Do you believe in success at all costs?
That in competition, or business, or life, it’s about winning at all costs. Success is ours to grab. Even if we have to grab it out of the hands of someone else. That we live in a dog-eat-dog world. Each man for himself. The end justifies the means.
I don’t. But last night I was reminded some people do.
I was watching the finale of The Next Great Baker on TLC. One of the three finalists on the show, Gretel-Ann Fischer (I hate to even give her exposure by mentioning her name, but at the same time if people are searching for write-up’s on her behavior I want them to see this one), decided that anything goes in competition. She justified cheating and sabotaging the other competitors by saying “Apparently I’m the only one who sees this as a competition.”
I understand Reality TV is entertainment.
I know much of it is scripted. The cast is chosen to provide a variety of personalities and with any luck a villain will emerge. In the few reality TV shows I do watch, I always make note of the almost invisible cast members, recognizing they don’t add much to the show. At the same time, I detest the drama created by the self-centered villains. Probably why I don’t watch much reality TV.
But there are a few shows I enjoy. They are those that showcase people with talent and passion. People pursuing their dream. People who are willing to do whatever it takes to “make it.” Yet it seems in some cases, that “whatever it takes” attitude is so strongly driven by the desire to win, it prompts some people to cross the line of right and wrong, of competing fairly vs. cheating.
The Next Great Baker is just such a show. Aspiring, and sometimes seasoned, bakers vying for their big break. For the chance to do the work they love on the big stage. To win money to support their dream. I enjoy watching the creativity of the contestants and watching them perform under pressure. It really is quite amazing what someone with drive and a dream can accomplish.
But cheating being played off as “competition”?
No, that I don’t buy. Someone needs to explain to this 36-year-old woman, who is also a wife, mother, and business owner, that cheating is NOT part of competition. I think even Lance Armstrong would probably now agree with that sentiment. Now that he’s lost everything as a result of his own cheating.
Yet this baking competitor proudly flaunted her cheating and justified it with a sob story of how much she needed to win. How she’d been told her entire life she would never make it as a baker. How her bakery was struggling and she needed the money to save it and to support her family and nine employees. Really, THAT makes it OK to cheat?
Sadly, this is just another example of how important winning and succeeding have become in our society.
This woman has two young children and a business. How do you explain to your kids that cheating is OK if you have a good reason? You don’t. Do you stop and think about how your customers, or people you want to be your customers, might feel about supporting someone who lies, cheats, and stabs people in the back while pretending to be their friend?
Personally, I was appalled by it.
And judging by all the comments floating around in the Twitterverse, so were the majority of viewers. Gretel-Ann made a lot of enemies. I suppose the good news is that it appears most people do not condone this behavior. They do see it as wrong. Even in the context of entertainment.
Perhaps, when the show producers began to see early in the season that she was playing the game like a “competitor” they encouraged her to ramp up her competitive TV persona… to play the “bad guy.” To wallow in her sob story. To cry and keep reminding viewers how persecuted she was as a child for wanting to follow her dream, and how much she is struggling as an adult to make it happen. I can almost hear them saying “It makes for good TV.”
After all, we love a rags to riches story.
We love to see people overcome all odds to achieve the American Dream. We celebrate these victories. Just look at all the support and media attention recent Super Bowl stars Ray Lewis and Colin Kaepernick received. Both overcame pretty big odds on their way to the big game and had huge fan bases rooting for them.
I suppose on some level that watching these underdogs succeed makes us feel like anything is possible. If they can overcome then so can we. If they can achieve their dreams, we can, too. After all, our hurdles are likely much smaller than the ones they’ve faced.
And so perhaps, Gretel-Ann either played along or got caught up in the game, eager to gain her 15 minutes of fame… to become a reality TV star. Believing that by doing so it would help her achieve her dream. And, the truth is people ARE talking about her. I’m writing about her. But I wonder at what cost to her? I wonder if after all is said and done she’ll deem it worthwhile?
By the way, she didn’t win, she came in second place. No money to save her bakery. No job working at Carlo’s Bakery. Just fame, or perhaps more accurately, infamy. And I supposed because of that—seeing the way reality TV often works—she may end up with her own show. So perhaps she will “win” after all. I certainly hope not. I would hate to see that behavior rewarded in any way. It only encourages others to do the same. And that’s the last thing our world needs.
I know it’s just reality TV.
I know it’s not real life.
I know it’s entertainment.
But I also know it is a reflection of our society. It is based in reality and it also influences our reality. If these shows continue to flourish it’s only because we are watching, and in effect supporting them.
As for me, I don’t know if I’ll keep watching this particular show. While I recognize that it’s only entertainment, I was bothered by the fact that Buddy, the show’s host and owner of Carlo’s Bakery—a 103-year-old family business in Hoboken New Jersey that’s achieved worldwide fame as a result of this reality TV show—almost championed the cheating… he was impressed by how much she wanted to win and by what she was willing to do. I don’t believe anything justifies cheating. If you can’t win fairly then I don’t believe it really counts if you do win.
The good news is, popular sentiment supports this belief. Most folks posting on Twitter and in response to blog posts about the episode did not support her cheating. They did not share Gretel-Ann’s perspective that because it was a competition anything goes. So I suppose if there’s a silver lining, it’s that while this behavior may persist, most people don’t believe it’s OK.