*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
When my mother was growing up, my grandfather loved to watch his favorite television programs while sitting in his easy chair in the living room. One of those shows was called Queen for a Day. He never missed an episode, according to my mother.
Every episode featured three poverty-stricken women who would describe their plight to the host and a panel of judges. Each of these women needed an appliance or some other big-ticket item but couldn't afford it. They would sob and detail their need for a new refrigerator, an oven, trips to see family, a new wardrobe, or another potential prize of their choosing.
The judges chose one woman to be crowned Queen for a Day and award her the grand prize. The honor came with a literal crown and a sash for the winner to wear.
My grandfather always wept openly when he heard the stories of these poor women. He felt so bad for them. When the host chose one woman to be Queen for a Day and awarded her the grand prize, my grandfather only sobbed harder.
That was my grandmother's cue to laugh and affectionately call my grandfather a "banana brain." She loved my grandfather deeply, but she couldn't understand his obsession with this television show.
Week after week, my grandfather tried to explain to my grandmother the hardship these women had endured and how heartwarming it was that one of them would receive a crown, a sash bearing the words "Queen of the Day," and her prize of choice, whether it was a new stove or a round-trip ticket to visit family, but my grandmother was unmoved.
"That's just a television show. It isn't even real," my grandmother would scoff.
Queen for a Day originated as a radio show that ran from 1945 to 1957. Although my grandfather moved to the United States in 1950, he didn't listen to the radio show. From 1956 to 1964, the show ran on television, first on NBC and then on ABC. It was during this time that my grandfather became enamored of the show.
My grandfather always viewed Queen for a Day as more than just a television show. To him, it was a representation of the American dream.
These women may have been down on their luck, but they still had hope. They were fighting for a better life in the form of a new appliance or other prizes, and the show gave them a chance to improve their circumstances in some small way.
My grandfather passed away several decades ago, but I often think of him when I watch reality television shows like Survivor or The Bachelor. These shows may be contrived and scripted to a certain extent, but they still offer a sense of hope to their contestants.
Like the women on Queen for a Day, these people are fighting for a chance to improve their lives, or their love lives. And that is something my grandfather could always appreciate.