Topic: Sports & Entertainment

‘Project Runway’: Full Disclosure

If a competition makes it clear to all that it is rigged, is the competition still unethical?

Most of the popular reality shows, from “Survivor” to “The Apprentice” to “American Idol,” have been accused of manipulating their final results. (One reality show that has avoided such claims is “Fear Factor”: either you can stick beetles and sheep dung up your nose, or you can’t.) Now Bravo’s “Project Runway 2” has devised a novel way of confounding detractors and conspiracy theorists while ramping up the show’s entertainment value as well. The popular program, in which aspiring designers compete for the chance to showcase their creations, now includes the following disclaimer at the end of each episode:

“The judges considered both the scores and input from the producers and Bravo in reaching their elimination decisions.” 

Translation: “We’re going to choose the contestants who provide the most entertainment value whether they are really the best designers or not. This “competition” is about as genuine as your average professional wrestling match. But really, why should anyone care?”

O.K., “Project Runway” is a fake competition, just like “24” depicts an imaginary day in which the world is endangered and Jack Bauer never has to eat, go to the bathroom or re-charge his cell phone. Its disclaimer is reminiscent of the explanation “Hollywood Squares” had to add years ago when there was a mini-scandal over the discovery that many of center square wit Paul Linde’s amazingly clever off-the-cuff responses were pre-scripted. The show ended with an announcer reading an admission that “the stars” were supplied with the questions in advance, and received “assistance” with some of their answers.

Then again, the “Hollywood Squares'” contestants weren’t given the answers. The competition was fair; only the illusion that Paul Linde was the quickest wit since Oscar Wilde was a sham. “Project Runway 2” is admitting that the whole show is a sham.

That’s quite a disclaimer. But odd as it feels, one has to conclude that full disclosure of a rigged competition absolves “Project Runway 2” of ethical misconduct. The show is what it represents itself to be: a manipulated reality show drama that uses elements of a competition. Neither the audience nor the competitors are being misled. Like the person who walks up to you and says, “My next statement is going to be a lie,” “Project Runway 2” successfully shifts the responsibility to its audience. If you believe it, it’s your own fault. You were fully informed. You were warned.

Why anyone would choose to spend time watching a show like this when they could be, say, arranging the cans in their cupboard by reverse alphabetical order or watching old re-runs of the “Hollywood Squares” (that Paul Linde was a stitch) is another question entirely. The show is a fraud, but it’s an ethical fraud.

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