When I first heard of the concept of Fox's newest Reality Show (at least it was the newest at the time of this writing), I was at first horrified. Then I was intrigued. Then I couldn't stop watching - much like you cannot look away from a train wreck. As I watched the show, I realized that it wasn't quite as distressing as I had first thought it would be.
The premise of the show is this: They take 16 women whose physical appearances range from plain to butt-ugly, and give them all Extreme Makeovers, and the grand finale is a beauty pageant which will take place as the final episode of the season. During their makeover, they are not allowed to look at themselves. The mirrors are removed from their rooms, and they are kept in relative isolation. They may call their families (as much as they like) but they are not allowed to see them. They are finally allowed to gaze upon themselves after their three month makeover period is complete. Their big reveal takes place on a set made to look like the lobby of a fine mansion, while they are surrounded by the doctors and experts who participated in the makeover process.
Now, when I say "Extreme Makeover", I mean extreme. Most of these women look nothing like they did when they started. Almost every women receives dental veneers, rhinoplasty, botox treatments, facelifts, collagen injections into their lips, and brow lifts. And that's just their faces! Their bodies often recieve butt-lifts, breast augmentation, and extensive liposuction.
Surgery is just the first step. After that, things get tough.
When they are barely recovered from the brutal extensive surgery, they begin a diet and exercise program to firm up any extra skin and fat they have left over. Almost all also receive therapy from a professional psychiatrist. As you can probably guess, none of these women would have been considered great beauties, and most have been relentlessly teased their entire lives. Unsurprisingly, they all have self-esteem issues, and some have anger management and motivation problems.
When the makeover is complete, they should not only be happy with themselves unconditionally - thanks to their emotional therapy - but when they see their new bodies and faces, they get an extreme confidence boost and hopefully this will catapult them into a great (at least healthier or less self-destructive) new life.
Every week two women are made over, but only one of them is selected to go on to the pageant, and the other goes home. At the end of each show the big reveals are done (one at a time separated by commercial breaks), and the reveals have been, for the most part, tearful moments, punctuated by exclamations of shock and gratitude.
The beauty pageant is not based strictly on physical beauty. In fact, there have been a few times when the less physically attractive of the two were selected because of factors like attitude and magnitude of the makeover. None of the losing contestants have been visibly disappointed, because even though they might not go onto the beauty pageant, they've received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of surgery, therapy and physical training. Not too shabby for a "loser", I should say. Also, to soften the blow, the losing contestant gets to see their families for the first time since they started the program, as husbands, parents and kids are filed in to see the new woman.
At first I thought that the concept of this show was exploitative and disturbing. I thought it was going to be a cheap and dehumanizing parade of T&A, with the added shock value that all the pieces of meat used to be ugly. But it's not a that bad a show, if you like Reality TV. At least they're trying to make it elegant and inspirational. Reality TV is exploitative by nature, and so are beauty pageants. The Swan is no less so - but it's not more so either.
At least backstabbing, over-aggression and conflict are not encouraged like they are in other reality shows.