Tag Archives: reality tv

Queen For A Day

Jay Crowned 2

By: Jay Duret

I am fascinated by reality TV. I love the cheesy gimmicks and the faux competitions. What is better than seeing alliances made and betrayed, secrets kept by shouting them out? I can’t get enough of the building tension as one contestant after another is sent home, banished, excommunicated, forever branded a loser.

I have studied reality TV. I know reality TV.

There are the Bachelor shows: the eligible good-looking dude chooses his babe; the eligible good-looking babe chooses her hottie. Then there is the twist: the big fat dude who has a skiddillion dollars chooses his babe. And the twist on the twist: the big fat dude who is supposed to have a skiddillion dollars doesn’t actually have any, so the babes he has been romancing are mortified when they find out that he is poor as well as disgusting and they have drooled over him on national TV for nothing.

And there are the warrior shows. The tribes left in the arctic, in the forest, in the swamp, in the desert. Always eating the same sickening bugs that you find in the arctic, the forest, the swamp, the desert. And for a twist, a whole show where people have to confront their fear of bugs, by, well, eating them, as by if swallowing gooey white maggoty writhing slithery slimy pustule coated grubs they’ll be better men or better women, not just sick to their chiseled stomachs.

And the quiz shows. For quiz shows you get the best excitement if the money keeps increasing until the contestants have so much that it is hideous and sickening when the lose and all their winnings are forfeit. Who doesn’t love that moment when it all comes crashing down?

While many think that reality programing began with The Real World and Survivor, the first reality television program was a daytime show from the 50’s called Queen for a Day. In that show, three or four contestants – I believe they were always women, which makes sense given the name of the show – competed to present stories of hardship to a live studio audience. Each contestant would regale the audience with the difficulties that she and her family had suffered: children with incurable diseases, job loss, bankruptcy, disfigurement, injuries too numerous to recall, failed marriages, parents sick and dying, you name it, the whole panoply of human pain and hardship.

Each contestant was given a block of time to tell her story. There was a host – a smarmy fellow named Jack Bailey – who helped the contestant choke out her tale of woe. Bailey was a known for his solicitousness. He was quick with a white handkerchief when tears appeared. A fine Wikipedia article on the show describes his approach beautifully:

Bailey began each interview gently, asking the contestant first about her life and family, and maintaining a positive and upbeat response no matter what she told him. For instance, when a woman said she had a crippled child, he would ask if her second child was “Okay.” On learning that the second child was not crippled, he might say, “Well, that’s good, you have one healthy child.”

 After each contestant had said their piece, the audience actually voted which of them had told the most piteous tale. As I remember it, though it was a long time ago and my recollection could be faulty, the voting was conducted by applause. Here is the scene: at the end of each show, all the contestants joined Jack Bailey on stage. He lined them up so they faced the audience. Then he approached the first and held his hand, palm down, over her head as if he were measuring her height. Signaled by that gesture, the audience applauded, and the intensity of the applause signified the degree of hardship that contestant had endured. The more applause, the sadder the story. Bailey then moved to the next contestant and repeated the process. There was a device – I swear this is true – called an “Applause-O-Meter” that purported to calibrate the level of applause each contestant received. The contestant with the highest score on the Applause-O-Meter – in other words, the contestant judged to have the endured the greatest misery – became Queen For A Day!

The crowning moment in each show was the crowning of the Queen. After the Applause-O-Meter had done its magic, a queenly robe, the kind with velvet and tufts of furry trim on the edges, appeared and was draped lovingly on her shoulders. The robes were drenched in royal red. The Queen then gentled herself into the luxurious comfort of a much-pillowed throne. A tiara – actually a full-on crown – was placed on her head. Her arms were filled with four dozen “coronation roses”.

And then there were the prizes! The prizes were not usually things that would alleviate, at least very directly, the suffering that had lead to the coronation. They were better! The prizes were toasters, dishwashers, sometimes a jeweled watch, always a washing machine and a year’s or a lifetime’s supply of household cleaners. Items for the laundry and the kitchen! The sort of things that a Queen would be needing after the magical day had run its dizzying course.

