How Reality TV Changed My Life (No, Really)

Tonight's cuppa: decaf Irish breakfast tea


It's quite fashionable to dump on reality TV, and goodness knows, there's plenty of reason to do it. There are lots of sleazy, icky shows out there that don't really add much to the total sum of human happiness. But, at least for now, it's a free country, and people can watch as much bad TV as they want.

But, there are also some reality shows that do a real service to their viewers beyond just entertainment -- and each provides that in abundance -- and I thought I'd share a few that have had a positive impact on my life.

KarinaWozSamba "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC) : I'm never going to make a ballroom dancer, but every time I watch the show, my toes start tapping, my fingers start drumming, and before you know it, I'm doing a little boogie around the living room. Certainly no one outside my house should see my rendition of the Argentine tango, but anything that propels me -- or anyone -- out of the comfy chair and gets the blood pumping is a very good thing.

"Ruby" (Style): I'm a late convert to the series about a Georgia woman who is battling her way down from over 400 pounds (at one point she was 700), through diet and exercise. While Ruby's Southern slow-talking can cause a little impatience in this Northeasterner, she has a powerful, authentic personality and is able to articulate the feelings she's going through as her body and world change. Even when change is ultimately beneficial, the process itself can be excruciating -- absolutely no political allusion is intended or should be inferred -- and sometimes the idea of staying in a bad but comfortable place is preferable to moving toward a better but unknown place.  Ruby's moral and physical courage is an inspiration, especially in the land of sweet tea and pecan pie.

"You Are What You Eat" (BBC America) : Scottish nutritionist Gillian McKeith, the star of this show, is a bit of a drip and a nag, and she wants people to eat organic shelled hemp seeds and tofu (which I never think is a good thing). On the other hand, the way she graphically lays out a weeks' consumption of sugary and fatty foods for her TV clients is a stern reality check. I also like how she talks about the effect of the bad diets on digestion (although the poo examination is a little dicey), energy levels and even sexual satisfaction. I don't entirely buy into McKeith's program, but seeing a week's grub piled on a big table once in a while would probably do lots of us a lot of good -- me included, as, while I do like a lot of fruits and veggies, I also like cheese and hot dogs.

"How Clean Is Your House?" (BBC America) : In each episode, Scottish journalist and home- Howclean contamination expert Aggie McKenzie and experienced home cleaner Kim Woodburn visit a shockingly filthy domicile, tongue-lash the inhabitants, show them the error of their grubby ways and then give the place a thorough scrubbing. They don't haul everything out and buy new furnishings but instead show what a little (or a lot) of elbow grease can do to take something that looks hopeless and return it to beauty and utility. I swear, every time I watch an episode, I wipe down the kitchen countertops, run the vaccum cleaner and give everything a thorough dusting.

"Clean House" (Style) : Regular readers of my blog know of my affection for this show -- exemplified by blog posts, here and here, on the recent "Messiest Home in the Country 3" special -- but what they may not know is it's mostly cured me of being a clutterbug. Uncounted bags of clothes, piles of books, bags of DVDs and CDs, boxes of knick-knacks and a cupboard's worth of extra dishes and mugs have marched out my front door, as repeated viewings inspired me to clear out and cut back. Since I live in an apartment building, my neighbors are often the beneficiaries of these giveaways, but a number of civic and church organizations have gotten donations as well. It's a process, and I'm not perfect, but if I feel myself getting overly attached to things I don't have room for, don't use and don't need, it's time to load up and haul out. As Miss Niecy would say, I take a big-girl pill!

"Celebrity Rehab" (VH1): I've come to admire Dr. Drew Pinsky's practical, commonsense approach to helping people overcome their addictions. Although the show focuses on celebrities that are usually suffering from substance abuse, many of the lessons learned are applicable to lots of different people. After all, while we're not all addicted to drugs or alcohol, most of us are hung up on something that's not good for us. (See aforementioned cheese and hot dogs.)

3241_dog-whisperer-2_04700300 "Dog Whisperer" (National Geographic Channel): Click here for a previous blog post on what I learned from this show.

"Deadliest Catch" and "Verminators" (Discovery Channel), "Ice Road Truckers" and "Ax Men" (History Channel): While my job isn't remotely like a crab fisherman's, an exterminator, a truck driver or a logger, these shows remind me of the value of hard work and determination. In a world that's all about working smarter not harder, or working for the weekend, these shows demonstrate that hard work can not only be financially rewarding but also challenging and even exciting -- and that not all good jobs are found behind a desk. "Verminators," more than the others, also shows that learning how to deal effectively with clients is one important path to success.

What reality shows have had a positive impact on your life?