I’m not a sports-on-TV person. This fact, I’m sure, pains my father deeply, since he is the type of person who will watch almost any sport on TV, including wrestling and volleyball, as long as his beloved alma mater Penn State is involved. My mom, having been married to my dad for close to 46 years, has become a sports-on-TV fan through a combination of osmosis and Stockholm Syndrome. But despite my parents’ best efforts to inculcate me into the proud tradition of watching sports from one’s couch, I’ve remained anti-sports-on-TV.
There are a couple of exceptions to my no-sports-on-TV rule, of course. I always enjoy watching big-time marathons, especially the last couple of miles, because those athletes are super-humans and watching them run is a thing of beauty. Also, whenever the Olympics roll around, I, like all humans, will watch whatever random sport happens to be on TV and briefly become an expert in all of the technicalities of said random sport. Two weeks later, I will have forgotten all of it, as if the entire thing were but a fever dream.
For the most part, though, I don’t care about sports, like, at all. I don’t follow football, baseball, or hockey. I have no team affiliations. I am vaguely aware of when Stanford’s football team is doing well, but I’m never going to sit down and actually watch a game. I can’t name a single player for the Washington Nationals. I don’t understand how football works. I’m just not into it, any of it. (Lucky for me, I married a man who also couldn’t give a crap about sports, and we remain blissful in our shared ignorance.)
Until recently, I really didn’t get why anyone would ever care about watching sports. While I understood, theoretically, that other people gleaned enjoyment from watching, say, baseball on TV, I didn’t really get it. To me, watching an entire baseball game in all of its ponderous glory is the fun equivalent of watching five hours of CSPAN: that is to say, PRETTY GOSHDARN BORING. And the idea of keeping track of stats, joining fantasy leagues, reading articles, listening to sports radio? Frankly, it baffled me. “Who cares?” I’d think to myself. “There are no stakes here. These are grown men playing a game. None of this matters. Why would anyone waste time caring about these outcomes?” (I know, I’m fun).
But then, the other day, I had this epiphany: reality TV is my sports.
I was on a walk, listening to a podcast, when it hit me. The podcast I was listening to is hosted by a blogger (Reality Steve) who writes about (and spoils) all of the shows in the Bachelor franchise. His podcast mostly consists of interviews with past cast members of Bachelor-related shows, including people from many seasons ago. As I walked, I was listening to an interview with a woman, AshLee Frazier, who had been a contestant on Sean Lowe’s season of The Bachelor way back in 2011. (I blogged that season, by the way, in case you need a refresher.) As Reality Steve and AshLee discussed all of the drama that went down that season, including Tierra’s infamous (fake) fall down the stairs, I had this moment of lucidity in which I thought, “My God. This is how I’m choosing to spend my precious scraps of free time? By listening to two people I don’t know rehash something that happened on a reality show SIX YEARS AGO?! Shouldn’t I be listening to a TED talk or something?”
And this, it occurs to me, is how other people feel about sports. Diehard sports fans, like us reality TV fans, share a willingness to bury themselves in the minutiae of a particular brand of social entertainment, despite the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, none of it matters. In both cases, reality TV and sports, there are no real stakes: it’s entertainment. And yet, we get so involved as consumers, it feels like it matters. (Although one can certainly argue that both sports and reality TV hold up a mirror to our society and expose our collective strengths and weaknesses. But it’s mostly just for fun).
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much sports and reality TV have in common. Both involve participating in a shared social experience by observing. Ethical quandaries arise in both arenas (with sports, see: drugs, violence, rape culture; with reality TV, see: same). Tempers run hot. Memes are generated. People trade predictions, run the numbers, argue. You have your people that you root for and your villains that you hate. Sometimes you root for people that you know are never going to win. It’s always more fun to watch in a group. Alcohol and snacks add to the viewing experience. And I could go on!
After I had this (much belated) epiphany, I felt a newfound synchronicity with the sports fans of the world. Sports watchers and reality TV watchers should unite in our shared desire to waste our own time with televised frivolity. Because it’s not actually a waste of time: it’s fun, and sometimes, that’s all that matters. The TED talks can wait.