Reading too deeply into these things since 1981
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Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift, Steve DiGioiaFTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for review. No money changed hands and all opinions presented here are my own.

Here’s something not many people know about me: I used to wait tables.

It wasn’t something I did for very long, thank goodness, but I was rather good at it, if my tips were any accurate measure of such a thing. I came home from work dead tired and drained, but I was making great money. I had had no training whatsoever, and it wasn’t a job I was interested in keeping, but I was doing very well at it.

Here’s why: waiting is customer service. That’s it. Once you wrap your head around that, it becomes a lot less intimidating. You might think the most important thing is to get the food to your tables quickly, or to make sure you’re refilling drinks before they have to ask, or to make pleasant conversation, and all of those are certainly good things, yes, but ultimately you’re there to, as Simon and Garfunkel once put it, keep the customer satisfied.

When that’s your priority, the job goes a lot more smoothly. Why? Because mistakes happen. That’s inevitable. Plates come out late. Steak is overcooked. Nobody told you you’re out of roasted beets. It happens, no matter how good a waiter you are, so you shouldn’t bank on providing a “perfect” dining experience. You can’t. You bank on providing a “pleasant” one, where mistakes are responded to in a professional and courteous way. As a diner you may not even remember all of the times you went out for a meal and had everything go silently right…but you will remember that one waiter who had to deal with something going wrong, and made it up to you. That sticks. That’s good service.

I had the chance to review Steve DiGioia’s new book, Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift, and was interested in doing so with my customer service background. It has a telling subtitle: “Even if you’re a bad waiter!”

What Steve means by this is kind of what I was getting at above: you can’t be Superman.* He’s not calling you a bad waiter because he thinks you show up to work reeking of cigarette smoke and scream profanities at customers you don’t like. He’s calling you a bad waiter because…well, you probably think you are. And if you think you are, you’re never going to get better, because it’s not a question of “being a bad waiter” so much as it is not being aware of how to improve.

Steve’s approach is interesting, because he doesn’t expect you to turn into a champion waiter overnight, or ever. Instead he lays out around twenty brief chapters of small adjustments you can make that will increase customer satisfaction. That’s all. Why? Because you’re in customer service. And that’s the whole point.

I like Steve’s advice, because it’s realistic. In the chapter about wine he doesn’t lay out every type and what it complements and how to describe it and demand that you memorize everything he says…instead, he instructs you to “cheat.” He wants you to instead learn only about a handful of wines that your restaurant offers. Why? Again, because it’s about customer service, and not about retaining a wealth of wine knowledge. If you know enough to suggest a good wine and answer a few basic questions, the customer will have his or her needs met…and that’s, again, the whole point.

A lot of what Steve has to say here applies to customer service in general. That’s a field I’ve found great success in, because I like to make people feel better. I can’t always fix their problem, and sometimes there’s genuinely not a problem to fix. But that’s okay, because what they want is to feel better. Something that small really does make the difference between someone who is good at their job, and someone who should probably move on to something they enjoy more.

His writing style is a big brusque, which can seem a little dismissive or callous, but ultimately he’s hammering home a very simple point: you can do better. There’s always one more thing to learn (whether it’s where the spare sippy cups are kept or how to get to the nearest bookstore) and you can always deploy that knowledge to make your customers happier…and thereby earn higher tips.

It’s a win-win-win: if you get more tips, you’re happier. If you’re getting more tips, that also means your customers are happier. And if your customers are happier, your restaurant benefits both from having those customers and from having a great waiter. It’s an excellent way to realign perspective, regardless of what line of work you’re in.

However the presentation of Earn More Tips is a bit lacking. Steve set out to write a book that you could read before a shift (it’s only around 80 pages long) and immediately put into practice what you’ve read. On that note, he’s succeeded. For someone looking for text that’s a bit more in-depth, citing research or social experiments, exploring the psychology of customer interaction…they might want to keep looking.

