Reality Television

Submitted into Contest #106 in response to: Write a story about a character who’s secretly nobility.... view prompt

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Fiction Sad

The Hevnance cruise ship docked at its destination. The sixteen-deck ship was the operational center that filmed the reality television series called The Experiment. The filming location was a remote area known as Studio E-6. Inside the floating production ship, deck four, was the production boardroom. The show’s production staff rushed into the boardroom, settling around a long mahogany table. 

The staff, consisting of executives, writers, and producers, were speculating about the meeting. The meeting was scheduled last minute, which made the curious invitees nervous. The talking ended when G.O. Donaldson, the Network’s President and Creator of The Experiment, entered the room and sat at the table’s head. G.O., middle-aged and wearing a dark suit, looked at his employees with concern.

“Alright, everyone, thank you for attending. I know this is last minute, and we’re busy filming the Gary Mathers’ storyline today. The camera crew is not here since they’re following Gary on the Love Boat Singles cruise. I’ll get to it. We need to talk about The Experiment. As you know, the ratings have been slipping, and I’m getting pressure from the sponsors to make a change.”

The crowd was not surprised at G.O.’s news. The ratings had been plummeting for the past five seasons. Darrin Tore, the show’s senior executive producer, a little less seasoned than G.O., leaned forward on his leather chair.

“Ratings have been down a few seasons,” Darrin said. “Everything has a shelf-life. I mean, let’s face it, this was supposed to be only four seasons and it’s now been thirty. The show had a great run, but it’s gotten stale and bland with the viewers. Did we really expect good ratings following reality stars like Gary “The Couch” Mathers?”

Chester, the show’s senior writer, rummaged his hand through the strands of his combed-over hair. The thought of canceling the show sickened him.

“G.O., we have to do something to salvage this show!”

“Like what, Chester?” G.O. asked. “I’m open to any suggestions your team may have.”

Chester looked at his disheveled writing crew seeking inspiration but like the show’s Contestants, the team was lacking energy.

“How about a total rewrite!” Chester said.

“Oh, Chester,” Darrin said. “A rewrite? That would take months! We can’t afford-”

“This is our life’s work, Darrin! It would be a shame to cancel it!”

G.O., noticing how desperate Chester was to keep The Experiment alive, said, “I don’t see a way to stop this from unraveling, Chester. The sponsors are pulling out.”  

Chester and his team of writers bowed their heads in unison. G.O. sympathized with the dejected group.

“Look, folks, as the show’s Creator, I don’t want to end this either, but we are running out of options and time. I need ideas.”

The show’s senior executive producer, a woman named Leslie, raised her hand.

“Go ahead, Leslie.”

Leslie looked through a paper packet presentation filled with charts and graphs.

“The show’s current demographics are ages fifty and up. We won’t get the younger audience. The viewers are not intrigued by this show anymore. Even the Contestants are just going through the motions.”

“That’s the problem!” Darrin said, shaking his pointing finger. “The Contestants are lazy. Most of them don’t even want to grow and thrive. Take Gary “The Couch” Mathers as a prime example. The guy is thirty-one years old and living in his mother’s basement with no job!”   

“Gary did have that job as a bellhop at the Hotel Lowe,” Chester said. “Hotel Lowe, the place to go when you feel like checking out! Now that was a great reality show!”

“Gary got fired at the hotel, which is difficult to do,” Leslie said.

Chester tried to explain how Gary’s current storyline had the potential to be exciting, but Darrin interrupted him.

“The only riveting story about Gary was when he broke his tooth on that Dorito chip.”

The people around the table grimaced, recalling the broken tooth episode.

“The broken tooth storyline was nauseating, but the revenue on toothpaste, dentures and other oral hygiene advertisements increased,” Leslie said.

Darrin continued to bring up Gary’s “Chip-ped Tooth” episode.

“Gary sued Frito Lay for two million dollars over that broken tooth. He wanted a big payout like that idiot that put the hot cup of coffee between his legs.” Darrin laughed from the absurdity. “I’ve never seen Gary so motivated. He even demanded that the chip company add a caution disclaimer on each chip. Can you imagine that? The words ‘Warning, you may chip your tooth’ written on the chips!”

