I am not a voyeur. Yet, when Covid struck and channel surfing seemed more likely than ocean surfing, I clicked the remote until I came upon a couple of reality TV shows that hooked me. My 600-Pound Life and Naked and Afraid are both full of lurid, ooh-ah moments designed to keep the TV viewers tuned in.
What can I say? Last summer at this time I was reading a prize-winning book about brain chemistry, and this summer I’m into fat and naked people.
(Please note I didn’t combine those adjectives: Six Hundred Pounds, Naked, and Afraid is a TV show still searching for an audience.)
These TV shows may offend more discerning tastes, but I have to say, I’ve learned a few things about human behavior watching them. For example, people will eat anything, ANYTHING, when they are hungry. A dieting, obese person will claw through the garbage, past coffee grounds and slimy peach pits, to get to the bag of potato chips they nobly threw away the day before. Naked people may be afraid of the panther in the jungle, but they’re fearless about eating stinky skunk meat. I’ve also learned will power is not necessarily won’t power, as in I won’t abandon this challenge. People will “tap out” of the jungle and put on a pair of underwear if the chiggers get bad enough. Obese people will go back to fried mayonnaise sandwiches if their only other option is lettuce (I don’t blame them).
A fascinating lesson from these shows has to do with resilience, the very trait needed to get through tough times. I’ve thought about this lesson a lot lately with our pandemic, job losses, and social unrest. How can we still be okay when life gets difficult? How do some people on Naked and Afraid survive 21 days without food, water, or shelter being provided? How is the 600-pound woman able to withstand a year of only 1200 calories-a-day, or less? They somehow find the resilience they need to meet their challenge.
From the comfort of my couch I cheer them on, thankful I’m not in their situation—but wait, I AM in their situation.
We all live with some kind of struggle. It may not be worthy of a reality TV program, but we all have some kind of problem we have to deal with, often on a daily basis.
One thing I try to keep in mind about reality TV is how orchestrated these shows are. There’s a certain amount of character and plot manipulation going on (remember that 1998 movie, The Truman Show?) Yet, there’s also obvious instances of genuine human suffering on reality TV. I’ve noticed successful show participants think and act more flexibly. They demonstrate their resilience by making things better, even in the worst of circumstances. The couple abandoned in the wilds of Indonesia built a cozy hut and figured out how to turn a piece of bamboo into a water filter. The 600-pound man found a way to make his meals more appetizing without the extra calories. He added colorful chopped vegetables and began experimenting with fresh fruit. They made their hardship less hard.
I thought about reality TV when I visited an old friend of mine who’s suffering from a re-occurrence of her cancer. I’d been meaning to visit her, to see how she was doing, but couldn’t find a good time. Finally, one day when I was running errands I stopped by her house. I felt bad about not calling ahead and hoped, considering her recent bad news, she’d feel like talking with me. I rang the doorbell and when no one answered, peeked into her back yard. I’m not sure what I expected to find, but I didn’t anticipate my friend smiling and sitting with her husband in lawn chairs. They were drinking a glass of wine and looking at the lovely white phlox blooming in her flower bed. In the background I heard the sweet strains of violin music coming from speakers mounted above the patio.
My friend may only weigh 120 pounds, and she would never think of leaving her home without her clothes on, but she does have something in common with the people on reality TV: she’s knows how to be resilient in a challenging time.
Image Credit: Naked and Afraid Image Credit: photo by Diana Hooley
Image Credit: Resilience