The book can sometimes read like a transcript of somebody giving a great PowerPoint presentation; it feels like you’re getting the overview without the details. Steve, I’m sure, would argue that that’s what he set out to do.** That’s totally fair. But, personally, I’d love to see a more in-depth followup designed to sit on a shelf and be referenced by managers building their staffs, to complement the approach of this one which is designed to be read in a car or a break room waiting for a shift to start.

There are also a few annoying spelling and grammatical issues, as well as some formatting choices that work against clarity. For instance, Steve’s major points are given box-outs to help them stand out. This is fine, except that they often rely on what came just before in the text, and sometimes the text that follows responds to it, meaning the eye is drawn to these boxes first, when really everything needs to be read in sequence anyway.

It’s not a major problem, but one worth pointing out. It’s certainly made up for by Steve’s conviction, and also the simple fact that he’s right; you really can do better, whoever you are, and whatever you do. His advice is simple, because it doesn’t take much to give somebody a better night than they would have had otherwise.

If Steve’s book had been out when I was a waiter, I could have learned quite a bit from it. But that’s nothing compared to what it could have taught my fellow servers. Maybe I’ll buy them some copies now. They’re probably still there…

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for review. No money changed hands and all opinions presented here are my own.
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* In my very first customer service job, a coworker gave me this exact advice. It’s not worth relaying the context; it’s stuck with me ever since, and context has changed a thousand times over.

** He’d also argue that I should be referring to them as “guests” instead of “customers.” He’s right. Old habits die hard.

Turtle Tale name contest

Friend of the website Tony Miller got in touch with me to let me know about a contest he’s organized with Saturnine Games. You can read the whole thing here, but the short version is that their upcoming 3DS eShop game, Turtle Tale, stars a hero that still doesn’t have a name. But you can fix that:

From now until May 31st you can submit name ideas through a number of various outlets. You can go to Twitter and tweet your ideas to @SaturnineGames and @Nintendo_Okie. Be sure to include #nametheturtle in your post. You can send an email to nametheturtle@nintendo-okie.com. If you’ve got a Facebook account you can go to the Saturnine Games page or the Nintendo Okie Facebook Group and submit your ideas there. Entries can be submitted through all of the various means, but please don’t spam the same name to them all, be creative.

Anyone can enter, but if you live in North America and happen to be one of their favorite entries, you’ll also get a free download code for their excellent game Antipole. And I’m not just saying that…when I got the chance to curate my own shelf in the 3DS eShop last summer, this was one of my selections. Here’s why, if you don’t remember. It’s pretty awesome.

Anyway, that’s all…just wanted to pass on the information. Now get turtle namin’!

Finale, The Office
Well, I didn’t expect to catch the final episode of The Office, but I did. I was looking for something to watch, saw a retrospective documentary on the show followed by a new episode, and remembered — oh yeah… — this show is ending now.

So I tuned in, and the format of the episode kind of suited the fact that I hadn’t been watching for a while. I saw a few episodes of season 9 (up to the point where one of the new guys tries to date rape Erin and nobody has a problem with that) and then tuned out. But “Finale” is structured to check in on these characters after an artificial absence. We’re catching up with everyone, even as we’re saying goodbye. The fact that there really was an absence for me might have worked in its favor, or maybe it didn’t. But it should have. It also probably should have been a little better than it was.

The episode’s central conceit is that the documentary crew has finished filming and the series has aired. Now, for whatever reason, they’re filming extra footage for the DVDs…ignore, I guess, the fact that they’ve been filming these people for nine solid years and should already have plenty of “extra footage,” but this show lost touch with any semblance of reality ages ago.

And that’s kind of the problem. At some point you either throw up your hands and say, “Okay, this show is a cartoon with an impenetrable logic of its own that shifts not only from episode to episode but often from scene to scene, and I’m fine with that,” or you stop watching completely. (I did the second thing.) “Finale” only really works, though, if you see these characters as real people that are worth caring about. The episode tries its damnedest to make that stick, but ultimately the damage has been done. These aren’t real people, or anything like real people, and no amount of end-game pathos will retroactively redeem the mess.

