Perhaps no test in a high-school student's career is as vexing as the SAT. When a question on reality television appeared on the 2011 exam, some students cried. The question read, "How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?" [source: Steinberg].
"This is one of those moments when I wish I actually watched TV," one test-taker wrote on the Web site College Confidential. Another bemoaned: "I don't watch TV at all so it was hard for me. I have no interest in reality TV shows..." One student looked at the question and wrote an essay about Jacob Riis, the 19th-century reformer. "I kinda want to cry right now," the student lamented [source: Steinberg].
Those who create the SATs defended the question. The essay, they said, was designed to gauge the students' writing skills. But some experts think there may be something more going on here.
Reality television has slithered into our culture. Whether it's our fascination with the "Bachelor" or "Mob Wives," reality TV dominates our lexicon, our water-cooler gossip and even the way we dress. Consider that more than a few heads turned when "Jersey Shore" star, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, received more cash to address students at Rutgers University in March 2011 than Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison did to give the commencement address in May. Snooki's advice to students: "Study hard, but party harder" [source: Oldenburg].
Reality TV is essentially television programming in which there are no writers, actors or scripts. Instead, the shows focus on "real" events or situations. Some reality programming comes in the form of competitions shows, such as "Survivor" or "The Amazing Race." Others, such as "Teen Mom" and "Hoarders" focus on specific lifestyles.
TV based on reality has been around in some form or another since the 1940s. But the first reality show was broadcast in 1973, when PBS aired a 12-part documentary called "An American Family." The show chronicled the daily lives of the Loud family, who lived in Santa Barbara, Calif. The series showcased marital tensions that eventually led to divorce, as well as the Louds' eldest son's gay lifestyle [source: PBS].
Many critics slam today's realty television for its lack of class. And there are some good points to that argument. Go to the next page to see how realty TV is influencing our lives -- whether we watch or not.