Democracy as Reality

November 11th, 2006

TV’s New Presidential Program

by Josh Elmer

Premiering last night on C-SPAN was the first episode of the new reality TV show “Popular Vote.” The show is a pioneer in reality television, offering the audience full participation in picking their president. There are 10 candidates, with a range of political backgrounds, in a house competing for the grand prize of becoming the President of the United States. Once in the house, each candidate will be tested through the immunity challenges exposing their campaign views, election issues, and physical prowless.

Each week voters tune in and vote for the candidate that they want to see become president. In order to prevent voter fraud each voter must present a blood sample to prove that they are registered to vote, which blood sampling kits were delivered months before the show aired. Critics of the show say that blood sampling is too technologically sophisticated for the average American. Show producers argue it’s the only fail safe way: “blood can’t be forged.”

Out of the ten candidates, only seven have serious political experience. Producer of “Popular Vote” Mark Burnett decided to integrate three extra nonpolitical candidates in order to create friction. The comic relief, however, had the greatest popularity and success after the first episode.

“I was my fifth-grade class president,” Ted Logan said after others asked about his political background. Logan also happens to be the frontrunner after winning the popular vote last night.

The contestants also have a chance to win immunity from the elections each episode by winning physical and mental challenges. Last night was the log roll economic debate, which set candidates on a floating log as host Jeff Probst of “Survivor” asked the candidates questions about economic issues. This event was won by another “common (wo)man” housewife and single mother Becky Finn.

“We gotta make sure that people got jobs,” was her closing arguments after an impressive one minute thirty seconds on the log. The Republican candidate Frank Buchmann had the shortest time of seventeen seconds. Jokes from the liberal candidates said that, “his pants were too tight, and his shoes were too expensive to log roll.”

Frontrunners before the show were Green Party candidate Jeff Hawker, Democratic Candidate Mark Ellerman, and Republican candidate Frank Buchmann. A surprising candidate, running under the Free Soil ticket, is Representative Ted Roades, from Minnesota. Also still in the race is Woman’s Party candidate Patricia Zeidman from New York. These two seemed to be early underdogs coming into the show, due to their relative lack of fame in comparison to the Democratic and Republican candidates. The non-political candidates: Ted Logan, bus driver from Santa Cruz, California; Becky Finn, single mother from Keyser, West Virginia; and Franklin Pierce, an aspiring rap artist from New York City.

The shows ratings were impressive, setting high new benchmarks for both C-sPAN, and voter turnout.

Interspersed between the physical challenges, the candidates have time with each other in the house they are locked into. Like most reality shows alliances form, however, surprisingly party lines do not interfere. One of the most powerful alliances exists between the Democratic and Republican candidates, who joined to support the two party system. Other parties have also formed a strong alliance; Green party, Independent, and Libertarian candidates have teamed up in order to secure a foothold for the strongest third party. The three non-political contestants still have not formed or joined any alliances.

At first glance, I thought this show was a complete waste of the average American’s time, after thorough examination however, I’ve seen what this style of election does have to offer. It’s easy. There is no confusion, no levers, no punch ballots, no electronic ballots, and no mail in ballots. Votes can be sent from anywhere. The candidates are on a level playing field, not one has more financing than another. The common American doesn’t have to take more than one hour a week out of their life to make a decision about who’s going to run the country-while sitting on their couch and eating Funyuns.


Josh Elmer is a sophomore cinema and photography major. In addition to “Popular Vote,” he likes “Speed Court,” the show that gets rid of pesky laws for Gitmo Detainees. E-mail him at jelmer1@ithaca.edu.

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