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All Stars Culture Saved My Life <3
I am at a very high risk of being sad today. It’s because it is Sunday and it is because I slept too late and it is because there is nothing on TV that I haven’t watched yet and it is because I only have like 7 friends. I am desperate to know how sad I would be right now, right this very second, if I wasn’t on anti depressants. You can never really know if they are working or not because you can never really know how sad you would be without them. That’s why they are an amazing invention and ultimately very lucrative for those who invent them!!!
I posted on my story asking what I should talk about and many different people said many different things. A lot of people said Erika Jayne and some people said Bachelor in Paradise and some people even said Big Brother and the Challenge. I don’t know if I will talk about those things though because then while I am typing about them I will imagine a faceless reader who doesn’t watch those programs thinking to themself “I am NOT feeling SEEN by this sub stack post rn!”
Sometimes what is difficult about writing is that you feel like every potential reader or audience member needs to feel specifically and individually seen in every single thing you write or say which is actually impossible I think. We are a generation of people demanding to at all times feel seen by people who have never met us which is absolutely punk rock!!!!
Someone said I should write about parasocial relationships which is interesting. I am so embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated and debased to tell you that I had to google what that term meant. I felt like I knew what it was and when I saw it I would be like “Oh, right right right.” But in actuality when I saw it I was like “Oh. I didn’t know that at all actually.”
Basically it means that you feel like you are friends with people who are famous and you have a relationship with them in your head even though they don’t know who you are. I have many many parasocial relationships with many many people and that is why I like the housewives etc.
Growing up I loved television in a crippling way and it has always brought me quite a bit of comfort. I have always felt like I was close intimate friends with characters on Buffy and Charmed and even Dawson’s Creek. I think that I felt very lonely when I was young and I think TV made me feel less lonely and that is why it has always been my favorite thing. Then when Reality TV happened, I was like: OK life literally is worth living because now my friends are real people, which is soooo exciting.
I identify as close friends with Survivor contestants from 20 years ago, Real Housewives I “met” during the Bush administration, and The Real World cast members who walked me through angsty teen years. The fact that these people don’t know who I am seems completely separate and isolated from the relationships I’ve built with them.
Lately I’ve been having trouble watching scripted TV because I can’t seem to feel the same connection with the characters that I did when I was 12. Reality has changed my brain chemistry too much and now when I try to watch a show like White Lotus I’m like: These people don’t even really exist! They aren’t my friends! None of this even happened! These characters don’t even have INSTAGRAMS I can follow because they aren’t REAL! What kind of “friendship” is that?!??
Reality TV personalities give me the comforting illusion of intimate connection with none of the work of actually interacting with another human being. They allow you to isolate from civilization while at the same time keeping existential loneliness at bay, which I feel is the dream.
This whole dynamic relies on an ascetic devotion to keeping the illusion of the parasocial relationship alive. The only problem is when these people’s seasons inevitably come to an end, or when their contracts aren’t renewed by Bravo, and they simply disappear into the ether, I am confronted with the buzzkill-y truth that they were never really my friends at all. In fact, I never even knew them, and I have actually been completely alone this whole time, and I actually always will be alone until I die!!!
For this reason “All Stars” culture is LIFE-AFFIRMING. When people from previous seasons come back, when I get to see them again, to see how they’ve changed, how I’ve changed—it provides a certain emotional continuity that mimics real life relationships in a REALLY satisfying way. That emotional continuity is imperative to the fantasy (that I am not alone). It lets me continue to believe that I DO have meaningful relationships with other human beings and I AM connected with these people for LIFE because of what we WENT THROUGH together (them being on reality television, me watching).
It is sooooo gratifying when reality personalities I feel connected to come back. Sometimes it’s for All Stars seasons, other times it’s just a Housewive returning after a few seasons away, and on the RAREST occasions, someone will show up years later on another reality show that I hadn’t even initially thought of as in the same UNIVERSE as the one they started on. For example: Cameron Eubanks from 2004’s The Real World: San Diego resurfacing on 2014’s Southern Charm on Bravo was one of the least lonely moments of my entire life! It proved that Cameron was still real, that all my friends do in fact exist still! If she could pop back into my life, anyone could! CORAL, even!
