Certain reality shows work for me, like “Project Runway” and “Top Chef.” I like thinking about the creative process and how it works under varying pressures. Both of those are getting old, though. The formulas are cliché, and every hackneyed improvement they add on for freshness just trashes things up. I haven’t kept up with them.
I usually feel kind of dirty after watching that stuff, as if I just fed my brain a bunch of cotton candy.
His TV show is modeled similarly. In the first episode, Spurlock and his girlfriend try to live on minimum wage for 30 days. It’s a fascinating exploration of poverty and, unintentionally I think, it showed the effects of being broke on an otherwise happy relationship.
That’s the genius of immersing oneself in a drastically different lifestyle for 30 days. The truths unearthed are nuanced and unexpected.
For the rest of the first season, other people undergo the experiment. A Christian homophobic guy from a small, all-American hometown moves in with a gay man in San Francisco’s Castro District for a month. A super healthy, totally sober mom binge drinks for 30 days to better understand her college freshman daughter. Consumer city slickers move off the grid to a commune that works to eliminate its carbon footprint.
Results are mixed. Not everyone has a breakthrough. But ideological divides are probed in a way that pundits and arguments can’t manage. The show’s motto is: Putting the middle back in America. Even if an episode’s test-subject doesn’t grow from walking in someone else’s shoes, at least one ep is likely to alter your opinion.