Since reality television shows are prevalent in US culture, I’ve started some ideas for a program about competing storytellers. It’s called Storytelling Smack-Down. Twenty storytellers from around the world come together in two teams to compete for one grand prize. One teller will live “happily ever after”.
As each teller is voted off, s/he is sent to the “dungeon” (don’t worry, it’s really a resort in an undisclosed location). Because it’s an international competition set in the United States, some of the storytellers have English-speaking translators. These translators live in the two cabins with their teams. It’s a little crowded, but that’s all a part of the required stress inherent in reality television. Tensions heighten when the host (K. Sean Buvala, creator of Storyteller.net, would be perfect) announces that each team has to choose a livestock animal to live in the cabins with the teams. When the storytellers complain, the host points out that It Could Always Be Worse.
There is some heated discussion among the teams about the fairness of the English-centered program, but the first true drama arises when fisticuffs break out between two storytellers regarding the proper ending of Three Little Pigs. One teller says, “The pigs who made houses out of straw and sticks should be eaten by the wolf because of their foolishness—it’s a case of natural consequences.” The other teller says, “It’s not much of a story if the third pig doesn’t have companions to help him defeat the wolf.”
Some of the team challenges include putting together tandem stories, incorporating props in stories and competing in various arenas such as a park with construction noises, an auditorium with high ceilings and only a megaphone for amplification, and an island surrounded by crocodiles. The teams get smaller as tellers voted off are sent to the dungeon.
The stress begins to show. Another fight breaks out over who has permission to tell stories from which cultures. One team says, “Stories belong to everyone” while the other team says, “It all depends upon the culture. Some stories belong to the communities from which they came and should not be told without permission.” During one challenge, two storytellers are disqualified for representing literary stories as folktales.
In the final days, the host tells the remaining three tellers to move out of their cabins (which are filled with squalor because of the livestock) and into hotel rooms. The tellers can hardly believe their good fortune. Viewers watch a time-lapse montage of a gratuitous day of primping and buffing that’s a glorified ad for all the sponsors. Little do they realize that they are being prepped for the final and most grueling challenge of all: the “Scheherazade Cycle”. The challenge is to start a story and keep going until there is only one teller left standing. Tellers get ten-minute bathroom breaks every hour with twenty-minute eating breaks every six hours, but there are no allowances for sleep.
At the end, the winner gets the big cash prize and all the other tellers come out from the “dungeon” to greet the audience and answer questions. What’s beneficial about this show is that every teller has some amount of airtime on an international level. The surprising popularity of the show means that subsequent seasons will be filmed in different locations all over the world. The show brings a boost to the oral tradition, though some are worried about how the reality show may dilute the true definition of storytelling. There’s also some concern about tellers selling out as they accept product placement spots, but the tellers point out that now they have a chance of paying off their children’s college tuitions.