That’s not to say it’s bad…it’s not. As an episode of television, it’s fine. As a permanent sendoff to a particular series, it’s better than The Office deserves. But it’s still a bit of a muddle, and one that tries to punctuate a story other than the one we’ve actually been told.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been tuned out for almost a full season, but I really didn’t care at all about Dwight and Angela getting married. Compared to Jim and Pam, or even Phyllis and Bob, this didn’t register as a wedding. It was just a bunch of characters together. You don’t need to have real emotion at the core of every scene in a sitcom, but you need something, and if it’s not going to be particularly funny it might as well be charming, or touching, or dramatic. This was just…there. They’re married now. And since the episode split nearly all of its time between the wedding and the “cast reunion” or however I’m supposed to refer to that, one of those things really should have gone somewhere, or had some sort of narrative arc.

I did like a few things in the episode, though. For starters, maybe it’s just me, but seeing Dwight firing people as the new boss really suggested that he might be the best man for the job after all. How many offices do you know of in real life that had almost zero employee turnover for nine years?

So seeing Kevin and Toby fired, Stanley retiring, Nellie moving, Andy and Darrell following their dreams, Creed on the run from the cops, and ultimately Jim and Pam leaving as well…that made sense. But all it does is remind us that this sort of thing never happened before, which is a problem, and is probably how The Office settled so easily into stagnation in the first place. We need shakeups like this, and they can’t always come in the final episode. The half-hearted non-explanation that Toby always blocked people getting fired in the past only raised further questions. (Such as…uh…why?)

I also liked the fact that Andy’s story saw him being buffeted by cruel public taunting due to…well…the fact that he acted like a jackass on national television and then had a breakdown. Of course, Andy already acted like a jackass on national television and then had a breakdown, again and again for years and years, which the documentary crew caught in full, but for some reason a clip of him crying on American A Capella Idol or something is what does the trick. Again, don’t ask. Just go with it, because the moment when he’s teased in a bar and Darrell asks him if that happens often is just heartbreaking enough to be worth it.

As you can see, though, I can’t even praise the things I liked about the episode without it dredging up even more I didn’t like. And that’s what The Office has always been to me: great ideas and flashes of brilliance that fizzle far too easily. Great moments are undermined by reaching for lousy gags, emotional episodes are followed by everybody in the office having a dance party for no reason, and characters that finally begin to demonstrate some growth have their personalities rewired entirely the next time we see them. It’s disarming, and it’s impossible to form a bond.

Yes, I was moved by Andy’s closing thoughts about how he used to spent all of his time missing Cornell and now he spends all of his time missing Dunder-Mifflin, and how he wished it was possible to know when you were in the good old days, but which Andy is this? The career kiss-ass? The boiler waiting to blow? The hopeless romantic? The neutered nincompoop? The conniving villain? The spineless salesman? The words have meaning of their own, but they’re emanating from an empty shell that could have — and should have — been a rich and complicated character.

I don’t know. It had its touching moments, but that’s because it’s touching by default when two people who are in love do something nice for each other, or historical antagonists let down their guard to be friendly for a change, or people look back and realize they let good things slip away. That’s not down to the writing or the acting…that’s just human nature, and not much of a compliment for the episode itself.

So much of it, even for a presumably carefully-constructed capper, just feels tossed together. I’m not sure why Ryan and Kelly had to come back if all they could think to do with the characters is pair them off and have them be miserable again. I’m also not sure why they were at the wedding of two people who were never fond of them to begin with. Nor do I know why the writers would have put them there instead of the cast panel, where they would have had a logical reason to be.

And I don’t know why the two new guys were at the panel, when people who would have been watching the show would have had a lot more questions to ask someone like Todd Packer, or Karen, or even pointless Gabe who would have had more history with the production and its larger moments.

