I’ve gotten off of Instagram. I’ve gotten off Snapchat. I’m largely off of Reddit. But there’s one app that I’m still glued to. As bad as its algorithm has gotten (and it is bad), I believe that I will be on YouTube until the end of time, constantly sucked into content holes and coming out the other side months later. One such content rabbit hole consists of >10-minute videos from shows that started in the late 2000s (“House M.D.,” “The Office,” “30 Rock”). All of these shows have been given new life on the ’Tube. One such show is “Shark Tank.”
I talked to my friend Allen about how I was watching all these “Shark Tank” clips and I asked him if he had watched any. He looked at me, appalled, and said. “Why would I watch a show about a bunch of rich venture capitalists throwing money at start-ups?” Of course he was right, my connection to the show doesn’t make a lot of sense. Watching a bunch of “Shark Tank” highlights probably isn’t on anyone’s Vassar student bingo card, but here I am.
The concept of “Shark Tank” is not inherently appealing to me, but the presentation and the small details of the show make it—in my opinion—one of the crown jewels of 2000s business-centric reality TV, up there with “Kitchen Nightmares U.S.” To better understand what makes “Shark Tank” good, it’s worth looking at the failings of its British counterpart.
The British original, “Dragon’s Den,” which also has a fairly active YouTube presence, is a bloody boring show for me. No zany sounds effects every five seconds, no interesting characters, the lighting sucks ass… I could go on.
Whenever I think Americans have something in common with the Brits, I realize that there are still major disconnects, like what we believe reality TV should be. Comparing the two shows’ IMDb scores, “Shark Tank” clearly is what more people want from these types of shows. “Shark Tank” understands that reality TV shouldn’t feel real, it should feel hyper real. Sure, “Dragon’s Den” edits down the pitches, but where are the crazy sound effects to tell me how I should be feeling? I could watch “Shark Tank” with half of my brain removed and still get it.
The other thing that makes “Shark Tank” not suck is that they put together a really solid cast of investors, or “sharks.” Kevin O’Leary is the arrogant one who gives terrible offers. Lori Greiner is into gimmicky home products. Mark Cuban is the shark that seemingly everybody would want to do a deal with because he has Dad energy and owns the Mavericks. Barbara Corcoran goes out on every pitch but also has the lowest net worth, so understandable, I guess. Daymond John founded FUBU, which is kind of wild. Robert Herjavec is…I don’t know, he’s a nice guy. I like him.
It would be a lot easier for me to quit “Shark Tank” if the sharks weren’t so good at not being scandalous. If you look up “‘Shark Tank’ politics,” nothing will jump out at you immediately. Sure, Kevin O’Leary recently attempted to run for president as a conservative, but that was in Canada, so does it really even matter? Mark Cuban thinks paying taxes is kinda cool. Barbara admires Trump as a fellow real estate mogul but isn’t delusional enough to say he was a good president. It’s frankly impressive that they gathered so many exorbitantly rich people together who can consistently keep their mouths shut.
With all the “Shark Tank” I’ve been watching, it’s inevitably entering my everyday thought processes. For example, I was waiting on the lower level of Grand Central Station the other week when a guy came up to me and handed me a tiny notepad. This, of course, is one of the great “Shark Tank” tactics—give the sharks some bullshit so they’re more willing to make a deal. Then this guy started pitching—he wanted $30 for his organization, Organization for a Greater Nigeria, or O.F.G.N. What does a shark like me do? He asks for the deets. “Do you have a website?” Oh, he does. It’s semi-competent. It even has videos on it. Well, I guess I’ll throw him three dollars because I’m too tired to be more confrontational than that. GoFundMe has a limit of five dollars. Shit, I guess I’m giving him five. He thanked me and I was left alone with my tiny O.F.G.N. notepad. This was a failed business interaction. I lacked Mark Cuban’s eye for scams (Nigeria shoulda been a dead-giveaway) and I forgot the magic initialism, FTRIO, “For those reasons, I’m out.” Why was I out? “I’m a broke college student,” “I don’t think you’re being truthful with me,” “This feels like a scam.” How could I be so stupid?
Now, as deep into the “Shark Tank” as I am, I don’t believe in the hyperbole through which the sharks advertise “Shark Tank” to the public. “Shark Tank” is not about the American dream, as they’ve suggested on “Good Morning America.” I think that’s an idea the sharks just kinda stumbled upon. I can imagine the conversation backstage: “What’s good about our show?” “It’s about the American Dream, right?” “No, not really.” “But we could, like, say it is though.” “Shark Tank” is not inspiring. Are there moments of compassion on “Shark Tank” (pity deals if you will)? Yes, but way more often they give people absolutely terrible offers or pressure them into accepting one quickly.
I think “Kitchen Nightmares” is a good comp here in terms of theming. That show is all a bunch of narcissist restaurant owners who get what they want at the end. Is it also kind of about saving restaurants? Yes, but the real catharsis of the show is in the middle sections when Gordon Ramsey finds a dead rat in the doorway, picks it up and yells at everybody in the kitchen. If “Kitchen Nightmares” didn’t have all the reno-work at the end of the episode and Gordon told the owner to fuck off instead, I bet the show would have about the same ratings.
“Shark Tank” doesn’t have Gordon Ramsay or rats, though, so why do I care about it? Well, I love the stupid walk-up music before every pitch in “Shark Tank.” I love seeing Mark call out scams and then Kevin immediately give the same company an offer. I love when Barbara praises a product and then says that she’s out every time. I love when all the sharks cringe at bad sales numbers. Is the show about a bunch of stuck-up rich people? Yes, but the minute, cyclical details of the show still keep me coming back.