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Film and TV

‘Reality TV Book Club’: What happens when a guilty pleasure becomes a community

  • Author: Emily Fehrenbacher
    | Reality Check
  • Updated: August 10, 2017
  • Published August 10, 2017

Discovery Channel has decided to double down on their practice of repackaging old Alaska content with new interviews to make "new" episodes. And it's really starting to cramp my style. With the absence of new Alaska content to write about, I'll have to write a column about a dumb thing I do, which is going to generate dumb comments.

And that dumb thing is "Reality TV Book Club."

"Reality TV Book Club" started way back in the late aughts with season one of "The Jersey Shore." Even though it was less than 10 years ago, TV was remarkably different then. The majority of my friends still had a genuine cable subscription instead of a hodgepodge of online streaming services with passwords borrowed from their ex-boyfriend's parents. And, because of this, people tended to be watching the same shows at the same time and talking about them. Now, one is just as likely to be watching "This is Us" as one is to be binge-watching "Lost" for the first time asking what's up with the smoke monster 13 years too late.

What started as a weekly get-together to watch a bunch of idiots get sloppy drunk on "The Jersey Shore" soon morphed into watching another fine MTV program, "The Challenge." "The Challenge" takes former cast members of "The Real World" and makes them compete with each other for large sums of money. There's backstabbing, rivalries, hookups, excessive drinking and people falling off high platforms into bodies of water all over the world.

I've been 100 percent in on "The Challenge" since day one, 19 years ago, and for the majority of those 19 years I was watching alone, embarrassed by my life decisions. But suddenly my "Book Club" started watching too, and I finally had people who wanted to analyze CT's emotional growth as much as I did. Thanks to the fine people at Grantland (RIP) we got the idea to start drafting players and turn "The Challenge" into a fantasy league. Just like in sports, we'd get points when our players performed well in actual athletic competitions, but also when they'd follow typical reality TV tropes like saying, "I'm not here to make friends."

Shortly after realizing how much fun it is to trade a Johnny Bananas bobble head to the winner of "The Challenge" fantasy league, we started a "Bachelor" fantasy league that has grown too large to fit in my living room.

On Monday, eight women and I sit in the atrium at Marco T's pizzeria (which is great if you haven't been there) on Fireweed screaming at the TV as "Bachelorette" Rachel broke up with a dreamy, salt-and-pepper-haired Wisconsin man named Peter. We laughed, we cried, we ordered extra gelato to console each other. We dissected Rachel's odd outfit choices, Googled sunrise times in Rioja, Spain, to figure out what time they had to wake up for a sunrise hot air balloon date, and we related Rachel's breakup to our own past breakups.

Our Reality TV Book Club is not unique. "The Bachelor" franchise is one of the only network TV shows with a growing audience. I actually went to the gym and took my dog for a long walk on Monday from 4-7 p.m. so I wouldn't accidentally look at my phone and see spoilers from the millions of East Coast "Bachelorette" viewers who I shamefully follow on Instagram and Twitter. After the show I immediately logged on to see the hilarious stream of tweets from people across the country.

We started calling it "Book Club" mostly so we could mask what we were actually doing to judgmental friends. Example: "Sorry, I can't make it to dinner. I have 'Book Club' tonight" vs. "Sorry, I can't make it to dinner. I have to watch 'The Bachelorette' tonight." But it has truly become like a book club, just the most lowbrow kind you can imagine. And without reading.

If you're interested, "Bachelor in Paradise" starts on Monday and is definitely "Book Club" worthy.

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