Darrin went on about how Gary felt like a victim after losing the lawsuit.

“It was not just the chip that broke his tooth; it was Gary’s lack of brushing and flossing his teeth that had contributed to it.”

“Gary thought he was entitled to compensation even though he did not practice proper dental hygiene,” Leslie added.

“What he really needs is mental hygiene,” Darrin muttered.

Some of the folks at the table laughed or nodded at Darrin’s comment. G.O. shook his head.

“Gary didn’t even want the Doritos, but the advertising was so alluring, he couldn’t refuse eating them,” Leslie mused.

“Yes, he’s quite the victim,” G.O. said. “A lot of the Contestants feel that way, placing blame instead of taking responsibility. His Mom felt bad, so she paid for the singles ocean cruise.”

Rita, one of Chester’s staff writers, snapped her fingers.

“What if we start a war? Nothing gets the audience more excited than a war. We can start by sinking the singles cruise ship with Gary on it!”

Rita’s face glowed with an excited smile as she looked around the room for a response.

“We’ve done wars in the past. Sure, there was a spike in ratings, but it didn’t last,” Leslie said. “It’s not sustainable.”

G.O. appreciated Rita’s enthusiasm, but he agreed with Leslie. The show’s Creator said that a world war would be just a ‘flash in the pan’ and explained that the sponsors wouldn’t sign off on a new war or any violent acts these days.

“It all comes down to money,” G.O. explained, “and right now, the sponsors are feeling the pressure from activists questioning the show’s lack of moral and social justice platforms. A war, or violence of any kind, wouldn’t go over well. If we went the war route, money would be the first casualty.”

Darrin’s face got red. “Those damn interest groups destroy good T.V.! They want special rights for the Contestants. I mean, come on, when did we start caring about these Contestants? They’re just Contestants!”

Leslie disagreed with her colleague’s opinion on the interest groups.

“You’re kind of cold and heartless when it comes to the Contestants, Darrin,” Leslie said.

Rita snapped her fingers with another idea.

“What if we add a few new characters? How about a former actor turned private detective living in New York City, and while he’s on vacation at a ski resort, Gary “The Couch” is murdered! The private eye teams up with a widow and her 8-year-old daughter, locals at the small ski town by the resort, to solve Gary’s case. We can call it: ‘A Murder out of a Mogul’ or ‘The Chairlift Only Goes Up!’ Oh, and here is the good part-”

There’s a good part? thought G.O. as he smiled at Rita, nodding for her to proceed.

“The little girl has some supernatural ability!” Rita enthused.

“What kind of supernatural ability?” G.O. asked. He did not like the exuberant young writer’s idea yet didn’t want to discourage her.

“I don’t know yet, sir. Sorry.”

“How about the supernatural ability of motivation?” Darrin said.

Except for Rita, the others laughed as Darrin started to rant.

“There’s no motivation with them. Here’s the thing about the show. The Contestants think they are extremely intelligent, highly evolved, and open-minded. They don’t want to learn. Everyone wants to be a mentor but not the student. Now listen carefully.” Darrin placed his closed hands on the glossy table and scanned the room. “There is nothing scarier than a dumb person who thinks they are smart. That’s what these Contestants are!”

Leslie rolled her eyes, thinking that Darrin was commenting on himself. Rita smiled and snapped her fingers.

“Natural Disasters! How about a disaster that takes out most of the setting locations and Contestants? We can even take out this Love Boat, preferably with Gary on it, with a tsunami!”

“You’re suggesting a total reimaging of the series?” G.O. asked.

Rita nodded. Chester patted Rita on the back and proposed to the group that they could reset The Experiment from scratch with some biblical Armageddon. Most of the staff looked skeptical. Leslie, as a veteran producer, reminded everyone that Armageddon episodes had been done before.

“Remember the episodes where bed dust mites mutated, evolved, and absorbed into the fabric of stuffed animals, mascot outfits, and puppets?” She asked. “The mites assumed those clothed bodies and attacked the Contestants by eating their skin.” 

“Rise of the Mascots season eleven. Now that was television at its best!” Darrin said. “The Zombie-Robot Apocalypse followed that in season fifteen that led to a botched alien invasion at the beginning of season sixteen.”

