Sunday, October 30, 2011

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How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show
(Photos by Getty Images)

We are at a point in time where there's a reality show for almost every possible skill, from cupcake baking to ice sculpting to the more popular song and dance competitions. From season to season, contestants change, but the formula for success stays the same. Despite the ubiquity of these shows and the patterns that develop within them, contestants continue to get kicked off for making the same dumb mistakes. With all that prize money out there, it's time we compiled a cheat sheet for some of the most popular reality competition shows; so find the one that fits you, study up, and send in your audition tape.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show Don't let your torch go out on Survivor. Survivor

  • Know the basics of survival. It's right there in the title of the show, but for some reason there's always a few contestants who don't even know how to build a fire or construct a simple shelter. Being in the wild with limited supplies is no joke. Even if you have one hell of a charming personality, if you can't contribute, you're done.
  • Know how to work an alliance. Anyone who's spent time watching Survivor understands that there's no way to make it to the end unless you collude with other members of the tribe. The best position to be in is quietly saddled up to the leader. The alpha personalities always has a target on their back but still drive the group. As such, get on their good graces without making it blatantly obvious to the rest of the tribe. The other key in the taking advantage of an alliance is knowing when to stab your co-conspirators in the back; if the alpha-dog takes you close to the end, they're going to vote you out before the final council simply because you've pissed off fewer contestants. Get them before they get you.
  • Keep your mouth shut about the immunity idol. Immunity is like gold in any reality TV competition, and on Survivor, you can score the hidden immunity idol without anyone knowing. And under wraps is how it should be; however, invariably contestants end up divulging their immunity discovery and become victims of mass manipulation. Keep it to yourself, people.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show Be bold on Project Runway. Project Runway
  • Don't play it safe. Your construction can be flawless and your styling impeccable, but if your design is boring or redundant, you won't make it past the halfway point. Every season, someone with questionable taste and flamboyant aesthetics makes it to the final four. Just look at the most recent season's runner-up, whose Bryant Park collection was filled with neoprene and plastic; one outfit looked like it was covered in fruit roll-ups. Speaking of fruit roll-ups...
  • Get used to unorthodox textiles. This show's been on for nine seasons, and contestants are still shocked when they have to make a ball gown out of plants or separates out of dog toys. Innovation is part of the show; we're tired of hearing, "I design high fashion; I don't make pants out of garbage" or whatever. Get with the program and practice making pants out of patio furniture. 
  • Listen to Tim Gunn. Of all the reality shows that try to institute some kind of mentor figure, Project Runway has the absolute best in Tim Gunn. The man's like a fashion Gandalf, yet there's always some 20-something know-it-all or jaded past-their-prime designer who thinks they know better. And wouldn't you know it, every time they ignore his sage advice, they get dinged by the judges for the exact elements Tim pointed out. He's there to help. Use him.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show Avoid the chopping block. Top Chef
  • Don't get stuck with dessert. First of all, you should come into the show with some dessert recipes up your sleeve just in case. That said, avoid making dessert at all costs. There's always a couple challenges where the group has to cook one giant meal, each taking on a course where the last choice is always dessert. Some chump ends up volunteering "for the good of the team" or to "challenge" themselves, and it never ends well. If you go sweet, you go home.
  • Know your serving environment. You're not always going to be in a dining hall or restaurant. Sometimes it's outdoors or in a food truck or whatever. We've seen dishes not set properly (fail), ice cream melt (fail), and fried food sit out too long and go stale (also fail). Learn to adapt, people.
  • Make everything. Nothing seems to piss the judges off more than finding out your pasta came from a box or your sausage came pre-made. If you can't make all the components of your dish from scratch, you're on the chopping block.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show If you want to win, you've got to run. Amazing Race
  • Get in Shape. For some reason, there's always a few contestants who don't realize the "race" part of the show's title. There will be running; there will be physical challenges. Don't be surprised by these elements and hit the treadmill before you fly off to god knows where they put you.
  • Pay attention to EVERYTHING. Sometimes the clues are right in front of your face, but other times, they are a small detail amidst mass chaos. Also, you'll be doing a lot of traveling and map reading, so although time is of the essence, mind the details and read carefully.
  • Learn stick. You'll be driving cars in foreign lands, which means they'll likely be manual transmission, so if you want to get where you're going without the help of a mechanic, learn to drive stick shift. Plus, if you're a dude and your friends discover you can't drive stick, you'll never hear the end of it.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show Get in good with the host. America's Next Top Model
  • Cater to Tyra. Flattery will get you everywhere with Tyra Banks. The whole show is basically designed to inflate Tyra's ego and give her a platform to convince America how multi-talented she is, so play into that. Even if it comes off as fake, she'll eat it up, and winning over the head judge can only help you.
  • Don't get high and mighty. Until you get to the elite level, models are basically props, so don't cop an attitude when the challenges get tough or weird or racy. If it's cold, don't complain. If it's scary, don't be a drama queen about it. And if it's too sexy for your taste, don't try and take the moral high ground. It's a prime-time TV show, they're not going to have you doing full frontal or anything, relax. You want to be a model; this is what models do.
  • Embrace the makeover. Again, the show has been around for 17 seasons, and every season they give the girls makeovers, and every season a few of the girls freak out because their hair's too short or the wrong color. Get over it.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show Get your rose, girl! The Bachelor
  • Stand out early. The field gets cut in half within one episode, so while the sane women are casually enjoying themselves and fitting in like normal people, the more flamboyant personalities are catching the Bachelor's attention. Even though it's a quest for true love, it's still a competition, so let your more exuberant traits shine through on night one.
  • Know when to make-out. The girl that gets sloppy drunk and throws herself at the Bachelor is never going to make it to meet-the-parents-week; on the other hand, the girl who won't kiss until she knows "he's the one" only gets about one date with that mentality. It goes back to the point that if you're going on this show, you should know you're competing with other women.
  • Don't drop the "L" word too soon. Let's go ahead and make this a rule of life, not just for The Bachelor. Sure, you're both there to find love, but if you start dropping the "L" bomb after two weeks or when there's still 10 other girls competing the same guy, it looks crazy and a little desperate. (And if it's not clear already, avoid saying how many babies you want to have with him. That girl always gets the boot.)

