What’s the ongoing appeal of reality TV? “It’s an adrenaline high-speed version of real life,” says Murtz Jaffer
Murtz Jaffer is the ultimate reality-TV fan. He has attended more than 1,000 reality-TV premières, finales and events, and rubs shoulders with everyone from Boston Rob to Donald Trump. He is host of Reality Obsessed, a television show in which he re-enacts and deconstructs reality-TV scenarios, and he recently won the Reality Rocks Special Achievement in Reality Reporting Award. Murtz (BA 2003 NEW) talks with Lisa Bryn Rundle about all the hours of television-watching it has taken him to get where he is today – a.k.a. the self-declared World’s Foremost Reality-TV Expert.
When did you first get interested in reality TV? In 2000 I read about a new show coming out where they strand 16 people on an island and they vote each other off for a million dollars. I knew immediately that the show was going to be huge.
What’s your earliest Survivor memory? You have this cancer survivor, an older woman. She played the ukulele. And she was voted off first! In dramas the nice guy always wins. So, I was like, “Wow.” People ask me: “What is the appeal?” Part of it is escape but it’s also an adrenaline high-speed version of real life. Everybody’s nice on the first day but as you get closer and closer to the money, the true human spirit comes out.
So people are ultimately selfish? At the end of the day, reality TV could not exist without reality. This is how people are. Part of the entertainment of reality TV seems to be the deconstruction of strategy afterwards . . . There’s no way I can even think back to the times where I was talking to people about: “Hey did you catch that episode of The Wonder Years?” Gimme a break. Now you can talk about: “Should Donald have fired him?” Or, “Oh my God can you believe he kept her on The Bachelor?” It puts the cool in watercooler. How great is that line?! I didn’t even pre-write that!
You’re about to receive this award for special achievement in reality reporting. Oh, I am so excited about this. I’m never going to be Halle Berry accepting an Oscar. But in my sphere, this award really means a lot. I feel like it justifies everything that I’ve done. There were a lot of detractors, my parents included, who were like “You just watch TV all day, that’s all you do.”
What does “reality reporting” entail? When I started out with the website, I figured out that I can predict the outcomes – I could break news about who is going to win American Idol. I think I turned reality on its head when I started doing that.
Do you consider yourself a reporter? You know, it was hard achieving a level of respect for that very reason – like “How can you be regarded as a reporter when you’re writing about TV and we’re covering wars?” But to me there’s no difference between breaking the Watergate scandal and figuring out which girl is going to get proposed to at the end of The Bachelor.
Really?! Yes, one is more serious. But I’m never going to say one is more or less important. They both appeal to people. We give the news that people want to hear about.