While many thought reality TV to be a passing fad, or even something to tide us over during the recent writer’s strike, it’s become clear that the genre isn’t going anywhere.
It’s durability is made all the more amazing by the fact that virtually every show adhering to reality TV conventions makes its stars or contestants look like giant assholes or morons. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Not coincidentally, the exceptions are held in higher regard than their baser brethren.
For these five entries, you can expect a cringe-free hour of TV, which is pretty much the most praise you can lavish on reality television shows.
If you get yelled at, it’s because you didn’t cook something well. Not because you made out with a pastry chef in the hot tub or stepped on too many people’s toes. The drama is, by and large, in the contest, rather than the characters. Historically, being a jerk or an angel doesn’t hurt or help you; what you do in the kitchen does. So the stars seem to be themselves, without adopting some weird Real World/Road Rules Challenge persona.
Further, no one is out to embarrass one another. Contestants work together, and the judges are quite matter-of-fact. Sometimes painfully so (e.g. Tom Colicchio). While drama and conflict might be the name of the game in reality television, this show makes the competition the star, allowing the participants to maintain dignity.
Unless they cook with scallops. This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop.
Project Runway allows its stars to walk away in one piece for two separate reasons. Firstly, it’s a show on which the contestants are creating something. If you’re a jerk or flirt or ditz and you are able to craft a beautiful gown or creation, more than likely all will be forgiven. It’s not like you’re a real housewife whose biggest accomplishment was knocking back a bottle Pinot Grigio during lunch.
Secondly, considering the cast of characters on Project Runway, unless you sprout lavender wings and a swastika starts glowing on your forehead, you’re probably going to seem like a well-adjusted, sane person, all things considered.
It’s easy to appear like a bastion of self-respect and composure next to the likes of Christian Soriano and that dude with the backwards neck tattoo that he can read it in the mirror, but these contestants distinguish themselves further by creating some pretty amazing stuff.