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition ShowLearn the ways of Idol. American Idol
  • Leave your ego at the door. This is glorified karaoke, so don't act like a diva. You may have the voice of an angel, but if you come off like a jerk, the judges aren't going to root for you, and America isn't going to vote for you.
  • Impress Randy. With Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul gone, Randy "What's Up Dawg" Jackson is in control of the judging panel. JLo may be the bigger celebrity, but Jackson's the grizzled vet people listen too.
  • Improve your style. This goes not only to your voice and the range of songs you sing, but also to your look and brand. America is voting, and America loves a good transformation story, so play into that by gradually upping your clothes, hair, accessories, etc.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition ShowYou'll need more than good moves to win SYTYCD. So You Think You Can Dance
  • Don't get injured. Granted, there's not much you can do if you hurt yourself, but realize that if you let it keep you from dancing, you're basically sealing your fate as the next person cast off. You're gonna have to power through the pain if you want to stay.
  • Have a sob story. This goes for a lot of talent competitions, but given the emotion choreographers want you to exude during their dance, it helps to have something to draw on. America is a sucker for tragedy and redemption, and the judges want to know you're feeling something deep when you perform, so opening up or embellishing a painful moment in your life will serve you well.
  • Don't have plastic face. While showing emotion and personality during a performance is key, try not to confuse that with having a cheesy smile plastered on your face. The judges will liken it to being in a beauty pageant, and that can be the kiss of death on SYTYCD. Also, retire jazz hands. It didn't work in Bring It On; it doesn't work on So You Think You Can Dance.

How to Win Your Favorite Reality Competition Show There's more strategy to being The Biggest Loser than you think. The Biggest Loser
  • Get huge before taping. It sounds counter-intuitive to the show's premise, but if you win the show by losing the most weight, you should fatten up before the first episode. The more weight you have, the more you can lose. It's not cheating; it's strategy.
  • Learn to run. Being on the big side makes running difficult and awkward looking, so take some time in the privacy of your own backyard to learn the mechanics of running with all that weight. It'll give you and edge on your competition, and it'll save you the embarrassment of being the person who inevitably bites the dust on the treadmill.
  • Vote off the guys. Sorry ladies, but biology dictates that it's easier for men to lose fat than it is for women. As such, a general rule is that your biggest competition is most likely going to be male. Vote the dudes out early, then start picking off the hardest working women.