Strip Search; the First Earnest Reality Show

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Last week, Strip Search, the webcomic centered reality show from Penny Arcade drew to a close. From the original twelve, only three remained and as painful as it was, only one could emerge the winner.

Strip Search was a very interesting thing to watch. I was very cautious about watching it, accustomed as I am to the "real housewife" style of reality TV. Which is to say, I expected thrown chairs, raked nails, screeching obscenities, chauvinist posturing and baby eating. Alright, maybe not the last one, but if you've spent more than five minutes in front of any TV and you're certainly aware of the behavior I speak of.

After so many years of this all too common theme across every possible network and seeing it bring to ruin more than one of my favorite channels I worried that Strip Search would bring those same abhorrent behaviors to Penny Arcade.

After scarcely four episodes, it became apparent that Strip Search was a different animal. The contestants were respectful of each other. Throughout the entire series, no personal conflict was highlighted or even immediately apparent.

Even the progenitors of the show (Mike and Jerry) seemed outwardly taken aback by the lack of back stabbing and nonsensical outbursts. They even attempted to goad those illicit reactions from the contestants during elimination challenges, albeit seemingly in fun.

More than once it was mentioned that the contestants had made a vow to behave differently. Indeed, throughout they seemed to treat each other as peers rather than rivals. But is that what it really comes down to? A late night pact between the twelve to make the outward appearance of this show something apart from the norm?

I can only guess at what really happened at Strip Search that made it feel so apart from reality TV. Perhaps it was something to do with the structure of the show itself. As a web series, the show wasn't competing for ratings, possibly allowing it to focus more on the competition itself than the conflict within it. The general population of reality television is aired by networks in direct competition with each other which may skew their focus during the season. Is it possible other reality shows are less about the competition between contestants and more about that betwixt the networks?

I'm admittedly a novice when it comes to reality shows. I remember their conception, and have witnessed their steady growth over the years, but they were something I wanted to watch. The screaming, backbiting and flinging of various things -corporeal or otherwise- highlighted in the ads for these shows were enough to turn me away from them. Even without watching much other reality TV it is obvious that Strip Search had a level of integrity untouched by many other shows in the same genre.

The reasons for the difference aside, Strip Search was a joy to watch. My congratulations go not only to the winner, but to all the artists involved and hope that they find nothing but success in their continued work. I think Gabe said it best when he wrote "I urge you guys to support these cartoonists as they attempt to turn their dream into a reality. Jerry and I may have picked a “winner” for the show but you guys have the power to make all of these artists winners and I’m sure you will."