Episode 9 – Kitchen Nightmares

 

This week’s discussion: Kitchen Nightmares, Season 5, Eps. 1-6, 16.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Survivor, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.  Watch it with Amazon Prime Video.

This week Mike and JS delve into their first food-themed reality TV show – Kitchen Nightmares.  We mainly cover the US version, but also devote some time to discussing the original UK version as we were both struck by the many differences in the presentation of the shows and how they might reflect broader differences between US and UK culture.  Topics discussed include: our impressions of reality TV star Gordon Ramsay, the insanity of Amy’s Baking Company, the ‘disclaimers’ in the credit sequence of each episode, the centrality of food in Western social interactions, the harsh realities of operating a restaurant, and how the optimistic narrative the US version tries to sell us reflect a broader cultural view of American idealism.

Show Links and Notes

1:08 / The moral of this week’s show

1:58 / Introducing the show

3:30 / The concept of the show (similar shows include Bar Rescue and Restaurant Impossible)

5:06 / The optimistic narrative arc the show is trying to sell us

6:02 / Discussing the history of the host, Gordon Ramsay; JS mentions Hell’s Kitchen

7:45 / Emphasis on the ‘celebrity’ in celebrity chef

8:22 / The differences in Ramsay’s presentation in the US and UK versions

10:15 / The US version struck us as much more heavily produced

11:20 / Starting our detailed breakdown of La Galleria 33

12:50 / The general arc and themes that reoccur in each episode

14:35 / Returning to La Galleria

15:22 / Mike fills in a couple spots in the episode arc that JS missed

16:35 / A brief digression on the editing

17:07 / The afterword at the end of each show

17:38 / The show often implies the owners are chiefly at fault for the problems at the restaurant

18:00 / Talking about the restaurant shutdowns

18:40 / The episodes of the show are pretty similar; many blended together for Mike

19:02 / Discussing episode highlights from Mama Maria’s

20:05 / The motif of frozen vs. fresh that comes up again and again

21:24 / Nostalgia is a common refrain in these episodes; many of the owners who have been successful at one point are more stubborn

22:06 / The common dynamic of multiple owners who conflict over the changes Ramsay wants to implement

23:53 / Segueing into our summary of Amy’s Baking Company

25:19 / JS can’t contain his giddy excitement over this episode

27:40 / This episode breaks the typical narrative arc of the show

28:47 / Discussing the fallout of this episode on the Internet and how it affected the business

29:52 / The difference between Amy and other recalcitrant owners was that the others would at least temporarily ‘play ball’ with the show

30:40 / Segueing into this show’s placement on the spectrum of ‘reality’ in reality TV

31:40 / There are some notable disclaimers in the credits of the show

32:42 / The diners being brought in by the show and ‘playing to the camera’

33:25 / JS knows of a restaurant near him that went through one of these shows, discusses the process of collecting diners

35:23 / Mike mentions a lawsuit against the show; JS explains mandatory arbitration

37:05 / Despite the lawsuit, our feeling is that this show is probably not TOWIE or Bridezillas

37:37 / The narrative of hate-to-love of Chef Ramsay by the owners came off to JS as producer coached

38:12 / The rags-to-riches theme of the US version reminds Mike of a Horatio Alger tale

38:43 / The site that Mike got his information from

39:01 / The harsh realities of the restaurant business

39:38 / The message of the US show may not correspond perfectly with the real world; the UK version seemed more realistic

40:52 / The restaurant as a symbol of the American Dream – often an immigrant success story

42:00 / The US show is very focused on the personal and family backgrounds of the owners

42:53 / The different center of focus in the two versions: US version is owner-centric, UK version is kitchen staff-centric

44:00 / The American focus on individual success and responsibility; UK focuses more on the overall team

45:38 / A brief aside of the differing budgets of the shows, Mike mentions Rupert Murdoch

45:53 / Segueing into the appeal of food TV

46:12 / The centrality of food and ‘dining out’ in Western social interaction; JS alludes to the Food Network

47:09 / The combination of immediate accessibility and specialized behind-the-scenes insight

48:15 / The allure of reality television success and overcoming difficulties

49:38 / Many of these owners have gone in without specialized business training

50:38 / Mike preferred the realism of UK version to the idealism of the US version

51:42 / The contrasting afterwords of the two shows as an example of this

52:38 / How does the episode of Amy’s Baking Company fit into the idea that this show’s appeal is about success?

54:00 / Was Amy’s Baking Company really a failure?  Discussing the irony of the owners who tell Ramsay off doing better than many of the restaurants on the show who followed the instructions

55:20 / The capricious nature of the restaurant industry, even something as simple as lack of parking can doom a restaurant

56:10 / The high failure rate of restaurants in the first year (and an article Mike found that provides a counterpoint); this show perhaps looks at the industry through rose-tinted glasses

57:43 / We both discuss how will we never be opening a restaurant, even if we win the lottery

58:30 / This show, like other reality shows we’ve watched, is very focused on individual control and individual responsibility

1:00:48 / The appeal of the show’s Prodigal Son narrative, but how realistic is it for these businesses to dig themselves out of the deep holes they are in?

1:02:00 / Mike made a Facebook page: please go like the page and take part in our listener poll: Snooki & JWoww: Moms with Attitude vs. The Sorrentinos

1:04:02 / Announcing a semi-reoccurring segment for the next show: Reality TV First Loves

1:05:16 / Contact us, rate and review, and subscribe

Episode 8 – Bridezillas

 

This week’s discussion: Bridezillas, Season 10, Eps. 1-3, 19-20.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Kitchen Nightmares, Season 5, Eps. 1-6, 16.  Watch it on Hulu.

