like sponges.

The next important element is The Triumph. Every good reality show needs a winner.  Whether it’s the last woman standing on The Bachelor, the last person on the island in Survivor or the final vocal chord cutie on American Idol, we need that moment of victory.  Canada’s favourite example of The Triumph right now is Jon Montgomery, who won his skeleton event two nights ago.  The Triumph comes from overcoming adversity in a big way.  An underdog (like Montgomery) is also more than acceptable.  The fact that he’s a beer-drinking, beard-growing wild man doesn’t hurt his image with Canadians, either.  Seven years ago, Montgomery, a car auctioneer from Alberta, decided he wanted to represent Canada at the Olympic Games.  Testing out speed skating, he decided that wasn’t for him on the first go-round.  Then he found skeleton, and the rest is reality history.  The Triumph requires a lot of build-up (like CTV’s continual reminders of the medal presentation happening in three … two … one hours) and a grand ceremony.  Jon Montgomery came through in fine form.

Next is The Story.  This is even better when it accompanies The Triumph.  No one has a better story than Alexandre Bilodeau from Quebec.  He comes from a small place and from hard times.  His older brother suffers from cerebral palsy and serves as his inspiration when days at the gym get tough.  At age 22, Alexandre became the first person to ever win gold on Canadian soil.  As he sailed over the finish line, camera shots of his brother cheering brought tears to the eyes of millions.  The Story, coupled with The Triumph, made for a historical moment.

Another important element is The Host.  Whether it’s Chris Harrison from The Bachelor, Jeff Probst from Survivor, Ryan Seacrest from American Idol or, even more greasily, Ben Mulroney from Canadian Idol, a good reality show needs a host to butt in with words of wisdom, commentary and occasionally controversial remarks.  Brian Williams is our host for the 2010 Olympic Games.

Now Brian is a pretty classy fellow.  He’s been around CBC and CTV longer than many of us have been alive, and his time zone reports have helped us through many difficult time conversions during many Olympic Games.  But he isn’t without his controversy.  On the evening of the first Canadian men’s hockey game, Mr. Williams announced, “Tonight is the night hockey starts, making it the night the Olympics begins for many Canadians.”

Brian must have forgotten that women’s hockey, the underdog of the hockey world, had started two nights before.

Despite that one little slip, Olympic Reality TV couldn’t find a better person to fill the position of The Host, and it won’t be same once he’s gone.

The final, and most important, element for a good reality TV show is The Drama.  Without The Drama, your show will be cancelled within a month.  Now, while we don’t actually have the power to cancel the Olympics (CTV would just ramp up the number of times that horrific “Believe” song is played in one day), we do have the power not to watch them.  The solution?

A whole lot of controversy.

Nothing exemplifies The Drama better than the recent squabble over US figure skater Evan Lysacek winning gold.  Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko, a strong technical skater, went on camera before the grueling four minute and 20 second-long free skate, saying, “Without a quad, I’m sorry, it’s just not men’s [figure skating].”  Canada’s Patrick Chan replied, “The quad does not make a man.”  While 19-year-old Chan was out of medal contention, placing fifth overall, Evan Lysacek skated a clean and artistically beautiful routine, albeit quad-free.  He took the gold, leaving a less-than-enthusiastic Plushenko to mourn over second place in the world.  That in itself was enough controversy.  Many argued that Plushenko had the stronger routine.

Enter Elvis Stojko, the first man to successfully land a quad combination in competition and silver-medallist at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  Also Canadian.

He ramped up The Drama by siding against Patrick Chan and Evan Lysacek, arguing that Plushenko should have won.  He slammed the present state of men’s figure skating, saying that skaters like Lysacek and Chan are taking the sport backwards by not even attempting quadruple jumps.

While Elvis is taking the heat from Canadians across the country (different from the sunny heat he’s been soaking up down south for the past while), we can thank him for upping the quality of The Drama in a sport that is notorious for its cutthroat and undermining ways (thanks also to Tonya Harding in 1994, the French judge from Salé and Pelletier’s performance in 2002, and so on).

So, while it may be disturbing that even our sporting events are turning into reality TV, there’s no sign of it slowing down any time soon.  The news today is full of stories about The Pain from the Canadian showing during last night’s 1000m and 1500m men’s speed skating events.

Men’s hockey, Canada vs. US tonight.  Let’s hope for The Triumph!

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Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You most certainly have the best posts. They make my days better and I really love how you shine a different light on subjects. This is an excellent way to think about the Olympic Games and one that I had not taken into light before. Thank you!

  2. Drama definitly adds to the games. Here are a few more examples.

    In 2002, during the Women’s Hockey Gold Medal Games, the Canadian team was on fire after they heard that the US team had our flag on the floor in their lockerroom. That fire might of helped them win Gold that year.

    Also in 2002, the men’s hockey team were hungry for some Gold after a long drought. I think it’s that hungry today’s team is missing…

  3. Looks like you were right, Adam.


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