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Lelia Nebeker Headshot

The Catch-22 of All-Star Seasons

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Anyone who watches reality TV knows that the inevitable all-star season of every show is always better than your average run-of-the-mill non-all-star season. (Hence the exciting name.) But at what price? Sure, everyone loves to watch their favorites come back for a second chance to win it all and finally earn the title of TV's best model/chef/designer/apprentice to Donald Trump/survivor/astronaut/canine manicurist, but the downside of every all-star season is that it's a whole season in which no new all-stars are being created. It's like if the Jolly Rancher factory decided, "Hey, for the next month, how about we produce packages with only people's favorite flavors in them?" That would be phenomenal! Except at the end of the month, all you'd have left would be grape flavored Jolly Ranchers. These days, interesting reality TV personalities are a cash crop, and we need to harvest some fun new future all-stars ASAP, or we're going to be stuck with nothing but Kardashians and dead-in-the-eyes Bachelor contestants for the next three years.

It is possible that I'm overstating the urgency of our situation, but it's only because most of my favorite reality shows have been sorely lacking in star power over the past few seasons. We just finished season 23 of Survivor, which featured two returning all-stars along with a group of fresh new faces, most of which where some combination of obnoxious and forgettable. Was it a great season? Yes. Did Coach and Ozzy coming back for their respective third times make it fun and interesting? Yes. But how many of the new people featured in this season would merit being called "all-stars" themselves? Cochran could come back as a favorite, and personally I'd like to see Papa Bear return even though he was voted out on day eight, but overall, I'd say it was a weak group this season. A year from now I might still remember Albert's abs, and maybe Rick's mustache, but I won't remember their names. This wouldn't be such a bad thing if it was only every fifth season or so, but this was the third season out of the last four Survivor seasons to feature returning players. Let's talk about that one season of the last four that didn't have any returning players in it: Survivor: Nicaragua. Doesn't ring a bell? That's probably because your brain has blocked out all memory of it. It was the worst season of Survivor since that sleazy car salesman won. This was the season that introduced the short-lived, much-hated "Medallion of Power," and the winner was a 21-year-old model nicknamed Fabio. Yeah. It was that bad. I don't even remember anyone else from that season except for Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, and NaOnka, the most irritating Survivor contestant in history. Needless to say, I doubt anyone from that season will be coming back for an all-star season anytime soon.

Survivor isn't the only show that's been having a drought of new characters. Project Runway has been struggling ever since it moved to Lifetime. Although the most recent season actually wasn't that bad, it didn't exactly produce a handful of fun new favorites. I was actually pretty enamored of Olivier until he started acting like a brat, and then progressed to showing outward disgust towards the female body. (Sorry, pal. If you're going to be a designer, you are occasionally going to have to make clothes for women with actual breasts. Get over it.) Hopefully this new all-star season (which premieres Thursday, January 5th at 9) can put the spark back in Runway. It can't possibly sink any lower than the tragedy of season eight, when She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named inexplicably took home the title. (Gretchen was the single worst thing to ever happen to Project Runway, and that's including this.) With this all-star season featuring returning favorites like season one's Austin Scarlett, and season four's draper extraordinaire Rami Kashou, it makes you yearn for a simpler time when reality TV didn't have to try quite so hard to be entertaining.

All-star seasons are great; they're the epitome of why we watch reality television. It's all about the big characters, whether it's the ones we love to hate, the ones we hate to love, or the ones that burn their tribe mates' socks in the middle of the night. The only problem is what happens next season, when the stock of all-stars has been picked over more times than a Best Buy on Black Friday. It's fun for now, but if you don't bring in a promising next generation every once in a while, eventually you run out of all-stars, and you're left with a bunch of grape Jolly Ranchers.