As I watched the curtains sway behind the doors on the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica and the newscasters on CNN swoon over the fact that the curtains were rustling, I realized that waiting on the announcement of the next pope was by far the best reality TV show I had seen in years.
Never mind the fact that I had no idea who 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was or that I based most of my knowledge of the papal conclave on EuroTrip. When French proto-deacon cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran stepped out from the parted curtains to overlook St. Peter’s Square, I was on the edge of my seat.
Then, he announced in Latin, “Habemus Papam!”, which translates to, “We have a pope.” He went on to mumble the name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio in there somewhere, and there we had it: Jorge Mario Bergoglio would be the first Latin American pope and would take the name of Pope Francis. Watching the announcement felt like viewing a mix of a beauty pageant and the Presidential Inauguration, and it was exhilarating.
Here is a brief run down of how the papal conclave works: All the cardinals in the College of Cardinals travel to Rome. They convene in the Sistine Chapel to elect a new pope. Tradition says that it will be a cardinal elected — although it could theoretically be any baptized male Catholic — so it's very likely that one of the cardinals will be elected. Discussions are held as to who the next pope should be, and then secretive votes are cast on rectangular, paper ballot. The ballots are counted and once the numbers are double-checked, they are burned. If the voting fails to reach a two-thirds majority, the smoke that will come from the burning ballots will be black. If the voting does elect a new pope, the smoke will be white so the world will know a decision has been reached.
The reality show we all watched was a lone smokestack. We waited and hoped for a white smoke to appear. When it finally did, we inched closer to the TV and waited. Then once the curtains started to move, we inched even closer. By the time proto-deacon cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran appeared, we were an arm’s length away from the TV. Once he announced, we went to Twitter and Google to find out who Jorge Mario Bergoglio was and what Pope Francis would be like.
The answer to that question remains to be seen as Pope Francis begins his papacy. What remains true after watching the chain of events: papal conclave would be the best reality TV show out there.
Also, imagine if we got a look inside the highly secretive voting process. Are the cardinals as catty as the characters on The Real World? Do they form alliances like Survivor? Once the pope is selected, did Jean-Louis Tauran tell the other papal candidates to pack their robes and get out of the chapel?
Perhaps this is the problem with most reality shows: maybe they show too much. Watching the announcement of the new pope was exciting even though I had no idea what was going on. One of the oldest, most secretive traditions ever makes for must see TV, yet the tired, clichéd reality shows that keep pumping out are anything but.
I like the tried and true tradition of the papal conclave, when they elect a new pope (we most likely have quite a bit of time), I’ll be tuned into CNN for my favorite reality show.