And Trump’s loss of the important Wisconsin primary to Cruz recently lends a certain irony to Trump’s attempt to control the narrative this campaign, says Thompson at Syracuse University. “It’s as if the techniques Trump brought to the process have turned on him,” he says, noting that a serious setback is also essential for a reality show contender hoping for the brass ring.
“If I were a reality show producer running this show, I would script it exactly like this,” Thompson says. In the latest plot twist, he notes, Trump accuses Cruz of being the leading edge of some kind of invasion of the GOP establishment, even though Trump is the candidate who turned this campaign into a blood sport, spawning a "Never Trump" movement and thus nurturing his own antagonist.
This turn of events also lifts a page straight from the reality show playbook, points out Cesternino. “If you look at ‘Survivor,’ the character that gets rewarded in the end is the one who does what it takes to win,” he says, adding that authenticity without apology or backing down is more important than good behavior. “He may have blood on his hands, but if he really owns his actions, then the jury is more likely to reward him than someone who apologizes for bad behavior.”
For now, it’s unclear if Trump will end up with either the party’s nomination or the White House in his grasp. Indeed, another well-honed convention of the reality genre is to build up one character only to have a last-minute dark horse contestant snatch away the prize.