We all know reality TV is not that "real," right? That's especially true when winning or losing a competition's at stake. You just can't trust anything you see in these shows; often contestants work the game as much as they can to optimize their chances for success. This isn't really that surprising; I mean, we call them contestants, after all. But this aspect of manipulating TV cameras takes on another somewhat sinister dimension when matters of the heart are involved. They say all's fair in love and war, but it still seems super cold to toy with someone's heart on national TV just to win a prize, doesn't it?
In a perfect world, we'd probably like to believe the contestants on Oxygen's The Glee Project are immune to this kind of coldness. After all, as reality TV contenders go, they're relatively young; everyone on this season of the show (its second) ranges from only 18 to 24 in age. Moreover, they're all competing to win a spot on one of the most wholesome, positively-messaged shows on all of television. Glee Project contenders don't game the system, right? Isn't what we see is what we get?
Well, honestly, that does seem to be true for a lot of the kids, especially because the show doesn't give them a lot of opportunities to manipulate how the game is played. Either the contestants are good at what they're doing or they're not. Since there's no audience voting and all the challenges are merit-based, it seems like this show really is just judging kids on their ability to sing, dance, and act… and that's how it should be.
But still, don't think that the contestants on The Glee Project only care about The Glee Project… or even its parent show. After all, how many careers has reality TV launched? Any avenue that can make you famous is one worth exploring. If these contestants can't win a spot on Glee, they can still win our hearts and minds. They can make us want to follow their careers well past whatever happens over the next few months on a cable channel.
And so we come to Aylin and Charlie, this season's star-crossed lovers… the Katniss and Peeta of Glee Project, if you will. Even though this last week's episode in theory put the brakes on any developing relationship, it's doubtful we've seen the last of it, especially since Charlie's acceptance of being put in the friend zone seems half-hearted at best. So it is that we ask: is this relationship genuine? Or are we being manipulated into feeling something for these contestants? Which version of Katniss and Peeta are they playing?
It seems pretty obvious that Charlie is not any kind of mastermind; it doesn't look like he's putting on a show so much as following his emotions wherever they may take him. That doesn't just refer to Aylin, either; he's been criticized quite a bit over the last few weeks for making strange acting decisions and being basically impossible to control, which tends to suggest that the dude follows his gut maybe too much. He's probably not too concerned about his Q score, unless he is running some kind of super-deep con on all of us.
But Aylin is a little trickier to figure out. Since the idea of an on-screen romance came up back in episode one, she's been saying that all she cares about is winning the competition. That hasn't kept her from being super-flirtatious, though when this flirtation put Charlie (and potentially her) in serious jeopardy, she definitely pulled it back. It doesn't seem like Aylin's out to hurt anyone, but she also seems at least somewhat aware of how her actions are being perceived by the people watching her—not just the judges, but the audience at home. How often does she refer to the fact that her mom's learning awful things about her by watching this show, for instance?
So maybe referring to Aylin and Charlie as Katniss and Peeta is actually really apt. Like Katniss, Aylin's not out to hurt anybody, but she does want to win, and she's not above letting a little harmless flirtation make her pop on-screen to do it. You've got to admit she is one of the most fun contestants to watch this season. Charlie, on the other hand, isn't really playing the larger game at all… he's just madly(ish) in love with a girl who's been thrown into the same circumstance he has, and he wants to make a connection. It's sweet and relatable, and as a result we're probably all rooting for him.
Much like in The Hunger Games, the reversal of typical gender dynamics is nice—the girl plots and schemes, while the guy follows his heart—and much like in The Hunger Games, it means the camera absolutely loves the Aylin/Charlie story. Like, did we really need that minute or so of them discussing their relationship at the start of last week's episode? Not so much, because it didn't come up again the whole time. But that seems to be one of the major through-lines the show's following this season, especially now that Mario—another one of the camera's favorites—has gone home.
Is Aylin using Charlie to make us like her? Probably not… at least not in the way that contestants on, like, Survivor, use each other. But does Aylin know that her flirtatiousness makes her appealing? Almost definitely. Does Aylin want to be appealing? Absolutely. She's one of this season's contestants that seems most focused on taking home the prize, and she also seems to have a pretty good shot at it. Everyone keep your eyes on Aylin Everdeen, and hope that Peetie doesn't get hurt too much while she's blazing a path to victory.
Do you think Aylin really likes Charlie? Do you think they are the Katniss and Peeta of The Glee Project?