But, above all, I’m not sure why we didn’t get to hear much from Michael Scott. Yes, he was there. Yes, it was very nice that he was Dwight’s surprise best man. However I want to know what he thinks of the documentary that aired. I’m not sure why that was skirted entirely. Presumably he’s changed a lot and is no longer like the man he once was. That’s great. But for seven years he was documented being an obnoxious, domineering, broken asshole; now that’s aired…and he has nothing to say about it? Personally I’d have been happy with him saying, “I chose not to watch” and leaving it at that. I don’t need a monologue of embarrassment, I just want to know his reaction because that would help to shape him as a character.

Of course, nobody’s been a character here for a very long time. They’re costumes and zingers, so of course they can’t tell us what they think; the writers don’t even know.

Ah well. It had Dwight treating a stripper like a waitress, and I enjoyed Meredith for the first and last time when Li’l Jakey shows up to the bachelorette party. There was also a succession of progressively better moments with Creed, who has been a lone highlight of episodes for a long, long time.

His final song, a stretch of musical gentleness, suggested a much better episode than what actually preceded it. And his little reminiscence of being hired and choosing his desk, just before being led off in cuffs, was great too.

Goodbyes are messy. I know that. Maybe that’s the one thing that did make the episode real. But since these people haven’t been people for so long, I find the sendoff to be more a wistful love letter to what should have been, rather than a fitting cap to anything that actually was.


“Borderline,” Jeff Lynne
B-Side, 1990

The Yup Stops Here, Storage Wars

The heat doesn’t get to me, but I know it takes a toll on the other buyers.
I’m going to use it to my advantage.

There’s probably no more tiresome criticism of reality television than the parroted claim that “it isn’t real.” It’s a meaningless comment that misses the point entirely. The Simpsons aren’t real either, nor were the group of friends who hung around Central Perk, nor were those wisecracking doctors in the Korean War. Ultimately, none of that matters. The aim of any television show — of any kind, in any genre, from any time period — is singular: to entertain enough people that it remains profitable. You’ll fool only yourself if you try to think otherwise.

Of course the difference between reality shows and my other examples above is that reality shows are populated with people rather than characters. Right? In Storage Wars professional pest Dave Hester is a man who really exists, of the same name, who really does buy storage lockers for a living. He’s not played by Dan Castellaneta or Matthew Perry or Alan Alda. He’s a real person you can find actually doing this in real life.

Here’s the big secret, though: that doesn’t matter.

Dave Hester — or any “character” from any reality show of your choice — may well exist. But that does not separate him as solidly from any openly fictional creation as one might think. In both cases, whether you’re a yellow-skinned cartoon dad or flesh-and-blood human being who is filmed as you go about your business, you fill the same role: you’re a character in a TV show that wants to keep viewers entertained.

Which is why the argument that reality shows “aren’t real” is meaningless. They don’t want to be real, no matter what they may say. They want to be profitable. They want to be watched. “Reality” is low on the list of things to strive for when assembling any given episode. Maybe you feel the Duck Dynasty guys play it up to the camera, while Intervention features real people with real problems. You’re allowed to feel both of those things, but ultimately those are just two different paths that two different shows have chosen to follow in order to achieve the same thing: profitability.

The Yup Stops Here, Storage WarsPerhaps you’d fault a “reality show” for using scripted segments and set pieces, but ultimately they’re doing it for you. After all, if they didn’t have their dramatic moments, quick zingers and narrative flow, would you still be watching?

It’s the narrative flow that I’m really going to dig into here, because that’s why “reality programming” can never be real. And that’s okay.

Think about your own life. Think about what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve failed to accomplish, the relationships you’ve had, the jobs you’ve held, and the people whose lives you’ve affected. There might be a good story in there, somewhere.

Now think about all of the meals you’ve eaten, the days you’ve spent sick in bed, the time you’ve lost in traffic jams, the numberless uneventful trips to the supermarket, and all the weekend afternoons you spent scrubbing the bathroom floor.

What I’m getting at is this: your life, anyone’s life, real life, is a combination of components from these two categories. You have the important stuff on one side, and the unavoidable but ultimately meaningless stuff on the other. And — fun fact — the meaningless stuff will always and must always outweigh the important stuff, in a quantitative sense.

