I’m not one of those people who seek to trash reality TV or their viewers. Mainly, because I like some reality TV a lot. Mostly the competition shows, like The Amazing Race, Top Chef, Face-Off (my personal favorite) and Project Runway. The ones featuring celebrities who weren’t celebrities until they got a reality show aren’t my cup of tea, but to each their own.
One thing I’ve never thought about reality TV is that it’s actually real. A while back there was a big hoo-ha over HGTV’s ubiquitous show House Hunters not being real. Turns out, the people on the show have already bought their house. The other houses they show are sometimes friend’s houses that are not even for sale.
The big tip-off that there’s something fishy about House Hunters is how couples ALWAYS agree on a house at the end. Deep down, everyone watching has to know that’s total BS.
The reason to watch House Hunters is not to see someone’s genuine buying process, it’s so you don’t have to drag your behind off the couch on Sunday to tour open houses. Which may in part explain the obesity epidemic.
Even the competition shows I enjoy have their share of artifice. Though how much the end results are manipulated is questionable. (One of the things I love about The Amazing Race is the team that wins is the one that crosses the finish line first–period. But even that show has been accused once or twice of giving certain teams an unfair advantage.) People who are certain this cheftestant or that designer should have won like to indulge in conspiracy theories about judge favoritism and behind-the-scenes input that demand the “interesting,” i.e. biggest jerks, stay in the competition for as long as possible.
Then there’s the editing, which is blatantly used to turn certain people into vile villains and others into put-upon victims.
In the end, reality TV is another way to tell a story, one with the illusion of “being real.” Stories need heroes and villains, and the shows will create them if they have to.
But last night’s episode of Project Runway gave me pause.
Nearly every season, Project Runway has a “real person” challenge where the designers have to design for people who are not size 0 models. Yes, there’s always some grumbling about it, though this year most of the contestants seemed to embrace the challenge.
As usual, there was at least one who didn’t. This was Ven Budhu, who had been sailing high in the competition up to this point. He’s hardly the first who was not happy or even not nice to his model. Season 3’s Jeffrey Sebelia could have been much nicer to his, who happened to be the mother of one of the other contestants.
Ven made Jeffrey look like Tim Gunn in comparison.
He complained constantly that it was unfair other designers were given thinner models. He put forth the theory that he was being set up because he had been doing so well up to this point. He was atrocious to his model, a nice mother of four, whose friend had persuaded her to participate so she could get a fashion makeover. He kept making cracks about how he couldn’t find a belt to fit her, and how he was making the skirt black to make her look thinner. For the top he chose fabric in an ugly color that would be unflattering to any body type.
All because the woman had the temerity to be a size 14 after giving birth to four children.
His bitchiness and condescending attitude drove her to tears. I was surprised she didn’t walk out on him, and give her a lot of credit for sticking it out.
The irony is, Mr. Budhu is on the plus side himself, and hardly in a position to be judgmental of other people who don’t fit into model sizes.
He was so horrible to her that he was called out for it by the judges. They made him think that there was a chance for a double elimination and left him on the stage last (after eliminating another contestant).
Gee, you’d think that would have chastened him somewhat, wouldn’t you?
Nope, he continued with the same complaints about being set up and how other people had an unfair advantage — even though one of the designers in the top three had a model the same size as his. He whined about being left on the stage last.
The reaction to this has been overwhelmingly negative. Last night I was on Twitter looking at what people were posting on the #projectrunway hashtag, and even past Project Runway contestants were giving him hell for his attitude.
His response remained exactly the same as the attitude he showed during the episode. He is certain he was set up by the producers, that he didn’t do anything wrong to his client, that everyone is interpreting his actions unfairly.
Which makes me wonder — is this for real or is it not real? Has Mr. Budhu decided adopting this persona benefits him? He’s been talked about A LOT since the show aired, and I’m quite sensible of the fact that I’m adding to the chatter.
Let’s face it, villains are usually the most interesting characters in any story, and often the most talked about and dissected.
If he is playing at being the jerk as a way to keep the spotlight on him, he may have miscalculated. Unlike other “villain” Project Runways designers, like Jeffrey and the much-reviled Gretchen, he doesn’t seem to have supporters. He can’t even get contrarians on his side. One has to wonder if this will impact his post-Project Runway career negatively, as being able to work with clients is a big part of being a designer.
Real or not real, it’s still a compelling story. I’m sure people will stick around because we always want to know if the villain prevails or self-destructs. Which may be what he was going for in the first place.