Thursday, March 23, 2006

Game Show Review: Unan1mous

This one showed up completely out of nowhere, and I wasn't even aware of it until a few minutes before it premiered on FOX last night. In fact, I likely wouldn't have seen it at all under normal circumstances, as I don't usually watch American Idol, which preceded it on the schedule.

I should also offer a quick disclaimer: there is some debate over whether a "reality" show such as this one really qualifies as a "game show." I call it a "game show" because of the $1.5 million prize offered to one of the participants.

Here is how FOX describes the show on its website:
In a dramatic new television experiment, a diverse group of nine strangers are locked in a bunker, where they'll remain until they decide who is worthy of a 1.5-million-dollar cash prize.

There is a catch, though, because the longer it takes to make a unanimous decision, the less money there will be to win. If they take too long, they will be left with nothing.

Upon entering their isolated living quarters, the nine contestants are cut off from the outside world, locked away, and presented the opportunity to win $1.5 million. The only thing standing between them and the money is a simple vote. If they are able to come to a unanimous decision about who should win the money, the game is over. If the outcome of the vote is not unanimous, the money clock is activated and the cash prize begins its countdown with potentially thousands of dollars lost every hour until the next voting period.

In every episode, each of the nine contestants, who include a minister, an atheist, a ladies' man and a feminist, must convince the others to vote only for him or her. Before the vote, personal facts, secrets and lies are revealed, perhaps helping them decide who should receive the money. As the game progresses, contestants will be eliminated from winning the cash prize, but – in a television first – they will continue to live in the bunker and will continue to vote.

Will contestants' greed for the money outweigh their desire to help someone potentially less fortunate than themselves? Who will lie and connive, and who will be truthful and sincere? No matter what, the final vote must be UNAN1MOUS.
The first show promises lots of the social tension that generally characterizes "reality" shows. And I'm intrigued by the indeterminate length of the concept (most such shows are explicitly set to be a set number of days long, even for the participants), although I could probably spoil some of the surprise if I looked up how many episodes have been scheduled (recognizing that the number of episodes does not necessarily correlate to the length of time it took the participants to play the game).

But I'm especially distressed at the way one of the participants has been portrayed. Kelly (listed as a "minister" and "conservative Republican" on the website) couldn't go 10 minutes into the show without getting into a screaming match with Jameson (listed as a "gay activist" on the website) over homosexuality. Now, this is an issue I have some concerns about, myself. While I would like to side with my more liberal friends who do not believe homosexuality to be a sin, I simply can't get around the (admittedly few) Scriptural injunctions on the matter. However, I do side with those who believe that homosexuality is not a choice, and believe that Christians have done a lot of harm in their efforts to "uphold Biblical authority" on this issue. Put simply, there is no excuse for Kelly's behavior, which is deplorable in pretty much every way, and its embarrassing to see her talk about "what the Bible says" and "what God says," knowing that she's talking about the same Bible and the same God that I claim myself.

Kelly becomes even more difficult to like when she describes herself as a financial adviser (or something similar. This is not on the website, and is dependent on how she described herself on the show the one time I saw the episode last night. However, I did note that she described herself in this way before declaring the she was "also a minister."), and is revealed by the end of the show to have declared bankruptcy despite having over $100,000 available. This is simply dishonest, and reflects extremely poorly on those who call themselves "Christian."

Now, I'm well aware that the people on this show are responsible for their own actions, and do not wish to excuse Kelly's behavior in any way. However, a quick look at the bios on the show's website makes clear that these nine people were specifically chosen for their differing views, not only specifically along "liberal" and "conservative" lines, but often as "Christians" and "atheists." No other religious faith is singled out in this way. This indicates to me that FOX is specifically looking for, and will edit the show to bring out, the conflicts that Christians often have with those who disagree with them. This bothers me, but not for the stereotypical "society is out to get Christians" reason that most right-wingers so often cite. Instead, it bothers me because it seems to me that Christians have created this kind of situation by their often hostile and intolerant behavior. It's one thing to have strong beliefs, and to seek to uphold them in how one acts within society. It's another matter entirely to treat the non-believer (and anyone else who might have a different interpretation of Christian faith) as "the enemy." Let me be clear here; non-believers are not our enemies. They are fellow human beings for whom Christ died, and who might yet be saved. However, if we Christians persist in this kind of hostile behavior toward such people, we will only push these fellow human beings further away from Christ. If we are to be held accountable for our responsibility to evangelize the world, we need to take this problem seriously.

I'm not yet sure if I will continue to watch Unan1mous. While I'm curious to see who (if anyone) wins, watching Kelly's ravings is simply embarrassing.

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