Snooki, cupcakes, and me: Idealist meets reality TV

Love it or hate it, reality TV can inspire some good ideas.

Recently I had an appendectomy. Part of my recovery plan was staying home all week – which meant I watched a lot of reality TV.

Now I’m healed and thinking full-time about Idealist again. But I can’t get those shows out of my mind! If you get sucked in to petty drama like I do but also care deeply about the world beyond the camera, here are some ideas inspired by my week as a voyeur…

The Jersey Shore
Admittedly, the so-bad-it’s-good value greatly diminished by Season 3, but I’m from Long Island and the boys hollering “Gym, Tan, Laundry” still hold a soft spot in my heart. It’s fun to imagine my favorite self-proclaimed guidos and guidettes getting all DTD (down to do good). Here’s how they might:featured

  • Sustainable gyms and danceclubs. A while back, my colleague Joanna wrote about clubs and gyms that absorb energy from the dance floor or exercise equipment, generating electricity. JWOWW, if you come to Portland, I’d love nothing more than to share my membership at the Green Microgym with you.
  • Informed tanning. File under surprising: a tanning salon in Nashville raising awareness for local nonprofits; skin cancer education for Maryland teens; a solar-powered salon in Nevada.
  • Laundry with a purpose. Volunteers at the Laundry Love Project wash clothes for the homeless, while the Laundromat Project brings art programs to local laundromats in low-income communities.

Cupcake Wars
The goal of the show is to make pretty, delicious cupcakes. In the episode I saw the bakers were dueling it out for their cupcakes to appear at the LA Auto Show. But what if were for a good cause? Fundraising strategies involving baked goods are an age-old trick; here are a couple that take the cake:

  • Cancer awareness. Created by a 13-year-old in 2007, Cupcakes for Cancer encourages children to “make a difference, one crumb at a time” by raising money for research.
  • Charitable bakery. Sprinkles, owned by one of the judges on Cupcake Wars, donates leftovers to local food banks in Los Angeles and gives 100% of proceeds from special cupcakes to worthy causes.

Confessions: Animal Hoarding
I’m not a pet person, so this show made me a little uncomfortable. One woman had 97 dogs and 15 cats! Luckily, animal rescue services came at the end of the show to place them in shelters and find new homes.

Shelters can be a bit depressing, but here are a couple that renounce the fluorescent lights and Sarah McLachlan soundtrack that flood my mind when I think of animal rescue:

  • Eco-friendly, animal friendly. Green shelters are becoming all the rage. The Humane Society’s Animal Community Center in Silicon Valley, for example, has solar panels, a water reuse system, and innovative heating and cooling ventilation to reduce the spread of illness.
  • No more sad violins. The Pixie Project in Portland, OR cites Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” to describe their unique approach. Billing themselves as a “personalized dating service” for pets, they are committed to changing the image of animal rescue.

Extreme Couponing
This show blew my mind. It features people who spend most of their waking hours cutting coupons from circulars and scouring the Internet for deals. The grocery store total reaches into the thousands of dollars…but they end up paying virtually nothing.

My husband Craig and I sat there, mouths open, wondering how it was possible and what use they had for all the stockpiled items. But one guy donates his winnings to his church, which got us thinking about couponing for good. Here are some hypothetical scenarios:

  • As a courtesy for saving so much money, the grocery store makes it a policy that couponers must donate a certain percentage of their items.
  • Couponers go to places such as homeless shelters, where goods are always needed, and voluntarily teach staff how to find the best deals.
  • A site where organizations post what they need, and coupons that match pop up.

I would love to feel that my week of cupcakes and Snooki served some purpose. Does this spark any ideas for you? Has reality TV ever inspired you to take action?

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Comments (6)


  1. Reinel writes:
    May 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I LOVE this article! Thank you for putting a positive spin on all of this ‘junk’. I often throw negativeness towards reality tv, but your inspired ideas reminded me to turn that thinking around!


  2. Christina Espinosa writes:
    May 20, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I am really not a reality show person but I have been thinking about opening a cupcake shop in Guatemala to help bring in money for a NGO project I have started there. I loved the idea of the special cupcake to bring awareness to local NGO’s and help them with fundraising. THANKS!


  3. Cindy Weaver writes:
    May 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I love the positive spin on the crazy world of “reality” TV we are so immersed in. If only more people would consider opportunities for looking at the world in a more positive light! I hope the recovery process for you has gone well!


  4. Christopher writes:
    May 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Great, fun post, Celeste. Who would’ve thought watching reality TV could be guilt-free. The producers of The Bachelor/Bachelorette should seriously consider green dating!


  5. Julia writes:
    May 23, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Very inspiring article. Way to make wonderful good from what many of us alternative types see as sickening, meaningless, or depressing!


  6. Heather Zeman writes:
    May 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Too funny! I’ve been thinking of a way to host an extreme couponing challenge that would directly benefit a shelter, food kitchen or halfway house, particularly in either the NYC or MD area. If anyone’s interested in helping me explore and plan this out, let me know! (heather-underscore-zeman-at-yahoo-dot-com)


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