Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

On Competition and Reality TV Game Shows

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As an educator, I hate competition in educational settings. I don’t care what people think about competition and motivation. For important assessments/evaluations, competition is not a good thing for the people who constantly come at the bottom and have no idea how to get to the top. It is bad enough they aren’t doing well. They don’t need further public affirmation of their exact place at the bottom of the ladder.

My kid’s Arabic teacher has been apparently timing kids in how fast they can read new texts. I am seething. First off, it does not take into account the factor of shy people simply stumbling because of the read aloud aspect. It also does not help teach anyone to actually read faster. It just makes them feel bad for being slow readers and feel like failures. What good is that? How is knowing you are slower going to help you get faster? And why is speed more important than, for example, comprehension? I don’t even know as a mom exactly how to help, and I was never given any advice beyond letting her read more. So I am trying to do that.

Anyway. I’ve been wanting to blog for YEARS some of my reflections on Reality TV game shows. I generally find those to be good entertainment, particularly ones related to cooking, music and dancing. I hate the competition aspects of them, but I also see some pros, cons, and inequalities in many of them. And I’d like to share a few.

I love The Voice blind auditions because of the equity angle and how it allows the coaches to focus on a person’s voice not their looks. This is huge, and I recently read about how blind auditions for orchestras increased % of women on orchestras. Cool, huh? I also think the blind auditions probably give more chances to people who look more overweight, nerdy, too old or too young, or just generally not pop star material. At first. Later in the “competition”, everyone sees the person and I am sure it affects coach choices over who stays and who leaves. And then there are audience votes later on which I am sure *definitely* lend themselves to biases about someone’s personality and also their looks. To be fair, if someone is gonna make it in the music industry they need a lot to be going for them beside their voice (unfortunately) but at least the beginning stages give them a chance. I also like the coaching aspect of The Voice. In the competition, people learn from their coaches and each other. They also have to sing well together even while being against each other in the “battles” (awful name). I don’t understand why coaches don’t score singers on particular things (e.g. accuracy of pitch, strength of emotion, performance, whatever!) and find the overall good ones on all criteria, rather than pit them against each other in 2s and 3s. It seems kinda arbitrary, you know? I do love the opportunities for second chances in steals. But many things in this show are sequential and you have much lower chances if you’re near the end. E.g. if all steals are already taken, you won’t get stolen.Why can’t they decide on steals after EVERYONE has had a go? It would be more fair. But less exciting for ratings?

Another one worth looking at is Chopped. The most unfair thing in chopped is that they always cook appetizer then main then dessert with one person “chopped” (eliminated) after each round. This means someone who is superior at making desserts almost never makes it to the end because they get chopped earlier and you likely get so-so desserts by the people who do well in first two rounds.

What I like about Masterchef Australia (and kind of similar Top Chef Jr which I discovered recently) is the use of several teamwork challenges. Life as a chef probably requires loads of leadership and individuality but also tons of teamwork. So this seems fitting. I also like in Masterchef that they get opportunities to learn every once in a while. And I like the opportunities a person who does really well on a morning gets to have “immunity”, so a chance to mess up safely later. This seems to generally work to motivate them rather than the opposite.

Another show that has elements of blinds and coaching is The Taste, but it’s reversed. In early stages of a show, coaches coach their chefs and choose the best spoon for a guest judge to taste…later with the bigger challenge, the coaches taste everything blind and decide whom to eliminate.

I often wish people would get cumulative scores on these things rather than lose on a bad day if they’d been consistently good beforehand. I suspect judges keep this in mind for entertainment purposes if not for fairness. I wish people were allowed to grow over time without getting eliminated. Logically speaking, the people who get eliminated earlier would have probably benefited most from staying and learning. Perhaps it should be 3 chances and you’re out if you’re in the bottom 3 times. Not just one time. As I said, I think judges keep it in mind but pretend to make decisions based on just one day. I think they also take looks and personality in mind (for entertainment value) and not just skill. In a cooking show, there is NO WAY for viewers to know how good that food was!!! Also. Overemphasis on speed. It makes sense for restaurants of course, but still.

Dancing on Ice is really interesting. Definitely a strong element of coaching. Loads and loads of unfairness as people of course have different levels of athletic skill and are getting coached by differentpeople. Also it is highly gendered. Male skaters need to learn to lift their partners while skating and I am absolutely amazed they actually manage to learn this in short periods of time. It seems inconceivable . While female skaters get to be lifted. I know it still requires skill to get lifted, but surely not the same. And the risk a female celebrity takes in being lifted by a professional is way less than the female professional being lifted by an amateur partner. One thing that drives me nuts in this show is that judges score, then audience votes, then bottom 2 (by audience vote) skate-off and then judges pick. This meant that celebs who aren’t great skaters May end up staying longer coz audience just wanna watch them (makes for good ratings!)… and judges and audience keep switching power.

I need to stop now. But hopefully you get my drift. Competition 🙂 Not really motivating for those at bottom!

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