We are back with our usual twosome, after another close shave with our schedules, to bring our loyal listeners the long-teased episode on Bridezillas we’ve been talking about. To summarize the show in a sentence, it was, quite frankly, probably the most entertaining show we’ve watched for the podcast so far.

We start out by hitting the highlights of the individual episodes and reliving our favorite tears and tantrums before going into why we believe this show may not quite be a completely faithful representation of ‘reality’ and talk about its overall evolution from playing it relatively straight to going over the top.  We then praise the gonzo and hilarious sound design and graphics post-production as well as the snarky narrator, who has a near endless supply of catty one-liners.  Finally, we wrap up by going beyond the humorous aspects of this show’s appeal and explore what it has to say about our modern conceptions of gender and marriage.

Show Notes and Links

1:03 / JS makes his triumphant return

1:45 / Introducing this week’s show

2:46 / The ritual summary of the ‘high concept’

3:35 / The typical bride’s story is divided into two episodes (which we thought was brilliant)

4:37 / We were surprised that more reality shows didn’t adopt this format

5:35 / Identifying the larger tropes and stereotypes of the show

6:48 / Typical Bridezilla – is super demanding, but not in an efficient way, has to be incompetent as well to be on this show

8:05 / We both found this show highly entertaining

9:30 / Briefly covering Haley and her in-laws

10:16 / Summarizing Ariel and Brook

12:34 / Ariel and sexual ‘TMI’

13:40 / Talking about a questionable piece of ‘creative editing’

14:08 / A detailed breakdown of the episode as a template for the show

16:28 / Mike gives an example of a minor variation

16:56 / Transitioning into Dezjuan’s arc

17:26 / A ‘romantic’ dinner gone wrong when Mom shows up

19:00 / Talking about Dezjuan’s grandma – who we both thought was great

20:11 / Discussing Dezjuan’s trainwreck wedding

21:14 / The show’s tendency to try to tease us into thinking weddings will fall through

21:37 / Amanda from Texas – where JS began to suspend his disbelief

22:46 / She was pretty frank to the producers about faking an illness

23:38 / Making a jump to Episodes 19-20 and going over Angela’s arc

25:44 / The main theme of her story – conflict between the bride and the groom’s sister

26:13 / The highlights from the second half of Mai-Lee

26:55 / JS liked the more laid-back, carefree grooms on the show

28:02 / Mike’s favorite Mai-Lee moment

28:25 / Breaking down Adrienne and Waylon’s episode

29:15 / Waylon was a highlight – zombie weddings and waxing

30:18 / This show may not be meant to be taken at face value

31:09 / The interview with Angela that Mike references

31:48 / The show sets up moments and does retakes

33:15 / How the show has evolved since its perhaps more ‘realistic’ beginnings (We both mention a lawsuit)

34:45 / By Season 10, everyone is clearly in on it

35:52 / Discussing the financial compensation

36:46 / The weddings filmed for the show are based on the optics of the narrative being pushed (particularly around social class)

38:00 / Mike noticed a reoccurring character who shows up at opportune times

39:05 / The fights seem to be patched up rather quickly for ‘reality’

39:45 / A call back to our discussion of ‘scripted reality’ in Episode 2 (This is how it’s done, TOWIE!)

40:35 / Segueing into the topic of humor and the show’s post-production

41:10 / Going over our favorite sound production moments

42:45 / This show has an awesome narrator

44:10 / Mike relives his favorite quips

45:04 / The music and graphics are also really funny

46:50 / Discussing an unfortunate Bridezilla who got into legal trouble because of the show

48:27 / Mike found Angela’s reaction to the final product amusing

49:36 / Mike’s theory of this show’s appeal: It deals with our cultural anxieties about marriage

52:43 / By taking these insecurities and blowing them up in a humorous way, this show achieves a type of catharsis

53:25 / JS thought the relationship between bride and groom reminded him of the relationship between husband and wife in traditional sitcoms (JS mentions the show The King of Queens)

55:55 / Talking about how this show reflects real-life anxieties and stresses about wedding planning

57:20 / The sexist nature of the ‘Bridezilla’ stereotype and its relationship to our gendered expectations around weddings

59:13 / How this show both subverts and reinforces our idealized views of weddings

1:00:43 / Mike’s ‘wedding planning’ experience and JS’s actual wedding planning experience

1:02:07 / A perennial 42 Minutes of Reality observation: Watching these trainwrecks can make us feel better about our comparatively milder shortcomings (Is this a public service?)

1:03:39 / Introducing the show for our next podcast

1:04:55 / A quick scheduling announcement (actually posting more like Sunday evening, though Mike said Monday)

1:06:00 / The usual announcements: email, rate and review, (and also subscribe, even if Mike forgot to say it)

Episode 7 – The Millionaire Matchmaker

 

This week’s discussion: The Millionaire Matchmaker, Season 5, Eps. 6-11, 13 (+ Season 2, Ep. 6; Season 3, Ep. 3; Season 4, Ep. 8).  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Bridezillas, Season 10, Eps. 1-3, 19-20.  Watch it on Hulu.

Unfortunately, we had to postpone our discussion of Bridezillas for another couple weeks due to some scheduling issues on both our ends (JS was busy last weekend and I’m busy this weekend).  However, my friend Ross was graciously willing to step into the breach on short notice in order to discuss one of his favorite reality TV franchises, Bravo’s The Millionaire Matchmaker.

