When I was growing up, reality TV was one of the few things that my mom made exceptions for us to watch. I used to think that was a bit odd but as someone who didn’t get to watch much TV, I was into any opportunity to watch. As I got older and when I moved out, I steered clear of reality TV. It felt like something that I should look down on and turn my nose up at. In college, shows like Laguna Beach and The Hills were in heavy rotation and I tried to act like I was better than it.

As someone who had been fairly sheltered from media, I tried to invest my time in watching movies that I had missed out on or indie flicks that I felt truly did something daring and meaningful. I didn’t have time to waste on reality TV. Having watched plenty of Survivor and Fear Factor, I wanted to watch stuff that I thought was better. If we really wanted to psychoanalyze this further, I could probably tie those feelings into my relationship with my mother with whom I primarily watched these shows and associated them with. But we won’t.

I think we want to shun people who invest time in shows where the cast and characters are vapid and seemingly shallow. We give snap judgments to the stars of those shows and assume the worst of them, in many cases. And then even thinking about the kinds of people who watched The Hills or even more modern shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, a very specific kind of person comes to mind. At least for me.

Those kinds of shows remind the kinds of girls who bullied me growing up. I see them and I think of mean girls who took pleasure in putting others down and lifting themselves up in the process.

And yet, as I get older, I find myself drawn back to reality TV. There’s a certain comfort in it now and it tends to be one of my go to things when I need something mindless to enjoy. Shows like The Hills (and shows adjacent to it) are still not quite my bag, but cooking shows, baking shows, and sometimes downright trash like Geordie Shore are part of my must watch TV.

Nailed It really kicked things into motion for baking and cooking shows. I instantly fell in love with the tone of the show and how fun it was – I loved that all of the contestants had a genuine passion for baking but none of the skill that came with it. But they tried anyways and that alone made it something special. The judges never feel like they’re picking on anyone but instead they always try to find something constructive to say, which in this world, is what we need.

Nailed It!

Nailed It led me to Queer Eye which led me back to Nailed It’s next season and then it spiralled into all the baking shows on Netflix. Zumbo’s Just Desserts, Sugar Rush, and The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. Although admittedly that last one turned me off a bit after I went in thinking they would be recipes that I could try myself (or pretend that I would try myself…) only to discover that only a master baker would really be able to manage them.

And then there’s The Great British Baking Show. Like with others less high-stakes show, I like the accessibility of the contestants. They’re down to earth and they feel genuine and real to me. They all love what they’re doing and striving to do their best. I love that. As I find myself becoming more and more introverted and hermiting at my home more often than not, it’s almost like a way of connecting with someone else and making a friend. Even though you never meet them, you still learn so much about them through their baking and how they handle things. I’m so weirdly invested in what happens to them throughout the course of the series that I almost feel devastated when my personal favourites don’t make it farther or ultimately aren’t crowned champion.

That’s the beauty of reality TV. They paint you a picture of who and what you want to see and bring you people that you can make a connection with – for better or worse.

I have been watching a lot of reality TV – most of which is usually complete trash – but there’s something weirdly soothing about the competitive nature of The Great British Baking Show and also its counterpart, The Great British Family Cooking Show. The latter was something that I watched before I dove into the baking show (since unlike in the US, isn’t available on Netflix here in Canada but the cooking version is). It was so charming to watch these wholesome families compete and share the meals that they’ve been making together for generations.

I was so wholly invested in The Great British Family Cooking Show and the families on board as they put their heart and souls into the food in hopes of finding validation from the judges. It surprised me in how emotional I felt towards the end of the show and how strongly I felt towards one person or the other. I had originally told myself that I wanted to watch the show for the mindlessness of it and to just have something on but my motivations quickly changed and grew.

I like watching reality TV now. Like I said, there’s probably a whole lot to unravel in terms of why I’m drawn to the shows I’m drawn to. The uniformity of the competitions paired with the unique personalities of the contestants is soothing to me – like visiting an old friend without the mental labour of having to join into the conversation. It gives me a way to be amongst others without ever having to leave my house.

Stephanie Cooke
Stephanie is a Toronto based writer and editor. She's a comic book fan, avid gamer, movie watcher, lover of music, and sarcasm. She is a purveyor of too many projects and has done work for Talking Comics, JoBlo.com, Agents of Geek, Word of the Nerd, C&G Magazine, Dork Shelf, and more. Her writing credits include "Home Sweet Huck" (Mark Millar's Millarworld Annual 2017), "Lungarella (Secret Loves of Geek Girls, 2016), "Behind Enemy Linens" (BLOCKED Anthology, 2017), "Home and Country" (Toronto Comics Anthology, 2017) and more to come. You can read more about her shenanigans over on her <a href="http://www.stephaniecooke.ca">personal web site</a>.

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