Tacky reality television might be the worst thing mankind has thought up since the atomic bomb, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely without value. As loving spouses and significant others, we’ve been suckered into watching a lot of Bravo and MTV reality shows over the years. It took us a while for us to actually make it through an episode without lunging for the remote or pulling our hair out, but once we finally surrendered to the zombifying numbness, we actually began to see a few parallels between reality television and actual reality.
It turns out that you can learn a lot about managing your finances from the “Real Housewives.” The same goes for Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” Sure, the lessons to be learned from semi-scripted reality television might not be obvious to the casual viewer, but believe us when we say that they’re definitely in there somewhere. Just look at some of the subtle advice we’ve picked up from these popular programs over the years.
“The Real Housewives of New Jersey” (Don’t live above your means.)
If the tanned and loudmouthed Housewives from Bravo’s New Jersey spinoff aren’t busy trying to out-yell one another, then they’re busy trying to outspend one another. Each week, viewers are subjected a bevy of scenes that highlight the gratuitously luxurious lifestyles of these Italian women. Sometimes it’s Melissa Gorga singing a schmaltzy pop song in her private recording booth. Other times, it’s the Lauritas complaining that their daughter isn’t behaving well enough to deserve the brand-new, fully loaded SUV they purchased for her.
However, as RHONJ megavillain Theresa Giudice taught America, pretending you have money isn’t the same thing as actually having it. The Giudices flaunted their glamorous life just like every other family on the show, but behind the scenes their businesses were failing miserably. Consequently, they spent themselves into ridiculous debt and were recently forced to declare bankruptcy. In doing so, they showed us all that spending money when you don’t have it – just to keep up appearances – will only compound your problems.
“Kitchen Nightmares” (Success takes longer than a week.)
The plot of “Kitchen Nightmares” is pretty straightforward. Celebrity bad-boy chef Gordon Ramsay finds a failing restaurant and then spends a week yelling at the owners, supposedly to teach them how to run a restaurant. After the “school of hard knocks” is over, Ramsay and the business owners celebrate and review the valuable the lessons they’ve learned.
What “Kitchen Nightmares” fails to mention, however, is that the vast majority of these failing restaurants go on to crash and burn anyway. Of the 59 restaurants featured since the American version of the show started, only 22 are still in business. So the real lesson here is that quick fixes like seminars and celebrity boot camps aren’t going to teach you how to run a business. Instead, you must dedicate yourself to your trade and learn successful practices over time.
“Pawn Stars” (Never pay retail for expensive items.)
The first time we watched “Pawn Stars,” we crossed our fingers in hopes that one of Gold and Silver Pawn’s customers would end up making a fortune off of their antique. By the third episode, we realized that it was never going to happen.
There are two reasons for this. First, the customers featured on “Pawn Stars” rarely possess something worth more than a few thousand dollars. Second, Rick Harrison and his pals are brutal negotiators. Whatever a customer’s treasure is worth, the store often ends up paying half that. The negotiating tactics are so heartless that there’s an even an Internet meme about them. After watching Rick, Corey and the Old Man crush hundreds of dreams on camera, we’ve learned that we really don’t have to pay retail for anything valuable ever again – as long as we’re mean enough about it.
There’s a lot you can learn from reality television. Very little of it is useful, and some of the lessons are downright dangerous – Vicky, Brooks is taking advantage of you! – but look hard enough and you’ll find the occasional pearl of wisdom. Maybe it hasn’t yet happened to you, but one night soon, when you’re on the edge of sleep and the housewives are squawking again, you’ll have an epiphany. And in that moment, you’ll realize that all of those wasted hours spent in front of the television were worth it after al. At least, that’s what we’re hoping. Because if we’re wrong, then we have squandered our lives.