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Television's Greatest Reality Show is The Last One You'd Ever Expect

By Brian Byrd | Miscellaneous | May 10, 2016 |

By Brian Byrd | Miscellaneous | May 10, 2016 |

Finding someone with a triple-digit IQ to pay reality television a compliment isn’t an easy task. “Guilty pleasure” is the kindest possible descriptor: (Yes, I acknowledge that this programming is akin to eating nine deep-fried Big Macs while masturbating to a 1994 Woolworth’s catalog. It just feels good ok leave me alone). The maligned genre is television’s Ted Cruz — a grotesque, thoroughly unlikable creature loathed by its peers yet kept afloat by undereducated yokels repulsed at the sight of two men holding hands at Quiznos.

From white-trash towing companies to mulleted bounty hunters; desperate singles who seek love and fame (though not necessarily in that order) to lonely individuals with basements full of cat skeletons; bigoted duck-call manufacturers to grinning swindlers who con the elderly into selling their valuable junk for far less than it’s worth: no obscure hobby or profession is off-limits to a determined basic-cable programming director. “GET A CAMERA CREW OVER TO LORETTA’S SEA MONKEY EMPORIUM RIGHT FUCKING NOW! I WANT 13 EPISODES BY THE END OF THE WEEK!”

Every now and then, like a minority who leaves a Trump rally without any visible injuries, a reality show manages to escape the genre’s reeking waste dump no worse for the wear. The most overlooked example is a little ditty called Sports. And the long-running series is having one of its best seasons in recent memory.

Sports isn’t your typical reality show. Sure, it follows the established genre template — cliched storylines, archetypal heroes and villains, moments so unbelievable you can practically see the script superimposed onscreen — but arranges these familiar beats in such an entertaining way you can’t help but get caught up in the drama. Most visitors to this site don’t follow reality TV. You’ll want to make an exception for this. Check out what’s happened so far on this season of Sports and all its spinoffs — Sports: NBA, Sports: NFL, Sports: Wrestling (ed: nice try, Joe), Sports: Soccerfootball — then tell me you’re not interested in catching up.

Sports: NBA (Season 60 Currently Airing)
A team from California whose best player is the son of a former series star only lost nine games this season. In 82 opportunities. “Hey!” said the Cleveland Browns, “We’ve only lost a few more times each year for the last two decades. Where’s our love?” Well, you only play 16 times a year, Browns. Stop interrupting me and focus on which future homeless meth addict you’ll draft in the first round. So yeah, Golden State went 73-9 to finish with the best regular season record in NBA history (one win better than the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls team led by former Birmingham Barons great Michael Jordan). The Warriors are young and incredibly fun to watch mostly because their two-time MVP point guard Steph Curry can reliably hit jumpers from the Oort Cloud.
(image courtesy Hubble Space Telescope)

Sports’ producers, in an effort to even out the playoffs, slathered Country Crock all over the court during the Warriors’ opening-round series against the Houston Rockets. The transfat coating had the desired effect: Curry sprained his knee and may not be back until the Western Conference finals (if his team makes it that far). This devious but brilliant play by the showrunner opens the door for other contenders like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Cleveland Cavaliers (just kidding the only title Cleveland will ever hold is the mortgage to a dilapidated duplex that’s worth less than a burned-out 1988 Trans Am).

Other highlights from this Sports: NBA season include a franchise player breaking his hand after accidentally banging it on an equipment manager’s skull, and a Very Special Episode™ where two young African-Americans showed a skeptical world that physics is a mutable concept. “So now we’re handing out trophies to black guys who break laws?” an armed Trump supporter asked while dropkicking a Mexican through a plate glass window at Chipotle.

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For real, this year’s dunk contest was once-in-a-decade spectacular and you need to watch the entire thing right now.

Sports: Pansy English Football (Season 23 Finale airs May 15th)
The English Premier League is simultaneously the most democratic and the most oligarchical sports league in the world. The method for determining the champion is deviously simple: each team plays all 19 other teams twice, once at home, once on the road. The side with the most points (three for a win, one for a draw) after 38 games is the champ. Sports doesn’t get any fairer than that. Except there’s no salary cap and no single-elimination playoff. So the teams owned by Russian oil magnates and hedge fund billionaires gobble up all the elite talent, effectively narrowing the possible title contenders to a half-dozen brahmins before the season even begins. Hard to build an audience with such a drama-free setup.

