I was really rooting for the Reality TV Awards to be great.
When the genre first became popular, reality TV was a surefire way to become famous. Stars of early seasons of the Real World and Survivor became household names.
This is no longer the case. With the exception of the people at the top of the reality TV world (your Kardashians and your Vanderpumps), very few of these "stars" are achieving any real level of celebrity.
There are now an unbelievable amount of reality television shows on the air. While looking through the list of possible attendees that the Reality TV Awards' organizers had sent to me beforehand, I saw people from dozens of different reality shows, most of which I had never heard of: Little Women: LA, MasterChef Junior, 90 Day Fiancé, Best Ink,Queens of Drama, etc., etc. Reality television has become so common that there are literally thousands of people in this country right now who could accurately describe themselves as "the star of a reality TV show."
And it is a fucking thankless gig. As I'm sure you know, events shown on reality TV shows are often exaggerated or totally faked. And they're done for you, the audience, to laugh at and judge so that you can feel better about yourself. People who go into these shows go into them knowing that they are going to have to pretend to be stupid and humiliate themselves over and over again. Yet they do this, for your entertainment.
And are they given praise for this? Fuck no. Traditional celebrities (i.e., stars of film and scripted television) turn their noses up at reality stars, whom they see as untalented. And the general public hates them, too. Stars of reality shows are regularly mocked, called bad role models, and blamed for the dumbing down of American culture. Appearing on reality TV is one of the least dignified things a human can do. It all but ruins your credibility and, by extension, your career prospects, both inside and outside of the entertainment industry. (It's not like Snooki could star in a serious movie or go work in a store. She's stuck playing the character of "Snooki" for the foreseeable future.)
These are people who are not well compensated, either. A friend of mine who works in reality television (but wishes to remain anonymous) told me that, depending on the show, "$75 to $100 a day is pretty standard, plus food and lodging and travel."
That's not to say that being on a reality show has no effect on their stars at all, though. They still hold the power to ruin your life. Reality television shows have been blamed for divorces, jail time, loss of child custody , and even suicide.
So when I found out there was going to be an award show in Hollywood for honor these poor, unfortunate souls, I was thrilled for them and decided to attend. The stars of reality television selflessly provide a vital public service, and they deserve to be honored.
The evening started out promising. I arrived at the ceremony to find what appeared to be a regular red carpet. With celebrities, and press, and fans.
But, upon closer inspection, it turned out to not be what it seemed.
There's this VICE documentary about North Korea where the crew is filming at a computer lab, and though it appears to be a totally normal computer lab, they realize that the people using the machines don't know how to operate them. They're just staring at their monitors, moving their cursors back and forth. It had all been set up for the benefit of our crew.
Much like the North Korean computer lab, the Reality TV Awards red carpet did not hold up to scrutiny. It was merely the facade of an awards-show red carpet, constructed to give the illusion of glamour and fame.
The press were almost exclusively from outlets with names that I'd never heard of and are barely googleable. Several of the crews, like the one in the picture above, were filming their interviews on iPhones.
The celebrities, too, were just masquerading as celebrities. Like this woman. She was walking down the red carpet, posing for photos while the paparazzi shouted for her attention. All of the evidence suggested she was a public figure of some sort. That there might be some point in these people taking her photo.
But I googled her after the event, and she has 544 Twitter followers.
Another woman I googled turned out to be the ex-wife of Danny Bonaduce. Further down the carpet, I saw someone interviewing a dog. The dog, I later found out, is Instagram famous and once appeared in a Katy Perry video.
As the guests made their way down the red carpet, they were accompanied by assistants who held their names on pieces of paper so that the assembled press would know who they were looking at.
I have since learned that this is common practice and is done at all red carpets, regardless of how famous the people walking down it are, but at the time I found it a huge bummer to watch. The fact that the people holding the signs had the facial expressions of hostages in a videotaped message to the West definitely wasn't helping things, either.
Neither did this woman's profession being written inside scare quotes.
After the red carpet, I headed inside the venue for the ceremony, which was hosted by Jonathan Bennett, the actor who played the guy Lindsay Lohan has a crush on in Mean Girls.
From the very first words that he spoke, it was obvious he was the wrong choice for the job. Throughout the evening, he did that self-deprecating host thing like they do at the Oscars, where he kept making jokes about how pointless the ceremony was and how everyone in attendance was a loser. For instance, in his opening monologue, he said, "Tonight, we're not going to say 'and the winner is,' because let's face it, there are no winners here." Later in the monologue, after struggling to pronounce the name of someone from The Girls Next Door, he said: "Bridget, I'm so sorry, I have no idea how to pronounce your name. I asked, like, five people backstage how to say it, but no one knew who the fuck you were."
This stuff is funny at the Oscars because everyone knows who Oprah and James Cameron are, and calling them losers just reinforces the fact that they are rich and powerful and beloved by millions. But saying it to a crowd that's made up of cast members of Real Husbands of Hollywood and Sex Box (the show where people have sex in a box) just felt cruel.
The few people in attendance whom I actually recognized didn't seem too thrilled to be there, either.
