The genre of reality TV burst into the homes of Americans over a decade ago and is picking up momentum with competition-based programing leading the way. Many shows have attempted success, but only a few attained the prosperity of permanence amongst the brutal Nielsen ratings. America’s Next Top Model and Bravo’s Top Chef are two groundbreaking reality shows that have stood the test of time. Six-figure cash prizes, automobiles and lavish gifts along with the excitement of the challenges competitors face, lure viewers in to anticipating each week’s episode. Lemi Baruh, noted journalist points out in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, that reality television has a secret formula that has producers smiling large and their pockets, just as full, because of the popularity and the voyeuristic tendencies of the viewers, the competition-type reality programs have yet to peak in the United States. The similarities shared between America’s Next Top Model and Top Chef productions plot, theme and style could be the coveted secret formula for success and longevity in the cutthroat television genre of reality television.
Competition-based reality shows are popular because for one hour each week, viewers are engaged in the personal triumphs and defeats of the opponents. Drama ensues when personality conflicts among the group unfold and often intertwined within the campaigns are testimonials and clips where friendships are formed and battle lines are drawn. One ground-breaking reality show, not afraid to venture into uncharted territory is America’s Next Top Model debuting in 2003 with Tyra Banks at the helm. Twelve contestants begin the competition, only one will remain, for the title of America’s Next Top Model and receive a contract with a major modeling company, one hundred thousand dollars in cash, and other extravagant prizes. To open each season, the viewing audience is introduced, with a sneak peek into the personal lives of the contestants and a tour through the Top Model house, where contestants all reside for the duration of the competition. Each episode thereafter, begins with the group competing in a challenge to see who will take an advantage going into the elimination round. The challenge is based or centered on a modeling skill, such as runway walk or posing and one lucky winner, best assimilating the task, takes the advantage into the Elimination Challenge. Next, contestants visit wardrobe, hair and makeup, in preparation of the theme of that episodes photo shoot, where each contestant takes a series of photos. From those frames, a panel of judges selects one photograph best depicting the style and “Je ne sais quoi” these industry professionals deem worthy of top model accolades. To close the show, contestants line up for the judges and Tyra flips each photo over, revealing the order of the judges decisions and one-by-one, contestants are called up to receive their photograph, thank Tyra and join the others who survived to compete another week.. Finally, the last two contestants remain and the suspense builds. The girls stand before Tyra, ready to accept the destiny that awaits them; one will survive another week and the other must go home. Tyra flips the final photo revealing which girl will still have the chance at becoming America’s Next Top Model. The closing voiceover is of the eliminated girl, reflecting on her experience, while packing and eventually walking out the door before her image gradually disappears from the closing shot of a group photo. The hour has ended and viewers were entertained with the interpersonal relationships and themed challenges and enticed into anticipating another episode for more excitement and competition-based reality television.
Debuting in 2006 and hosted by Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio, Top Chef is a television show highly praised for their program format and upon closer inspection, mimics America’s Next Top Model in many ways.