Chester smiled as he pumped his fist.

“The aliens versus Contestants was a great cliffhanger from season fifteen into sixteen that got big ratings,” Chester said.

“I wish the Aliens had won,” Darrin muttered. “Then we wouldn’t be talking about canceling the show. All of those events culled the herd and created challenges for the Contestants, but everyone eventually got back to being mundane and complacent.”

G.O. leaned back in his chair, pondering his cynical friend’s analysis on the Contestants. The Armageddon scenario reminded him of an episode that had happened long ago.

“Our first cataclysmic event we did was in season three. Some of you weren’t on board yet, but the sets and Contestants were wiped out. It was a complete wash, a clean slate, that had huge production costs. We are not going into full disaster mode again. No Armageddon 6.0.”

“What if we scare them into being better Contestants? Lay down the moral law!” Chester said, pounding his fist like a gavel onto the table.

G.O. sighed and thought, did we really come to a point where we ran out of material?

“No more rules!” Darrin yelled. “The Contestants are a bunch of petulant babies who are as bratty as these special rights activists. These damn social rules they have imposed on us have even infected the Contestants! Why is it that the people who preach tolerance, open-mindedness, diversity, and inclusion are the most rigid? For them, it’s freedom of speech until someone gets offended, and there’s always someone who’s offended.”

“Come on, Darrin,” Leslie said. “Get off your soapbox! A lot of good comes from those groups.”

“Like what, Leslie? Do you know that-”

Everyone at the table began having separate arguments that elevated the noise level. G.O. watched, letting the group vent for a few moments. The bickering reminded him of the Contestants. He waved his hands, and the group stopped their chatter.

“The Contestants had their moments through the seasons, but in the end, they didn’t grow as we expected. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations. I don’t know. Most of the Contestants are lazy, all are opinionated, and feel a sense of entitlement. They are self-absorbed and unappealing, and there is no cure for that. My hypothesis of this experiment was incorrect. It has failed. I thought that the Contestants could adapt to the simplest of obstacles, but I was wrong. I’m sorry, folks, but I see no other way but to cancel the show.”

The group, dejected and soon-to be-unemployed, headed toward the exit. Some were chatting, but most were silent.

“Time to brush up on my resume,” a writer said.

“I’d leave this show out of your resume,” another writer replied. “A complete failure.”

As the people made their way out, Leslie walked over to G.O., still sitting and thinking about the show. 

“I will go down deck and let Todd know.”

G.O. nodded as he stared across the room at the original promotional poster hanging next to a circular glass port window.

“Bang! Let the Experiment begin!” he said, reading the framed poster. “They had it all, didn’t they, Les?”

“Yes, sir, they did.”

“I gave them everything.  Every gift was at their disposal, but they scorched paradise! They couldn’t see the beauty in the simple things. The whole idea of this experiment was for them to become better Contestants. We created challenges for them to overcome, learn and thrive, yet they all seemed put out by the simplest of obstacles.”

Leslie touched the Creator on his shoulder and left the boardroom.


On the singles cruise ship, Gary “The Couch” Mathers, wearing a tight white tuxedo with a black bow tie, strode into the ballroom. The room was filled with formally dressed Contestants celebrating the promenade-themed high school reunion. Gary searched, found, and hurried to a jumbo shrimp buffet table. Gary’s hands were working fast, piling clumps of shrimp onto a small glass plate, wishing that the dish was larger. There were other Contestants at the table racing and jockeying for position, looking like desperate seagulls scavenging for food. Gary scooped a jumbo shrimp into a bowl of cocktail sauce and bumped into a woman wearing a peach-colored dress.

“Sorry,” Gary said. “I get excited at the buffet table. I’m Gary.”


“Is that your name or your worth?” Gary laughed.

Penny pretended not to comprehend the stupid joke as Gary chuckled. When he realized Penny wasn’t laughing, Gary apologized and explained that he was not used to talking to women. Penny forgave him and allowed Gary to start introductions over. Gary smiled, exposing his broken front tooth. It was half the length of his other spaced front tooth with jagged ridges on the bottom.