This prevents real life from ever making a good story. There isn’t narrative flow. You’re always stuck with the boring parts; there’s no skipping them. Bad things happen to good people and they just happen. There isn’t a reason for most of the things you’ll experience…no mustache twirling villain lobbing obstacles in your way, no ultimate goal that you’ll need to achieve. Reality isn’t a story; it really is just a bunch of stuff that happens.

Which is why it’s okay that reality shows “aren’t real.” Of course they’re not. If they were, we’d see people sit around awkwardly in real time for 22 minutes trying to make stilted conversation. Reality shows shouldn’t do that. That’s not fun, that’s not watchable, and that’s certainly not profitable. Nobody wins, and if you really wanted to see “reality” when turning on the television you should probably have turned your head to look out the window instead.

The Yup Stops Here, Storage WarsNo, in order for reality to become a story, it needs to be edited. Finessed into a more cohesive statement. Trimmed of its dull parts and with its stronger moments emphasized. Think about your life again, but this time don’t think about all the mundane aspects. Concentrate, maybe, on an important relationship you’ve had, or a time you stood up for something that was right, or a seemingly insurmountable difficulty that you overcame. Only focus on the moments that contributed to this eventual triumph, and — this is important — stop thinking of anything at all that might have happened after your moment of success. Through the magic of editing, now you’ve got a story.

I like Storage Wars. I think it’s a good show, and if you asked me why I’d probably say something about the characters, or about the interesting items that they find. Ultimately, though, I’m fully aware of the fact that every episode is “assembled,” and on some level what I’m really responding to is the reliability of the structure. This isn’t found footage presented in the raw; this is a formula decided upon by producers and editors so that every episode, even in a show about people who buy storage lockers and hope for the best, follows a clear narrative.

First we see all of the main characters arrive at the location for the day, then they exchange pleasantries. Then we watch some bidding. Once everyone who’s going to get a locker has one, we get to watch them rummage around looking for a rare or expensive item to show off. Later on the group splinters off to have their finds appraised, and we close with a scorecard showing how much money each bidder made.

It’s simple, but it can afford to be simple. We need only the barest sketch of a narrative upon which to hang our attention, but we do need one. I don’t think the show would be impenetrable if, for instance, we cut back and forth between different auctions on different days, or followed one bidder all the way through the process before starting over with another, but I do think it would look messy and be needlessly confusing. The format provides structure, and it also provides a kind of security…both for us, as viewers, and for those who appear in the show. Everybody knows where they are.

Storage Wars until recently featured four main bidding groups: Barry Weiss, Darrell Sheets and his son Brandon, Jarrod Schulz and his wife Brandi, and Dave Hester who is no longer on the show. Sometimes we’d get appearances from other bidders as well, but that was the main cast that you could expect to see in any given episode.

The Yup Stops Here, Storage WarsWhat’s interesting about “The Yup Stops Here,” though, is that it feels just different enough not to be mistaken for any given episode. It features the same bidders listed above, and it’s presented in the same format outlined above as well. But when assembling this particular narrative, the editors took an interesting approach.

We typically get captions telling us where the episode takes place, or subtitling whispered dialogue, but this time around we get something more: we get a time stamp. More importantly, we also get a temperature reading.

As an editor of a show like this, you are massively beholden to the footage you have.* It’s nice to think that an episode can be magically whipped up depending upon editorial whims on any given day, but if you don’t have romantic footage you can’t create a love story, and if you don’t have footage of two people fighting you can’t make such a conflict the centerpiece of your episode. When you do have small moments like that you can of course emphasize them and mislead your viewers into believing them to be more significant events than they actually were, but you need something to work with first. It’s editing, not alchemy.

In this episode, the editors seem to have taken their cue from a comment made by Dave Hester on his way to the auction. He talks about how hot it’s going to be today, and how he’s going to use the heat to irritate his fellow bidders. This way, he says, they will become flustered, make silly mistakes, and overpay.

