Stay with friends, get to sample the world’s odd variety of reality TV shows

Posted on 13.09.2013


Over the past 6 months of staying with friends, we have had our fair intake of the shows our friends like to watch! It’s been a bit of an eye-opener, and most of the shows are a bit ridiculous. I thought it was just the states, but now I know that it must really be everywhere!

It actually started in Germany, with two shows I’d never seen before: Achtung Kontrolle and Die Stärksten Eltern der Welt. I thought these were just German shows until I learned that, like almost everything on German TV, they came from the US or England first.

worlds-strictest-parentsIt turns out that The World’s Strictest Parents hails from the UK, although iterations of it have since shown up in the US and parts of Europe, Germany included. The premise of this show, if you haven’t seen it, is that two unruly/out of line teenagers are sent by their parents on a ‘luxury vacation’ that turns out to be something insane like herding goats in Mongolia with really hard-core host families. 9 times out of 10 the kids put up a fight, sneak off to smoke cigarettes, let the tribe down and then learn their lesson and go crying back home to mom and dad, but apparently one episode in the states resulted in a breakdown and a kid being sent home early.

It was interesting to see this show PERIOD, as it seems very adept at finding the same kids everywhere, and sending them to the most remote places possible. Definitely watch it for the tribes in Africa and NOT the fashion sense of teens worldwide.

759779Achtung Kontrolle! is technically a standalone show made JUST in Germany/for Germany, but it wasn’t the first: Border Security (Australia) came 4 years prior, and the German show features issues that arise in Australian airports, as well as Heathrow and Frankfurt, which leads me to believe they have bought some rights to the Aussie  and UK versions.

If you happen to be an immigrant awaiting visa approval in a faraway land (as I was when I started watching this one, mostly to improve my German), this program will scare the shit out of you. I was convinced I was going to be stopped at security and told I couldn’t re-enter the country if my visa wasn’t all the way through yet! The premise of this one is stopping people who are traveling legally to make sure they don’t bring in or do illegal things, which in Germany means bringing in food (mostly milk and cheeses) into the EU and in Australia means being Asian and saying you’re on vacation, but really you’re looking for work. In England I imagine it means being from the US and having a UK partner and too many stamps in your passport, which I can tell you from experience warrants a very long lecture from EVERY security guard you meet.

Then, when I got back to the states, I got to see some other interesting shows, like Shark Tank, Cupcake Wars, and one show about haunted properties and ghosts, with an inspector and a medium as the hosts.

shark-tank-s3So Shark Tank definitely has its own UK version as well, called Dragon’s Den, which actually originated in JAPAN first and then went worldwide. The premise of this show is that entrepreneurs bring their product or idea to a few ‘sharks’ (successful entrepreneurs/business people) in one room, and they either love the idea enough to back it (for a percentage of the company) or hate it.

It’s interesting just to see the ideas people come up with and hear the criticisms. As an interesting note, the US version sees a LOT more people getting money than the UK version, where the sharks are a bit more critical (in mostly helpful ways) and less willing to part with their cash.

wars promoCupcake Wars is DEFINITELY one of the ones I enjoy watching MOST, and I can’t find an international predecessor for it. This makes sense since Germany doesn’t really know the difference between a muffin and a cupcake, and Japan seems to prefer French pastry. I did find a few similar US shows, and since we love cooking reality shows, it makes sense that this might be just ours (for now). The formula is always the same and I’m pretty sure that EVERYONE gets paid to say ‘OMG 30 MINUTES!!’ whenever the warnings are given.

That being said, it’s one of the few that makes me really hungry and I’m sad to be in a country that doesn’t live on cupcakes. It really makes me want to bake, but I’ll save that until I have my own kitchen!

The premise: four bakers from around the country come together to compete in a challenge. One is eliminated in every round until only two remain for the final 1,000 cupcake challenge. The winner wins some money and their final product goes to some big event where people will get to try their cupcakes. It really needs its own cookbook.

When I finally got some time to watch TV in England, I got to see Four Rooms, A League of their Own, Eggheads, Four Weddings, Pointless, and of course, The Great British Bake-Off.

It was funny, on the day that I first learned of Four Rooms and A League of their Own, I said to my friend “Oh wow, a full day of Madonna”, referring of course to her TWO films with the same names. Because that was what I thought they were taping. Oh how wrong I was.

