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#ShahsOfSunset & Other Shows: Realness Versus Reality Gold

Last year, preceding the premiere of Shahs of Sunset, cast member Mike Shouhed told me he thought the season would garner an Emmy nomination. I love this Bravo show, but over the course of watching past (and now, the current) seasons it’s become apparent that the cast acutely feels the need to drum up drama during duller moments. It is true that a lot of what we see is real and raw, and that MJ, Mike and Reza wish they didn’t have to show viewers certain things. But…what makes them great, ultimately, is that they know that “sharing everything” – no matter how excruciating some disclosures are – is exactly what they signed up to do.

Also, and especially this season, it seems to viewers that the cast is overly conscious of plot lines going stale. That’s precisely when they’ll throw Molotov cocktails into the mix. The “fake” components don’t bother me as much as they probably should – There is something about this dynamic Persian crew that has me captivated. I’m tuned in for all of their adventures.

Sometimes events can seem “extra”, but it works with this kooky ensemble of outlandish personalities (Reza’s husband Adam, who was the more easygoing “better half” last season, must have recently received a memo to be more reactive on camera. He’s dialed it up bizarrely this season, which strikes me as rather inorganic).

Asa Soltan is the former full-time Shahs cast mate who kept so much of her personal and romantic life private and was adamant about keeping various details off camera. This season, she’ll only have a few cameo appearances which suits Mercedes Javid (“MJ”) just fine after expressing her annoyance about Asa in an interview with me.

Even with the irksome intervention of several publicists on the phone line, MJ’s effortless candor with me was greatly appreciated. I could totally sympathize with and feel the frustrations she was having: Here she was discussing “dysfunctional” aspects of her life in detail, repeatedly hearing her mother painstakingly critique her on television. In the meantime, Asa was intent on keeping everything close to the vest (including her longtime romantic partnership with Jermaine Jackson II).

Mike’s comment about the show deserving an Emmy, Reza and MJ’s shenanigans designed to antagonize the irascible GG, the outing of Shervin as a deceptive womanizer…These are all things that could cause the VP of Bravo PR to quake in his suede loafers while pacing and pondering: “Will the press pan this show as being scripted?”

More realistically, I’d say he’s largely unbothered because Ryan Seacrest Productions works their magic annually to put this masterpiece together in way that hooks longtime viewers and reels newbies in. Scripted-seeming or not, as Mike Shouhed himself would tell you: “People freakin love it.”

Here’s the thing with reality television: While a lot of what is filmed is off the cuff, so much is also planned and devised with precision beforehand.

So should we believe MJ and Reza when they say that a shocking announcement at a party was merely a spur of the moment drunken move? Only partly.

Their tactic is most likely a PATT move: Plan, Ambush and Tag Team. There was no peace in mind when inviting Shalom’s other ex to the Valentines soirée. It’s unlikely that MJ and Reza didn’t have some strategic meeting of the minds beforehand.

It’s been rumored that some Bravolebrities have practiced “lines” in front of mirrors before we see their quote-worthy words uttered with impeccable delivery. One reality tv personality had a line that stood out to many, but the individual privately admitted that reality TV bloggers gave them the quote word for word, hoping to drive a certain narrative home.

Producers do make executive decisions such as: “You’re turning 50 and I know you’d like to have a party. That’s where you’ll ask ____ about her husband’s separate apartment that she’s never seen.” But the personalities on these shows will admit that after only a bit of initial nudging, once the ball is rolling it’s easy to push past formalities and go rogue. If you don’t operate at the requisite speed to freely let your freak flag fly without filter, then honey, you weren’t made for reality TV. (See: Peggy Sulahian, 100th Housewife — also referred to as “Peggy Shhh No Talk!” by comedian and Housewives impersonator Amy Phillips.)

While I can grapple with what’s not reality about reality television – and I watch The Bachelor franchise as true testament to that – I think there’s a limit to what’s acceptable. There’s an immense amount of scheming that goes on behind the scenes when you consider reports of romantic couples who are not actually items at all, but rather, have made a business arrangement to benefit both parties. There have been at least two couples that come to my mind at this very moment: They are seen as having contrived storylines. These couples have been dogged by rumors of business arrangements: You play my fiancé/boyfriend/girlfriend/on-off hookup. It will make things much spicier this season.

A seasoned reality personality knows that being sensational wears off fast. Because it’s ideal to stay perpetually fresh, the wheels are always turning.

Knowing that I know all of this about reality TV, it boggles my husband’s and my sons’ minds that I have a more difficult time getting into modern scripted shows. To that I say: Where is the fun in knowing it’s all fake, when I can enjoy wondering about what is, versus what isn’t, instead?

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