The Yup Stops Here, Storage WarsIt’s a threat, and the editors are able to see from the footage that follows that he does see it through, so — just like that — “The Yup Stops Here” has its framing device: the heat.

What’s more, there are 25 lockers up for bid today. We don’t know if this is an exceptionally high number, but we do know that the episode at least pretends that it is, drawing attention to how long the bidders have been standing around, how much hotter it’s gotten as the day progressed, and including quick snippets of auctions ending in order to emphasize the tedium of the day.

Typically we don’t see anything like this. One very obvious editing choice for the show is that we only see the auctions that result in a win for Dave, Barry, Jarrod or Darrell; if it’s won by any of the nameless bidders in the crowd around them, it simply gets cut.

At least, it usually does. By including other wins — even in the form of quick cuts — “The Yup Stops Here” is giving us a more realistic look at what a day of bidding on units must be like. There’s a lot of standing around in the sun, growing irritable and uncomfortable as the day gets hotter, watching other people walk off with the items you wanted. The curtain is pulled back, just enough, and it’s pulled back for a reason: Dave’s threat. After all, it wouldn’t mean much if the day was over in 22 minutes. What we need to see is an entire, grueling afternoon, so we know what Dave’s talking about when he says he’s going to take advantage.

The episode is no longer than any other, but this small tweak to the format makes it play out like Storage Wars: The Movie. As fans of any show know, a change in format makes you pay attention that much more; it keeps you on edge, and you remain fixed to the action because…well, if they bothered to change the format, they must have done so for a reason. So whether it’s Archie locked in the basement, Walt and Jesse chasing a fly or a demon that makes all the characters communicate in song, we watch more closely, because we know the show’s getting at something.

Here, the show is getting at the consequences of Dave’s threat. Never before have the actual items found or the money earned felt less important…what we have here is admitted psychological torture administered by the show’s closest thing to a villain.

Dave Hester is an interesting case. He left Storage Wars after season three, alleging various strange things about the show. His main complaint was that producers stuffed lockers with the items we see on television; it wasn’t really found by the bidders as we see at home. He complained that since it’s illegal to fix game shows, the producers of Storage Wars were breaking the law.

The Yup Stops Here, Storage WarsThis is a claim worth debunking in several ways. For starters, planting literally millions of dollars of priceless antiques in storage units defeats the entire purpose of reality programming; it’s a genre that exists so that lots of episodes can be made quickly and cheaply. Secondly, it’s interesting that Dave incorrectly identifies Storage Wars as a game show, because the conventions of that genre are entirely different from the one in which he actually appears, and it’s possible that because he saw himself as a game show champion, he never realized that he was actually a reality show villain.

In this episode he pushes back against his fellow bidders aggressively. When Barry — an older gentleman who definitely knows how to work the cameras, the crowd and the audience at home — shows interest in a locker, Dave keeps bidding higher and higher just so Barry will have to pay more. He makes no secret of this, and eventually stops bidding on the sarcastic pretext that he didn’t realize Barry wanted it; he’d never stand in his good friend’s way.

It’s just the first missile he fires in the heat, and it’s his only successful one. As if in response to Dave’s claim that the show is “fixed,” this episode seems dead set on following everything he does to his fellow bidders in order to throw them off their game…up to and including a verbal confrontation with Darrell’s son Brandon.**

What happens on screen is every bit as uncomfortable as any high school scuffle you might have witnessed in real life…with the exception of the fact that Dave Hester, who appears to be in his late 40s, is sparring with a much fitter man in his early 20s. While Dave wants to appear in control and intimidating, he actually comes off as rather pathetic, and the discomfort in the crowd around him is palpable. At one point he mentions the fact that Darrell is standing between them is the only reason he’s not in an actual fistfight, which gives Darrell the funniest moment in the episode as he casually strolls away and observes, “Brandon’ll kill him.”

