My daughter came home from school last Friday, grinning from ear to ear and dying to tell me about something exciting which had happened. "I met Simon from Masterchef," she beamed, obviously ecstatic that she had been in the same room as somebody from television. "He visited our school and I shook his hand!"
For a moment, I had no idea who she was talking about. I haven't watched a single episode of Masterchef this year, and I have no plans to - there's enough coverage of the cooking show around here without me weighing in too. But after a few moments, it became clear that she had met Simon Gault, one of the judges from Masterchef New Zealand.
"Oh, that's cool," I replied nonchalantly. "I had dinner at one of his restaurants once." The restaurant was Bistro Lago, at the Hilton Lake Hotel in Taupo. I don't want to oversell the place, but I ate my first ever wagyu steak there. It was a life-changing experience. "That man clearly knows a thing or two about food," I said.
My darling child looked at me, puzzled. "Does he have restaurants?" she asked.
I sucked in a deep breath before explaining that Gault is like New Zealand's version of Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, somebody who started out as a chef and worked his way up to the realm of entertainment. My daughter just looked at me blankly, before wandering off to look at One Direction videos on YouTube or something. She's 12, so it's okay.
It struck me as funny, though, that she'd been so excited about meeting a person she knew nothing about, other than that he was on television. She didn't even know why he was on television, just that he was. I'm not saying Simon Gault doesn't deserve recognition. He's risen to the top of his profession, he's been a successful business, and he now fronts a successful reality competition. I don't like Masterchef, but it's harmless.
But think about the slew of unremarkable "celebrities" we have thrown at us every single day. Compared with the likes of Coco Austin or the cast of Buckwild, Simon Gault is the most talented man on the planet.
Why do we celebrate the lives and non-achievements of the plethora of talent-starved hacks being spoon-fed to us multiple times daily by the likes of E! Channel or MTV?! I've asked this at the blog before, but it's worth asking again. As far as I can tell, it's actually getting worse. And reality television is becoming more, not less, harmful over time.
At least my daughter knows about someone like Gault. Even if she doesn't really understand what the man has achieved or why she knows who he is, it's preferable to her knowing the minutiae of life as a Kardashian or the weekend plans of Snooki and the Jersey Shore crew - or the idiotic hellspawn they've given way to on Geordie Shore.
Even more troubling, reality television is getting worse and could be harming society. According to a survey conducted in 2011*, nearly three-quarters of those who participated thought that reality TV made "people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship" and that "it's OK to treat others badly". Uhh, news flash: it isn't normal to fight with your romantic partner or treat people badly.
Who is teaching society these things? Well, that would be those idiot reality stars I mentioned earlier. Take a show like The Bachelor, which portrays women arguing and backstabbing and double-crossing each other in an effort to win the affection of a man they're going to break up with anyway. By labelling it as "reality television", it gives the impression that life is really like that. It's not.
And that's why I'm quietly glad that, though she didn't really know anything about him, my daughter was excited to meet Simon Gault. Masterchef might not be a good show, but it's a damn sight better than much else on offer. And her excitement at meeting Gault mostly tells me that she is starting to notice the personalities at front and centre.
I'd better make sure the right personalities are being put in front of her from now on.
How are you feeling about reality television in 2013? What reality shows do you (or your kids) watch regularly?
(*) Survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute.