Reality Television: Rooting For The ‘B*tch’
As reality programming comes to dominate the television arena, requisite stereotypes of characters have emerged. It seems that every show has a few main staples that no good reality show can do without. But the one role that I am particularly interested in exploring is the role of the “bitch.” The “bitch” has appeared on every popular show and is almost always played by a woman (the only exception to this rule is that of the bitchy gay man). Although I realize that no reality show is actual reality and most of these roles have been carefully produced and edited to achieve these desired parts, it troubles me that producers feel that a necessary component to any entertaining show is that of a bitchy woman.
I was recently having a discussion over dinner with some friends about the most recent season of “Top Chef.” When I mentioned that I was rooting for Jennifer, the most talented woman on the show, my (female) friend cried out, “Why, she’s such a bitch.” Aside from the fact that it bothered me that this was one of my girl friends who felt this way and not a guy friend of mine, I wanted to explore why she felt this way. I asked her, “Why is she a bitch?” Her response was simple and to the point: “She just is.” I continued to challenge her, asking what Jennifer could have possibly done on the show to garner her disrespect, as Jennifer has not made any enemies and has come to be a force to be reckoned within the kitchen, as she is consistently one of the winners.
Jennifer is an extremely talented chef who wins most challenges, and when she doesn’t win, there is no crying or whining, only cussing. Used to being the boss at her job, where she is the chef de cuisine for renowned chef Eric Ripert’s 10 Arts restaurant in Philadelphia, Jennifer can stand the heat in the kitchen, while those who can’t get dismissed each week. In a recent episode, Jennifer won the Quickfire Challenge, which gave her immunity for the main challenge that week. The main challenge had all the contestants working together as a group, and because Jennifer had immunity, one of the other competitors suggested that Jennifer be the team captain, since whether they did or did not do well, she had immunity and could not be sent home. She agreed to be captain, and her natural leadership skills were readily displayed. Jennifer expected all of the team members to do their part and do it well, walking through the kitchen and telling some people to stop talking and focus on the food, and telling others that their food was not good enough to serve. I can see that this was probably the episode my friend watched, which made her feel that Jennifer was a bitch.
What if this were a man, though? What if the most talented chef on the show were a man? If a man were team captain and demanded the best of these chefs and reprimanded the ones who were slacking, no one would call him a bitch; no one would even comment. This is because it is expected that male competitors are assertive and demanding, but as soon as a woman inhabits these roles, she is immediately marked as the bitch.
One male competitor in particular bothers me, and, in my defense, it is not solely because of his behavior but also because he makes mediocre food and seems to ride on the coattails of some of the more successful chefs. In the premiere episode, the competitors participated in a relay race of chopping and preparing some basic foods. Michael (the Greek one, not the attractive Voltaggio brother), the male competitor in question, was shucking oysters against Jennifer and commented that when he looked over and realized that she was beating him, he was shocked because no girl should be beating him. In a later episode in which Jennifer won the Quickfire, Michael said that Jennifer won because the judges play favorites and that she didn’t deserve it. First, the Quickfires are judged by visiting chefs and not the main judges who preside over the main challenges, and thus they don’t know the contestants and obviously judge whose food is best. Michael makes crappy food, but instead of getting over this, he puts down Jennifer and attributes her success to the fact that the judges are playing favorites.
I will continue to watch “Top Chef,” just as I will continue to cheer on Jennifer. She’s not warm, fuzzy and nurturing, but rather assertive, foul-mouthed and badass. I hope one day that reality television has better standards and doesn’t feel the need to resort to such simplifications of human behavior, but until it does, I’m rooting for “the bitch.”