But no punches are thrown. The cameras are there. Far from inventing drama, the cameras here absolutely quell it, as both parties — as upset and heat-crazed as they are — know better than to assault another human being while being filmed for television. And as Brandon walks away — taking with him the title of Bigger Man — there’s a little bit of inevitable disappointment that Dave didn’t get punched. After all, he’s the bad guy. But that’s okay…we still have half the episode left…and narrative convention tells us he’s primed for a fall.

The Yup Stops Here, Storage WarsThe heat goes on, the lockers go by, and the bidders are tired and frustrated. Barry finds himself in the same situation that Dave was in before: he knows Dave wants a unit, and he intends to make him pay more for it, just to get even. He pulls this off successfully, and is clearly happy about it, but Dave won’t admit defeat. He takes Barry over to the locker and tells him that it was Barry’s loss…there’s a 125 year old couch in the unit and it’s going to make Dave a fortune.

Barry’s response is something I’ll always be able to point to as evidence that the show — at least in its bidding portions — is real. He makes Dave a hasty bet of $5,000 that he’s wrong.

This isn’t a Mitt Romney style moment of misjudgment…this is an exasperated man who is tired of being pushed around in the heat by someone who cannot accept defeat. He doesn’t bet Dave $5,000 to be funny, to be cute, or to look cool on camera. He bets Dave $5,000 because Dave is wrong, Barry knows he’s wrong, and he’s had enough that he’s going to go out of his way to make him look like an ass.

Barry’s the anti-Dave in practically every way. He’s playful, with a natural charm and a genuine quick wit. He’s friendly, and though he does get caught up in the same bidding-up game that everyone does on this show, he never initiates it. He admits defeat regularly, and seems to just want to have a good time. We see this silver-haired guy with the silly skeleton gloves and the restless desire to make people laugh, and we like him.

Dave is aggressive. He pushes people, and relishes the fact that the cameras don’t let them push back. He’s a bully, and doesn’t really seem to have much fun. Whenever the show employs an obviously-scripted talking head featuring one of the bidders making a bad pun about something they found in the locker, Dave is noticeably absent. He doesn’t record lines like that. There’s a certain honor in that decision, but there’s a much larger stubbornness, and it’s not attractive in a character.

The Yup Stops Here, Storage WarsThe $5,000 bet turns Dave’s threat right around on him. Yes, Dave did indeed needle his opponents in the sweltering heat until they cracked…but when they cracked, they took it out on him. They didn’t make silly mistakes; instead they came at him with knives out. He physically threatens a boy half his age, doesn’t think enough to walk away from the fight, tricks his fellow bidders into paying more than they can afford on lockers he knows are full of junk, and needles the nicest guy on the show into making him a $5,000 bet just to shut him up.

Barry ultimately wins the bet as an appraiser confirms that the couch is nowhere near that old, and when he does Dave storms off, leaving Barry and the appraiser behind, saying with his back to the camera that they can keep the couch. And when this happens, especially as it’s followed by the episode’s score card touting Barry as the winner and Dave $5,000 in the hole, it really does feel like the triumph of good over evil.

But that’s because it’s a TV show. And maybe this stuff actually happened, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that somewhere in an editing booth, people took real words and real moments and real confrontations, and turned them into an engaging piece of television.

Does “The Yup Stops Here” accurately represent what happened that day? I don’t care. The events are being sculpted in a way that takes what was probably just a miserable day bidding on storage lockers, and turns it into a sharp and insightful character piece, with quiet meditations on manhood, hubris and friendship thrown in for good measure.

They took actual footage of real people going about their day, and turned it into an engrossing, effective work of art. Is that misleading? That’s not the word I’d use. I’d call it impressive.

Reality TV isn’t real. It’s not supposed to be. It’s just supposed to be entertaining, and that’s enough for me.

——
* As if to illustrate this point, during the Dave and Brandon squabble we get a couple of seconds of people’s ankles, presumably because the camera simply wasn’t there to catch what was being said.

** The episode’s title is a telling stab at him as well, as it effectively uses Dave’s “Yup!” catchphrase against him…and, sure enough, after this season the yup did stop.

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