Leaving the process of eliminating reality shows’ contestants to the audience leaves much to be desired, argues Yinka Olatunbosun
Nowadays, the voters’ say count in deciding who stays and leaves the world of competition in reality shows. In our shallow minds, this method is a liberal if not democratic means of governing a competition. But previous experiences indicate that some people who deserve to win are short changed by votes. Meanwhile, voters’ pick is supposed to be a unanimous choice of the people. But judging a work of art is never an easy task. In fact, the study of the art of judging is so dreaded that most students of humanities would be content with just a pass mark – anything to put the course behind them.
This explains why drawing up the criterion for eviction in reality shows has not been left at the mercy of the judges who may sometimes be biased. Still, the practice of voters’ choice has left much to be desired. When a contestant is on the verge of being ousted from the competition, frantic effort by friends and relatives to keep him there will boost sales of recharge cards and bulk SMS. Most times, a very talented or good competitor would lose if her relatives, friends and admirers are too confident and overtly optimistic about he or she winning. They tend to forget to reckon with other competitors’ votes.
Consequently, the good one gets out of the competition, while the “bad” one stays and wins. It would be recalled that the controversies that trail Big Brother Africa reality show from its season 2 had been caused by the voters’ choice. The real voters are not the ones disturbed by the sexual romp of housemates but the ones who would rather miss a flight than miss a shower hour. The sex symbol often wins because that is what the voters want. It does not matter if the personality is intriguing, amiable or well-dressed. Well-behaved is often tantamount to being boring.
While there is no objection to popular taste, it is a fact that popular opinions are not always accurate. When popular opinions are benchmarked against certain factors, the weight of opinion is deflated. For instance, Ella in MTN Project Fame Season 5 was almost kicked out at the Elimination Show 6 when the votes did not measure up to her performance. The judges performed the inconceivable by calling her back to the house. It was quite embarrassing to find out that the judges overruled the rules of the show which provides that the judges can only save one contestant at a time. But they chose two, because they had earlier allowed sentiment to make them pick a more eviction-prone contestant over a talented one. Well, it was called “the power to recall” on the show’s webpage. Since when did the judges acquire this power? What other powers do they have that we do not know?
Thankfully, not all reality shows are guided by such powers. There are some shows that the contestants themselves are the sole determinants of their eligibility to continue. To illustrate, in Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and the defunct Don’t Forget Your Lyrics, the audience do not have the power to keep a person who keeps supplying the wrong answers to all the questions. While other reality shows that involve judging talent, art and beauty are often decided by majority votes. Sometimes, expert opinions are better in judging the art. For instance, a well-grounded art critic looks beyond the pop of colours in a portrait to assess it. While popular choice may favour fancy-colourful Batik or Adire in an art competition, a critic may select a metal work based on his artistic interpretation. Judging who sings better is even less technical as many people, though not necessarily experts in music, recognise a good voice when they hear it. Also, a good performer has a way of snapping people out of their dull moments. Hence, it may not be absolutely out of place to allow voters to decide the winners.
The only problem with this rule of elimination is that individual performance may be overshadowed by voters’ choice. One way out of this is to create a balance in judgment where expert opinions and popular opinions have equal stake in overall decision-making. The reasons why rules are made in the first place in to ensure that sentiments do not lead to bad judgment. When the rules become so flexible, and a certain “omniscient power” is recalling the already eliminated contestant, credibility in judgement would wane. Also, any sponsor of a reality show is very concerned about viewership. Feedback and live responses are not lost on them because their customers are involved.
Some reality shows sponsors have been accused of stage-managing the results of their competitions. The rules are often clear. For instance, in Gulder Ultimate Search, the winner often fits the figure of a model, a brand ambassador with good looks to win customers’ interest. The rule is simple: one who finds the treasure first. The runners-up are often strong men who are never in the right place at the right time. The different geographical directions assigned to the contestants often make one more fortunate than the other. At last, the show is reduced to a game of sheer luck, killing all the past records set by a promising contestant with unparalleled strength and raw intelligence.
It has become important to review all the rules of eliminating contestants in reality shows to make way for a rewarding experience both for the producers and the viewers. Professionalism cannot be sacrificed on the altar of sentiment and popular, yet uninformed, opinions.