March Madness: Reality Competition

Our March Madness series chugs along, now with two tournaments in another themed series: reality programming. Now, we don’t discuss reality television here, much (and, two Bravo shows will turn up later, in another division) but there’s plenty of scripted programming on television, and it turns out, plenty of it is watched by us! (Not Survivor, though.)

We’ve split the 16 shows among two subdivisions: Cutthroat Island (shows featuring eliminations and drama), and Oh, That’s Nice (programs that, even with eliminations, are pleasant to watch).

Let’s dive into Cutthroat Island!

RuPaul’s Drag Race faces The Bachelor. Fiona watches both shows, and because I knew she could bring nuance and insight, I’ll let her explain both programs to the tragically misinformed:

In the beginning, RuPaul’s Drag Race was a mashup of sorts of Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model. Over the years, Drag Race has come into its own form, eschewing the fashion design challenges in favor of more acting and comedy challenges. Fashion is still a large part of the show with a runway look at the end of each episode, but in later seasons the queens are told the runway themes ahead of time and bring their costumes from home. These days, RuPaul’s Drag Race is an international sensation. Queens in the drag race family travel around the world touring and performing. DragCon is a huge three-day event full of fans and aspiring drag stars. At its very core, Drag Race continues to be a place for drag queens across the country to compete to be the next drag superstar.

I appreciate how Fiona acknowledges how philistines see ABC’s recurring epic: One man, a lot of women, weird traveling adventures and lots of crying. The Bachelor is more than a show, it is a community. They call this community Bachelor Nation and while I scoff at the name, it is true that the show provides a social space for people all around the country. It is a show that demands audience participation. This can be seen quite literally, with the Bachelor fantasy league on the ABC website, or more loosely with viewing parties and Instagram stories commenting on the events of that day’s episode.

We also have two classics fighting for highbrow dominance, Top Chef against Project Runway, which is back on Bravo! I have little to say about Top Chef, except it’s a comfort to know that it’s on, that grown ass professionals are sweating under the meal of their lives. Jason has much to say about Project Runway:

While Nina Garcia may be the only OG design expert standing, the venerable fashion competition has remained relevant (and unpredictable) for over 16 iterations — and that’s not even including the All Star spin-offs. Sixteen designers meet in single elimination episodes to show their skills as the show throws various challenges from suits made to look like cars to dresses made of industrial scraps.

Let’s close with the palate cleanser, Oh, That’s Nice. The Great British Bake Off, with its cult following, faces Making It!, NBC’s response to friendly competition. I’ll let Jason explain the baking Brits:
What differentiates this venerable UK baking competition is the spirit of its contestants. Where most reality shows thrive on the darker elements of the battle, the bakers gleefully build each other up while creating their delightful and often complex confections. The joy de vivre has remained level even with the departure of Mary Berry and others, with the childlike enthusiasm of surprise crossover host Noel Fielding (aka The IT Crowd‘s closet goth, Richmond).

And I’ll let Fiona wax about American carpentry: Making It! has all the kindness of The Great British Bake-off with a pinterest spin. Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman are delightful hosts; both supportive of the contestants and full of jokes. Making It! follows the format of one mini-challenge, which they call the “faster craft,” and one bigger challenge, which they call the “master craft.” They call the contestants “Makers” and give out patches to each challenge winner; the Makers are competing for $100,000 and the title of “Master Maker.” Contestants have different styles and specialties, ranging for woodworking to felt art to paper craft. Each art form is treated with the same respect and reverence. Making It! truly elevates the world of crafting.

That leaves us with Guy’s Grocery Games versus Queer Eye. Could two different shows compete as these two? Fiona, who watches Guy’s Grocery Games, would love to fill you in:

A combination of sorts, Guy’s Grocery Games is part Chopped, part Supermarket Sweep and part absurd. Deep in the heart of “Flavortown” (Guy’s Grocery Store), contestants compete while overcoming ridiculous challenges. The challenges can range in difficulty from making the chefs play skee ball to determine their food budget to cart swaps where the chefs must think up an entirely new menu using their competitors’ ingredients. At the end of the episode, instead of giving the winner prize money, the winner is given the opportunity to win $20,000 by running through Flavortown to collect a list of items in under two minutes (this is where the Supermarket Sweep mentality comes in). Each episode has new challenges and themes.

Queer Eye was invigorated last year on Netflix, and is an uplifting saga for both crows old and new.

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