Applying to a reality television show is an idle thought in the back of most minds. The idea being that you could get on the show, win, enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame, and then settle in to relax with your newly earned fortune. But what if you can’t sing, dance, cook or display some other competition-grade talent? Then there are still options: reality competition shows where you survive, or travel your way to the top. But which of these are best to win: offering the most money for the least shame? Does falling off Wipeout‘s big balls count as more or less embarrassing than needing Bear Grylls to swoop to the rescue in Get out Alive with Bear Grylls – and more importantly, does the compensation of winning overcome either? Let’s take a look at eight of the options.
8. Panic Button
Remember Fear Factor? Space Channel’s Panic Button takes it to the next level. Described as a ‘high-impact’ series, Panic Button has four levels of fear showcased in a specially designed maze, full of fears specific to the person, full of terror-inspiring tests and tasks. If you’re afraid of snakes, you may need to retrieve items from a snake’s mouth or something similar- unless the ‘malfunction’ goes off, which is the equivalent to a jump scare, where the alarm blares and all the lights go out. If it all gets to be too much, that’s where the titular panic button comes in: one press and the contestant is whisked away from all the horror. It makes for great TV. So what’s the win? Well, if you make it through all four levels of the maze, you will have faced- and hopefully conquered- your fears. So, while Panic Button‘s great TV, it’s for facing your fears, not for early retirement.
7. Ultimate Survival: Alaska
If your friends describe you as ‘rugged’ and ‘most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse’, than Ultimate Survival: Alaska is the one for you. In the National Geographic channel show, contestants are grouped into teams, which then have a limited amount of time to reach set points alongside the long race. The average contestant travels more than thirty miles a day, over impressively rugged terrain, with minimal gear and competing not only with each other but the elements as well. And what do you win, if you manage to be the last of twelve competitors standing? Bragging rights, and the pride of surviving.
6. The Inside Job
Job hunting is stressful enough without a video camera, so it’s indicative of the entertainment industry’s gleeful sadism that they’ve made more than one reality TV show about it. TNT drama’s The Inside Job is one of the newer iterations on the theme. In each episode, a group of four hopefuls go head to head for an executive position at a big company (season one saw both Mazda and House of Blues hiring) that comes with a six figure salary. The group is set up to live, work and play together for a week, as a part of the ‘interview process’, unaware that one of their members is already an employee of the company- who will make the final call on who gets the job. A job interview is one of the most stressful things a person can do without putting themselves in physical danger, but a week-long group interview complete with group challenges? I think this sort of thing was mentioned in Dante’s Inferno. I suppose, if you win you have a great job, and you know how well one of the management team lies, but it’s a job interview that lasts a week and includes your employer seeing you in your pyjamas.
5. Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls
It’s like survivor, but with more focus on the surviving, and less on the backstabbing. Ten teams of two work to survive on the South Island of New Zealand, facing both the challenges of the environment and ones set by Grylls, which tend to be more along the lines of ‘find shelter for the group’ than ‘get the idol’. Grylls, as wilderness guru may step in to help the group, but only if he feels the situation is appropriately dire. The final prize? Five hundred thousand dollars for the winning team. The more cooperative nature of the competition is nice, but the official show blurb at nbc.com promises that the winners will be leaving with “the grand prize, along with the scars and pride that they proved themselves capable to ‘Get out Alive with Bear Grylls'”. Anything that promises scars in its promotional material ought to be treated with very carefully.
4. Big Brother
Originally a Dutch show, Big Brother has become a mainstay of the reality television genre, and the US version has been going strong since 2000. The house guests live together 24/7 for the entire competition, with very little in terms of privacy or distractions. They then compete to win $500,000 (with a second place prize of $50,000), with the housemates choosing two to nominate for elimination, and viewers voting on who goes. While many of these shows focus on forcing a group together, doing so while stuck in a single house without WiFi requires a singular mindset.
As with any endeavor, the rewards have to be weighed with the work that needs to be done. Wipeout, while its prize is smaller than others on this list, there’s a lot to be said for the fun factor. Wipeout is fun. A giant obstacle course that culminates in the chance to win $50,000. It might not be as much as the other wins offered, but it comes with the opportunity to play on a giant jungle gym, and that’s not the sort of thing that should be passed up.
Survivor is American reality TV royalty. But something about the format has captured the public’s interest. The tribe format allows for team building, and then the viewers get to watch those alliances to be shredded after the merger. But the battles are interesting, and if you’re going to engage in a game of ‘who’s a better Machiavelli’, why not do it in a remote tropical location with a million dollars on the line? The million dollars is the same as the first on the list, but if you win, you win alone, and all the money is yours. So, if you can stomach the constant barrage of psychological warfare, it’s completely worth it.
1. The Amazing Race
It’s an Emmy Award winning reality show that takes eleven teams of two all on a fast-paced twenty-five day world tour. The teams compete against each other, and the stresses of traveling in a series of challenges, checking in at regular pit stops, where the last team to arrive is eliminated from the competition. The final goal? To reach the ultimate destination first, and win $1 million. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, let’s break it down: having a partner is both good and bad. On the one hand, they’re one-hundred-percent on your side and committed to the both of you reaching that finishing line first. On the other hand, if you win, you have to share the million dollars. But The Amazing Race covers airfare, and teams are given a sum at the beginning of each ‘leg’ of the journey, which reports say averages about $200, but has been up to $500. So: a whirlwind trip around the world with someone that shares your drive, with airfare covered and money provided for amenities, with the possibility of winning $500,000 each alongside other prizes at pit stops? Makes The Amazing Race the best option: even if you and your teammate don’t win the race, you’ve gotten to travel, and maybe won a smaller prize along the way.
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