But Wait, That’s Not All ... In Reality, I Have Sinned

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Cover image for  article: But Wait, That’s Not All ... In Reality, I Have Sinned

In the spirit of the week (Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement begins on Wednesday evening), I feel the need to get something off my chest. The guilt is just overwhelming.

But first, there is something you need to know. I truly dislike reality TV. Call me a snob. Call me a relic, or worse a curmudgeon, but I truly believe that reality TV is the harbinger of the end of civilization. It’s the 21st Century version of Bread and Circuses. I’d love to see a neuroscience study that can quantify the number of brain cells that die off after watching each episode.

I could care less who gets a rose, who is voted off an island, and most definitely who has to leave the Big Brother House. (Although, as a media guy, I’ve never understood, given the obvious strong numbers that Big Brother gets, why CBS doesn’t go all in on product placement and branded entertainment with that show.) Before you all start with the emails, I do not consider competition shows -- Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, American Idol, America’s Got Talent -- to be in the same ballpark. Those are bonafide talent discovery platforms, and our cultural world has clearly benefited from the output of those shows. Our world has not benefited, one iota, from ZingBot. (Look it up; or better yet, don’t.)

We live in the Golden Age of Television with an embarrassment of riches in terms of quality programming. High production values such as on any of the Marvel shows on Disney+ or the myriad of Star Trekspinoffs on Paramount+. Great writing and acting on shows like NBC’s This Is Us, HBO’s Mare of Easttown or The White Lotus; or the fun mystery comedy from Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez on Hulu, Only Murders in the Building, enthrall, entertain and stimulate, and do not deprecate the mind. Additionally, think of the decades of award-winning, quality content from the vast libraries of CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, BBC and so many more now available at the click of a mouse or a request to Alexa. I mean, you have every episode of The West Wing, Friends, The Office, Seinfeld, 24, Lost, Alias and more at your beck and call. So why in the world should we watch a bunch of no-talent narcissists? And please stop with the “but they are influencers” rationale. Bread and Circuses.

So that’s the background. Here’s the part where I need to beg for forgiveness. So (as he takes a deep breath) ... I have a confession to make. I’m Jeff Minsky, and I’m addicted to a reality show. A few weeks ago, I was perusing the streaming sites and browsing for something new to watch when a title on Peacock called out to me: Below Deck Mediterranean. Was this some action adventure about pirates in Greece? Was this a show about what happens after about 3 a.m. during Cannes Lions? I hit play and started to watch. And watch. And watch. On my TV. On my laptop. On my phone. In fact, as I’ve been writing this missive, I’ve stopped three times to watch an episode. I’ve watched the show so much that algorithms are now targeting me with ads for a Master Class in leadership from captains of the yachts featured.

I acknowledge that I am likely the last viewer in America to have found this Bravo show. There are already six seasons, and it is a spinoff of another show, Below Deck, which debuted in 2013. The show follows the captain, crew and charter guests of luxury yachts as they cruise on two-to-three-day tours of the Mediterranean. Except for the first season, Captain Sandy Yawn (that’s her last name, not a commentary) is at the helm. Sandy (pictured at top) is at times easygoing, yet stern, and what comes through clearly is her ability to care deeply about her crew, while maintaining her professionalism and commitment to five-star service, which at approximately $200K for a two-day charter should be expected.

Playing the part of the hero/villain throughout most of the seasons is Aussie Chef Steward, Hanna Ferrier, who incurs the wrath of Captain Sandy on occasion for the little things like table decorations. All of this drives her to try and win the respect and admiration of Captain Sandy which ultimately takes a heavy personal toll on Ferrier.

My friends, this show has it all, Person vs Person, Person vs. Nature, Person vs. Themselves.

While I personally find the relationship aspects (who will hook up with whom) tedious, there are poignant moments. There are touching “will you go out with me” proposals and heartbreaking moments, such as when Ferrier has to walk away from a potential relationship due to the object of her affection’s drinking problem.

In addition to tension among themselves, there is the aspect of the guests. Every charter guest is a challenge whether it be their food preferences, self-entitlement or overall boorish behavior. Watching the crew both deal and sometimes not deal with the panorama of humanity is part of the appeal.

Nature is of course both friend and enemy to a wayfarer and seeing how the crew deals with swells and torrential downpours when at times the charter is not even allowed to leave dock for the full two days gave me tremendous insight on the real work within the hospitality world. Which brings us to the chef, who truly is the fulcrum upon which everything is balanced.

Each episode begins with the preference meeting where the Captain, Chief Stew, and Chef charter guests have submitted their food preferences. The whims of the wealthy and their unique predilections persistently present conflicts, especially when matched up against the ego of the chefs. Often, the chef gets caught between a rock and a hard place when the captain demands that the food meet the expectation of a five-star yacht experience and the “Primary” to whom the guest who books the charter is referred asks for milk shakes or nachos. Some of the chefs go with the flow, others erupt like Chef Skinner in Ratatouille.

So, if you are all laughing at me now, I accept it. I own it. It is my shame.

In the spirit of the week, let me do a self-evaluation of what has brought me to this precarious place.

  • My binging of Below Deck Mediterranean just may be my subconscious going, book a damn vacation already.
  • The rich are just like us but dumb and annoying. Ok, so that’s an overgeneralization, but you wouldn’t think so after watching this show. Quite often, the charter guests who usually represent the 10% of the 1% act like they are in kindergarten. You see these people and think, ‘how in the world did these morons make millions/billions?’ If they can do it, I can do it, so in a way, it’s inspirational as well.
  • I can’t pinpoint it, but there is an MTV Real World Season 1vibe running through the show. Maybe it’s the camera shots. Yes, I recognize that Real World was the original reality show, but I was young, and my brain wasn’t fully formed back then, so it was engrained as part of my teenage life. So yes, nostalgia plays into it.
  • In truth, I think part of the reason that I’ve been so obsessed with this show is that I never really thought about yachting and new nothing about it. I have learned from the show, and it reinforces to me the benefits of planning and detail when dealing with personalities for whom it is quite difficult to anticipate every want and need. Hey, my media brethren and sisters, does that sound familiar?

So, this Thursday, as I sit in synagogue and reflect on all my truly egregious misdeeds over the past year, I will also be asking myself for forgiveness for violating my anti-reality show ethos and likely counting down the minutes until the holiday ends so I can start Season 6.

I wish you all smooth sailing.

But Wait, That’s Not All

All levity aside, one of the traditions associated with Yom Kippur is to request forgiveness from all you may have intentionally or unintentionally wronged over the past year. So, if any of my thoughts, writings, discussions or our personal interactions have harmed you, disappointed you, pissed you off, or made you feel less, I do apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

To those who observe, may you have an easy and meaningful fast. To the rest of you, have an amazing week.

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