I didn't grow up with cable TV. My house had an old TV with rabbit ear antennas and we usually got only two stations -- PBS and FOX. Because of this, I didn't spend my tween and teen years watching a lot of television. I watched Ghost Writer and Bill Nye the Science Guy on PBS and the occasional movie or show on FOX. When my friends were discussing 90210, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Dawson's Creek, I didn't have a single point of reference. I didn't watch any of that stuff and I wasn't that interested.
When I was 15, however, my father remarried and we moved into my stepmother's house. She had cable and her channel lineup even included MTV and VH1! My brothers and I never tired of music videos, but I had yet to slip into the world of reality TV until a weekend that I was feeling sick. I spent an entire Saturday wrapped up in a blanket in the recliner, sipping on ginger ale and feeling miserable. Without cable I would have spent that day reading or sleeping, but now I had MTV! I spent the whole day watching an entire season of The Real World.
I can't remember which season I watched or what city they were in, but I remember being transfixed by this marathon of "reality" TV. Even back then, when reality TV was a relatively new phenomenon, I had little tolerance for the semi-staged drama and the months and months of footage condensed into a dozen or so hours of television. That did not, however, stop me from being enthralled by this weird microcosm of society neatly packaged into a day's worth of TV-viewing. I didn't have to devote all my Thursday nights to watching a particular show! I could just sit in the recliner nursing a ginger ale and watching a whole season's worth of crazy in a single day.
I have to admit that the habit hasn't left me. Whenever I'm home sick and I'm too tired to read but not tired enough to sleep, I flip around the channels until I find some odd bit of "reality" to watch. It's voyeuristic, but I like to watch the weirdest "reality" possible when I'm feeling crummy. When I've been home sick I've watched marathons of shows that I actually enjoy (like Project Runway or America's Next Top Model) and marathons of shows I'd never even heard of (like The Chef Jeff Project or -- sadly -- RuPaul's Drag Race, which features contestants competing to be the next big drag star).
Though I can't imagine watching these programs religiously once a week, I find them oddly satisfying to watch when I'm curled up on the couch, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, too sick to do much of anything else. When I'm not feeling well, it's too easy to fall asleep watching a movie and I lack the concentration to watch anything serious. There's no way, however, anyone can accuse me of lacking the mental stamina to watch five hours of a Project Runway marathon while I eat chicken noodle soup and blow my nose.
So the next time I'm stuck on the couch with a box of tissues and a cup of tea, I hope I find four hours of a cooking competition show followed by reruns of an old season of HGTV Design Star. Either way, it sure beats the reality of a raw, red nose and cough syrup!