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Americans Captivated by 'Reality Television'

Americans have been captivated by a new kind of entertainment called "reality television." More than two dozen reality shows are on the air so far, and more are in the works.

Each week, ordinary people appear in unusual situations, trying to win $1 million, going out on a date with a stranger, or displaying their abilities in on-air talent shows.

"OK, thank you, Chip. Your audition was very, very corny."

American Idol's Simon Cowell, a London-based music producer, tells VOA the program searches for talented singers, awarding the best with a recording contract. A judge on the program, Mr. Cowell produces a similar show in Britain called Pop Idol, and says he's never shy about bursting anyone's bubble. In fact, he's brutally honest. "I've been doing auditions for 25 years, and are to tell the truth. And unfortunately, most people who turn up are dreadful," he says. "And I tell them."

The reality series Survivor watches ordinary people as they struggle to survive under harsh conditions. Last season, contestants were left on a tropical island in Thailand. Winner Brian Heidik says the show was about sleep deprivation, lack of food - and patience.

Contestants face challenges from nature and from their fellow contestants, who winnow their numbers by voting people one by one off the island. The winner, in this case Mr. Heidik, receives $1 million. A car salesman with a gift for persuasion, he says he started with a strategy to outwit other contestants. "I'm going to control your mind, I'm going to manipulate your emotions, but I'm going to have a good time doing it," he says. "See, most people forget why they're out there. I kind of stuck to a plan. I reaffirmed to myself every day way I was there : the money, the money, the money, the money."

Executive producer Mark Burnett says Survivor has a loyal following of 20 million viewers because the series, in his opinion, is just as engaging as a movie. "It's a vicarious travel experience, compelling characters, and good story telling. It's not stunt TV," he says.

Survivor will soon enter its sixth season with contestants left to fend for themselves in the Brazilian Amazon.

Mike Fleiss produces several reality series, including The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, which track the dating adventures of a single man and woman. "These shows are all pretty tightly edited because you shoot round the clock, in the case of the Bachelor show, for seven weeks," he says. "So we end up with 700 hours of tape, and we only make seven hours of it. So we're boiling it down pretty thoroughly."

Some, like the series Joe Millionaire, have been criticized as ethically questionable. The series features a man who has supposedly inherited $50 million. The women he dates do not know that he is in fact a construction worker with a modest income.

"The most talked-about show of the year, 'Joe Millionaire.' And it all starts right now."
The series was shot in advance of airing, so producers were able to keep the truth from the women until production was finished.


Reality Television 2



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