I’ll be upfront — I’ve always thought stock showing would make for excellent reality TV. As a former 4-H youth whose entire world revolved around county and local shows, I well-knew that there was more than enough passion, emotion, and (of course) drama to entertain masses in my corner of the state alone.
Lo and behold, it’s finally happened. The Discovery Channel’s new streaming service, Discovery+, has unveiled Pig Royalty, which debuted March 23, 2021. This very well could be the first time stock showing has hit the national small screen.
And it’s … something. Not good, but certainly something.
From ring light to limelight
Pig Royalty follows two competitive families in the Texas show pig world — the Rihns and the Baleros — along with their very bold and colorful “show teams.”
Discovery invites viewers to:
“Discover a competition unlike any other as families showcase pigs across Texas. These prized swine and the people who raise them are some of the fiercest contenders around, uncovering what it takes to bring home the bacon.”
Sounds innocent enough but, unsurprisingly, this isn’t exactly what we get. This production revolves more around specific rivalry among hot-blooded adults and their kids along for the ride; less about the logistics of stock show life or any deeper significance it might have. Kind of par for the downward turn The Discovery Channel has taken in the past decade.
To what defense you can give the cast, no one portrays themselves accurately in front of a camera. And yes, a degree of scripting is just a given these days.
A bit of rivalry, even dashes of drama, are part of the draw to competitive sports in general. However, TV producers seem to have a way of turning the most innocent feather ruffling into an expose of dirty laundry. And it always tarnishes the whole community.
Portrayal is everything
In typical youth sports-centric reality TV fashion, Pig Royalty is led by the drama-inducing parents: primarily team matriarchs Michelle Balero and Jodi Rihn, along with their cohorts being heavily supported by their cute and rhinestone-laden kids.
But this subject matter — stock showing — is unique, virtually unknown in the mainstream. And how does Discovery choose to introduce it to the masses?
Pig sh*t. No, seriously. The show opens up with a line from Jodi about the uniqueness of hog manure and how, to them, it “smells like money.”
While a relatable sentiment for livestock enthusiasts, this isn’t exactly a stellar preliminary introduction to someone unacquainted with the show world. The very first two things viewers learn about pig showing is that it’s (literally) dirty and about money.
The producers carried this unfortunate tone throughout the first episodes. The filmography and interviews give a strong sense the producers treat this as more a novel spectacle than a “real” sport or way of life.
The opening line is immediately followed up by an overly dramatic disappointing showmanship class with some swearing, bad mouthing the judge, harsh words to a kid, and, naturally, tears.
This brings me to another point: The entire cast is brutally honest about how they are there for the buckles and applause. In fact, some admit point blank they are intentionally living vicariously through their children and intend to continue the cycle through future grandchildren.
Related: Looking for a good farm show? Check out this list.
One cringe-worthy moment is when the Balero’s star showman, “The Nugget,” is asked why he wants to be a famous showman when he grows up. He has no answer without his mother’s prompting.
The show cares little about the animal side of things, which is a real shame. What producers do highlight is questioning the ethics of some “secret” feed ingredients. While it makes for great open-ended drama, you can expect viewers to raise eyebrows and do a bit of Google research.
Yes, there are some bits of education on showing techniques, such as what makes a good hog and the many hours of work necessary to train and prep for events. But this takes an enormous backseat to the families and their drama.
Not everyone’s reality
As with any competitive sport, showing is a deeply personal experience. There is no “normal” or “typical” standard to be encountered. No matter how unbiased or unscripted, any portrayal is going to be inaccurate to someone. So, I get why this show was immediately questioned and disdained by some of the online ag community before it even aired.
That said, stock showing isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. To say this industry — near and dear to many hearts as it may be — is without drama, without scandal, and without any ugliness would just be incorrect. This show isn’t worth getting defensive to the point of denial that absolutely no one in the show community is anything like this because, inevitably, some are.
While Pig Royalty is an overall unflattering portrayal, it is certainly not going to destroy the industry. A lot of online discussion is already filled with good discussion about alternative experiences and the positives of showing livestock.
But should a casting crew ever knock on your door, I would recommend thinking twice.
Jaclyn Krymowski is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic “agvocate,” professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.