Reality television. A genre I never got into, especially when the first one I was exposed to was in my Grade 9 Business class, and every time afterward, I’d wish with every fibre of my being I could smash something owned by one of the judges – I mean, dragons. If you skipped the title of my article, I’m taking about Dragon’s Den.
It is the Canadian version of a global reality show concept, Shark Tank being the American. Five (or more) self-made multi-millionaires end up willing to listen to pitches by entrepreneurs, who ask for their investment in an idea if they can be convinced it will bring success. I say it is a great concept completely ruined by toxic and phoney industry drama.
The main reason I hate the show is Kevin O’Leary, a businessman who has been a judge on both Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank. He makes me sick. He reminded me exactly of my sixth-grade bully who kept blowing raspberries whenever he saw me, and said “It’s a free country, I can do what I want” when I took advice and just asked him to leave me alone. A group of those bullies forced me to hide during recesses and I’d often walk home wondering if I’d end up one day in the hospital or juvie for daring to stand up for myself. He’s not on Dragon’s Den anymore, but is still on Shark Tank.
O’Leary is relentless in his criticisms of entrepreneurs, saying being polite gives false hope to failing ones, which could actually be meaner than compelling them to change their ways. He says, “I’m trying to test the mettle of those entrepreneurs, because if they think it’s tough in the “Shark Tank,” wait until they get out in the real world. If they can’t take a guy like me, then they’re not ready.” He never feels remorse for hurting someone’s feelings, and he keeps at it without worries of backlash, like a bully with a buff bodyguard behind him preventing you from fighting back.
Another dragon, Arlene Dickinson, I looked up to when watching the show. Until she said this to one of the clearly-traumatized pitchers: “I’m like Kevin. I don’t care about your tragic story, I only care about money.” The show’s main message is the same as O’Leary’s: Business is war, and to make it you have to be ruthless, stoic, and mean to the competition. I tremendously distrust this narrative the show paints.
Reality television in general is not only generally not grounded in reality, but dismissing of basic facts of life. Producers (and in this case, the dragons as well) have to try to stir up drama to keep people interested in the show. Editors also have the right to add to the belittling. While some pitches on the show take up about 10 minutes (while they’re often in reality longer), others are only given small sections of screen-time that lead to less than one. While I understand television may have to shorten situations to fit in the time slot, the editors are allowed to paint entrepreneurs as complete den failures by leaving out complimentary moments and simply emphasizing the big “I’m out”.
O’Leary now has a reputation for being called “Mr. Wonderful”, partially for his “helpful” advice to entrepreneurs, partially as sarcasm for how he is seen as mean. He has since gleefully taken on this role as the mean and sarcastic man. He says he creates this acting persona around his real-life business model, but whether or not he says otherwise, that does not mean someone of this character will get in an entrepreneur’s way if they dare build their business. It also doesn’t mean that in the real world, if an entrepreneur reaches up and fails, then they are humiliated on national television, which can bring much more serious trauma than a regular rejection. Reality television shows praise when those rejected have the courage to step back in the ring and try again, but showing reluctance to try another go at harrowing criticism is not a sign of weakness. There have also been numerous rejected pitches that have proven successful across the world, adding to my skepticism of their judgments.
It is true that Dragon’s Den allows millions of people to witness an idea, giving entrepreneurs an audience that can be otherwise hard to get. It is also true not every rejected idea is met with soul-crushing criticism. The show, and its counterparts, have given big opportunities to entrepreneurs. Truthfully, I haven’t watched the show since 2012, bad memories preventing me from doing so, and with O’Leary out, maybe it’s not that bad anymore. This article is primarily talking about how back then he caused most of my hatred of the show.
Because you know what the show seemed to not understand when I watched it? It’s that people trust others more when they are willing to show respect and sincerity, not business fizz and well-ironed clothes.