The format is a bit more freewheeling this week (a bit of a throwback to our first episode) but as we process our different takes – Ross’s veteran experience and unabashed enjoyment and Mike’s hot-off-the-presses gut feeling and conflicted opinion – we cover several issues, including: the show’s glamorization of lavish lifestyles, the host’s control-freak personality and strange old-fashioned worldview regarding gender and romance, the show’s ideology of individual responsibility, and the bizarre courtship rituals of the ultra-rich.  But don’t worry – we don’t forget to bash the inane douchebags, laugh at the ridiculous dates and awkward mixers, make fun of Patti’s stable of pseudoscientific ‘experts’, discuss awkward first dates and break down that moment when your crazy-eyed prospective ‘husband’ offers you that glass of fermented sea urchin with a side of duck embryos (mmmmm…tasty!)

Show Notes and Links

1:04 / Mike introduces his new sidepiece and they engage in some mandatory ballbusting of a certain absent co-host

1:58 / Introducing this week’s show

2:45 / The show’s high concept

4:10 / Summarizing the episodic formula

7:20 / Starting off with our impressions of the host, Patti Stanger

8:26 / Ross does his best Kellyanne Conway impression

9:28 / Mike was not a fan of Patti, didn’t think she was any good at her job

12:05 / Discussing the elephant in the room: the fact that these people have tons of $$$

14:00 / Akin to a high-end escort service – only for marriage instead of sex

15:03 / Patti’s old-fashioned worldview of gender and romance

16:45 / Some of her advice is good – but she never follows it!

17:50 / Discussing the show’s treatment of Patti’s personal life

19:42 / The show’s relentless superficiality – quite odd for a show supposedly based around ‘true love’ and marriage

21:33 / Patti emphasizes change: both superficial and personal, but there is no give in terms of meeting her clients halfway

23:16 / Ross makes the argument that Patti’s coaching, although off-base at times, can nudge the client towards a subtle positive change

24:43 / Is the show about fairy-tales or disasters?  (Hint: that’s a rhetorical question)

26:39 / A fairy-tale episode with a real-life prince

27:28 / Segueing into the structure and presentation of the dates themselves

27:40 / If a millionaire has an issue, their date will inevitably bring it up (perhaps some coaching?)

29:12 / The dates are often edited to emphasize that the failed dates fail because the millionaire doesn’t follow Patti’s advice

30:20 / Each unsuccessful date often has an ‘explanatory moment’ that shows why and when the date goes off the rails

31:36 / Two ‘hot tub’ moments, two different results

34:00 / Patti’s annoying self-righteousness about a client’s criminal past

35:05 / A brief comparison of the two openly religious clients

36:45 / The one time Mike liked Patti – making fun of Mr. ‘Bibles and Boobies’ (and why he didn’t like her more often when she acted similarly towards other douchebag clients)

38:50 / The two categories of millionaire clients

40:20 / Patti’s issues with introverted men

42:45 / Instead of personalizing her matches, Patti tries to push people into predefined roles

43:35 / Discussing awkward moments on first dates

45:20 / Patti has ‘a great relationship with the gays’ (just like Trump has ‘a great relationship with the blacks’ – Really!)

46:42 / These dates seem like job interviews (Also, why is there so much talk about marriage and kids on the first date?)

49:12 / The novelty of extended dating before marriage (which is also easier to do if you are younger)

50:18 / Ross offers Mike a nice pint of hemlock

51:02 / Patti’s philosophy is reminiscent of ‘The Rules’ (Mike also mentions its even dumber male alter-ego ‘The Mystery Method’)

52:56 / Mike loved the awkwardness of the fake smiles and applause at the mixers

53:47 / Pro-tip: Don’t ask the women you’ve just met how ‘sexual’ they are

54:09 / So much for karmic justice…

56:18 / Douchebag guys are portrayed as learning their lesson – but we’re skeptical

56:40 / Mike’s brief aside on the bullshit occupations on this show

57:10 / The awkward pool party mixer

58:28 / Patti’s gendered double standard about ‘gold-digger’ relationships

59:05 / Patti and her dumb ‘tests’ (Mike managed to dig up the abstract of the study he was referring to)

1:00:27 / Patti’s tests give her the opportunity to blame her clients for failure

1:00:50 / The cardinal sin of this show: challenging Patti

1:01:30 / Starting our discussion of Shauna the ‘crazy cougar’

1:02:30 / Some producer magic in Shauna’s entrance?

1:03:40 / Another tip: Don’t send your blind date a dress to wear

1:04:25 / Mike discusses his impressions of the ‘reunion’

1:05:57 / Ross drops his knowledge by summarizing the various tie-ins with other Bravo properties

1:06:48 / Mike thinks they’re both horrible, but at least Shauna knows how to do image management

1:07:13 / Ross goes on a tangent about Patti’s reboot, Million Dollar Matchmaker

1:08:21 / ‘A very special guest’ (who has something she wants to share with you about vaccination)

1:09:15 / Laughing about all the stupid shit that Patti believes in

1:11:20 / Talking about the creepy investment banker and his disaster date

1:12:42 / Getting all the freebies while you can

1:13:28 / Duck embryos…dude

1:14:17 / The satisfying comeuppance (which, according to Mike, Patti herself failed to deliver)

1:17:05 / These suitors seemed more interested in status than love and personality

1:18:58 / The ‘new money’ background of these millionaires

1:19:25 / Mike discusses the high-end escort service in Floating City (which he mentioned briefly in our episode on Divorce Court)

1:21:01 / The women on the show struck Mike as similar to the escorts depicted in Floating City (The TMZ article he cited)

1:22:39 / The façade of the ‘career woman’ in elite circles

1:23:35 / Show’s philosophy reflects American norms about individual responsibility

1:24:08 / Ross alludes to Pygmalion; Patti often tried to suppress people’s personality quirks

1:24:48 / Wrapping up with a discussion of the show’s appeal

1:24:57 / Mike had conflicted feelings about this show, wonders if this is Bravo’s brand? (Mike also mentions the show Vanderpump Rules)

1:26:00 / Ross explains what he found distinct about this show compared to Bravo’s other reality shows?

