Since the explosion of reality television at the turn of the 21st century, they become perceived as a lighthearted form of entertainment lacking in any credibility whatsoever. However, with the election of reality star Donald Trump, reality shows have become more intertwined with politics than ever before. This is certainly evident with the appearance of Omarosa Manigault, former Director of Communications at the White House Office of Public Liaison, on Celebrity Big Brother.
Although this is the first American celebrity season, Big Brother has been on the air in the USA since 2000. The premise involves contestants being locked in a house under 24/7 surveillance. Every week they compete and one contestant is evicted, with the last remaining contestant winning a cash prize. Although the show has had its share of controversy (see: Big Brother 15 racism controversy), casting a celebrity with such a publicized political background is very new for the show. This has brought new interest, but also new problems of using a reality show as a source of political news.
Last week, news broke about a conversation Omarosa had in the house with fellow contestant Ross Mathews. In it, she described the current state of the White House, stating “it’s bad” and “It’s not going to be okay”. She has since warned fellow contestants that if Vice President Mike Pence became president, they would be “begging for the days of Trump” as Pence “thinks Jesus tells him to say things”.
The public has reacted to these claims with both concern and outrage on both sides of the political spectrum.
There are three main ways of looking at these statements: 1) she’s lying as part of the game, 2) she’s exaggerating, using the show to get personal revenge or 3) she’s telling the truth.
In my opinion, the reality is a combination of all three.
First of all, one has to remember that although Big Brother has 24/7 cameras, it is fundamentally a competition show.
Unlike U.K. version, the public has little impact on the game; essentially meaning only the other contestants matter. It is actually closer in format to Survivor in that lying is imperative for success. It it no coincidence that the most prolific players are noted primarily for being deceptive.
Therefore, the very nature of the reality show makes it a not very credible source. What is said on Big Brother is not the modern Watergate, considering the contestants signed up for the show and are aware of the cameras. It is more comparable to a traditional televised interview, except if the interviewee were also trying to compete with the interviewer.
Omarosa, a veteran of The Apprentice, is no doubt savvy to the gameplay aspect of Big Brother. Her only real chance in the game is to distance herself from Trump. The fact that her audience in the first conversation was Ross Mathews (of Rupaul’s Drag Race) who explicitly stated he didn’t understand people who support Trump, only supports the theory that she said it to play the game.
However, as reality show veteran, she must also be very aware of the consequences of such remarks. She may be currently isolated, but from her personal experience, she must know how one comment can ignite a firestorm. There is no doubt her remarks have done this.
Regardless of her intent, in the wake of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury her comments have gained traction to the point of even being addressed in White House press conferences. Once released from Big Brother, she has to defend what she said. Would she really risk her reputation over a lie in a reality show? I’d argue no.
While her comments certainly serve the purpose of gameplay and may be an exaggeration due to her uneasy relationship with the Trump administration, I don’t think she would go all in on such comments if they did not have at least some truth to them. The reality show context complicates the use of her comments as a source of information, but that does not mean they are completely invalid. Rather, in the era of “fake news,” we should just be even more careful to evaluate new sources of information than ever before.