Season 7 of 'The Masked Singer'
Everett Collection

“Is that Robert Duvall?” asked The Masked Singer judge Nicole Scherzinger in an episode that aired in April 2022, when the mask came off an older man ensconced in a jack-in-the-box costume. Her co-panelist Ken Jeong responded in a traumatized monotone: “No, that’s not Robert Duvall.” Reader, it was Rudy Giuliani. And as Trump’s Jan. 6 ally serenaded the audience with his version of “Bad to the Bone,” Jeong mumbled “I’m done” and walked offstage. (Robin Thicke, another judge, also reportedly left, but his exit didn’t make the cut that aired.)

It wasn’t the first time a controversial figure in partisan politics had popped up on an anodyne reality show. Dancing With the Stars had already tapped Rick Perry, Sean Spicer, Bristol Palin, and Bristol’s young son, Tripp—whose grandma, Sarah Palin, sparked a brief backlash in The Masked Singer’s third season. But Giuliani’s post-insurrection notoriety and Jeong’s exasperated response combined to create one of the, well, realest scenes in the history of glossy prime-time talent competitions. The chaos of American politics had even derailed a lighthearted singing contest whose costume- and makeup-driven format was imported, like so much of global pop culture these days, from South Korea. If any other show more completely encapsulated the relationship between reality TV and reality in 2022, you probably wouldn’t want to see it. —Judy Berman

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