Reality TV Drinking Games

Drinking games can be a fun way to identify ideological and commercial messages in reality TV shows – all while having a great time.

Ideally, your rules would aim to expose and laugh at (and drink when you see) stereotypes or biases—but not to reinforce unhealthy images. (I’ve heard of drinking games where people take a shot whenever “the bitch they hate gets eliminated.” That’s the opposite of media literacy, in that players are buying into these shows’ manipulative framing and editing, rather than questioning it. As most comedians know, there is a fine line between humor that shines light on injustice and jokes that simply prey on the weak and bolster the powerful. You’ll have more fun, and a more edifying experience, if you choose rules that debunk rather than reinforce bias.)

Create rules specific to whatever program your group of friends enjoys watching. Here are a few examples to get you started:

During America’s Next Top Model, take a sip when:

  • a very thin girl is called fat, calls herself ugly, or says she needs to eat less
  • a Black or Latina model is told not to look too sexy, slutty, or “hootchie” (Take a shot if “ethnic” music or imagery—i.e., hip-hop for Black women, Latin clothing or music for Latinas, sounds of gongs or East or South Asian garb for Asians—is used to distinguish models of color from white models.)
  • the girls say “Easy, breezy, beautiful. CoverGirl,” or repeat ad copy for a show sponsor as if it were a normal part of the day’s events
  • a country’s culture is appropriated (African tribal dance, Japanese tea rituals, etc.)
  • Tyra Banks does something batshit crazy

During Flavor of Love, For the Love of Ray J, or any VH1 or MTV dating show with men of color as bachelors, take a sip when:

  • women are called hos, bitches, or baby mamas
  • a Black or Latino man behaves or is talked about as if he is a buffoon, thug, pimp, or criminal
  • an Asian woman is described as exotic or portrayed as subservient
  • a Black or Latina woman is judged only in relation to her body parts (Take a shot when her ass is the subject of extended conversation or video close-ups.)
  • a dark-skinned woman of color is portrayed as an entitled diva, while a lighter-skinned woman is treated as comparatively sweeter, more beautiful, or more sophisticated

During The Bachelor, More to Love, Tough Love, or any dating show packaged as an earnest quest for romance, take a sip when:

  • a voice-over from the narrator promises that someone “will get sent home brokenhearted,” “hearts will be broken,” or “the claws will come out!”
  • women are portrayed as overly emotional, unstable, and desperate someone says she wants to be treated “like a princess,” is “looking for Prince Charming,” or gets a “fairytale” date (Take a shot if someone is dressed in a Cinderella-style gown, rides in a pumpkin-style carriage, wears a tiara, or visits a castle.)
  • a man is considered more attractive based on the gifts, trips, or jewelry he provides; a woman is considered more attractive the thinner, younger, or more Western she looks
  • someone describes the show as her “only hope” or “last chance” for love; marriage and motherhood are described as the only possible way a woman can be happy

During The Hills, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, The Rachel Zoe Project, or The Real Housewives, take a sip when:

  • social or professional outings seem fake or scripted
  • heart-to-hearts, fights, or crises seem rehearsed
  • someone plugs his or her new book, album, DVD, perfume, fashion or product line
  • a woman is portrayed as stupid, stares blankly at the camera, or says something completely nonsensical (Take a shot if a woman is especially clueless about money.)
  • someone uses a dog, a child, or a gay person as an accessory

I’ve kept these intentionally short as a jumping-off point; add to them as you wish. (A twenty-point Top Model drinking game on Racialicious, a critical pop culture blog, would have you sloshed five minutes into any given episode.)

The possibilities are endless—make your own games for whatever show you watch. But even if you’re legally old enough to consume alcohol and you don’t have a drinking problem, you should really play these with water, juice, or decaf tea or coffee. Considering an average reality TV episode, if you play with booze you’ll be putting yourself at risk for alcohol poisoning by the second commercial break!