How tension in relationships makes for great reality television : NPR



So on this episode, we have heard about all kinds of friction. But we can’t talk about friction without talking about relationships. And real quick, parents, this last segment delves into some more mature content with potentially offensive language. So we want to end our show with some ideas, even some advice, about how to deal with conflict in our relationships from someone who creates romantic tension and friction for a living.

ELAN GALE: My name is Elan Gale, and I’m a unscripted television producer.

GALE: Elan makes reality TV shows – big, popular reality dating shows. For a decade, he produced “The Bachelor.”


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Will you accept this rose?

ZOMORODI: His latest show is called “FBOY Island.”


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I did not say that…

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: OK, I know but, here, look, but you said it. So, like…

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I did not say that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: You’re going to let me speak.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You can ask her. You can ask her.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: You’re going to let me speak.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, I’m not going to let you speak.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yeah, you are.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I want to see a fight. So if something starts happening, come get me, all right?

ZOMORODI: So you could say that Elan’s job is putting people into situations full of conflict and friction.

GALE: For me, I think that so much of what causes friction in dating, and obviously what we try to put into dating shows, is that people have wildly different desires around the same events.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Well, of course everyone wants a first impression rose. It means you’re safe on their first night. And there’s 30 girls here.

GALE: In a classic dating show, there’s usually one person who is the object of desire.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: I think he’s just so dreamy and cute. And I, like, wanted to kiss him so bad.

GALE: And there’s many people who would like to, in concept, to be with that object of desire.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I’m going to go see him and remind him of the spark that we have.

GALE: And at the end of the day, only one will.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: The claws are out, man, like…

GALE: Most people are going to be unhappy because there aren’t enough satisfactory conclusions.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: When I want something, I get it. Always. No if, ands or buts.

ZOMORODI: All right, Elan. Let’s talk about your latest show, “FBOY Island.”


NIKKI GLASER: The three of you are hoping to find love in this tropical paradise.

ZOMORODI: So the gist of the show is that there are these three women who get their pick of 24 men. They’re all living together on this island. But here’s the rub. Some of these men are, quote-unquote, “nice guys,” and others aren’t.






UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: He’s really cute, but he looks like he’s going to ruin my life.

ZOMORODI: In the real world, somebody who wants to just hook up and then move on will ghost you. But on your show, there is no ghosting. Like, there is only hashing it out, being in a room together, which presumably is why it makes for good television.

GALE: Absolutely. I think that what we’ve tried to do are take these tropes that exist in the real dating world and play a game. It’s really a game show to try to win a big cash prize, which disincentivizes the ghosting.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: I definitely think we have a strong connection, and I want to pursue this with you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: I’m a little confused because, you know, we talk. And she told me yesterday that you told her the same thing.

ZOMORODI: I guess I’m wondering why you think people love watching these scenarios unfold on screen. Because, I mean, I think a lot of us will do anything to avoid confrontation in real life. And yet millions of people watch these reality dating shows.

GALE: I think it’s because we’re really, really used to not getting what we want in life in small ways all the time. And I think that on dating shows, we get to watch people have an emotional reaction to wanting something and either getting it or not getting it.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: It’s hard to hear how much love somebody has for you, but then they still don’t choose you.

ZOMORODI: I know you’ve been out of the game for a while. You’re engaged yourself to be married.

GALE: I am.

ZOMORODI: I am also married. But I have a sister who sometimes is on dating apps, and I have never seen anything with less resistance than the swiping that gets done after, you know, not liking the shape of a guy’s chin.

GALE: Sure.

ZOMORODI: Goodbye. So what’s the biggest thing that the real dating world has in common with these artificial situations that you put people in? Anything?

GALE: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think that that’s one of the things that people are struggling with currently, both on dating shows and in dating in general, is that there’s a lot of parts to people. And they’re super, super, super complex. And getting to know someone is hard work because you have to build trust, and you have to open yourself up and share common interests. There’s a million things you have to do that are so much more difficult than swiping right or left.

ZOMORODI: It does feel a little ironic that we are asking you, Elan, for relationship advice considering you’ve spent most of your adult life on these reality dating show sets. But I do want to know, like, how do you think people can get through these confrontations, these frictions that every relationship inevitably faces?

GALE: I think sometimes you have to just let people live in their delusions. Wanting everyone to understand your point of view with people that you love can sometimes be very damaging. It’s something that I’m not always good at because I – sometimes I feel myself pulling towards needing to share reality all the time. But I think that we have to accept that a lot of us in our personal lives have very, very different lenses. And it’s OK to not see eye to eye on everything and that sometimes it’s better to just accept rather than understand.

ZOMORODI: That’s reality TV producer and writer Elan Gale. He’s the author of “You’re Not That Great, But Neither Is Anyone Else.”

Thank you so much for listening to our show this week about friction. This episode was produced by Fiona Geiran, Rachel Faulkner White, Matthew Cloutier and Katie Monteleone. It was edited by Katie Simon, Sanaz Meshkinpour and James Delahoussaye. Our production staff at NPR also includes Katherine Sypher. Our theme music was written by Ramtin Arablouei. Our audio engineers for this episode were Patrick Murray and Gilly Moon. Our partners at TED are Chris Anderson, Colin Helms, Anna Phelan, Michelle Quint, Jimmy Gutierrez and Daniella Balarezo. I’m Manoush Zomorodi, and you’ve been listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.

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