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Five Reality Television Shows That Inspire

Five Reality Television Shows That Inspire

Allison Ford | Divine Caroline

December 23, 2010

The reality-television genre is not exactly known for shows that hold a mirror up to life or illuminate the delicate tragedies of the human condition. Unless by “life” we mean “kiddie beauty pageant contestants” and by “human condition” we mean “finding a date for an aging rock star,” it’s hard to find anything worthwhile or redeeming about them. Celebrities trying to lose weight, people eating bugs, and fame seekers attempting to be the next top idol/chef/designer/model/apprentice/hairdresser/dog groomer/flower arranger are pretty much all there is to choose from. (And shows with Gordon Ramsay yelling, of course.)

But there are a few shining diamonds in the rough, prurient swamp of reality programming—shows that, either by design or by accident, actually end up being uplifting, sincere, kind, and (dare we say it?) inspiring.

Intervention (A&E)
In the hands of another network, a show about drug addicts would be voyeuristic, exploitative, and squicky ([cough] Celebrity Rehab). But the granddaddy of reality television manages to portray struggling addicts who need help with brutal honesty and stunning compassion. The show is about more than just capturing the horrific scenes as these addicts “bottom”—it’s about assisting them and their families. It does a great service for both its subjects and the viewers by telling the real story not just about stereotypically out-of-control addicts, but also about high-functioning addicts with jobs, families, and lots to lose. The show is even brave enough to chronicle the deaths of some subjects either who didn’t get help or for whom help came too late. Whether a viewer is struggling with substance abuse or just loves someone who is, there’s a lot to learn from Intervention.

Ruby (Style)
Although its ratings aren’t as high as The Biggest Loser’s, Style’s documentary series about five-hundred-pound Ruby Gettinger’s struggle to lose weight has been described as far more realistic and far more sympathetic. Rather than showing her running on treadmills for hours a day in a boot camp or having her resolve tested with piles of éclairs, the program simply follows Ruby as she learns to live with new eating and exercise habits. The show documents her everyday challenges such as eating out with friends, taking a vacation, and going through emotional turmoil, and how she learns to cope with each situation while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Viewers also learn to have compassion for the daily challenges that obese people face, such as being unable to fit into airline bathrooms, sit in normal-size chairs, and maneuver in public. Ruby is not about a quick fat fix; it’s about one woman changing her life in order to save herself.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (ABC)
Few people were privy to details about just how bad school food was before Jamie Oliver came along. Although the first season of Food Revolution documented his journey to change the way the entire town of Huntington, West Virginia, ate, Oliver’s real focus was on changing the way the children in the town related to food, by reimagining their school lunches. He struggled with schools that received unhealthy frozen food from the USDA, residents who were unwilling to experiment with a new regimen (even though they lived in “America’s unhealthiest city”), and kids who had never seen—much less eaten—fresh vegetables. The portrait of an American town in the grips of processed food and the obesity epidemic was depressing, but the small progress the townspeople made was still encouraging.

Drag U (Logo)
Everybody loves a makeover show, but it’s a little hard to feel sympathetic when the “befores” are high-powered Manhattan attorneys whose chief complaint is that they have no time to shop. RuPaul and the rest of the drag queens on Drag U take the realest of the real women—women who work as longshoremen, women who haven’t had a date in decades, and women who’ve given up on feeling beautiful—and help them rediscover their femininity through an outrageous drag performance. After all, who’s a better authority on fierceness than men who make it their business to be women? Drag U isn’t about teaching makeup or fashion tips; it’s about real women finding their own inner divas, even if it’s for only one night.

19 Kids and Counting (TLC)
The Duggars are subject to a significant amount of ridicule because of their ultraconservative religious beliefs and the sheer size of their family—nineteen children so far. It’s true, they may seem old-fashioned and patriarchal, but they’re also undeniably kind, helpful, polite, loving, close, friendly, community service minded, and normal, treating each other with love and respect at all times. (How many other reality-TV families can make that claim?) The Duggars have stated that the real reason they continue their television show is simply so they can share their faith and encourage others to live a godly, honest, and family-oriented life. Although the family’s fundamentalist Christianity is the subject of much disagreement, most people would agree that the world is a much better place with nineteen Duggar children than it would be with nineteen Kardashians.

This handful of heart-warming shows can do only so much to combat the emotional damage that Jersey Shore, Bridalplasty, and Bad Girls Club cause, but if you’re suffering from a terrible case of the TV blues, take one episode to feel better in the morning. It’s the pop-culture doctor’s orders.

This article was originally published on


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At DivineCaroline, you’ll be spending time with women who embrace the fact that life isn’t always easy or beautiful or fair. Our dream is to give you a place to come together to express yourselves. What brings you joy. What breaks your heart. Makes you giggle. What pisses you off. Confuses you. Entertains you. What keeps you strong. Check them out here!

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