How soothing it was that the 19 year-old blond girl I watched make out with BRAD in a hot tub when I was a junior in high school had come back into my life when I was a 26 year-old gay bulimic addict and she was a 30 year-old realtor in Charleston, actually. The same is true for any basic all stars season. The fact that Cirie played survivor 4 times from 2005 to 2016 has gotten me through more depressive episodes than I can count.
Knowing that they all can and do come back helps me maintain the illusion. It keeps me from seeing through the smoke in mirrors. It helps me forget that I don’t know these people and if I died tomorrow they wouldn’t come to my funeral, actually.
I think there has always been a small part of me that wanted to get famous just for these people to know who I am. Isn’t that so unbecoming for an adult to feel but endearing for a child to feel? Know that I’m talking about when I was a child. I’ve always thought if I could be in the TV too, if I could cross over into their world, then they could see me BACK. The one-way mirror would be broken. They could finally know that I am one of their best friends, they could feel the connection too. There are so many people that have graced the reality TV sphere in the past two decades who I am convinced would love me if only they knew about me.
I also get sad when reality cast-mates don’t keep in touch with each other for the rest of their lives. It makes me feel a bit bamboozled, like the whole thing has been a big sham and I fell for it like an IDIOT! For instance my blood relative Camilla from Love Island UK season 3 just got married this weekend to her Love Island love interest Jamie. But only ONE other person from their season was at the wedding. That makes me feel like we were never even a friend group at all (me + the entire cast of Love Island UK season 3). After all, if Camilla doesn’t even care enough about Olivia, or Amber, or Kem, or Montana—people who she lived with in a villa for 6 weeks— to invite them to her wedding, then there’s no WAY she cares about ME—someone who just WATCHED! I thought we were all friends but if that was the case Montana would have been at that wedding. She would have BEEN there. But she wasn’t. And that makes me realize a little bit that I actually am not friends with Camilla. And that is NOT cool and it makes me a little bit mad at her because she is ruining my little system.
The same could be said about the legendary trio from Survivor Micronesia: Parvati, Amanda and Cirie. Between the three of them they have played 11 seasons, and I loved all of them and they were all friends and ALLIES with each other in a way that made me feel so ALIVE and connected. But that was in 2008. And now? Amanda doesn’t even follow Parvati on instagram! Isn’t that sad? Doesn’t that make you feel a little bit more lonely? Or just me? Why can’t we all just stay friends? Why can’t we just grow old together? Why Amanda? Why? Follow Parvati. Respect what the 4 of us shared.
Conversely, watching The Real World special where the original cast returned to their Soho loft 30 years later was (to use the phrase again) life affirming. It’s the emotional continuity thing again.
So anyways that is sort of the model of feeling socially connected that I embraced as a closeted gay bulimic 12 year-old with a predisposition to addiction and alcoholism and an inability to ask for help or express my feelings to other real people. I felt very alone and very isolated when I was a tween. Parasocial friendships with 28 year old merchandising professionals on Big Brother was how I sort of kept everyone out and protected all my little secrets but still felt like I had close intimate friends. So why, I wonder, am I still so addicted to television, specifically of the reality variety? After all, I have 7 friends now. And they know who I am, even.
Honestly I think it’s because real relationships are very tiring and stressful. Nany (The real world: Las Vegas 2012) never needs me to talk back to her. She never needs anything from me, except to just watch her and be in her company. We have a deal: She engages in her life while I lie there watching and she gets to be kind of famous and I get to feel like I know someone with very little effort. I never have to worry about Nany or Kenya or Bethenny not liking me anymore, because they can’t even see me. They are all no risk, medium reward relationships which certainly has its appeal.
So anyways that’s my deal withpar asocial relationships. And I haven’t even mentioned all the runners I feel like I am friends with who literally don’t care if I live or die.