TV Surveillance’s Best of 2010: Best Reality Competition Series

2010 has been a fantastic year for television. This year brought us a slew of great new programs and if we include the second halves of all the series that debuted in the fall of 2009 (which I am for these features), we have probably just experienced the best run of newbies since 2004. While we were just getting comfortable with great new series like Justified, Boardwalk Empire and Louie, we had to unfortunately say goodbye to the likes of Lost, 24 and Law & Order. NBC mishandled its attempts to correct its late night situation and continued to dig itself deeper into a primetime hole. Meanwhile, the ever-popular True Blood and a stable of great new series helped HBO regain its early-aughts swagger. 2010 gave us a reborn Coco, awesome Survivor tribal councils, the Rally To Restore Sanity, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” the World Cup and even more awesome episodes of Jersey Shore. LeBron made his decision, CNN brought David Blaine on as an analyst during the Chilean Miner Saga, Dancing With The Stars became about politics and President Obama made appearances on more non-news programs than I can even count. Broadcast ratings might be down, but 2010 yet again proved that “television” does not always happen on the big screens in our living rooms. It’s everywhere, it’s everything and this is my celebration of it.

Throughout the next week or so, I’ll be going through all sorts of random categories and giving out fake awards for the best, worst and all that was in between for television in 2010.

Up first is my award for Best Reality Competition Series. I will be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of reality television in general, not because I am some sort of television snob, but just because I only have so many hours in the day and reality series are the first to get discarded from my viewing rotation when things get busy. Therefore, of all categories and topics I’ll talk about over the next week, this is the one that I can definitely say that I’m far from a knowledgeable expert. There are millions of people out there who watch more reality television than I do, and they will probably think this entry is thereby stupid. Oh well. My blog.

Anyway, I decided to do this post despite my reality TV blind spot because the one competition series that I really do love deserved some props. So, my pick for the best reality competition series of 2010 is…HGTV’s Design Star!

Thanks to my girlfriend, I have been hooked on all things HGTV for the best 18 months or so. The cable network’s programming is simple, informative and really interesting — particularly if you’re in a committed relationship that will soon lead to making decisions on home ownership, renting, etc. We like to watch these programs together as if they’re part of our adult education so that when it comes time to rent an apartment or buy a house or fix either one, HGTV will have shown us what to do right and what to avoid.

Outside of its general programming, HGTV has its own competition reality series, and that’s Design Star. It’s a fairly straightforward competition format: Competitions, judging and elimination. But because it discards a lot of the things that annoy me about reality television in general — sexual escapes, general melodrama — and just focuses on the designing, there’s really nothing to complain about. You never get the indication that the series’ producers are trying to keep certain contestants around just to milk the drama. In fact, this season featured one of the “worst” people on a series like this that I have seen in a long time in Nina Ferrer. She appeared to be unbelievably egotistical, arrogant, rude and most importantly, not that talented. In the first few episodes, Nina dominated the screen and the judges seem to like her work, leading me to believe that the whole season was going to be about this interesting/frustrating tension between her awful personality and judge-approved skills.

But before long, her fraudulent ability was snuffed out and she was eliminated. Just like that. The judges didn’t put up with her crap and she was gone. No big event, no elongated elimination process, she was just out.

Perhaps more importantly, even if you’re only remotely interested or even completely ignorant to all things design, Star should still work for you. The series strikes a nice balance for the newbies and more knowledgeable viewer. Processes are explained, details are addressed and like most of HGTV’s programming, it’s just damn helpful.

Finally, I have to respect Design Star because it actually amounts to something. On so many reality series these days, people are supposed to get jobs, opportunities or whatever else and it never really materializes. America’s Next Top Model gets raked over the coals for this thing. But on Design Star, the things that the series promises — money and an actual series on the network — happen. The people who win this series legitimately get their shot to prove they can handle their own series. Sure, some of them don’t get to keep that series for more than a season or two, but season one’s David Bromstad and season four’s Antonio Ballatore still have series that are going strong on the network. And because the judges/series do a nice job of critiquing the contestants along the way, the audience actually feels like the winner earned it, or at least made nice progress throughout the year.

Anyway, I love Design Star. I wish it was like Survivor with two seasons a year, but I guess I’ll be alright until the next one comes on in the summer of 2011. Again, I’m not a reality TV expert, but I know a good product when I see one.

Honorable mention: Survivor, Real World/Rules Challenge, The Amazing Race, Big Brother

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