I watch too much reality TV. It's a weakness. Not only do I watch Big Brother, we record Survivor and American Idol too. We should put our Netflix account on hold through reality TV season; we rarely have time to watch the movies since every night there's some sort of reality show on the air.
This year's crop of reality show contestants features a batch of openly (and not-so openly) gay contestants. There was a gay couple on BB9 and another contestant is, to say the least, bisexual. Survivor has a particularly nelly contestant that manages wanna-be beauty queens in real life.
On American Idol though, this is the year of the queer. David Hernandez has been outed as a former gay bar stripper, Dannie Noriega has online videos that references his sexuality, and 17 year old David Archuleta sets my gaydar a tingling. But can they win?
The first year of Survivor saw Richard Hatch take the top prize and set the standard for including gays and lesbians in primetime reality shows on major networks. I've watched most seasons of these three shows, but I can't think of any other openly gay contestant that has won. Sure, there have been several contestants but none have made it to the end. Even Clay "I'm not gay!" Aiken came in second place to a "winner" that put out one failing album while Aiken's sugary pop became one of the top albums of the year. Since, as Ryan Seacrest would say, "America voted," does that mean America still shys away from the queers?
Survivor lets the "tribe" winnow down the contestants before throwing it to a "jury" of former contestants. With a cross-section of America participating, wouldn't the jury pretty much be representative of America calling in for Idol? Wouldn't the same ignorance and prejudices still come into play?
Big Brother also lets the contestants pare down the possible winners themselves by voting out losing house members. Openly gay characters seem to go the furthest in Big Brother even though some contestants have been openly homophobic. Does the forced intimacy without having to scratch for food a la Survivor bring around a general tolerance? Or does familiarity breed contempt?
So what is it that holds us back?
Personally, I think American Idol has more to do with society at large. Tween girls don't want to vote for the boy that will never be interested in them. Contestants that tend to buck gender norms are quickly weeded out before the top few are announced. Dannie Noriega (left) is about the most feminine guy that has ever been featured. Even Clay Aiken butches it up.
America doesn't like to confuse itself with gender identity and sexual orientation issues. It's easier to vote for someone else, convince yourself that you didn't vote for the lesbian because you just happened to prefer someone else and when they get voted out, well, they must not have been very popular. I mean, you liked them, but you just liked someone else better, right?
Big Brother and Survivor though involve group think mostly. They come in with their own prejudices and stereotypes but leave with altered experiences. Does this always translate into positive associations with any arbitrary person or even "type" of person? Richard Hatch was not known for being a pleasant and positive role model for the gaybies even before he went to the federal pen for tax evasion. A few of the Big Brother contestants have made me cringe every time they came on the screen. Would I want everyone to think that the contestant was representative of all gays and lesbians?
Is it possible that through around two decades of total programming between the three, gays and lesbians just don't have what it takes to win. Whether through bad game choices, personality traits, duplicity or simply bad luck, does it even matter if we win?
Or should we be happy that at least we're able to openly compete now?