I love watching reality TV while I eat. I care so deeply for this combination that before sharing my confession, I munched on copious handfuls of reduced-fat Wheat Thins—a second love that merits its own essay. Hovering over my plate, my face mere inches from my computer screen, I enjoyed an episode of Jersey Shore. I neglected table manners and proper computer posture. My water glass employed my mousepad as a coaster. Remnants of old snacks rested peacefully in the crevices of my keyboard. After an hour of Snookie drunkenly showing her “cooka,” I faced a crossroads between a food-coma-induced nap and homework. I took the road less traveled. (This essay is brought to you by Robert Frost and Microsoft Word.)
I am by no means the first (or only) consumer to simultaneously feast with my eyes and tummy. Homer Simpson has ingested 22 seasons’ worth of greasy snacks in front of the TV, and viewers have long joined him for dinner from their own couches. Swanson introduced microwavable “TV dinners” almost 60 years ago. Recliners now come equipped with cup holders and leather-encased coolers. Movie-goers withstand long lines just to fetch buttered popcorn and flat soda for the feature film.
As there are picky eaters, so too can there be picky reality TV watchers–and I’m one of them. I’m not an American Idol fanatic who tunes in to watch Scotty McCreery (maybe just once). No Survivor (anymore). Never Tyra Banks—besides, the most success any “top model” has seen has been in a commercial for Chili’s. These shows fail to encapsulate the unscripted beauty of reality TV and cannot retain 30 minutes of my attention even with the biggest bowl of ice cream in my lap. Season after season, the structure and content for these particular shows are predictable. Story lines focus on constructed scenarios and elaborate production techniques instead of on the personalities themselves. If reality TV is supposed to feature real people and simulate real life, I should not need a narrator or host to follow the storyline. Since my only free time to watch TV typically coincides with meal or snack time, I favor appetizing fare like Top Chef over any stomach-turning series like Fear Factor or The Apprentice (Donald Trump’s hair reminds me of a large, cat hairball). I also include weight-loss dramas and social experiments such as The Real Housewives of [Insert Name of Big City Here] in my line-up. Someone might as well burn calories or look fabulous while I stuff my face.
Naysayers of reality TV must still be mourning the death of the sitcom. Projecting their frustrations, they criticize reality TV for its starless casts and trashy or unremarkable content. These exact aspects keep me glued to the screen while noshing. I relish being a part of characters’ lives that are far more glamorous and suspenseful than my own. My 100-calorie veggie burger slapped on a plate is a finely seared steak accompanied by ingredients I cannot pronounce but imagine are delectable. Reality TV inserts the much-needed spontaneity and dramatics that the regimented life of a graduate student lacks. I escape my reality of kerning and typesetting for the lives of millionaire housewives with more nannies than children. While watching, my computer screen is my dinner date. There is no need to feel self-conscious about garlic breath, broccoli bits stuck in my teeth, or talking with my mouth full (or talking at all). For 40 minutes, I giggle at those who brag about their $25,000 sunglasses and think that Bill Clinton is the current Vice President. I feel satiated physically and with a revived intellectual confidence. I imagine myself years from now, enjoying a luxurious lifestyle that I unwillingly acknowledge Graphic Design will not afford me. This is my playtime, only with more vulgar name-calling and martinis in place of juice boxes.
Beyond savoring the distraction from life’s stresses, I love watching reality TV while I eat because, while seemingly indulgent (after all, it is mindless calorie consumption that turns brains to mush), doing so makes me feel efficient. When watching on my desktop computer, there are no commercials, and there is still extra space on screen to talk to friends and send emails. Isn’t this what large screens are for, anyway? My love is one case of multitasking (and probably the only one) in which I feel fully capable. That is, until I return to the familiar crossroads between a food-coma-induced nap and homework, and choose the worn path of bloated bellies and snooze buttons.