Dear Reality Show Contestant:
I am writing this as a TV viewer who has subjected himself to far more hours of so-called 'reality' television than he cares to remember. It's not that I find this programming stimulating - it's simply that all too often there is nothing else on. I don't expect this situation to change anytime soon, and so it looks like we'll be spending time together in the future. As such, I have one piece of advice. Or perhaps a request. Make that a desperate plea...
Whether you're vying for a recording contract, an executive chef position, or simply a stack of money for winning some grueling obstacle course, I beg you to please make it about the competition, and not some background melodrama from your offscreen life.
I realize you probably have a loved one who is terminally ill, or has recently died from a terminal illness. But for crying out loud, please don't dishonor that person (or their memory) by turning them into some object of convenience for the sake of ingratiating yourself with the judges or viewers at home. I trust I speak for most people when I say it does nothing for us. We've seen this all before, and it is beyond boring.
While I'm sure you loved your Aunt Millie, and were by her side through her courageous battle against pleuropulmonary blastoma, please don't dedicate your onscreen singing, cooking or insect-eating to her. And even more to the point, please don't reference her at every opportunity, especially when you falter and think some more sympathy points will propel you to the next round.
The most blatant example of what I'm talking about was a recent contestant on the Food Network's Chopped. At the beginning of the episode, she was all bravado about her credentials as a Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts graduate. As the show progressed, and her fortunes sunk, she increasingly blamed her missteps on her sister having recently died. In one of the post-mortem on-camera interviews, she expressed bemusement that she wasn't given a leg up due to her fragile emotional state, and then looked straight into the camera, saying with defiant smugness (as well as a total lack of grief): "Hello! Death!"
In one fell swoop, I was left doubting not only her cooking abilities but also the sincerity of her 'loss', assuming she wasn't a paid actress to begin with. (If you miss your sister so much, then let her rest in peace and dignity, rather than defiling her memory for the sake of a ham-fisted attempt at saving face.) Even worse, however, is that such cheap theatrics don't make for good television, regardless of whatever you've been told or how you've been coached by your show's producers. It makes for painful television.
So despite whatever disdain I may have for your show and its ilk, you should nevertheless make it about your passion, intelligence and abilities. Full stop. That's all any viewer will ever really want from you, even those of us who tune in with such low expectations.
I'm sure Aunt Millie would understand.