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Fair or foul play?

Competing under the bright lights of reality television
The cast of the 2014 Big Brother Canada is shown in this handout photo. (The Canadian Press)

One day, a man decided to enter a reality TV competition against thousands of others.  He competed with heart and soul and most of all, integrity.  And no one could figure out why.

MasterChef just completed another season with extra helpings of manufactured drama and strange special guests.  As in seasons past, there was a lot of great food.  But with a few outstanding egos, it was all about the cut-throat competition. 

Now, the difference between this type of competition and, for example, Big Brother is that no matter how you try to trip up your fellow contestants, you still have to have the skills to win for yourself.

Back in season four, Luca Manfe was an Italian immigrant who managed a New York City restaurant.  After failing to earn a spot on MasterChef the first time around, he returned to try again.  And over the season, he listened, he learned, and he moved up the ranks.

But in the final weeks, a little strategy was necessary.  When given the opportunity to pass on a tougher challenge to another chef, Luca took it.  Yet, despite the mounting tension, he remained a gentleman. 

During one challenge, Natasha, a top contender, discovered she’d forgotten to get some garlic – essential for her recipe.  Luca gave her some.  Then, when they were down to the top three, another cook needed butter and Luca tossed her a stick.

Why?  Why risk the cash, a cookbook, and a new career just to be “the nice guy”?  According to Luca, even if he lost because of it, at least he would still be able to look himself in the mirror in the morning.

Ah, the mirror test.  How many of us remember what it is?  It’s certainly not encouraged in reality TV.  Even the MasterChef judges criticized Luca’s foolish and mistaken generosity. 

Big Brother contestants move in together with the sole intent of lying and cheating their way to the top.  The only thing reality TV has actually held sacred has been the family bond.  However, that too was tossed by the wayside during Survivor’s Blood versus Water edition.  The king of all back-stabbing games split spouses, siblings and offspring between two tribes.  Suddenly, players were competing against their loved ones.

Survivor is all about manipulating and undermining your competitors by making deals with your tribe members.  However, this time everyone’s true alliance was actually with a member of the other tribe.  Unless it wasn’t.  Which was worse.

Reality TV seems to be looking for new ways to blur the line between right and wrong.  So more and more often, we're surprised when someone plays fair.  And despite the cheesy dramatic pauses and misleading editing to manufacture tension in the scenes, people are still watching – and loving it.  What does that say about our own moral compass?

Something to consider.

And if you’re wondering how the butter-sharing Luca did … Good news.  Nice guys don’t always finish last.  Sometimes they come out on top.