If you want to know how not to function as a person, look no further than reality TV. With all the backstabbing, the brawling, the Botox -- it’s your go-to guide for despicable behavior. But can we actually learn anything good from these trashy-yet-addictive shows? I accepted the daunting task of investigating these lessons (read: sitting in front of the TV for hours) and then testing them out these lessons in the real real world. Here are the pearls of wisdom I uncovered.
The Real Housewives of Orange County
Photo by Mitchell Haaseth/NBCUniversal, Inc. / The Nest
The Scene: Workaholic Vicki ("I make my own money and I make my own rules") commits to spending more QT with her husband, Donn, doing her part to fill her oft-empty "love tank." The need for this becomes clear during one of the couple’s awkward -- and mostly silent -- date nights, when Vicki admits she doesn’t know Donn’s age! "Are you serious, Vicki?" whimpers a visually crushed Donn.
The Lesson Learned: Relationships don’t nurture themselves.
My Real-Life Try: I surprised my own husband with a reservation at a swanky restaurant (and a babysitter). On a weeknight, no less. The bonding was great, but between the $15 glasses of wine and the steep sitter fee (we tip big when we’re tipsy), it was a costly venture (we dropped about $300 in under three hours -- d’oh!). Love tank: 1; bank account: 0.
Photo by Scott Kirkland/Retna Digital / The Nest
The Scene: When Snooki gets depressed about not finding the perfect “guido juicehead,” Jenni, aka “JWoww,” sets her up on a date. When Mike, “The Situation,” catches Sammi (“the sweetest bitch you’ll ever meet”) being mad shady and hitting up another guy (who happens to look like a jacked-up MacGyver) behind Ronnie’s back, the girls of the house drop their drinks and beeline hightail it through Karma Night Club (the aptly- named bar) to warn Sammi of the shit storm coming her way.
The Lesson Learned: Be true to your girls.
My Real-Life Try: At a recent dinner party, one of my girlfriends brought atrocious-looking cheesecake cookies. No one touched them, and I knew she’d worked hard (her Facebook status said so), so I ate two and raved. The crust tasted (and felt) like sand, and the cream cheese filling was more gluey than creamy. I could’ve made my point by eating one, but what are friends for if not to nab seconds of your crappy food?
Dancing with the Stars
Photo by ABC/ADAM TAYLOR / The Nest
The Scene: Karina Smirnoff gets all Mr. Miyagi (think: wise and a little odd) on Ralph Macchio, the star of The Karate Kid, when he starts calculating his moves. She shares this gem, and Ralph vows to stop counting steps and start dancing. The two fox-trot their way to the leader board with rave reviews -- apart from the judges’ issue with his Ralph’s weird, creepy hand thing.
The Lesson Learned: Over analysis creates paralysis.
My Real-Life Try: I actually sent all my work emails without proofreading them 12 times, as I usually would. This was tough, but it saved a lot of time and anguish...until I checked my sent box later and saw I’d written to someone, “Does this sound like something you’d be interesting in?” I also told my editor I’d be “brining” ideas for our lunch. Perhaps she’ll think this is a hip new way to say “brainstorming”? (And the over analysis begins again….)
Keeping Up with the Kardashians
Photo by PR Photo / The Nest
The Scene: At her housewarming party, Kim Kardashian freaks when she finds a red wine stain on a white pillow. Voice-of-reason stepdad Bruce Jenner coaxes her back to the party by explaining, “A house is to enjoy. It’s about building memories…We can get another pillow, but we can’t get other memories.” The party ends with a reformed Kim and Mom Kris in a playful cupcake fight. Awww.
The Lesson Learned: Things are meant to be used.
My Real-Life Try: When my son knocked an entire bowl of Goldfish crackers onto the floor while coloring, I resisted the urge to make a beeline for the Swiffer. Instead, I grabbed a crayon. I was happily making rainbow-colored memories until I stepped on the crackers, crunching them into tiny crumbs. I tried to ignore the mess, but as Kim so eloquently puts it, “It’s my house, under my control, and when it gets out of order, I feel, like, not myself.” Hello, Swiffer.
Photo by Giovanni Rufino/Bravo / The Nest
The Scene: During restaurant wars, team captain and resident jerk Marcel concocts a peachy, foamy dessert that one judge refers to as “a perfect storm of $#%@ awfulness.” When his teammates tried had tried to help, Marcel snapped, “No more $%!@ comments from the peanut gallery,” and then stormed out during the post-service toast. But at the judges’ table, instead of admitting his failure, Marcel says his only mistake was picking the wrong team (which, perhaps, is a step up from his outburst earlier in the season: an angry and profanity-laced rap ending in “You call it Top Chef, I call it Top Whatever…”). Marcel, please pack your knives and go.
The Lesson Learned: Don’t pass the buck.
My Real-Life Try: At my book club, rather than nodding quietly as everyone discussed Little Bee -- or making my usual excuses for not finishing the book (work; the broken light on my nightstand; a a Bethenny Ever After marathon) -- I came clean. I told them I not only didn’t read it, I never even bought the darn thing. Boom, clear conscience! Fortunately, our club is really more about wine, and I’d brought two bottles that night as penance.