siberia-episode-3-fire-reality-scripted-nbc.JPGFake reality shows haven’t really worked on TV. Is “Siberia” about to fall prey to the same problems of those other shows? Only three episodes into the program, and I have to wonder if the flaws are set to do in “Siberia.”

What’s wrong?

What are we watching?

Most reality shows have a clear objective, and the reality portion of “Siberia” is no exception. The contestants have to make it to the end to win a bunch of money. End of story.

Except that “Siberia” isn’t really about just hanging around until there’s a $500,000 prize. No, “Siberia” is more. The question is, what?

At this point, those of us watching at home should have some idea about what kind of show “Siberia” really is. Are we talking about an alien invasion? Is this in the horror genre, with ghosts or monsters due to descend upon our helpless contestants? Will the remaining players turn to a “Lord of the Flies” scenario, killing each other over the slightest provocation?

I have no clue. And really, I think I should have some idea of what’s coming by now.

“Everything’s a game!”

Here’s the thing: In a reality show, it is a game. The stakes are ultimately low (at best, it’s about money). Life and death don’t figure into the picture. The drama in a reality show has to come from somewhere else.

Usually, the drama comes from the people on the show. However much viewers hate some reality stars, you can’t ignore the fact that we watch for those hateful people.

But when the reality show is fake, the sources of boredom and excitement flip. The stakes can be higher — death is suddenly a real possibility on a show like “Siberia.” Meanwhile, the reality crazies are suddenly characters. They don’t go nuts like real reality stars. The contestants on “Siberia” are created by writers. As such, they follow the conventions of characters.

Give us a story

In many ways, “Siberia” is a lot like “Lost.” Mysteries abound, danger is everywhere and no one is safe. There could be monsters and tigers and possible aliens roaming the woods. But what do the contestants deal with the most in this episode? Food.

Sure, there was a hypothetical tiger, but all that did was up the tension.

Because it’s pretending to be a reality show, “Siberia” seems to need to keep the drama focused on the people — how they feel, react and get angry. That’s cool and all, but seriously? Why aren’t there more monsters?

Character development

The contestants on “Siberia” are meant to be acting like real, normal people. As such, they only reveal small bits of themselves over time. Again, this is fine on an over-the-top reality show where we just watch to see what happens next. Caring about the stars only happens over time and when there are big personalities.

With a standard scripted show, heightened reality and the ability to show private moments make meeting the characters much easier. Good shows bring familiarity within a single episode. Even bad scripted shows usually have some identifiable and lovable character development a few episodes in.

I’m honestly not even sure about everyone’s name on “Siberia.” If a lot of things were happening, this might be forgivable. But the action is coming at a slow build, so the audience should at least get the chance to fall in love.

“Siberia” could easily rally and become a great show at this point. One dull episode does not make an entire season. This is, however, the time when we might want to start wondering if reality and fiction are going to cancel each other out yet again.

Posted by:Laurel Brown