There was a lot of weeping on Queen for A Day. The contestants wept as they told of their difficult circumstances. The audience wept as they leaned in to hear of the contestants’ difficult circumstances. And, there were tears, for sure, when one lucky – well, unlucky – contestant was selected to receive the amazing gifts and prizes.

For all the weeping, Queen for the Day was a popular show. According to my research, the show was aired on radio and then television for 17 years – from 1947 through 1964. And thereafter, there were several, largely unsuccessful, attempts to revive the show. Indeed, those efforts continue to this day. As recently as 2011, a hustler with the difficult name of Michael Worstman, a former executive and producer with various entertainment enterprises, was trying to bring QFD to today’s audiences. He built a website devoted to promoting the concept. The site makes a strong case for the return of QFD. According to Mr. Worstman,

As a brand, Queen for a Day has worldwide recognition, stature and historical significance and is ideal for advertisers who desire to strongly connect with consumers. Queen For A Day is a relevant and seamless way to integrate appropriate lifestyle products into the show in support of ad campaigns and product launches. Consumers who see others becoming excited about a product or service can stimulate a desire to want it too. And in some cases, the gifts contestants receive can be life changing. And that’s powerful… 

I want to support the case for bringing back Queen for a Day. I love a good reality show – the cheesier the better as far as I am concerned – but I can’t do it. I can’t stomach the fact that some of the contestants lost. Sure they got consolation prizes, but how pathetic to have appeared in supplication before a national television audience parading your family’s pain and misery for all to wallow in, only to be judged by a jury of your peers not to have had it bad enough to merit the title of Queen For A Day. That was harsh.

I know, I know. This is real life; there is too much anguish out there. There just aren’t enough kitchen gadgets to assuage it all. That’s probably why the host ended each show with a bit of wistfulness: “This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day…” But I am sorry. That was the problem with Queen For A Day; they did not understand that reality TV shouldn’t be too real.

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Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator. His novel, Nine Digits, published by Second Wind Publishing, will be available in 2014. Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com.

To experience the glory of QFD in its prime, click here and then click on the tab marked “voting”.





Filed under writing


Jay Duret My first book, Nine Digits, is a comic novel for young adults. Nine Digits tells the story of a dysfunctional family chosen to compete on a reality TV show in which the winner will receive a prize of $100 million. The show’s producers are hucksters, shamelessly manipulating the contestants in pursuit of higher ratings and the advertising dollars that those ratings bring. The book follows the family as they try to win a hopelessly rigged competition.

After creating the television contest in Nine Digits, a contest as outrageous as I could conceive, I was humbled when I stumbled upon a reality television program far more outrageous than mine. In this program young women competed to win a “celebrity-style, dream wedding”.  While I found it disappointing that some people see a celebrity-style, dream wedding as an ultimate prize in life, that wasn’t new news and I would not have paid the show any attention but for the show’s name: Bridalplasty. What kind of a name is that? Bridal, fine, but plasty? What is that? Were they going to sculpt their wedding cakes?

I decided to do a little research.  Turned out that Bridalplasty was an actual thing, a real reality TV contest that enjoyed a real life two-month run on E! Entertainment at the end of 2010. Twelve young women – all engaged or already married – competed, not just for a celebrity-style, dream wedding, but also to obtain their personal wishlist of surgical procedures. The winner would be entitled to all those cosmetic surgeries that make the difference between an ordinary life and, well, a celebrity-style, dream life.

Along the way to the dream wedding, there were 10 contests among the brides-to-be. To create additional tension each week, the winner of each stage was entitled to pick a surgical selection from their wishlist and have it performed by the show’s resident doctor, a plastic surgeon who was, in real life, a plastic surgeon to celebrities! Thus in the second week of the contest, Cheyenne received a rhinoplasty. The following week saw the Top Bride, Kristen, experience the full joy of breast implants. The surgical largess obtained by successful contestants en route to the finale included liposuction, tooth veneers, and a procedure to remove that flabby dangling fat that lives on the underside of the upper arm.  In fact, at the conclusion of one particularly joyous episode, all the brides who completed that day’s challenge received coveted Botox injections.

