I watch too much television -- let's just get that out there. And because my wife is an unabashed fan of reality TV, I see more of it than I would if left to my own devices. There are three reality shows, however, that I watch without any guilt or misgivings:
"Top Chef" -- It's humbling to watch this show as someone who thinks he knows his way around the kitchen and that, despite a limited range of experience, he has good culinary instincts, because I am exposed as the fraud I am when watching the contestants whip up creations with alien ingredients and sauces, jus (what's the plural of "jus"? Or is it just "jus"? Help me out here French speakers) and reductions that I wouldn't have the first clue how to make.
Season 5 ended last night with a victory by Hosea, due to a choke by Stefan, along the line of Richard's meltdown in the Season 4 finale. Disregard the final standings. Bravo needs to sign fourth-place contestant Fabio "This is not Top Scallop" Viviani to a development deal pronto, as in right this very second, because the dude is hilarious.
"Amazing Race" -- Part of me thinks this show perpetuates the ugly American stereotype, in that the contestants dash from one corner of the world to another without stopping to learn anything of lasting value about their cultures, badger local taxi drivers, treat other people's cities like nothing more a game board and burn thousands of gallons of jet fuel to boot.
But in the end I think it's better for the contestants to get some exposure to the world, rather than none, and at the very least it reminds our precious American TV viewers that there is, in fact, a world out there, other than the places we bomb.
The payoff comes in moments like the cheese fiasco in the Alps a couple weeks ago, which was almost but not quite as funny as the episode last year in which one of the members of the "frat boy" team was so uncoordinated that he couldn't learn how to march.
"John and Kate Plus 8" -- Yes, Kate is a bit crazy and a major ballbuster, and her hairstyle is a disaster, but at least she's aware enough of her OCD tendencies to joke about them.
This show has changed a lot since the first season. In the beginning, it was fascinating to see John and Kate struggle to keep it together with two 5-year-olds and six 2-year-olds. I watched them bicker and thought, "My God, these two people hate each other." But over time I realized that, given the circumstances, this husband and wife team actually got along remarkably well, because, and this is the point, having six children at once will break your spirit. (So you can only imagine how depressing life will be inside Chez Octo Mom.)
Since that time, however, the parents and kids have become celebrities, the money from TV and book deals is flowing in, and every four-star resort in the world is begging to comp them for a week's vacation. They just moved into a huge house -- albeit in rural Pennsylvania, where property values are depressingly cheap if you're watching the show from, say, the San Francisco Peninsula.
Plus, the kids are cute. You're not supposed to pick favorites when it comes to children, but let's be honest here. Alexis is by far the cutest of the bunch, as well as one of the most adorable kids in the annals of television. She takes Rudy Huxtable to the cleaners.