I’ll confess at the outset that I have not personally, actually seen 99.9 percent of the so-called “reality” shows available on television these days. But I have seen numerous ads or trailers for a number of them. The two that come immediately to mind are “Storage Wars” and “Naked and Afraid.”
Good grief! Until I Googled it up, I thought Storage Wars was a program about who could pack the most stuff into a certain limited space in a limited amount of time. I was a furniture mover off and on for a couple of years, so that probably colored my assumptions as to what the show was about.
Turns out it’s not that at all. I have to say, it’s not a heck of a lot more interesting than that; it’s just that it’s not about that. It’s about people who bid on what’s in a storage compartment that has not been paid up for a certain period of time and therefore the contents become the property of the storage facility owner. That worthy then auctions it off to the highest bidder who then acquires all the contents of the unit. There’s apparently plenty of skullduggery from rival bidders that spices up what would otherwise be unimaginably boring I imagine. The anticipated premise is that the winner of the auction will find a missing Picasso or Renoir or treasure map or chest full of gold doubloons or the Holy Grail or D.B. Cooper’s briefcase or maybe Jimmy Hoffa. Presumably, that’s not gonna happen 99.99.99 percent of the time. But apparently the minuscule percentage of success is enough to attract a fairly high number of viewers — record high numbers according to the A&E TV network.
It’s like a skewed, parallel universe treatment of “Antiques Roadshow.”
I suppose it’s like the hype around opening Al Capone’s grave or re-finding the Titanic. Both turned up nothing of interest but they kept viewers interested long enough for the production companies to make a bundle of money on the “come.” That’s a craps term meaning you’re betting on the next roll of the dice.
I’ve never seen the “Axmen” program, but I’ve seen numerous ads for it. For some reason they’re always fighting with rival axmen over this or that humongous, out-of-this-world tree that will make them a fortune. There’s thrills and chills as steel cables get wound around necks or bulldozers fall into chasms with swamps at the bottom, but I don’t know how it ever all turns out — and don’t care enough to watch an entire episode.
“Swamp People,” now there’s one that I actually have watched several episodes of. Rival swamp people obtain permits to kill so many alligators per 30-day season. They go out and bait their traps and go back the next day or the day after and check their traps. Nine times out of 10, the traps are empty, have been destroyed by unknown forces or with any luck by a monster, bigger-than-ever-recorded gator.
Cue the dramatic music, sighs and burps. The teams have to find the monster gator before sundown lest their permit expire. But was there foul play? Did one of the other teams sabotage their traps? The toothless patriarch thinks so and vows revenge. His six-toothed partner, in another boat, thinks otherwise but checks the action on her .357 nevertheless.
With little variation, this is what happens week in and week out or variations of the same thing. There’s no gators for days, then there are gators. One team member falls in the swamp as the camera closes in to show his/her terror and the concomitant mayhem. But nothing ever really happens. They either catch the gator and shoot it with a .22 or it gets away and after much toothless, bleeped out dialogue, they go home or on to the next trapline. They’re into the fifth or sixth season and I haven’t seen anything significantly different. But remember, I’ve only seen a half-dozen of the episodes.
Now “Naked and Afraid” evidently is pretty new, maybe only one season so far. Again per Google, it’s about a couple, man and woman who sign up to spend three weeks in a trackless, scary as heck jungle wilderness with no clothes, no shoes, no matches, no guns, no hats, no fishing lines and no way out. The object of course is to survive, naked and afraid. My first thought upon seeing the ad was, “Well, if you’re so naked and afraid, why the h*** are you doing this?”
My second, third and fourth thoughts were: You may be naked, but how afraid are you really with a dozen or more production assistants, photographers, sound guys, make-up people, food service people with mess tents, lighting people and several directors all within a few yards? The ads I’ve seen show the man and woman bare from the waist up or the waist down depending on the angle of the photo. They are slathered in Navy SEAL camouflage paint and their privates are blurred out front and back. The camo paint, I assume, is to help them blend into the jungle, thereby offering a better opportunity to fool wild creatures and turn them into food. Evidently, they are allowed one piece of equipment, such as a machete or a maybe a Veg-O-Matic.
I’d guess that watching the blurry blob around the privates would annoy me no end if I had to watch it for most of the program, while the rest of the time their privates are cleverly blocked by rainforest flora. So the message is that they really are naked and afraid, but we’re not going to see the actual naked part. After all, this is the U.S. of A, and we don’t show actual naked parts on TV. One of the ads shows the couple running through jungly terrain as if something from Jurassic Park were hot on their bare heels. They stop suddenly and look back, but we don’t know what they see, just that they look scared. This episode is in Costa Rica, I believe, where of course there are scads of huge predators like saber-toothed tigers, cave lions, monster bears and such that chase people who are naked and afraid — and don’t stand a chance — we assume, but we have to wait till next week to see how they got away mostly intact.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.