1:26:57 / Mike felt Patti was the millstone around this show’s neck

1:27:43 / What Mike would want from an alternate host of this type of show

1:28:54 / The show could have worked with Patti, but it needed more authorial distance and less taking itself so seriously

1:29:55 / Would a more sincere matchmaking show be as successful as this one?  (Our original conversation about success and failure in reality TV took place in our first episode)

1:31:07 / Mike found the episodes where the clients with potential seemed set up for failure to be unrewarding

1:32:23 / Bravo sells a certain lifestyle (Would the show have worked better if the show honed in more on clients who fit that image?  Or do you need the diversity?)

1:34:53 / The usual announcements: contact us, rate and review us, and subscribe

Episode 6 – Dual Survival

 

This week’s discussion: Dual Survival, Season 3, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: The Millionaire Matchmaker, Season 5, Eps. 6-11, 13 (+ Season 2, Ep. 6; Season 3, Ep. 3; Season 4, Ep. 8).  Watch it on Hulu.

This week Mike and JS put aside their fundamental differences in podcasting philosophy to make the show’s first foray into the world of survival reality TV – Dual Survival!  (Also, apologies to Cody Lundin, as we repeatedly botched the title of the show in the episode, calling it Dual Survivor.)

We begin with a discussion of the main theme of the show: the two hosts and their different backgrounds and philosophy as they attempt to survive for 72 hours in harsh wilderness conditions, specifically identifying the topic of risk vs. reward as the animating center and attempting to determine how much of a hand the production crew has in determining the level of risk in each of these missions.

We then delve into the individual episodes and talk about particular highlights and themes: the level of choreography versus spontaneity in the scenarios, the level of discomfort and physical risk to the hosts, and the tension between its desire to educate and to entertain.  Mike even included a bonus rant about the media’s coverage of poaching.

Finally, we wrapped up with a discussion on the demographics of the survival TV audience and the overall appeal of this sub-genre of reality TV, rooting it in an extension of the romanticization of the ‘frontier’ in American culture – with a dash of pointless gossip about the behind-the-scenes drama of the survival TV world.

Show Notes and Links

1:30 / Introducing this week’s show

2:08 / Breaking down the high concept

3:18 / Cody Lundin – our barefoot hero

4:08 / Joe Teti – our military badass

5:13 / JS had some prior knowledge of this show

5:44 / How the hosts’ differences defied Mike’s expectations

6:42 / The main difference in the two hosts’ philosophies was risk-reward

7:40 / To what extent are the producers influencing decisions?

8:20 / 72-hour scenarios (Cody Lundin Interview)

10:06 / Mike wonders if the military aspect is essential or an appeal to a demographic for TV

11:30 / JS thinks the military is actually pretty good training for a situation like this, even if not as thorough as a survival school

13:47 / Mike often found the risks that Joe took to be questionable for a real survival situation as opposed to a TV survival situation

14:56 / The choreography of survival TV – what’s spontaneous and what’s being presented by the producers?

15:50 / Mike gives an example of clear producer intervention

18:32 / A clarification on Joe’s background (Military Times article)

19:45 / Many of these clips were re-used for the behind-the-scenes special

20:36 / Each episode is a structured loosely around a background scenario (lost hiker, stranded glider, etc.)

22:01 / The merits (or lack thereof) of drinking your own urine; psychology v. physiology

23:26 / The educational nuggets – ‘Art of Self Reliance’

23:59 / The introduction of risk v. reward – go up for water or go down for better air?

24:57 / A rare instance where Mike found Joe’s risk-tasking realistic

26:14 / JS doubted the authenticity of the poachers

26:49 / Mike’s rant about ‘white savior’ conservationist narratives

27:42 / Poachers (at least those on ground level) driven by poverty and lack of economic opportunity, not love of killing endangered species

28:30 / Mike found Joe’s comments about the poachers insincere (An article on President Dumbfuck’s ‘hard power’ budget, which was mercifully ignored by Congress)

30:14 / JS’s doubts about the genuineness of the poaching paraphernalia resulted from a steady accumulation of disbelief

32:06 / Mike thinks the camps might be legit, but probably had been abandoned for some time

32:34 / Mike thinks the show misunderstands the role of violence in organized crime (Sudhir Venkatesh’s Gang Leader For A Day)

34:06 / Discussing the role of safety in the series as a whole

34:51 / A rescue of questionable authenticity

36:22 / JS’s LOL moment

37:05 / Mike compares the hosts to Hollywood stuntmen

38:14 / The main risk is mechanical injury, but not dehydration or starvation

38:40 / Mike found the heightened stakes detracted from the spontaneity compared to less dangerous reality shows like Paris Hilton BFF

40:02 / JS liked the show, would watch it outside the confines of the podcast (Finding Bigfoot without the bullshit)

41:30 / Discussing the hosts’ disagreement over the rotting steer

43:14 / If the lesson was to do something uncomfortable to survive, why not show Joe using the hide?

