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The Evolution of the Reality Show Twist

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When Survivor first premiered it was the first show of its kind; real people competing in a social and physical environment and eliminating one another to win a large cash prize. After the second season of the show, the format became pretty predictable and the producers changed it up for the Africa season. Without an explanation they asked the tribemates to select three of their members. Those members then switched over to the other tribe. It was a huge displacement that changed everything and the audience became upset about the fairness of the game. Would Silas and Lindsey have met that same fate if they stayed on their original tribes? Probably not. But this was now part of Survivor, and eventually every other reality show after it.

If a reality show used this same twist now, it would be boring and predictable, so we have had to escalate them. They haven't gotten to M. Night Shyamalan proportions but they have definitely have gotten bigger. We now have twists that pair people up, strip contestants of resources, give judges a save that prevents a contestant from leaving, and make overweight people have to work out at home. They are expected from the audience and shows would be boring without them.

The worst one we currently have is bringing a contestant back into the competition. I blame this on the "Well, Survivor did it!" mentality that all shows seem to follow. During Survivor: Pearl Islands, an outcast tribe was formed and Lillian and Burton eventually returned to the game. As other contestants were starved and fighting to stay in the game, two came back, and one grabbed the $100,000 second place prize. It was a crime. Survivor has adjusted it on other seasons by having the outcasts have to fight one another to stay in the game. This was a more valid shot at redemption but the deed was done. Big Brother followed suit in other seasons by having contestants voted back in, or having to knock down bowling pins, or stand on a ledge the longest to get back in the game.

A lot of these twists seem unfair to some while favoring others, usually sparking conspiracies or other suspicions. The fact is, these twists are planned out before the game starts. In Survivor: Africa, that tribe switch was predetermined to be at that point, without knowing who the tribes would send forward. It's not just an ethical thing, it's a legal thing. Game show corruption was brought to light in the quiz show scandals of the 1950's (which the film Quiz Show portrays quite well) and legislation was put in place that made the rigging of game shows a felony. Every twist you see is on paper before contestants even step foot in the game.

This last Tuesday, CW's Capture introduced a twist that seemed to punish one team more than others. The Gold Team was randomly selected as the hunt team and had an advantage by alarms blaring on every contestant's vest. A mystery box was introduced. This box's location was revealed to all contestants at the same time, including the hunt team. To stop the alarms on the prey teams, one team must open it. This was another advantage to the Gold Team, as they had a single location that four teams ran to immediately. They caught one there, the Red Team. The box was opened by the Teal Team who had the power to overthrow the Gold Team, eat their dinner, and choose a new hunt team.

The Teal Team chose the Red Team from out of jail, the Red Team eventually caught the Gold Team, and the Gold Team was voted off in a close vote. It was one of the most intense moments on reality television, but it was all luck. The Red Team wouldn't have been caught if there wasn't a mystery box, they wouldn't have been let out of jail if any other team found the box, they had to actually catch at least one team the next day, and then secure the votes to stay. If a weak team was selected as the hunt team and didn't catch prey, it would be an advantage to be overthrown.

I think the thing that bothered people the most was that the randomly selected hunt team had lost their dinner to whoever opened the box. Teal Team shouldn't be at fault for enjoying a reward they earned, but this was probably the one part of the game that seemed a disadvantage to no matter who was the hunters. A loss of food is crucial in the game. Even if the Gold Team had captured prey before the box was opened, the game makers would have still let the box play out. I think this move probably turned people off of the show, in a way thats worse than when Burton and Lillian came back in Survivor: Pearl Islands. You can use physical and social skills to beat out returning contestants. Once selected as hunters, the Gold Team couldn't do anything about having their food taken away. It was going to happen one way or another. The preventable actions of being captured and voted out however, is another story.