The newest reality TV show seems more like a string of somewhat entertaining contrivances than reality. 

Really Reality?

That's why "reality TV" is such a misnomer.

Most of the time, reality is boring. Routine. Dull.

It's packing lunches, driving to work, putting in eight hours at stuff you've done a million times, then dragging your butt back home, eating one of the five or six things that you always eat, and watching TV. Reality is laundry and bills and cleaning up furballs. Reality can be, and often is, tedious.

So "reality TV" is actually anything but.

And the TV networks know that. So they condense, compress, edit, manipulate, maneuver and contrive "reality" until theirs is more exciting than yours and mine. But is it still reality? Probably not.

But who cares, anyway? It's only TV.

"Fear Factor" is NBC's latest "reality TV" effort. Six contestants complete three scary stunts. Whoever wins walks away with $50,000. The rest get nothing.

Let's take as an example one recent episode of the new series. The six contestants first had to cross a field while wearing a padded suit and being chased by an attack dog. The slowest two were eliminated. The second daunting task was to lie still in a box for three minutes while covered in live snakes ranging in size from 4-feet-long to a 200 pound boa constrictor. If any contestant were bitten, he or she would automatically advance to the next round. All four remaining contestants made it through, and nobody got bitten. (When asked how it felt, one contestant said succinctly, "It sucked.")

The final challenge to their nerve took place on a 6-inch steel beam suspended 100 feet in the air. Contestants had to walk from one end of the beam to the other, retrieve a flag and bring the flag back to the starting point. The fastest time would determine the winner. (One man fell off within the first foot and the lone remaining woman made it in just over a minute. The winner, made it in 40 seconds.)

NBC TV says this is a series about ordinary people in extraordinary situations."

But neither of those claims is true.

They may be ordinary people, but they were carefully selected for age, type and temperament. The men are often buff, and the women are hot. They are demographically correct as to race and sex. Bottom line: The contestants may be ordinary, but not random or representative. That's because the producers of "Fear Factor" -- and the other reality shows -- manipulate reality to make it more ... well ... um ... real.

And what about "extraordinary situations?" Well, sure, it's been a long time since I walked a 6-foot steel beam suspended 100 feet in the air. But when I did it -- I think it was in a nightmare — I didn't have a safety harness to keep me from slipping, falling and bashing my brains out on the concrete below. And I didn't have a couple of snake-wranglers standing by when I was last covered in vipers. Nor was the dog under the absolute control of his handler the last time I was chased down the street.

No, this is not reality TV. Let's call it what it is: a string of somewhat entertaining contrivances.

Not that I object to "Fear Factor" itself. I've watched it every week since its debut.

But let's not call it "reality," because it's not.


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