'I'm not here to make friends': Why reality TV's smartest stars love to be hated

willie-hantz

Image Credit: Cliff Lipson

With the news that Willie Hantz, the younger brother of Survivor villain Russell Hantz, will join the cast of Big Brother this season, the birth of a new reality villain dynasty is upon us. Not only is Willie (pictured, right) the spitting image of his brother, but he is shaping his persona within his brother’s mold. He told Zap2It, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win half a million dollars. Whatever it takes. If my mama was on the island with me, or on the show with me, I would vote her out first because she would get sympathy votes.” It’s safe to say that doing “whatever it takes” won’t involve making friends.

Though the Hantz brothers’ penchant for ignominy seems counterintuitive — why would someone would go on a show predicated upon alliances only to alienate everyone around him? — it has become a tried-and-true strategy as reality TV has evolved these past 20 years. EW talked to experts and insiders, from reality-obsessed academics to some of the genre’s most notorious villains to find out why being mean is often the best plan.

According to Max Dawson, a Survivor super-fan who taught a course on the show at Northwestern, Russell “is an embodiment of the new sort of reality TV show contestant whose entire motivation seems to be to leave that real world behind and to move into this world of reality TV stardom where unless you’ve done something outrageous and despicable in the first three to six days, you run the danger of being forgotten.” Given Willie’s cocky proclamation that the only difference between himself and his brother will be that he’ll win, the game plan is in place.

When series like An American Family and The Real World first aired, the then-unnamed genre of reality TV was very much about “making friends,” or at least exposing the inner working of relationships. Enter Survivor. Season 1 runner-up Kelly Wiglesworth was the first reality contestant to utter those six fateful words: “I’m not here to make friends.” A catchphrase — and indeed an entire ethos — was born.

Though Wiglesworth came up short, victor Richard Hatch didn’t endear himself to anyone by traipsing around in the nude and manipulating his teammates. He certainly didn’t make a lifelong friend in competitor Susan Hawk, who deemed Hatch a snake (and Wiglesworth a rat) in her final jury speech. Regardless of her disapproval of Hatch’s tactics, she appreciated his gamesmanship and ultimately helped secure his victory. It was simple to Hawk: Hatch played the best. “What does ‘the best’ mean?” asks Mina Tsay, an assistant professor of communication at Boston University. “At the end, it doesn’t mean making friends.” She adds, “If it failed, this ["not here to make friends"] concept would not be such a popular technique.” Instead, the strategic use of underhanded conduct has insinuated its way into reality TV’s core.

NEXT: Baddie by choice

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