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My secret guilty pleasure… Reality TV.

I’ve loved it ever since MTV’s “Real World” started it back in the early 90’s.  Then when “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” came in and added the game show element I was hooked.  I’m a sucker for game shows.

And they have to be pretty bad for me not to watch.  I have never really gotten into the dating, the therapy or the fake friends genres such as “The Bachelor”, “The Intervention” or “The Real Housewives of…” but I’ll watch just about anything else.

If there’s real talent involved at all then I’m even more of a fan. “So You Think You Can Dance” has got to be my all time favorite. “Work of Art”, “Top Chef” and “Project Runway” are cool too because the contestants have actual talent.

Anyway, there is a point to all of this so I’ll move on to it… There’s one thing that drives me crazy on those competition reality shows.  It’s something that’s also analogous to a challenge I face in being a good dad.

It’s when there’s someone with far less talent than the others, but they apparently have no clue of it themselves.  Or, in the case of a competition like “Survivor” where talent isn’t involved but wise decision-making is.  It drives me crazy when that person who makes a poor game choice comes back with a retort such as, “But I’m still awesome!” That was an actual line of a Survivor contestant  after being eliminated as a result of his world class stupid move.

Similarly, take “American Idol” or “Hell’s Kitchen” when the top final contestants are asked why they deserve to stay.  Often their answers circle around statements like, “Because I’ve wanted this my whole life” or “It means everything to me and my family and I’ve worked so hard for this.”

Am I the only one who thinks those are horrible answers to the question?  Who cares what it means to you or how long you’ve dreamed of it!  The question is why are you more of a champion than the next guy.  Do you have a better vocal range?  More stage presence?  Do you have more skill in the kitchen? A more discerning palate?

There seem to be a great number of people who believe they are awesome and deserving of a championship in a vacuum.  They are so amazing and wonderful that a win will rain down upon them.  But the truth is that in a competition, you are only awesome and deserving to win if you are better than the other guy.

The other day, I attended my son’s first public performance in his Jr. High School play.  It was fun and he was good.  It was probably the first acting performance for most of the cast.  It wasn’t about competition but a learning experience for everyone involved.  For what it was, it was awesome.

But it also got me thinking about this topic.  What if my son actually showed an amazing lack of talent?  Would I tell him?  Should I tell him?  I actually asked him later whether he’d rather have me,  as his father, cheer him on no matter what in a situation like that or critique him honestly…

When I was in the early stages of struggling in my marriage and we were considering separation, my ex and I had a discussion about how each of our families would react and behave afterward.  I was spot on with my prediction. I said that her family would stick by her no matter what the reason and I’d quickly become an enemy.  They are the type that would continue to proclaim her innocence if she were a convicted murderer on death row.  My family on the other hand was more of a mixed bag.  The reason for our split would matter more to my family.  They would pick and choose “sides” or even improve their relationship with her as long as they believed she was “in the right” or that I’d committed an egregious error.  Others in my family would maintain their relationships as they stood regardless.

That’s exactly what happened.

But which is better?  Doesn’t her family’s behavior seem more like unconditional love?  They’d be the type that would never critique their kids’ performance.  Isn’t family the place where each child should have such a refuge?

But isn’t that also what leads to these people on reality TV these days who are apparently clueless as to what it takes to EARN a championship?  Should my children have to earn praise?

Perhaps because of how I was raised, I see a fine line between unconditional love, healthy acceptance and encouraging an unhealthy delusion of self entitlement.  I just don’t exactly know for sure where that line is.