Last night, as Big Tyra re-crowned herself the Queen of Fierceness and passed the American’s Next Top Model torch to her newest minion, Jaslene, I wondered why I had remained faithful for the show for eight cycles. I wasn't really invested in any of the contenders. I was neither rooting for nor against Jaslene. Truth is, I rarely pick a favorite on the show (though I tend to pick a least favorite) as I find most of the girls to be equal parts annoying and endearing. As long as the current cycle's resident bitch doesn’t win—and they never do—I don’t much care who does.
Honestly, after eight rounds, the show has begun to wear on me. I find Tyra's look-at-me antics to be little more than overbearing self-promotion, and her inability to gracefully share the spotlight with anyone, including the girls that she chose to share the spotlight with, to be tiresome at best. Not to mention, her use of the show as a personal marketing vehicle for her side projects (A music video... really?) is mildly infuriating. But, I put up with it – and her... through the ridiculous model challenges (I’m pretty sure "real" models don’t have to go through boot camp training) and the painfully obvious product placements (If I have to listen to Jay explain how to apply Cover Girl lip gloss one more time...).
And yet, I watch. And I know why...
It’s because secretly--or maybe not-so-secretly--I want to be America’s Next Top Model (sort of like how other people want to be the American Idol, or the Bachelorette, or the Biggest Loser, or the Survivor, or the Apprentice, or the rich, arguably good-looking, California-breed twenty-something leading a consequence-free life). It’s not reality television. It’s fantasy television, and not because it's scripted or contrived.
I’m willing to buy that reality television is real insofar as they feature "real" people playing the part of "themselves." I’m not about to challenge the existence of the genre. But, I believe that for the viewers... for at least a portion of the millions of us who are semi-addicted to American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll, The Apprentice, or whatever, it’s because we want to watch real people live out some fantasy we have--or had--and if they can do it, that gives us a little bit of hope that maybe it’s still possible for the rest of us. (And yes, there are plenty of other voyeuristic reasons to watch reality TV, first and foremost to mock the people who cry when they get kicked off their respective shows.)
Take, for instant, The Biggest Loser. I watch that show because I fantasize about losing 20 pounds in a week and a half. And The Apprentice, I was a fan during a time in my life when I was dreaming of the BIG corporate job in New York City (that was before I realized that I really have no desire to work at all, and frankly, no matter how many attempts Tyra makes at proving the contrary, I still believe that modeling would be a means to an end of not really working, but getting paid… writing for actual money would also fall under that category).
But for me, right now, my reality TV fantasy is all about living vicariously through the girls who compete to be the Next Top Model. Each cycle, a new group of ragtag wannabes are paraded out each hoping that she will eventually be Tyra's swan. Sure they're a little taller than the average woman, a few look severely underfeed, some are obviously pretty, some striking, and one or two always inspire a “Really? Her? Huh…” reaction. But for the most part, they are just normal girls, many of them surprisingly and seemingly unremarkable, which makes some of us "normal" girls wonder if maybe, just maybe, we figured out a way to grow an inch and a half (so close!) and were willing to crash diet our way to starvation central (or not, Tyra is all about the "plus size" models since she packed on a few) then maybe... just maybe... one of us could be one of them.
It's like make believe for grown ups. And since I live alone, I am afforded the luxury of taking my little Top Model fantasy one step further without being ridiculed. So once in awhile, if I'm feeling particularly drunk and inspired by one of Trya Banks' this-is-how-you-be-Fierce tirades, I will get off my couch and "stomp it out" across the hardwood runway in my living room straight over to the closest mirror where I will practice pose 1, pose 2, dramatic eyes, pouty lips, pivot, and stomp it back to the couch. I like to congratulate myself on my fierceness before returning to my regularly scheduled programming.
A girl can dream can't she?