Like Abby Lee Miller from Dance Moms, pictured here presenting the award for Reality King, which is like the Reality TV Awards version of Best Actor. As she walked out on to the stage, looking annoyed, she gestured towards the list of nominees and said, "I just found out nobody on this list is here." A moment later, she held it up and asked, "Do I have to read this?"
After being told that, yes, she had to read it, she made her way down the list, saying things like, "I don't know why he couldn't be here. He's not that busy..."
The award went to Blake Shelton from The Voice. He was not present to collect it, nor had he sent over a pre-recorded thank-you message.
Later in the evening, Abby was presented the award for Best Reality Villain by Omarosa. As she came on stage to collect it, she asked, looking self-conscious, "I just wanna know one thing—am I the only one here?"
At one point, Maddie Ziegler presented an award. She is one of the few people to escape the reality TV ghetto and achieve mainstream success. After first appearing on Dance Moms, (FYI, the cast of Dance Moms were among the most famous people in attendance) she went on to star in several Sia music videos, model for Elle, and perform at the Grammys. This made her at least 10,000 times more culturally relevant than anyone else in the room.
For some reason, the organizers of the awards hadn't checked to see if the people winning the awards were in the audience. So throughout the evening, every time someone won, there would be 30 seconds of the person presenting staring awkwardly into the crowd, asking if anyone was present to collect it.
Ziegler was no exception. After she read out the results for the award she was presenting (Outstanding Judging Panel to Dancing With the Stars) she was just left to stand on stage in silence, waiting to see if anyone was there to collect it (they weren't).
After a full 20 seconds of agonizing silence, Bennett, the host, swooped in and attempted to save Maddie by ad-libbing some onstage banter, but he wasn't able to carry it. After a couple of seconds of unsuccessful chit-chat, he gave up and said, "I got nothing..."
As Ziegler left the stage, Bennett said, "Give it up for Maddie, isn't she the best?"
He then called behind Maddie, vocalizing exactly what everyone in the room had been painfully aware of: "You don't even deserve to be here... You deserve to be somewhere really good. Like... not here. You're too good."
Later in the evening, Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt were presented with a lifetime achievement award.
There's no arguing that, if anyone deserves a lifetime achievement award in this medium, it's the two of them. They have given their entire lives to reality television. Since first appearing on The Hills a decade ago, they have done everything within their power to stay relevant. Things that almost always came at the expense of their dignity and credibility.
They've done everything from faking a divorce to intentional wardrobe malfunctions to bad plastic surgery to endorsing Sarah Palin to angering Native Americans by changing their names to Running Bear and White Wolf, all in the name of attention.
While they presumably made a lot of money at the height of their success, a look around online shows that the two of them haven't been working much lately.
According to his Twitter account, Pratt recently returned to school to complete a degree in political science. Speaking to the Daily Beast back in 2011 about the possibility of doing this, he said, "What real job—what political world—would want Spencer Pratt, with the stigma I've attached to my name?"
In the same interview, he explained that he regretted pursuing a career in reality TV. "Everything we were doing, in retrospect, was a mistake. The second we continued on our quest for fame was a mistake," he said. "This isn't a business. That was the big thing I didn't get: Reality TV is not a career. Anyone who says, 'Oh, you can have a career in reality'—that is a lie."
Maybe it was part of their schtick, but when they came out to collect the award (which, presumably they had been told about in advance, given that it was a lifetime achievement award,) they didn't seem to know what to say.
Montag said something generic about how exciting it was to win. Then Pratt looked out into the crowd and said: "Well, if I had any doubts about my 15 minutes of fame being up, thank you, now I know, it's official, good luck to all of you now." The final seven words of this statement ("good luck to all of you now") sent a chill down my spine.
By the time Perez Hilton appeared via pre-recorded video to announce that he "couldn't make it" to the awards, it was all a bit too much for me to handle, and I felt like I had to get out of there.
I wasn't the only one. Looking around, I saw that about 50 percent of the attendees had left by this point.
I reluctantly stuck around to watch the rest of the show, but everyone was just going through the motions. At points, I seemed to be the only person in the entire room listening. Everyone else was either chatting or texting.
Almost every category presented some new nugget of sadness. At one point, someone collected an award on behalf of Hell's Kitchen and said, "Well, we're never going to win an Emmy. So this is just as good." Later, when Leah Remini won the award for Reality Queen, the host stepped out on stage and said, "So, we're supposed to show a video of Leah Remini right now... but the video doesn't work." When the award for Most Badass Crew was presented, a man who looked ready to fight stormed the stage screaming "SAY MY NAME!" because the guy who won the award had forgotten to mention him in his acceptance speech.
When the show ended, the host announced that, for the rest of the evening, the bar was going to be free.
I went to the bar, expecting a huge line of people fighting for free drinks, but there was none. Not even free booze could make people stay.
I drank a beer and headed home. That night, I dreamed of a better world. Where reality TV stars are treated like the heroes they truly are. Goodnight, you poor tortured souls.
Follow Jamie Lee Curtis Taete on Twitter.