44:48 / Discussing the boar hunt – in both its authentic and fabricated aspects

46:42 / Mike found the crew’s masculine hero-worship over the top; JS was impressed by the technical skill (our different backgrounds in hunting may have shaped our reactions)

48:25 / Talking about the staged nature of the rescue sections

50:15 / Segueing into the allure of survival TV

50:44 / Mike found the gendered appeal noteworthy in the overall context of reality TV

51:27 / The appeal of survival entertainment to those ‘divorced from the land’ and living comfortably

52:33 / Mike thought the show’s aesthetic would appeal to the suburban/rural over the urban

54:01 / Frederick Jackson Turner – “The Significance of the Frontier in American History

54:36 / The overall appeal of the survival genre – vicariously overcoming physical hardship and adversity; We mention several shows (Man Vs. Wild, Survivorman, Survivor, Naked and Afraid)

55:39 / Discussing the tension between the show’s educational and entertainment mission

59:30 / Cody Lundin’s criticism of survival TV (TV Guide article on Survival TV that Mike mentions)

1:00:20 / The ‘behind the scenes’ drama (Cody’s lawsuit; Joe’s dismissal; other Joe-related lawsuit)

1:02:10 / Mike found it interesting that the behind-the-scenes tension never cropped up in the final product

1:03:33 / Introducing the next show – impromptu style

1:04:36 / Signing off with the usual deal – contact us, rate and review, and subscribe

Episode 5 – Divorce Court

 

This week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Dual Survival, Season 3, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week your esteemed hosts show up for their first stint of jury duty – reality TV style – and JS is not thrilled.  Nevertheless, we gamely tackle the first seven episodes of Season 17 of the long-running court TV franchise Divorce Court.

We begin by running down the typical format of an episode, discussing the constructed nature of the TV courtroom and how both Judge Toler and the show as a whole compare to the other shows in the genre.  Then we delve briefly into each individual episode and give our thoughts, paying particular attention to the rather stark variation in the show’s tone, and wrap up our recap by touching on some of the overall motifs common to the episodes we watched.

We then analyze the economics of court TV, as well as the heavily disproportionate representation of black claimants on the show and what it means.  After analyzing to which degree this is a product of the show’s audience or it’s producers, we take a look at the appeal of the show’s worldview and Mike offers some criticism of its take on social class and the overall ‘justice’ of the world at large.

Show Notes and Links

1:07 / Introducing the show

2:26 / High concept (WARNING: Title may not be fully accurate)

3:16 / The first of many mentions about the vast tonal variation

4:24 / The fabricated nature of the ‘courtroom’

5:08 / The format of a typical episode

6:00 / Beginning our discussion of Judge Toler

6:36 / Comparing her to other TV judges (Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown)

8:00 / Judge Toler’s optimism

9:00 / Comparing the rulings (or lack thereof) to other courtroom shows

10:11 / This show could easily be called ‘Relationship Counselor’ instead of ‘Divorce Court’ (with the bonus deep cut about constitutional legal theory that our fans all love)

11:04 / Discussing the qualifications of a judge to give relationship advice

13:40 / Mike thought her background as a judge made her pretty fair-minded

15:14 / A brief primer on the show’s history (and format iterations)

16:11 / Judge Toler’s intros

16:38 / Episode 1 – Anger problems and familial chaos

17:45 / This episode is pretty realistic – set our expectations accordingly

19:15 / Actual money on the line – a rarity in this series

20:04 / Why Mike had JS keep watching until Episode 7

20:55 / The difference in the intros and outros in different seasons

21:18 / Even Judge Toler’s optimism has limits

22:05 / Episode 2 – Alcoholism and social class

22:45 / Stuck out to Mike as optimistic – marriage could be probably be salvaged if husband could get help for his drinking problem

23:43 / Episode 3 – Body image and small difficulties

24:40 / JS thought this was the most realistic episode

25:10 / JS praises Judge Toler’s advice to this young couple

26:07 / The couple’s youth stuck out to JS – perhaps they be may not be as cynical and jaded (as Mike)

26:38 / Episode 4 – Cohabitation and animosity

27:19 / Judge Toler indulges in a bit of apophasis (For more of Mike butchering Greek terms, check out Episode 3)

27:56 / The role of sex (and other personal issues) in the show

28:29 / Stood out as a couple who will not work things out

29:23 / Episode 5 – ‘Redbones’ and bingo

30:51 / JS needed to consult Urban Dictionary for this episode

31:36 / Does this couple even want to split up?  Or are they there for the exposure and the paycheck?

32:09 / ‘Ghetto’ stereotypes and the ‘pull up your pants’ speech

33:11 / A brief digression into appearance fees

34:12 / The role of embellishment in some of the wackier episodes

35:15 / If we had only watched Episodes 1-4, this podcast would be completely different

35:59 / The relationships covered are all over the map

37:43 / Episode 6 – Colorful claimants, realistic problems

38:13 / ’30 cents of extra cheese’

39:25 / The husband’s brother and his $1400 shoes

40:05 / How social class may have influenced the claimants’ different attitudes towards money

40:35 / We didn’t quite know what to make of this couple’s future prospects

41:58 / Episode 7 – Crazytown

42:20 / Judge Toler’s odd intro

43:31 / This couple just wanted to be on TV – openly cracking up on the stand

44:47 / The animosity is very put on – lots of joking and laughing

45:02 / Candy house, ‘nuff said

46:28 / ‘He’s wrong and I’m right’

