This week, Fox premiered its latest reality show, I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’, where 12 American women travel to England to try to win the hand of a Prince Harry look-alike. Since “Harry” is not actually Prince Harry, the reality of this situation is decidedly unreal. “Harry” is actually a normal guy named Matthew Hicks, not the man fourth in line for the English throne. The premise is based on a falsehood. The women involved think they have a chance to marry a royal, but in truth, it is just some dude. This is not the first time such subterfuge has been used for reality TV, but if the whole show is based on lies and subterfuge, how real is this reality?
This is not the first time that Fox has engaged in a little romantic sleight of hand. In 2003, the network brought to the viewing public Joe Millionaire, a show with some real similarities to “’Harry’”. Evan Marriott, a blue collar construction worker, was presented to a group of woman as a millionaire. They then proceeded to fight for his heart, only to find out at the end that his millions were all a dream. Luckily for the woman who “won”, the couple was presented with a check for a million dollars, which they split and then went their separate ways. This was not Fox’s only foray into unreal reality. Their special, Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire was also based on an untruth; their multi-millionaire, Rick Rockwell, was not worth millions. Then there was My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancée, a faked wedding show in which the big, fat, obnoxious fiancée was indeed big and fat, but an actor pretending to be a woman’s fiancée.
Spike TV also got in on the act with their reality TV series The Joe Schmo Show. For this one, Spike gathered a cast full of actors playing parts except for one guy who was not in on the scam. This regular guy was Pennsylvania native Matt Gould, a law school dropout living with his parents and delivering pizza. These actors created a reality TV show around Gould, acting out various reality show tropes in an over the top manner. This show, like ’Harry’ was completely fake, except instead of fooling the majority of the cast, the producer’s of the show chose one member of the cast to fool.
When it comes to unreal reality TV, though, the king has to be MTV, specifically The Hills. The Hills often blurred the lines between real and unreal, or scripted. The last scene of its final episode featured a heartfelt goodbye between show stars Brody Jenner and Kristin Cavallari as the latter decides to move to Europe. Cavallari gets into a limo and appears to drive away, but the camera pulls back, revealing the entire thing was filmed on a Hollywood back lot. This season on The Real World, the producers of the show brought on the cast members exes midway through the process. This season also had multiple instances of the cast members censoring themselves in front of the cameras, knowingly keeping things quiet while being filmed. With this kind of manipulation and self awareness, the question begs to be asked, what is real on these shows, and what is not?
The reality in these shows is best exemplified in Joe Schmo. The reality does not come from the scenarios the participants of these shows are in. They are all set up by producers, whether the show is Survivor or I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’. The reality comes from the reactions that the show’s cast members have. Mat Gould’s face during the reveal of Joe Schmo was one of surprise, confusion, and amazement. What he thought was real turned out not to be. The women on ’Harry’ will have real feelings attached to this faker. And while the members of The Real World tried to hide things from the cameras, their actions were almost like a guidepost to what was actually real about their scenario, highlighting this point: even when the reality of reality TV is unreal, the emotions behind the unreality are not.
Opinion by Bryan Levy