In 2015, A&E Network collaborated with the team that produced “The Real World” to create an original docuseries called “Born This Way.” Just last week, the show took home an Emmy for outstanding unstructured reality program at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, beating out a field of nominees that included HBO’s “Project Greenlight,” Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” and CNN’s “United Shades of America,” among others.
“We have been overwhelmed and moved by the feedback we’ve received for ‘Born This Way’ from viewers, as well as people with disabilities and their family members,” said Elaine Frontain Bryant, executive vice president and head of programming at A&E Network, in a press release. “It’s rare to be able to present a show that changes the way we see the world; we believe ‘Born This Way’ is one of those shows.”
The docuseries also received two nominations for outstanding picture editing for reality programming but did not win in that category. Now in its second season, the reality show follows the lives of seven young adults — John (JT), Megan, Cristina, Sean, Rachel, Steven and Elena — with Down syndrome through the ups and downs of dating, employment and the quest for independence. It also gives their parents, who are also part of the cast, a chance to weigh in on the joys and challenges of raising someone with an intellectual disability.
Every episode is as inspiring as the last as many of the cast members look at their intellectual disability with a sense of unbridled optimism. According to Steven, it’s more like “Up Syndrome.”
Steven has mosaic Down syndrome and a contagious smile. His disability is rare and higher functioning, so he’s always felt stuck “in the middle” growing up. He seems to have found his a place at Leaps N Boundz, a Los Angeles community center for people with special needs. If you ask Steven, he is the “Matt Damon of the bunch.” Beyond his wit, he is also the most thoughtful of the group, always offering his friends insightful advice. His wisdom makes it easy to see past his disability and he is often the voice of reason, especially for his good friend Sean.
Sean has a harder time dealing with Down syndrome than Steven does. He can become very impatient with his parents when they try to talk to him about sensitive subjects like getting a job or moving out. When dealing with difficult emotions, he tends to snap and yell “end of discussion!” His parents are patient with him and Sean shows tremendous growth throughout the show. Beyond his angry little fits, Sean is an excellent golfer and a self-proclaimed “ladies man.” We see him transition from a flirt who struggles to respect the boundaries of other relationships to a gentleman looking for marriage.
Rachel, the adorable beam of sunshine with cheeks as rosy as her hair, will bashfully admit how “boy crazy” she is. She is always on the lookout for a serious relationship and is a little jealous that her brother is getting married first. Yet, she can’t help showing how excited she is to be the maid of honor at her first wedding. Rachel’s soft heart has been hurt in the past, which makes her family extra protective. In one scene, tears roll down Rachel’s round cheeks as her mother tells her how lucky any guy would be to date her. When the romantic Rachel isn’t singing along to an Adam Lambert song, she is consoling her friends with warm hugs and gentle compassion. She is great at helping her friends talk through their feelings and has been there from the beginning to support her friend Elena through some tough lessons.
JT is a performance artist with a sassy attitude and a love for rap and dance. Though he can be just as wild as Elena, JT has always been supported by the unconditional love of his mother Joyce. Joyce accepted JT before he was even born. She was told that her son was going to have Down syndrome and the doctor suggested abortion as an option. Right then and there, Joyce decided that regardless of her son’s disability, he was still her son; she would love him just the same. She does worry about his filter in social situations, sometimes. Like Elena, he tends to be impulsive and unpredictable.Elena’s life has been emotionally turbulent. She was born in Japan where her mother Hiromi admits that Elena “was a shame to the family” — even to Hiromi. Hiromi’s struggle to accept Elena parallels Elena’s struggle to accept herself. Though Elena acts out her emotional impulses and has a hard time containing some troublesome behavior, she is intelligent enough to understand her negative actions upon self-reflection. It takes a longer time for her mother to realize the part she plays in Elena’s outbursts. Elena likes to stand out and express her authentic self, just like her favorite dance partner, John Tucker.
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