46:57 / If you watch one episode, watch this one

47:14 / The role of social media and smartphones

49:48 / Instagram handles of the claimants in Season 18

50:30 / The prevalence of traditional views on gender roles (men are breadwinners, women do housework)

52:06 / Judge Toler’s response to the airing of these views (article on Judge Toler’s background)

53:28 / The social class of the claimants – not a lot of middle-class professionals

54:21 / The economic incentives of the show attract a working-class demographic, but aren’t enough to attract a middle-class demographic

55:22 / Middle and upper class families have more to lose in a real divorce court

56:42 / Delving further into the economic incentives (article on the economics of Court TV)

57:30 / Court TV can often be a win-win situation in an open-and-shut small claims court case

1:00:08 / JS thought the structure of the show made this weaker than other reality court TV shows

1:00:48 / A final note on what ‘fame’ people might hope to gain from reality TV

1:01:31 / Taking a look at the demographics of the show’s claimants (quote from the article linked above)

1:02:48 / Comparing the percentage of African-Americans in the US population to the percentage of African-Americans on the show (stats from the 2010 Census via Wikipedia, natch – you can look up the articles on the individual cities) (Census Statistics on poverty)

1:04:45 / Why Americans Hate Welfare; overrepresentation of African-Americans in media in stories about poverty

1:06:30 / Race and ‘implicit bias

1:07:16 / Transitioning into an exploration of the show’s audience

1:08:25 / Chicken or egg situation?

1:09:13 / Hulu algorithms and audience demographics; Mike mentions Black-ish and Empire, as well as the show’s Facebook page

1:11:24 / The starkness of the show’s racial demographics confounded our expectations

1:13:28 / Probably many causes, but seems difficult to get to 70% w/o some type of bias

1:14:07 / Social distancing – amplifying negative stereotypes to reassure a target demographic similar to show’s participants (My Big Redneck Wedding)

1:16:41 / The show’s optimistic core – idea of being able to fix any marriage with enough heart; Mike mentions The Secret (100% accurate!)

1:17:10 / The paradoxical (?) appeal of conservatism to the poorest Americans (Jill Leovy interview)

1:18:04 / Mike’s view on the appeal and limits of such a philosophy

1:20:00 / How social class impacts how much someone is ‘punished’ for their bad decision-making; Mike mentions the book Floating City

1:20:55 / Mike wished this show would acknowledge that fact

1:22:09 / Wrapping up with our differing reactions to the show’s mediocrity

1:23:33 / Introducing the next show

1:24:33 / The usual rigmarole aka Rate us! (And subscribe!)

Episode 4 – Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai

 

This week’s discussion: Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai, Eps. 1-3, 8-9.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Divorce Court, Season 17, Eps. 1-7.  Watch it on Hulu.

First of all, apologies for the slightly reduced level of audio quality on this episode.  JS was having difficulty hearing the microphone and Mike overcompensated by cranking up the gain – and forgetting to look at the test recording in Audacity (oops) – which led to a great deal of clipping and what ended up being a salvage project.  However, unlike the producers of the show we are reviewing this week, we didn’t just throw in the towel and say fuck it.  Instead, Mike worked up some elbow grease and tried his best to get this episode to an acceptable quality of audio fidelity, so hopefully the final product is at least somewhat tolerable.

As for the episode’s contents, we took a virtual trip to the United Arab Emirates for the last (and possibly saddest) installment of Paris Hilton’s My New BFF franchise.  After discussing the structure of the show and the wealthy and cosmopolitan (mostly) Middle Eastern contestants, we turn to the show’s tangled legal history and how it may or may not have led to its bottom of the barrel production quality.  We then analyze both sides of this rather ‘unique’ mashup, discussing both its representation of the Middle East, good and bad (but mostly bad), as well as the history and background of the show’s rather infamous host, Paris Hilton, and her seminal place in the history of reality TV and 21st century ‘celebutante’ culture.  Finally, we end with how this show may have actually held the promise of being something worthwhile, if only its host and production team had cared enough to film something beyond a glorified infomercial (or hell, even cared enough to hire a camera crew for an entire day of filming).

Show Notes and Links

1:39 / Introducing this week’s show

2:30 / The show’s high concept – which should be pretty self-explanatory (Paris Hilton quote)

3:15 / JS breaks down the particulars

4:34 / Mike sampled the entire BFF oeuvre

6:00 / The ‘little star’ aka the snitch

6:18 / This show is actually quite brilliant at getting these contestants to go at each other’s throats

6:45 / The show’s lexicon – ‘real and fake’, ‘hungry tigers’

8:26 / The ‘Real and Fake Challenge’ (Reality TV Ouroboros)

9:28 / Mike has a confession to make

10:03 / We begin discussing the contestants – mostly from Middle East and come from wealthy backgrounds

12:12 / Bassant – at least she’s honest

12:55 / Mike found these women to be pretty bland and interchangeable

13:24 / Amy – was not here to make friends

13:54 / Dina – Mike couldn’t figure out why the others hated her

14:46 / Reem – seemed to be most ‘traditional’ of the contestants

14:57 / Discussing the ‘cosmopolitan’ backgrounds of the contestants

16:33 / JS discusses the physicality of the contestants and how Branka and Reem departed from the mold

17:15 / Mike belatedly mentions what episodes we watched

18:30 / Reem stuck out to JS as someone who seemed more authentic than the others