“What happened to your tooth?” Penny asked.

Gary stopped smiling. He forgot about the tooth.

I can’t tell her about the Dorito. He thought. What can I say?

“I broke my tooth saving a child from the backseat of a burning car,” he said.

Penny gasped.

“You did?”

Gary nodded as he swallowed a shrimp.

“The car wreck happened by my lake house. I hit my mouth against the car door as I pulled the kid, a boy, from his car seat. Those child seats are tough to unfasten, but with composure and quick thinking, I unraveled that restraint.”

“You’re a hero!”

“I don’t think of myself as a hero; anyone else would have done the same.”

In the production control booth, Todd James sucked a chocolate milkshake from a straw, watching Gary and Penny on a monitor.

“What a bullshit artist,” Todd said.

Todd swiveled his chair around and saw Leslie standing there.

“Leslie, why are you here on the bottom deck? Someone die?”

“Yes, the show. We’ve been canceled.”

“Really? Just when Gary “The Couch” is going to hook up with Penny?”

“It’s over.”

“Good, I’m glad the show is canceled,” Todd said.


“Because of Contestants like Gary,” Todd said, pointing at Gary on the main screen. 

Leslie watched Gary and Penny talking in the ballroom. She asked Todd what else he disliked about The Experiment

“The Contestants suck. It’s not just this dipshit,” Todd said, nodding at Gary, who was telling Penny a tasteless joke. “They get so offended over everything and nothing. They were offended by mere words. Remember that time we had the “official” alien first contact at Disney World?”

Leslie nodded, recalling that they had expected big ratings when the Aliens and Contestants met on Disney’s Main Street in front of the castle.

“Instead of greeting the Aliens, the Contestants gave them a large book of words not to say!” Todd exclaimed.

Leslie laughed. “It was the Mascot Goofy that gave the Aliens a dictionary!”

“A dictionary!” Todd said. “Good thing they are canceled. If they removed any more words, they’d be mimes.”

Todd, acting like a mime, covered his mouth with one hand while pretending to hang himself with the other hand.

“They didn’t value each other’s views and opinions,” Leslie said. “When the Contestants disagreed, they would call each other names. I have never seen a group of Contestants so against each other yet preached about being open-minded and kind.”

Todd agreed; the Contestants preached change and equality but didn’t practice it.

“Keeping up appearances with fake caring. It’s all optics. A pandering pandemic.” Leslie said, watching the many screens of live feeds of The Experiment. “Shut it down, Todd.”

Todd pressed a button on the control booth.

The video screen showed Penny running from Gary as he followed her, all the while continuing to devour shrimp. The video feed of Penny’s escape dissolved, replaced by a view of the grand center stage. At the bottom of the screen, a flashing banner rolled across saying: “Alert programming change. The Experiment Series Finale. The final episode. Canceled. Signing off.”

The circular grey backup screen that moved around the stage of studio E-6 rolled up like a window shade. Todd turned off the immense spherical spotlight that illuminated the stage.

“Here it goes. Any second now,” Todd said as the throbbing stage shattered and scattered into billions of multi-colored pixels. What remained of studio E-6 was the smaller stage lights installed in the distance. Leslie and Todd watched the dying stage lights flicker like fireflies. 

Moments later, G.O. Donaldson watched the last stage light fall and burn out. The Experiment reality T.V. show, filmed at studio E-6, had faded to black. G.O. walked to the porthole and saw his reflection in the window. His enlarged dark eyes shed tears that seeped into his arid gray reptilian-scaled face. By his Noble decree G.O.’s creation, his Kingdom called The Experiment, was officially canceled. The Hevnance spaceship floated off through space, away from the former studio E-6 known by the Contestants as Earth.

The End

August 13, 2021 11:54

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1 comment

Ben Rounds
07:21 Aug 21, 2021

Morning. Critique circle. Well written story. Very technically correct. Didn't make a hell of a lot of sense, but didn't hurt anyone. Took a while to get to the punchline, which was kind of looming on the horizon. I know this forum has pretty strict limits, but I would say more or less. Either a short short with the same zinger, or a longer piece with more meat. Again, well written Cheers, Ben


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