Tony Robbins’ Breakthrough on NBC, Redeeming Reality TV

Yufang and I watched Breakthrough with Tony Robbins on NBC tonight while we were having dinner, and I can attest that this show is a welcome redemption to standard reality TV offerings. The show is meant to be inspiring and educational, motivating and informative. Robbins may pull out all the stops with the people he helps on the show, but he lays out and implements the basics of his humanistic will to power, pattern breaking, and breakthrough approach to personal triumph and fulfillment.

I have listened to several of Robbins’ courses in the past, and I have found his methods useful and constructive. Luckily, Yufang remembered that Robbins’ show was on tonight, because I am stuck in the middle of planning my dissertation right now. Hence, not much else has been on my mind.

Tonight’s episode featured Frank and Kristin Alioto, who have dealt with Frank’s spinal injury since the day of their wedding. At the reception, Frank dove into a shallow pool, which resulted in him being a quadriplegic (a life altering condition that several people that I know have suffered as a result of different events with one of them being a diving accident). The Alioto’s fell into a routine of daily living that excluded either of them really living and following their aspirations. Robbins guided them through breaking with those routines by having Kristin relearn enjoying herself without Frank (doing things for herself and her wellbeing without Frank being there), and by having Frank relearn personal strength (playing murderball) and independence (driving his desert truck). The results, despite being on camera for a wide audience, were heartwarming and inspirational.

I hope that a show like this will continue its initial trajectory and show how people can be helped through breakthroughs–finding the hidden path that leads back to where they want to be as persons. It runs the constant risk of seeming exploitative as does all reality television, especially the self-help variety.

I also hope that the audience sees how to translate Robbins’ techniques into useable and realistic plans for their own personal transformations. Much of this is in his audio courses (which I have heard), but the polished shine on the amazing things that the Alioto’s did in the one hour program could give the wrong impression to viewers that the elegantly simple plan that Robbins proposes can be scaled or translated into a person’s situation in life. From personal experience, I can say that you don’t need to fly to Fiji or jump out of an airplane to make these ideas work for you. Personal ingenuity, imagination, and tenacity can make anything possible.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.