19:35 / Mike breaks down the troubled legal history of the show – seems to explain a lot about it

20:58 / Why the hell weren’t the cameras in the house more often?  Lots of discussion in the show of contestants acting different on and off camera

23:19 / Talking about the INSANE level of product placement in this show – not just the Paris Hilton line, but other sponsors (the credits looked like a high school yearbook)

24:54 / Comparing Paris Hilton’s level of involvement to the other seasons of the show

26:28 / A brief digression into the font world

27:32 / Starting our discussion of the show’s ridiculous ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ stereotypes

29:05 / Edward Said’s Orientalism

29:18 / Part of the reason Mike picked this show (other than the absurdity) was an intellectual interest in cross-cultural contact

29:44 / Talking about the role of local authorities in the production of the show and how the show had to change to be compatible with local cultural mores (no alcohol or risqué clothing)

30:35 / Contrasting the Dubai version to the US version

31:06 / Mike talks about how his views on the often fraught relationship between Western and non-Western cultures have evolved since college, the book title he forgot is Modernity At Large

32:20 / Mike’s theory of why Reem was the winner

33:44 / JS hoped that this show would have more interaction between Paris Hilton and the broader Middle Eastern culture

35:21 / Paris is in less than half of each episode – mostly just shows up for challenges and eliminations

36:43 / Mike does praise the show in one respect – gives people a better view of Middle East beyond crude stereotypes of religious fanaticism

37:14 / Mike talks about his experiences with different types of Muslims in Kenya

39:25 / This show gives a view of Middle East that goes beyond a monochromatic depiction of war and suffering

40:14 / Shows the cosmopolitan side of Middle East: many contestants would fit right in to any city around the world

41:41 / The cosmopolitan emphasis is both a strength and weakness of the show

42:34 / Focusing on those in the Middle East who are ‘more like us’ might have been the only entry point for this show’s audience (and is also conveniently the target audience for Paris Hilton’s line)

43:34 / JS hoped the show would be more like ‘An Idiot Abroad

44:08 / This show does once poke fun at Western stereotypes even as it relies on them

45:32 / Paris Hilton’s background and career history

46:52 / The Simple Life

48:23 / Discussing the temporal specificity of her fame

48:58 / Paris Hilton as a seminal figure in reality TV

49:44 / Mike compares her rise and fall to the subprime housing boom (Hilton interview in GQ)

50:21 / ‘One Night in Paris (Hilton): Wealth, Celebrity, and the Politics of Humiliation

51:20 / Does her fame come from love or hate?  Who is doing the loving and hating?

52:41 / Trying to pin down her class appeal; Mike thinks she reminds him of (pre-politics) Trump

53:48 / JS argues that, at least in international terms, her appeal is to an upscale audience

54:50 / We stumble around in the dark trying to figure out where her merch is sold (Mike did post-podcast research: You can at least buy her fragrances at Walmart)

55:20 / Moving from humiliation to adulation and the cult of celebrity; this series represents that

57:20 / Paris Hilton as an icon for ‘new money’

57:35 / This show seemed a little North Korean – particularly with the penthouse décor

58:58 / Trying to figure out the motivations of the contestants – no tangible grand prize

59:30 / Paris Hilton has no real accomplishments – what’s the motivation for getting to know her?

1:00:28 / JS thinks most of these contestants went in with no illusions – and maybe the hope for a few connections or a good word in the future

1:02:12 / What the show is selling the audience in terms of being Paris’ BFF

1:02:38 / JS mentions that some contestants might have been overconfident and ‘caught up in the moment’

1:03:32 / Wrapping up with how this show could have been better

1:04:08 / Yet another digression into the shoddiness of the post-production

1:04:50 / Mike wishes this focused more on the contestants’ backgrounds; wonders how much the production problems played a role

1:06:05 / Even those outside the Middle East could have had interesting backgrounds

1:06:55 / The ‘story challenge’ gave a quick glimpse into the backgrounds of some of the contestants and gave them a little more depth

1:07:35 / JS wonders if the similar backgrounds of the contestants was a weakness

1:09:03 / We both agree they should have been filled out some more (the press release I mentioned)

1:09:41 / Mike thinks the most interesting thing about these women are their hybrid backgrounds and having to navigate between ‘traditional’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ sides

1:10:50 / The show touches on ‘Americanization’ a bit with Dina, but doesn’t really go into great depth

1:12:40 / We are on Stitcher (please rate us!) and have a website on WordPress (you are already here)

1:13:30 / Introducing next week’s show, Divorce Court: Feel free to email us any particularly good episodes from Seasons 16-18: 42minutesofreality AT gmail DOT com

Episode 3 – Finding Bigfoot

 

This week’s discussion: Finding Bigfoot, Season 11, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Animal Planet. (cable sub required past first episode) Purchase on Amazon Video.

Next week’s discussion: Paris Hilton’s My New BFF Dubai, Eps. 1-3, 8-9.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

We discuss JS’s first pick, the long-running Animal Planet series Finding Bigfoot.  We break down the component parts of the episodic formula, discussing our thoughts on both the hosts and the witnesses they interview, as well as their dubious night ‘investigations’.  Topics discussed include the genial and sincere nature of the hosts, the ethnic and cultural diversity of the areas they visit, as well as the larger-scale flaws of the methods they use in their pursuit of the ever-elusive Bigfoots they seek to discover.  We conclude with a conversation on the decline of educational television and the appeal of ‘unreason’ in contemporary American culture.

