In the real world, we need friends Print
Youth Column
Written by Karen Osborne, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Jul. 24, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

It's the most common phrase in reality TV, usually uttered after a betrayal or a backstabbing. The villain du jour sits in the "confessional," staring at the camera. Sometimes she wears a smirk. Sometimes he's crying. In the end, they all say: "It's OK. I'm not here to make friends."

That sounds incredibly lonely.

Let me tell you what my friends who work on reality shows told me: There is very little "reality" involved. Most of the time, reality show events are scripted. Producers guide the cast, making story decisions. During editing, conversations are clipped and events reordered.

I'm a video editor and I can't tell you how easy it is to change the tone and tenor of a story with a few well-placed cuts. Plus, have you ever tried being in front of a news camera? It's hard. Add a few more cameras, a few sound guys and producers following you around all day, and try being "real."

Reality television also shows us a distorted view of friendships, interpersonal relationships, and how they work. In a game show, everyone competes for the prize, but in life there isn't a prize at the end, with everyone else labeled as losers.

In the competitive world of reality shows, friends are a liability. Family always brings drama and stress. These relationships become things you wish to drop as soon as possible -- converting true friends into pawns and bishops in your real-life chess game.

This reality was hinted at in a recent episode of Hell's Kitchen, when a competitor talked to a former "Hell's Kitchen" winner about how nice it was to have found a friend in a fellow chef on the red team, as the clock wound down on the competition and things were getting stressful.

The winner warned her that the irascible chef-host Gordon Ramsay would no doubt "test" that friendship in future episodes. And at some point, one or the other would be forced to put the other up for elimination anyway.

That behavior wouldn't fly if the two were running a restaurant together in the real world. Putting your friends up for elimination, sabotaging your colleagues, gossiping, would not make for success. Any business where you can't trust your business partners is doomed.

In the real "real world," friendships grow businesses, relationships grow families and groups grow communities. When you think back to your favorite moments in high school so far, you might think of the moments performing with others in a school play, competing with a sports team or working with a great teacher in class. These triumphs are partially helped along by the talents of other people who care where you're going in life.

I have yet to meet anyone -- even self-confessed former bullies -- who liked the "reality show" part of high school, with its betrayals and bickering and backstabbing. But that's what we consider "reality" now, thanks to television.

The truth is that we are here, on this earth, to make friends. We're here to learn what others need and help them out. We're here to ask for help when we need it. We all deserve a prize and to get it, we stand on the backs of those who came before us and haul other people up the hill to win with us.

When we stand at the top, it won't be so lonely after all.

Karen Dietlein Osborne contributes to “Coming of Age,” a CNS column series for and about youth. She is a staff writer for the Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y..


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