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Scott D. Pierce: Fake reality show will fake out some viewers

Published July 1, 2013 10:26 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

NBC's "Siberia" is, perhaps, one of the most honest reality shows in the history of television. If you're in on it.

It's totally fake. But it's supposed to be. Because it's not really a reality show.

"Siberia" (Monday, 9 p.m., Channel 5) is a completely scripted hour that's designed to look like a reality show. And it does.

Most of Monday's premiere completely looks like a decent rip-off of "Survivor." Sixteen contestants, all actors, are dropped off in the middle of — you guessed it! — Siberia. It's supposed to be the Tunguska region, where a meteor crashed in 1908 with a force estimated to be 1,000 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Those who manage to, um, survive for three months will split $500,000.

There's a host. There's a quick elimination competition. There's talk of strategy and alliances. There are contestants trying to build a fire. There's epic music.

There are lots of interview bits with various contestants, who run the gamut from sweet and selfless to obnoxious jerks. There are conflicts among them.

And it's all 100 percent scripted. These are actors. Nothing you're seeing is real.

Which is a good thing, given that "Siberia" rather suddenly turns into "The Blair Witch Project." Complete with a serious injury and a fatality.

Viewers who aren't in on it, who miss the "written by" credit, are going to go on social media and sound foolish because they're going to think it's real.

But they won't sound any more foolish than viewers who think "The Bachelorette" is real and get all caught up in the fake romance.

It's easy to complain that all reality shows are crap and insist you'd never watch them. But it's not fair.

There are good reality shows — even great reality shows — along with really awful shows.

And while nobody in their right mind thinks that all of the "Real Housewives" or "Bachelor"/"Bachelorette" are documentaries, it's unfair to lump all reality shows in with them.

The fact is that reality/competition shows that award cash prizes — shows like "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" — fall under the same regulations as game shows. They can and are edited to tell a story, but it would be a crime to manipulate the competition itself under legislation passed in the wake of the 1950s quiz-show fixing scandals.

That's not a problem for a scripted show. And "Siberia" is a scripted show. And it's not a bad idea. The first hour is well done. But it's hard not to be skeptical about where this is going.

There will, however, be added entertainment value on social media. There will be viewers who display their, um, lack of sophistication by reacting to "Siberia" as if it's real. Guaranteed.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.