Penkava: Making sense of real fake reality

Sometimes I get a bit overwhelmed by reality. Show me the sky on a clear night and I’m starstruck. Play Mozart for me and I’m disconcerted. Hand me a checkbook and a bank statement and I’m outnumbered. And give me a big mouthful of blueberry pie and I’m speechless.

So reality sometimes can be a bit bewildering to me. But, for some reason, reality TV shows make 100 percent sense to me. I understand “Survivor.” I get “American Idol.” And I can totally relate to “The Biggest Loser.” But then along came a show that spun my TV reality equilibrium out of control. It’s a show called “Siberia.”

Evidently, “Siberia” is a fake reality TV show. That means it has the premise of a real reality show, but it’s actually fake. I mean, the people in it are actors and it’s all scripted. So what appears to be reality is fake, but what is fake appears to be reality. Are you as confused as I am?

When I first saw the trailer for this series, it looked very real: 16 people taken into a remote part of Siberia to win a prize of $500,000, if they can be the last one standing. It was like “Survivor” with snow.

Believing that it was a real reality show, I decided to tune into its premiere. Everything seemed real to me. There were helicopters flying the people in. The host with a cool accent laid down the rules, and suddenly all the contestants are scurrying through the backwoods like Siberian musk deer in order to avoid being eliminated as the last ones to arrive at their camp.

Everyone in that first episode seemed quite normal for a real reality show: There was the really buff lazy guy who won’t help out, the gorgeous model from Australia who dominates the camera, the underdog nerdy computer programmer with the black horn-rimmed glasses and your basic professional rugby player from England.

I was still buying into the program when it took a dramatic detour from other reality shows. During the last 10 minutes of the premiere, one of the cameramen staggered bloodied into camp. Before you knew it, the host announces to the contestants that Tommy, the 20ish headbanded philanthropist from Boston, is dead. No details and no explanation. Yikes. This is worse than the guy who actually gained weight one week on “The Biggest Loser.”

There I was, baffled with this fake reality show because I thought it was real reality. But all I knew was that I had to tune in the next week to find out what would happen next.

So I did. And there was more weird stuff. Like people eating poisoned mushrooms and cutting off their fingers and finding otherworldly animal footprints. Not to mention the strange shrieking noises they hear coming from the forest at night. What is going on here? It was strange enough that I was really starting to wonder about this show.

So I went to the Internet and, boom, I find out it’s all fake! Tommy, the guy who was killed in the first episode, is alive and well and is a geologist-turned-model from Massachusetts. Johnny, the fellow who cut off part of his trigger finger at the campfire, is really a business administration/Spanish major who still has all 10 digits. And to top it all off, “Siberia” is not even filmed in Siberia … it’s shot somewhere in Manitoba, Canada!

That was it for me, no more visits to that show. As a wise president once said, “Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me … you can’t get fooled again.”  

So I guess I’m just another victim of real fake reality. But that’s not all bad. Real fake reality could come in handy in writing my columns. After all, if Siberia could be in Canada, then I certainly could write about how I was born in France and became a calendar savant.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He says “Bonjour” to all his readers and wants them to know that May 23, 2149, is a Friday. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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