Show Notes and Links

1:04 / Getting our equipment ready

1:34 / Mike tearfully recounts his betrayal at the hands of Jimmy Wales (this will not stop him from being lazy and crutching on Wikipedia for these show notes, however)

2:18 / Introducing the show

2:52 / How to find the show online – with caveats

3:42 / We can’t believe that they still haven’t found Bigfoot after 11 seasons

4:01 / Brief episode synopses

5:11 / A quick warning on the length of some of these episodes

6:36 / If there’s something Bigfoot-related in the area, this show will find a way to shoehorn it in

7:11 / The typical episode formula

8:44 / Starting with the characters, in order of lucidity

9:39 / Bobo – possibly some drug use in his history?

10:58 / A note on our critique of the hosts – we aren’t questioning their sincerity

11:32 / Are these people really qualified?

12:06 / Bobo as comic relief

12:22 / Matt Moneymaker, founder of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization

13:25 / Two types of pseudoscientific practitioners: the genuine believer and the con artist

13:44 / Cliff and Ranae, the token skeptic

14:42 / Cliff as the most intelligent of the three ‘believers’

16:13 / Assessing Ranae’s motivation – Is she a force for good or a cynical veneer of credibility?

17:56 / JS praises Ranae’s social intelligence

19:46 / Mike has a story about lunch with a 9/11 truther

21:57 / Ranae’s family background as motivator for being on the show

22:25 / JS thinks they could have found someone more willing to toe the ‘company line’

23:05 / Our observations on the town halls

23:53 / Mike noticed the constructed nature of the town halls from the Hawaii episode

25:35 / The town hall demographics

26:30 / JS wonders how many people were there for entertainment purposes

27:35 / Segueing into the witness followups

28:08 / Mike discusses the ethnic and cultural diversity in the episodes he watched

28:59 / The Hawaiians seemed to be expressing the folklore of the area, the Navajos – maybe not so much (although Mike includes a caveat about his overall ignorance of Navajo culture)

30:16 / Discussing the overall sincerity of the witnesses on the show

31:10 / Some of the less credible witnesses were also Bigfoot ‘researchers’

31:48 / The terrible CGI in the docudrama reenactments

32:14 / JS discusses the witnesses that stuck out to him as particularly sincere or insincere

34:01 / Mike discusses the flaws in the testimonies of the witnesses that stuck out to him

36:27 / The most unbelievable testimony of all

37:42 / The ‘smartphone camera’ problem

38:19 / The unreliability of eyewitness testimony

39:45 / Eyewitness testimony related fallacies; Liar, lord, or lunatic fallacy

41:09 / The ridiculous night investigations

43:40 / Seemed to have no rationale for their methods – except maybe it’s good TV?

44:26 / Finding Bigfoot: Rejected Evidence

44:48 / The hosts’ willingness to interpret random noises as Bigfoot

45:49 / How they could do an actual investigation

46:21 / Making it up as they go along – Bigfoots attracted to music?

46:53 / The ‘fever dream’ quality of night vision

47:27 / A thought experiment on discovering a new creature

48:23 / The sine waves the producers throw up on screen

48:59 / No consistency in the methodology or interpretations – are Bigfoots trying to be found or not?

50:10 / Comparing squatching to hunting

51:00 / JS explains hunting methods for all you liberal coastal elites

52:27 / Mike reminds JS about all the witnesses

52:37 / All the theories about sasquatches presented in this show are based on assumptions

53:22 / No consistency in the eyewitness testimony or physical ‘evidence’

54:25 / Going crazy over ‘thermal blips’ – until they turn out to be something else

55:40 / JS thought the hosts were the real interesting parts, not the investigations

56:26 / The discrepancies on foot casts somehow make them more credible to Bigfoot researchers

57:03 / JS talks about why he picked the show and his interest as a child in stuff like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, as well as The X-Files

57:50 / The incredible nature of the claim of thousands of social animals living in groups across vast areas of the country and leaving no physical evidence

59:30 / The ecological diversity makes it more likely that these creatures – if they actually existed – would be easily found since they would have advanced intellectual and social capabilities

1:00:41 / JS gives a capsule review of the book Neanderthal: Piece of shit!

1:02:09 / Mike butchers his Greek: pareidolia (human tendency to see faces) and apophenia (human tendency to perceive patterns in random data)

1:03:17 / Mike baits the Internet cranks

1:04:33 / We are exposed as part of the Marxist conspiracy!

1:06:29 / JS takes a page from James Randi, minus the sweet prize money

1:06:54 / Discussing the decline of educational TV, particularly on cable

1:07:20 / Our memories of TLC and Discovery in the 90’s

1:08:00 / Is this an inevitable by-product of capitalism?  Is it supply or demand?

1:10:12 / JS makes the demand-driven case

1:11:04 / Prevalence of conspiracy theories in US (note the inevitable kooks in the comment section)

1:11:49 / Mike makes a qualified case for supply

1:15:02 / JS links the desire to believe to Western culture’s celebration of exploration and discovery

1:16:19 / Mike wonders if the increasing complexity of scientific theory contributes to the proliferation of these shows

1:18:22 / JS elaborates on his earlier remarks; cryptozoology is accessible and tangible to general audiences

1:20:03 / Is there a solution?

1:20:20 / JS is optimistic, perhaps pseudoscientific beliefs will decline along with traditional religion

1:21:20 / Mike is Debbie Downer, believes that religion isn’t disappearing but changing

1:22:05 / Wrapping up with L. Ron Hubbard

1:22:47 / Announcing the next episode – with a bonus advert for Tubi TV