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What It’s Really Like Writing About Reality TV

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What It’s Really Like Writing About Reality TV

“That’s so fun, you get to watch Bravo for your job?” is a question I’ve been asked once or twice before. And as I reflect on my time here at Decider as it is coming to a close, I wanted to emphasize a few things about writing about reality TV. (And, also, to have a link to send people when they undoubtedly ask me this question again in the future.)

While “Bravo” is a keyword here, so is “job”. Were we, as human beings, meant to write about reality TV? And as a job? What happens when what was once considered a guilty pleasure becomes your livelihood? I’ve done it for the better part of a decade now, and for nearly six years at Decider. It’s a role I feel privileged and lucky that I got to do. And this is what it was really like.

The main thing you need to know is that the way most reality stars are portrayed on TV is very, very close to what they are like in real life. “Is so-and-so nice?” is a question I’ve gotten a lot. I’ve done my best to scan the faces of those who have asked me this, and figure out if they really, truly want the answer to that question or if I should let them continue to enjoy their Bravo shows in peace. In all honestly, the answer is usually yes. I’ve dipped into the Bachelor universe, done art projects with the cast of Jersey Shore, and spent literally days (dear god, does it add up to weeks?) watching British shows such as Love Island and Celebs Go Dating. But I’ve been embedded in the World of Bravo and can say there is truly no place like it. 2019’s BravoCon will remain a special memory for all who were there, as the fan event will only get bigger in the years to come.

If anything, I’ve only gained more respect for the people that sign up to put their lives, and the spectrum of intimate moments that can include, on television for the world to see. I don’t like when people comment on what I order at a restaurant or watch me as I apply my makeup, yet I’ve been transfixed by others that do this with a camera (or three) in their face and can only applaud their willingness to put it all out there — and yes, in some cases, mention it all. Sure, it also takes a specific kind of person to open up their whole lives to the world, for scrutiny and for followers, and to actually believe they are interesting enough for people to watch on a weekly basis. But often? They’re right.

Throughout recaps, interviews, and their social media interactions, I have gained respect for so many people as both entertainers and in some cases even as friends. I’ve seen some really grow up: they’ve learned from mistakes, they’ve become parents, they’ve eaten an entire bakery’s worth of humble pies and digested it all. And I’ve also seen some who are otherworldly levels of self-centered or truly only think with their dicks, with no signs of changing, but many signs of ensuring they stay on TV for a long, long time.

I’ve heard entirely unpublishable off-the-record stories that will simultaneously make your jaw drop and have you thinking… yeah, that’s about right. Some have mistaken me as a cast member on their show, welcoming me one minute and then offering only icy, one-word answers to my questions the next because they didn’t like something I wrote about them (which was true, fair, and not even that scandalous). In new levels of petty, one person made snippy comments about me behind my back, and honestly, I’m honored.

Yes, reality TV does include people with just the right cocktail of egotistical, delusional, and thirsty as hell qualities, but not to burst any bubbles: most people are really nice. They aren’t dramatic weirdos. They feel like people you would be or want to be friends with — that’s why we keep watching! They like to have a good time (which includes smooches and drinks alike), they care about justice (both in their friend groups and the world at large), and ultimately, they have conviction and believe in their truths. It’s why we’re fascinated by them. It’s a confidence not all of us possess.

Some reality TV stars are total pros: they understand the press side of their job and they tolerate it well. A lot also bask in it and love the continued attention and admiration, and I don’t blame them. Some are so savvy about stirring the pot it’s been hard to even grasp it as a civilian. Some have become my friends, some have slid into my DMs with gripes, and some have teared up over the things I’ve written. I won’t lie, I also love that attention and admiration. It makes me feel nice when anyone reads what I write, and throughout my time in this job, I have done my best to write things that I would have no problem saying to anyone’s face. Because if there are any lessons to be learned from reality TV it’s that whether it’s the reunion or sooner, you will have to have a confrontation.

Visiting Southern Charm matriarch Patricia Altschul’s house in Charleston was glamorous (I’m pretty sure it’s beautiful but I was too worried about breaking something to truly enjoy it), hearing the tea spilled in the makeup trailer ahead of a reunion was exciting, and even meeting some of their pets was adorable, but writing about reality TV remains a job. And one that a lot of people do. Some do it in the form of hosting podcasts and others do it as content creators on social media. But somehow, and thankfully, thinking about and expressing feelings about reality television programs is a job. An interview over drinks (fancy!) also means editing ramblings (oh, and there are ramblings) down at 5am to make a deadline (fml!).

And because reality figures are paid/rewarded in not only air time but also internet space, so many of them make these journalism jobs a grind. Like the reality shows themselves, it’s fun but it’s also dramatic. It’s not like writing about the latest Marvel show, unless Captain America was posting a scandalous Instagram post while Black Widow was announcing her pregnancy and Loki got arrested and Hulk was getting a divorce and Hawkeye was rumored to be dating Captain Marvel and Spider-Man was totally on DeuxMoi, all in the same day. Oh, and all while we’re watching them living their lives on TV in events that happened nine freaking months ago but it’s just airing now. It’s a lot!

HBO dramas are meant to be thought-provoking, encouraging tweet threads, in-depth follow-up interviews with creators, and, ultimately, generators of hot takes all throughout the internet. But reality TV shows tell us just as much — if not more! — about ourselves, our friends, and our worlds. It’s fun to break down all the biggest moments over brunch, but doing it every day on the internet, well, let’s just say it’s not often quiet or boring. Though, firing off a thousand-word hot take sure does feel good.

Unlike actors, even the method ones, reality stars are real people with real hearts and real intentions, for better or worse. Sometimes, even when we’re not recording, they will still want to talk about their shows. At first this confused me. Did they feel like that was the only thing I wanted to talk about or the only thing we have in common or do they feel pressure to continue talking about it? But you also realize (while somewhat heightened and certainly edited), that is still their actual life. Most don’t go out of their way to ask me about who I’m dating or how my work or friendships are doing, but is that just because they haven’t spent hours of their life watching it on TV (and in my case, jotting down notes along the way)?

Reality TV makes us think about what we would do in certain situations, what kind of partner we’re looking for in a relationship (and decidedly NOT looking for), and what we value in our friendships. It’s taught us what not to do when getting absolutely hammered and to make sure you always have receipts. And I like to think these shows, and not just my experience with them, ask us to consider having compassion and empathy for the people we’re watching and spending so much time with on our screens. Sure, I’ve met their friends, family members, pets, and personal attorneys. I’ve rolled my eyes at their gripes in my DMs and I’ve saved lovely, praising emails. I’ve had slight crushes and I also know who will absolutely unfollow me the second I can’t do anything for them. I love a little bit of gossip, but I also love a touch of grace. And so for as scandalous as these shows can be, watching and writing about them has served as an important reminder that none of us have it all figured out, but shoutout to the people who own that, agree to have it broadcast, and also help us to realize that about ourselves.

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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