Donald Trump’s ascension to President of the United States can partly be attributed to his larger than life Reality TV persona. By the time he stepped up to the primary debate podium, he was already a familiar face, one with a mega-tough, decisive boss machismo swagger that a lot of Americans tuned into on NBC’s ”The Apprentice.” There, he got to live out his narcissistic fantasy of being a successful businessman, adored and in charge, not one marred in bankruptcies and bad decisions.
And when taking into account that many can’t distinguish the scripted TV persona from the real human being, Trump’s advantage becomes even more clear.
Reality TV can serve as a perfect antidote for a struggling personality type, or it can eviscerate a person, depending on how high or low one scores on a narcissistic personality disorder scale.
Some years back, when I lived in Los Angeles, I became a reality TV star for a day. The details are still a bit fuzzy and unclear, due to my bad memory. However, the feelings of both exhilaration and shame l remember to this day.
It’s no secret we live in a world where gleeful, sadistic reality TV viewing is a part of everyday life: fame-whores chugging roaches, contestants swimming in cow dung, fist-flinging housewives, and countless spectacular humiliations. Of course, there’s also a spectrum of heartwarming shows that instill great values in us. But let’s face it, they aren’t fun.
Here, I’m specifically discussing the latter type of reality shows. For this type, the main criterion to participate on the show is often that one must lack dignity, have a deep need for indiscriminate validation, display narcissistic tendencies, and preferably suffer from a few other mental illnesses.
It’s no wonder I hate this type of reality TV.
At least the makeover shows and such, actually help people versus immortalize them in shameful YouTube snippets, lasting well into the future of their children’s friends’ friends who will Google them at the tender age of two.
Anyway, while shopping at a grocery store, I was approached by a nice lady who said she was casting for a cooking show on a major network. The show entailed surprising a loved one (my clueless ex-boyfriend) with a dinner cooked by a celebrity chef and myself. This seemed a great opportunity for me to score points with said ex. Also, I felt fairly confident that no one I know would ever watch this cooking show, since I’d never heard of it myself.
In a blink, I was back in my small apartment kitchen with a 15-man production crew–lights, camera, the whole shebang–ready to make a surprise dinner. The chef was a blond Adonis, so naturally I opted for nuanced chit-chatter interlaced with some flirty eyes. My ex wasn’t due home from work until later that afternoon.
We were ready to begin filming, but first, the producer primed me with a little pep talk.
This was also the very moment the other person began bubbling up to the surface. You know, the one that lives inside of your body but you constantly silence?
For those of you who don’t know better, it’s a condition psychoanalysts may deem stems from your effed-up childhood. It requires being lied to since early childhood by adoring parents or relatives with platitudes such as “you’re special Johnny” or “Jane, you’re a natural”–and thus hold grandiose illusions that you are not of this earth and should therefore be a Kardashian or a movie star.
Reality TV shows understands this concept perfectly and owe their success to ripe candidates like myself.
The producer continued to instruct me to be very upbeat and fun, “just as you are.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. This ounce of instigation was all that was needed to unleash years of repressed stardom aspirations. Little did the he know that I would make the reality television formula proud. Shoooowtiiiime!
Like a wide-eyed puppy eager to please and display my talents, I thereafter was fully entranced. Literally. It was no longer about cooking a loving meal for an unsuspecting lover, it was about “how funny am I?” “Aren’t I cute?” “Look what I can do!”
The poor chef didn’t get a breath in. Much to his credit, he tried to interfere to get me back on track and show me a few kitchen tricks, but I was too deep in it. T’was far too late.
I was at the top of my game: theatrical, dumbed-down, cracking jokes, hogging the spotlight, dishing out one unfunny story after the next. The film crew was giggling at me. The producer, too, was elated and gushed “the camera loves you!” and “you’re a natural!” while chopping onions; I yapped about everything under the sun. Yes, the fire alarm didn’t work because I’d burnt spaghetti, ooh, and did they know about my song writing? Did they want to hear a song? And what about my trip to England? Yada, yada.
I even recall selling out my adorable little dog by putting a large napkin over his head, because his running in circles made the crew laughed harder. Ugh.
There was no redemption whatsoever in the kitchen with the poor chef. I refused to handle the beef he handed me, being the virtuoso vegetarian that I was. Egged on by a giggling camera-crew, I kept expanding the theatrics. Think cheesy clown at your nephew’s birthday party and add REM’s famous song lyric “that’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion” and you get the gist.
My voice reduced to a shrill, each word I spoke included a grimace and exclamation point. I was EXCITED with eye-rolls! My eyes were rolling in the back of my head. High on adrenaline, I moved around in the kitchen like a clumsy buffoon,fiddling with a wine bottle opener as if I’d never opened a bottle of wine before!
Midway into completing the dinner, my boyfriend called to say he was coming home early. This would have ruined the surprise so I had to come up with a good excuse for why he couldn’t come home early. Not that big of a deal, you would think. But oh no, baby, this was TV.
I milked the panic attack for all I could. Then I mustered up the best lie I could think of while cameras were blinding my thinking and stammered to my bf that he couldn’t come home early “because the kitchen is being….gutted.” Or something to that effect. I don’t remember the specific words I used, but it sounded unbelievable and strange enough that my sweet, loving ex got worried.
After the announcement, on cue, I dropped the phone to the ground, plunked my entire body onto to the kitchen island and howled out agonies like “why? Oh my god, nooo!”
Indeed, my ex-bf showed up midway through the cennaloni, cannalotti…whatever it was we were making.
Thankfully, we made the best of it. His dropped jaw was well worth the sweat and tears I’d worked up during this tasking episode.
Looking back, I feel like I had a true out-of-body experience, kind of like watching a dumb donkey with a familiar face and outfit. The crew kept saying this was the funniest episode they’d taped, which presumably can sustain a narcissist for an hour or so, until they close the door and leave the person to themselves and their own reckoning.
To my surprise and salvation, the final version of the reality TV episode completely edited out my antics–not even my dog made it. It had a toned down, whispery and intimate appearance, much like their previous episodes.
Deep down, I knew I had been utterly exploited.
More importantly, I no longer held a prejudice for all my peers in the reality TV game who, just as I did, have gotten caught up and found it as an opportunity to fill their little hole for a few minutes of airtime.
But let’s limit electing our government officials from this pool, at least from now on.