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When an MTV reality show interrupted my vacation
Dear Newsletter Friends,
Last week I went on a brief vacation, staying with family in Hawaii. I was grateful for their generosity and for the time away. Instead of watching Survivor, for example, I hiked into the crater of a dormant volcano, which was incredible—and for someone used to walking and running on flat land at sea level, trudging back up steep grade of volcanic rock in the thin air was surprisingly exhausting.
On Friday, my last day there before flying home, I went out onto the lanai, ready for hours of just sitting and looking at the water and the volcanic mountains in the distance, reading a book (I still haven’t finished ‘The Goldfinch’), and just being present. I even left my phone in the bedroom, intending to not look at it.
The condo building overlooks a small public park and beachfront, where some kind of event was being set up—tents, grills, tables, chairs. A party? A family reunion? Then people started carrying long, rectangular wooden boxes, each side colorfully painted with two narrow triangles. Our first guess was that it was some kind of circus, maybe for animals. They laid out large pieces of wood with tall, thin poles stuck into them. Maybe someone was going to walk on their hands? Or dogs or cats would climb on these?
Through binoculars—I’m subtle—I saw that the small platforms on the tops of these poles were actually different shapes, circles and stars and hearts, and were painted with different colors. A man walked by carrying a big bunch of short ropes, and also what appeared to be pipe insulation foam. How very strange.
I traced the table rentals to a company that supplies film and TV productions with equipment, but couldn’t find anything more. After walking to the post office to mail postcards, we walked back through the park’s parking lot, where more vans were being unloaded. The crew had earpieces connected to radios; the vans said “Production.” This was very clearly some kind of TV show. The subsequent appearance of cameras and jib crane confirmed that.
But what show? I searched social media, and even posted the question on Twitter, but turned up nothing of productions in Maui. Then came one reference to Are You The One?, MTV’s competition between 20 single people whose alleged soulmates are in the cast.
I watched more, dipping into my book occasionally but also continuing to research and watch what was happening. Some condo staff had no idea (one person I talked to was asked a few days earlier if their parking lot could be used for “an event”), but eventually details came from someone we asked: it was a Los Angeles-based crew of people, filming an MTV show. There were 10 men, 10 women, all single. He didn’t recall the title, until I said, Are You The One?, which I now realize sounds less like a title and more like a proposition.
The cast arrived, looking very MTV 2016, and I took some pictures and tweeted what I saw over several hours, which was not a lot. Even when they eventually ran the challenge, it was over quickly. Later, they re-created it, with cameras in the mix, presumably to get close-up shots that will be cut in with the actual competition footage. There was a lot of set-up and tear down, from early morning to late afternoon, and very little action.
But it renewed my appreciation for the work required to make a television show. Those who ignorantly dismiss all reality television as fake might see this as evidence that it’s all a charade. I see it as evidence of the incredible amount of work required by so many people to produce a few minutes of entertainment for us, work that is, by design, invisible to viewers.
So much for a day of relaxing on my last day of vacation! Actually, it still was quite wonderful: I was watching reality TV in real time from the lanai. Such an incredible coincidence.
Hope you’re well. And should this ever happen to you, definitely let me know about it!
By the way, welcome to the few hundred new subscribers since the last newsletter. (Thanks to those of you who’ve forwarded this to friends and colleagues, or encouraged them to subscribe.).
Click Here to find highlights from recent things I’ve written, including an article for the magazine Pacific Standard, plus a list of everything published since the last Reality in Focus. Enjoy.