I’ve been harboring a secret that is bursting to get out. What I am about to tell you may change your mind about me. You might think I’m, well, shallow.
I stand before you and shamefully admit to an addiction.
No, it’s not drinking. I assure you that I am a one-glass-of-wine kind of girl. Nor is it drugs. Are you kidding? I can’t even take a Tylenol PM without getting woozy.
My nasty habit is … dum da dum … reality TV.
I can trace my addiction back several years when, absently channel surfing one evening, I came across something called Jon and Kate Plus 8. With index finger poised to move on to the next channel, I stopped in mid click. Whoa! How adorable were those kids? Would you look at that, eight of them! I guiltily settled in for what felt like legal voyeurism, intrigued by control freak Kate, impassive Jon and the chaotic day in, day out with their lively brood.
I was hooked. I got to know each little tyke by name (the two twins, Mady and Kara, should have their own show). Like a doting grandmother, I oohed and aahed when Kate dressed them in identical outfits. I loved the little day trips they took — to the zoo, to a Phillies game, or simply the grocery store. Even the potty training episodes brought a knowing smile to my face.
Then came Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a Hollywood fractured fairy tale featuring whiny, raven-haired, olive-skinned princesses with fancy cars and an eponymous boutique, a bossy loudmouth mom and faded Olympics superstar stepdad Bruce Jenner. Their lifestyle fascinated me, as did the absence of any discernible talent on the part of the princesses.
Next were the Girls Next Door, starring Kendra, Holly and Bridget, with Hugh Hefner making an occasional pajama-clad appearance. I ignored the creepiness and happily followed the crazy exploits of the girls until Kendra decided that 20-somethings and 80-somethings don’t really have all that much in common and left the Mansion for younger football-playing Hank.
So of course I had to watch Dancing with the Stars since Kendra was in it and, although she was eliminated in just a few weeks, I got completely swept up in the drama with Kirstie and Max (were they an item off-screen, do you think?) and the amazing dancing of Chelsea and Mark. The addiction got worse.
Before long I was sucked into The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Can true love spring from a reality show? I wondered. Ali and Roberto found their way, but sadly, like the withering petals on the final rose, romance died for Emily and Brad as soon as the season ended. The next season featured Ashley, a Penn dental student and Brad reject, now searching for another Mr. Right. And she found him in J.P., the studly construction manager from Long Island, leaving second-place Ben at the altar. Poor Ben.
Perhaps most achingly poignant is Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals. After years of estrangement and bitterness, this father and daughter have resolved to give their relationship one final chance. In stark and rather uncomfortable sessions with their psychiatrists, we watch them peel back layer after layer of resentment to try to uncover the familial love that existed long ago. I find it hard to watch, but hard to turn away.
Maybe it’s because I am secure in my reassuringly humdrum life that I can peek into these other worlds with fascination but not jealousy. I liken these forays to the thrill a sociologist must get when embarking on an anthropological dig, exploring unusual customs in a native habitat.
Life under a microscope must be lucrative, and fame must be irresistible, but I will contentedly remain perched on the outside looking in. And enjoy every minute. But that’s between you and me.