TV GUIDE: Developmental Years Edition

TV GUIDE: Developmental Years Edition

Whoops, I was raised on garbage!

Back when Netflix was just a mail-order DVD service, TV of the 2000s was less about consumer choice, and more about what mass media could be rubbed against your developing retinas. 

Picture this. It’s 2007, you’re home sick from school and desperate for entertainment. Windows Vista has just been downloaded onto the family computer, so the internet is effectively off limits. Faced with no other choice, you turn on the television. Your pre-pubescent brain is about to be fundamentally changed. Welcome to the worst television shows you were raised on! Thank God we outgrew these.

Survivor (2000, 46 Seasons Ongoing):

Survivor, the founder of reality TV as we know it today. The premise was simple back in its early days. Chuck a bunch of Americans from different walks of life into an unforgiving environment and force them to work together whilst voting each other off one at a time until the “sole survivor” remains to claim a $1 million prize. Unfortunately, looking back on the 2000s idea of a glorified “social experiment” does not make for easy viewing. 

Women were frequently picked off first for their perceived weakness, gay men were often treated as an extra woman, and the third season featured a white goat farmer threatening to shoot his black castmate within the first episode. Season 13 was effectively a race-wars scenario with four groups of contestants divided by their ethnicities. This season was also the first to produce an Asian-American winner. In total, across 45 seasons, there have been three winners of Asian descent – fantastic stats, Survivor. Finally, the continued use – to this day – of a “tribal” motif in a show created by white men feels extremely dated. It's giving badly aged tribal tattoo. Overall, this show needs its torch snuffed.

How to watch: With caution, and maybe a hangover
Scandal factor: Elsagate 
Psychological damage: The birth of reality TV. You do the math 

America's Next Top Model (2003-2018, 24 Seasons):

The show that made Tyra Banks a household name and a smizing icon. Unfortunately, ANTM has not aged as well as its host. The early seasons of the show were rife with questionable content, including bullying treatment of girls with disordered eating, emotionally draining “makeovers” that included the filing down of one contestant’s tooth gap, and disappointing accommodation of plus-size models regarding the range of clothing they could wear in photo shoots.

However, what most people probably remember – or are shocked to find out about – are the race-swapping episodes. That’s right, twice in the show’s history were models required to slap on various shades of foundation as part of the challenge. In the first instance, as part of season 4, models were asked to embody the “persona” of another ethnicity for a Got Milk? photo shoot. And yes, black-, brown-, and yellow-face was permitted. Jay Manuel, creative director and iconic member of the ANTM cast, has expressed how he was “uncomfortable” with the challenge but was ultimately forced to go along with it by the producers. We’re with you, Jay.

The latest season of ANTM premiered in 2018 but rumours of a 25th season continue to swirl. Here’s hoping the producers leave the foundation at home. 

How to watch: Through a YouTube compilation of the models falling over
Scandal factor: That time Trisha Paytas did blackface
Psychological damage: Irreparable relationship with your body image

The Simple Life (2003-2007, 5 Seasons):

Paris Hilton was the undeniable It Girl of the early 2000s, and The Simple Life undoubtedly helped her claim that title. In the show, Hilton and her then-bestie Nicole Richie were plucked from the glitz and glam of celebrity cosmopolitan life and placed into low-paying, often rural jobs. The spectacle was in witnessing people from both ends of the wealth spectrum interact, to often comedic effect.

The show was seeped in the humiliation-based entertainment culture of the 2000s. Both girls were portrayed as spoiled “air-head” blondes who had never worked a day in their lives. Their placements with low-key families and jobs was presented as an opportunity to gain real world experience, but in reality was just a ploy to create “humorous” culture-clash moments.

In one episode, whilst staying with a family in Mississippi the girls are bombarded by host-son James with insults of “blondes” and “dumb and dumber”. This prompts Nicole to snap out of her hyper feminine caricature, defending both herself and Paris, and offering to beat James’s face in. The cameras roll and kitschy sound effects play. Exploitative television at its finest. Couple this with Paris Hilton’s recent revelations about the abuse she faced within the “troubled teen” industry and how she used her baby voice and personality as a mask for her own shyness, and The Simple Life becomes a lot less “simple” to sit through.

How to watch: In a Von Dutch hat, and extremely dark shades
Scandal factor: Dramageddon 1
Psychological damage: May result in overuse of the phrase “loves it” and an affinity for fake tan a couple shades too dark

A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila (2007-2008, 2 Seasons):

Big disclaimer, Tila Tequila has expressed some extremely bigoted opinions in the last few years that don’t deserve discussion anywhere. In fairness, it has been suggested that these views only emerged after Tila suffered a brain aneurysm due to an accidental drug overdose, but that doesn’t make them any less reprehensible. Just don’t look them up.

Many years before though, in the mid-2000s, the so-called “most popular person on MySpace” was offered her own dating show to air on MTV. The difference? Tila’s show was themed around her own bisexuality and featured equal groups of straight men and lesbian women vying for her affection. Did this mean A Shot at Love was a trailblazing piece of bisexual representation? Sadly not. 

In the first episode, the groups of men and women were kept separate, with Tila revealing her bisexuality at the end of the programme, played for obvious laughs due to the shock and horror of the contestants. Gender non-conforming lesbian women were often treated as a novelty, by both the men and fellow queer women. The first season ends with Tila picking Bobby, literally the world’s most generic 2000s straight white man, over clear fan favourite Dani, a masc lesbian. Whilst this obviously could have been a valid choice on Tila’s behalf, in the context of the entire show it feels suspiciously like production interference in order to secure a second season. To top it all off, years later Tila claimed that she was not in fact bisexual and the entire show was just “gay-for-pay”. Yikes.

How to watch: Sloppy drunk after a night at Woof!
Scandal factor: If Jojo Siwa ever came out as straight
Psychological Damage: An impressive mix of internalised biphobia AND lesbophobia in a delightfully confusing cocktail

Superstar USA (2004, 1 Season):

If “truth is stranger than fiction” could be a reality TV show, this would be it. It's almost unbelievable. As American Idol was searching for the best singer across the US, Superstar USA was doing the opposite and not telling its contestants. Individuals with, being kind, musical abilities that were less-than-ideal were told they were brilliant and put through to the next round, whilst genuinely good singers were sent home. Imagine deceiving all of the “bad” auditions from the X-factor and making a show of it – that’s Superstar USA.

Eventually, the finale came down to two contestants performing in front of a live audience for the title. Here’s the catch: in order to ensure a crowd that would not laugh at the singing they were hearing, and thus give the show away, the audience was told that both contestants were terminally-ill Make-A-Wish kids who dreamed of performing live. Heinous.

A winner, Jamie, was eventually crowned and allowed to soak up the celebration. The truth was then revealed. In front of a live audience and close-up cameras Jamie realised that she had, in fact, been judged the worst singer in America, her dreams of stardom dashed. This moment is legitimately skin-crawlingly uncomfortable as we watch a young woman grapple with potentially the most elaborate gaslighting ever shown on TV. Unsurprisingly, Superstar USA was not renewed for any further seasons. Critic Te Ārohi hopes Jamie is doing well.

How to watch: Don’t
Scandal factor: CIA mind control
Psychological Damage: This is about Jamie, not you

This article first appeared in Issue 13, 2024.
Posted 8:33pm Sunday 26th May 2024 by Madeline O’Leary.