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American Television, Reality Shows  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

Hatch was, of course, no one's idea of a gay role model (indeed, in 2006, he would be convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 51 months in prison), much less a network superstar, but according to Advocate columnist Erik Meers, his soap-operatic connivings were the best thing for CBS's ratings since the 1980s prime time soap-opera cliffhanger Who Shot J. R. Ewing? In fact, Hatch's popularity owed far more to his scheming than to his being openly gay, a fact that as the show progressed became incidental.

Since Hatch's appearance, the Survivor franchise has regularly featured competitors such as flamboyant Brandon Quinton (2001), castaway John Carroll (2002), Ami Cusack and Dr. Scout Cloud Lee (2004), and lesbian Marine sergeant Shannon "Shambo" Waters (2009). In its 2001 premiere season, ABC's show The Mole showcased two queer cast members, Jim Morrison and Jennifer Biondi, while the 2008 season featured gay restaurant manager Bobby O'Donnell.

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In addition to queer cast members on Survivor and The Mole, arguably one of the biggest boosts for visibly gay and lesbian persons on television was the triumph by Reichen Lehmkuhl and Chip Arndt on CBS's Emmy Award-winning series The Amazing Race. Like Richard Hatch, Lehmkuhl and Arndt garnered a $1 million prize for besting their competitors, and they did so by insisting that CBS caption them as "married" for the duration of the show.

Advocate writer Jon Barrett notes wryly that in a summer saturated with queer eyes and boys meeting boys, this "married" couple stole the show, won more than a few hearts, and took home the million-dollar prize. And they did it all the while looking so hot that even the straight guys on the show were flirting with them. Although Lehmkuhl and Arndt dissolved their relationship soon after the show ended, they remain close and still consider themselves a "team."

In fact, other gay men and lesbians have also been seen regularly as competitors on The Amazing Race, with gay couple Alex Ali and Lynn Warren (season seven, 2005), former girlfriends Carol Rosenfeld and Brandy Snow (season 16, 2010), and gay brothers Sam and Dan McMillen (season 15, 2010) all vying for the show's prize monies. The series' fourteenth installment in 2009 featured the largest retinue of gay and lesbian competitors, including openly gay woman of color Kisha Hoffman, deaf gay man Luke Adams, and the father-son team of noted gay activist Mel White and his bisexual son, actor Mike White.

According to columnist Josh Aterovis, while The Amazing Race has been praised for its consistent gay visibility, most importantly, it continues to draw viewers from across all sexual orientations.

We're Here, We're Queer . . . or Are We?

In 2002, Bravo took advantage of the controversy over same-sex marriage by producing an original reality miniseries entitled Gay Weddings. Exploring the trials and tribulations faced by four diverse gay couples as they plan and put together their dream weddings, Gay Weddings showcased four very different couples over five months as they coped with their own anxieties and hopes and contended with the attitudes and (sometimes surprising) reactions of others.

Featuring four disparate settings--a private backyard wedding in the high desert, a tropical beach party in Puerto Vallarta, an elegant deco restaurant affair, and a Hollywood extravaganza--Gay Weddings chronicled the roller-coaster ride that is wedding planning from a decidedly non-traditional point of view. In the process, it underlined both the distinct concerns of gay and lesbian couples and their common aspirations for acceptance and recognition.

While Lehmkuhl and Arndt competed under the "married" banner on The Amazing Race, another mutation of the reality game shows featured gay men either vying for each other's attentions or, ironically, trying to outsmart a woman into thinking they were straight. Entertainment Weekly columnist Mandi Bierly has termed this sub-genre of reality television "Guess the Gay" games, and these shows feature gay men interspersed with straight male ringers competing for the affections of, alternately, a woman (Playing It Straight) or another man (Boy Meets Boy).

Not surprisingly, these guessing game competitions attracted fierce criticism from the glbtq community, especially the shows' premise that gay men have distinctive physical features and/or mannerisms that mark them as homosexual. (In fact, however, the difficulty in distinguishing the gay and straight men on these shows effectively undercuts the offensive premise. If anything, the shows indicate how easy it is for gay men to pass as straight and for straight men to pass as gay.)

Since the dynamic of a gay man pretending to be straight in order to seduce a woman evokes painful memories of real life experience for many gay men and straight women, Playing It Straight was especially savaged. These shows, while mildly entertaining, did not receive the same high viewer interest as did shows like Survivor. Fox, faced with criticism and low ratings, abruptly cancelled Playing It Straight halfway through its run.

Boy Meets Boy, which pioneered in showing gay courting rituals, was criticized by its own star, James Getzlaff. On learning that some of the show's contestants were actually straight, Getzlaff complained bitterly that the show had the very real potential of turning into a practical joke. He also worried that the show played on stereotypes by reinforcing the idea that gay men secretly like straight men, but have to hide it.

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