Hunger gnaws your belly. It makes you lazy, unfocused, paranoid. Tasks are impossibly difficult to perform as weak muscles give way under the strain. Dizziness often sets in; black patches follow tiny stars across your field of vision. Will the day ever end? Will the night ever end? What do you take small pleasures in when so few pleasures come from the constant fight for survival?
That may sound like the description of Americans struggling to "survive" in the Australian outback, but let's make one thing clear: their situation is a game, they can leave whenever they want, and they probably won't die from their "ordeal." They threw themselves into the desert for glory, but little glory exists in the daily lives of millions of people around the world--unless you count the joy of scrounging a few crumbs from the garbage bin behind a run-down restaurant, provided you can find a restaurant. That's the dark side of life reality TV alludes to, but pays big bucks to avoid. If only all the starving children of the world had the wise words of Jeff Probst to keep them motivated to "outwit, outplay and outlast" all the other kids they're forced to grub alongside while eking out a meagre existence.
Recently, devastating earthquakes rocked India and El Salvador. The survivors--notice the term survivor in its pure form--are homeless, at risk of disease from quake-induced unsanitary conditions and without a steady and reliable supply of food and medical resources. I'd love to see Jerri the bitchy "aspiring actress" and her companions dropped into India or El Salvador right now without food, clothing or family to see how long they last. My guess is not very long. These people can't tell their assholes from their cakeholes, let alone truly get by in a life-or-death situation.
The first time Survivor hit the airwaves, pop psychologists and sociologists crawled out from under their rocks to analyze why we watch. The diagnosis? Apparently, we're fascinated with the lives of others. We socialize and live vicariously through the digital world. Well, you can get a daily dose of reality on the news. And if you find it gruesome and unsettling then good, it's working. Where do you want your attention? Transfixed on a contrived "reality" or focused on the needs of the others with an understanding that, while escapism is good, those others would give anything to escape their daily routines.
Currently, we go on blind dates, tempt ourselves with sexy men and women, decide the fates of others and live in close quarters under the watchful eye of Big Brother all without leaving our living rooms. Although it's a seemingly obvious observation, the reality of reality shows hasn't quite permeated the social conscience of the world yet. Maybe we should open the front door and venture into the streets. We might be surprised at the richness of experience and depth of emotion we find there.