Four-Rooms-007I do actually really enjoy Four Rooms. Especially when you see the four in the photo. They’re a really concentrated group who have similar tastes, so I like to watch them try to beat each other out.

The premise of this one is that people come in with something interesting, rare or collectible to sell, and there are four dealers in four rooms who might buy it from them. The seller chooses the order of the rooms and visits each of them in turn, but they either have to take a deal or leave it, and can never go BACK into a room once they’ve walked out. I’ve seen about 12 different dealers, I think.

It is, above all, an example of exactly how human greed functions. I like to watch it for the people who come in with art, or objects d’art, because it’s interesting to see how other artists (or collectors) price the work. And there’s always something really interesting for sale to see.

img-thingA League of their Own is a sports-related game show that is all trivia. There are two teams, the red and the blue, run by cast members/participants who are always on.

There are three rounds, which are all sports trivia, except the last involves the ‘human clock’ aspect, in which one of the cast members has to run through an obstacle course of Double Dare proportions while the other team members answer more sports trivia questions.

I would clearly never make it onto the show, and as another of the shows will suggest, in some of these shows’ cases, it helps if you actually LIVE in England as a lot of the questions are based on English/UK sports teams.

eggheads-quiz-championsNext up: Eggheads. This is an interesting show that actually has a lot in common with jeopardy. The trivia questions are hard but varied, and that guy in the green shirt is the opponent who NEVER LOSES. There are these guys (about 10-12 in rotation) against some real-world contenders on the other side. So the contenders choose an Egghead to compete with one-to-one on a subject while the others wait. Whoever wins the round gets to go to the final, until all of the players have gone through and we have some remaining. The Eggheads hardly ever lose, but it’s fun to watch anyway and the trivia questions are fun when you know them.

four-weddingsFour Weddings is basically a reminder of just how catty women can be, and how terrible ALL weddings are, even if the people throwing them think they are the best they’ve ever seen. It originated in England but is also in the US from what I understand.

The premise of the show is that four brides come together to visit and score each other’s weddings, and whoever has the highest score at the end wins a honeymoon to somewhere exotic. This of course leads the brides to score each other as harshly as possible and makes you never want to go to another wedding again.

I think the ACTUAL premise of the show is to match people who are as DIFFERENT as possible to make as many people uncomfortable as they can. Seriously.

Interesting from MY perspective: I used to shoot a lot of weddings in the states, and it’s interesting to see just how much smaller UK weddings are (the largest budget I’ve seen for a wedding here so far has been about 20,000 pounds, compared to the overboard spending of MOST US weddings). Funny, too, how most countries have special dishes that end up being served at EVERY. WEDDING. EVER. I really don’t understand the allure of Yorkshire Pudding, but apparently there’s a whole island of people who think it’s required at every wedding.

PointlessPointless is the game show equivalent of hipster heaven: Choose the most obscure answer to a question to get the least amount of points, and whoever has the lowest score at the end of the game is the winner.

An example question from last night: Name an unoriginal film that Christian Bale has starred in. So, a film adapted from a book, find the most obscure answer. Points are given in a Family Feud style for answers: out of 100 people asked, the answers they gave were… so on FF, you need to find the most popular answer, here, you need to find the one that NO ONE NAMED. Awesome street cred knowledge.

1800084-high_res-t_2316957bFinally, the Great British Bake-Off.  I love the idea of the show, kind of a ‘who’s the best of the normal people’ idea. Hosted by two hosts and the judges, whose recipes get used in the technical competitions, the contestants have to cook three things in each episode over a weekend. Last night was about pastry, so the first was a pie, second was a technical custard tart, and the third was whatever they wanted, just include Phylo in it.

The nice thing about this show is that most of the contestants are really humble, and really afraid that they’re not going to do it right or not be good enough, which is almost refreshing after a slew of shows about Kardashians, pregnant teenagers and kids from NYC. Oh look, adults who have real lives all week who just like to bake.

uktv-the-great-british-bake-off-2013-20The show wouldn’t be AS awesome to me personally if it weren’t for this guy. Howard who works for city hall (or something like that) is the sweetest guy I’ve ever seen, and everything he does is just ‘awww, Howard!’.

If you get a chance to watch this season of GBBO, do try, it’s actually fun.

Overall, I didn’t get to see THAT many shows from around the world, but I got to see a bunch of things from slightly similar countries that say similar things about those countries and the people in them. We love to bake and apparently, compete. But why don’t we stop judging each other and leave that to the judges?

Posted in: Culture shocks