The weekly chance to win surgical procedures did not provide the only drama. Each week a bride – the Bottom Bride, as it were – was eliminated from the show amidst much weeping and remonstration. Thus as the field shrank and the surgeries multiplied – the brides competed with their noses criss-crossed by surgical tape, I swear to God – the stage was set for the final episode.

That episode pitted Allyson, a heavy set 32-year old blonde from Crestwood, Illinois, against Jenessa, a skinny, sharp-elbowed, hustler from Wayne, New Jersey who had earned a reputation for her feral scheming and maneuvering. (Jenessa might have been devious but she won my heart when she pointed out that Allyson might play the victim, but “after she got the lipo she went back in the kitchen and ate hot pockets every night.” That was a good line.)

Jenessa received a disappointing surprise when the judging panel for the final contest was revealed: it was the very brides who had been eliminated!! With those judges, Jenessa didn’t have a chance. They didn’t even finish polling the judges before it was clear that Jenessa was going home without all the surgical procedures that separated her from a celebrity-style life.  But if the drama of a close vote was denied to us, we were treated to one splendid moment when Alexandra White of Atlanta Georgia rendered the vote that put Allyson over the top. Alexandra had been given a chance to address the finalists – the Final Brides! – and personally deliver her RSVP. Alexandra used her time in the spotlight to give Jenessa a nugget of profanity-laced wisdom, the central theme of which was that Jenessa got precisely what she deserved.

I could not resist doing a little research on Alexandra.  I was quickly rewarded to learn that Alexandra had previously been a contestant on the Biggest Loser reality television program. She had not won Biggest Loser – and indeed her girth during Bridalplasty suggested that she liked hot pockets too – but she had scored a bigger prize: it had been on that program that she had met and become engaged to her fiancé. And so in that perfect karmic confluence that favors television shows devoted to the pursuit of deep meaning, Alexandra was competing on Bridalplasty to become the Perfect Bride for the very hubs with whom she shared the limelight on Biggest Loser. How big was that! What a moment! Made in heaven!

The dramatic piece de resistance of Bridalplasty was a brilliant and carefully wrought plot device: once the contest began, the fiancé did not actually see the winning bride until after her surgical wishlist had been completely fulfilled.  This paved the way for one of those magic television moments – a moment so profound that the full possibilities of the medium will never again be doubted – the moment when Allyson was revealed to her fiancé in her new and improved format. Allyson 2.0.

The big reveal, the magic moment, occurred during – yes, you guessed it – their very own celebrity style, dream wedding! At the alter! Picture this scene:  Allyson in front of the preacher, her soon-to-be husband facing her. She was swaddled in veils and lace, utterly hidden from the eyes of her wedding party and the dozens of guests in attendance. No one could tell who she had become until the final instant before the vows, when the veil was lifted and Allyson, radiant goddess, was revealed to the oohs and ohmygods and yougottabekiddings from the wedding crowd – a crowd that included the very brides whom she had bested along the way. Allyson! With the glam complexion and the golden hair. With a smile as white as the ceramic of a new toilet. Allyson with the cute nose and so many improvements that I cannot even list them here, all revealed to her lucky fiancé in that one unforgettable instant. Boom!

One might be sad that Bridalplasty lasted only that one incredible season, but fortunately for all of us who write, that magic final episode will live on forever on YouTube, an enduring reminder that no matter how outrageous a situation a writer may create in a novel, real life will go one step further…

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Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. His novel, Nine Digits, will be published by Second Wind Publishing this Spring.  Jay welcomes feedback at jayduret@yahoo.com. And for those who want to see it first hand, that magnificent final episode of Bridalplasty can be seen here.


Filed under fiction, Humor, writing