So this year the Truman Show-esque overlords demanded the showrunners revamp the entire formula. What resulted is arguably the biggest underdog story in modern sports history. Leicester City (pronounced Aloe Guv-nuh, Av You Scene Owuh Em-pie-uh?), a 5000-to-1 longshot to win the Premier League, did exactly that earlier this month. To put those odds in perspective, the worst line for any NFL team to win next year’s Super Bowl is 200-to-1 for — of course — the Cleveland Browns. Obviously the writers veered too far into absurdity this season but you’d have to be a heartless shitsack to downplay Leicester’s accomplishment.

Sports: Harder a Vibranium Dick American Football (Season 51 begins Fall 2016)
In a cramped hallway before taking the field for Super Bowl 50, a broken old pitchman gathered his team around to deliver what will go down as one of the greatest speeches in Sports history. “We know delicious Budweiser™ is the undisputed king of beers,” Peyton Manning began. “Well, fellas, if we win this here game, we’re gonna be the kings of football presented by Draft Kings™. People will cheer our names Nationwide™. I may not have the arm I used to, but I can still hand-toss a savory Papa John’s© medium pepperoni a yard or three. So get Chase Open — with 5 percent cash back on all purchases — and I’ll find ya. Let’s do this for our city. Mile HiGH on three. Ready? BREAK!”

The Broncos’ defense dragging Manning’s carcass to a second American world championship over a Carolina team too concerned with where they can piss to study game tape wasn’t this season’s only captivating storyline. The writers used the NFL Draft — a three-day event where wealthy white men select which previously unpaid minorities they want to come push heavy equipment around their fields — to highlight the dangers of marijuana use. Warning, kids: if you smoke weed in college like a savage, prepare to lose $8 million dollars when you graduate. These are facts. Fortunately, the wealthy 21-year-old wound up in drug-free Miami, Florida, where he’ll live a cloistered existence and definitely not drive his pink Bugatti through Prime 112’s front door at 4:46 am.

Sports: Unpaid Intern Edition (Season 89 begins Winter 2016)
In a nod to our country’s changing demographics (the ladies have been interested —in some cases even participating — in athletics for at least the last three years), Sports opted to shine a spotlight on both men’s and women’s basketball this year. Wise choice by the production team. Also, props to the writing staff for tackling the wage gap issue head on. Creating a fictionalized world where no athlete, male or female, is compensated for their work despite generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue is a well-intentioned yet ludicrous solution to an intractable problem.

The men’s season wrapped in the most storybook fashion possible when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins sunk a deep 3 at the buzzer to win the national title over the vaunted UNC Tar Heels, who were too preoccupied with a long-haired individual walking into the men’s restroom to close out the shooter.
Seriously, this is every kid’s driveway fantasy come to life.

Only Villanova coach Jay Wright, who is apparently a cold-blooded White Walker, seemed to know the outcome in advance. When the zombie pandemic hits and societal constructs crumble as chaos reigns, find Jay Wright. He’s got this.

Women don’t have time for this type of drama. The UConn Huskies, in a preview of the November presidential election, did not lose a single contest. Thirty-eight games, 38 wins. No team has beaten UConn in a basketball game since True Detective was good. This season’s championship a 31-point rout of Syracuse — was the school’s fourth title. Oh, in a row. It’s their fourth title in a row (the seniors never lost a tournament game). Huskies players went one-two-three in the WNBA draft. Females are strong as hell.

Enough of this “sports as reality TV” conceit. Sports is amazing. It’s thrilling and heartbreaking and wonderful and communal and adversarial all at once. You have the opportunity, right this very moment, to watch generational talent operate at the peak of their powers. Five of the seven best basketball players on the planet — LeBron, Steph, Kwahi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — are still competing for an NBA title this year. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Jake Arrieta, Giancarlo Stanton and a host of other stunning young talent is doing the impossible and making baseball watchable. Arguably the greatest quarterback/Noble Gas Law enthusiast in NFL history will chase an unprecedented fifth Super Bowl ring later this year. College football is closer than ever (but still not quite there) to determining a true national champion; its cousin on the hardwood already owns the single most captivating postseason in sports. In the last decade alone we’ve seen Michael Phelps make Olympic history quite literally by a fingertip, Serena Williams obliterate all comers on and off the court, and the country’s most hallowed country club redesign its golf course to give the world’s elite pros a desperate chance of finishing within five strokes of the animal in red. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the two best soccer players the game has ever witnessed, play in the same goddamn league and the same goddamn time.

Yes, sports — particularly professional sports — is rife with serious problems: greed, stupidity, criminal behavior. Name an industry that doesn’t. Fundamentally, sports’ positives outweigh its negatives. Sometimes only by a few atoms, but that’s more than enough to make you permanently retire the Woolworth’s catalog.