Every time you think producers of reality programming have hit rock bottom, they manage to tunnel through a lower level of muck and locate another sub-basement. And it’s reached the point this summer where you’ll need a geologist, not a TV critic, to measure how far the medium has sunk.

Yes, television usually junks up in the summer. But the garbage scow is piled higher than ever, partly because this summer inherited several reality shows that were waiting in the wings when the three-month writers strike was settled in February.

The titles just about say it all – “I Survived a Japanese Game Show,” “Wipeout,” “Greatest American Dog.” Here you’ll find all sorts of cultural displays, from contestants smashing goo-filled eggs with their posteriors while dressed as chickens to reality warriors dodging barrels while racing up greased planks.

The ABC summer series “I Survived a Japanese Game Show” premiered Tuesday night with American contestants shipped to Tokyo for screaming doses of fun and humiliation. They are dressed as giant insects and launched against a wall for a stunt known as “Big Bug Splat on Windshield.”

They try to keep bicycles going on a treadmill for the largely self-explanatory “Pedal Fast or Big Splash.” They take a literal gut check for the gastronomical game called “Why Is This Food So Hard to Eat?”

But just because something sounds rock stupid doesn’t mean that you’ve hit rock bottom. By reality show standards, if there are such things, we’re still at the high end of this summer’s bargain-basement rush of shows.

ABC hopes to have another smash hit by smashing contestants into obstacles for “Wipeout,” which also debuted Tuesday night. Here the 24 contestants try to survive tasks with such names as the slippery stairs, the spinner, foamy killer surf, launch pads, barrel run, dreadmill door jam and sweeper sack.

CBS literally goes to the dogs Thursday, July 10, with “Greatest American Dog,” a canine cross between “American Idol” and “Big Brother.” Twelve dogs and their owners live together while trying to stay alive in the dog-beat-dog competition. Designed to gauge how well the owners can train their dogs, the stunts will be evaluated by three judges.

Meanwhile, in the cable world, you’re seeing the usual summer wave of low-IQ celebrity-life reality shows, including the first season of “Denise Richards: It’s Complicated” on E! and the second season of “Tori & Dean” on Oxygen. And then there’s G4 TV’s “Hurl,” a cable series that may symbolize the entire genre.

See if you can stomach this. Going the full gross-out route, “Hurl,” which premieres Tuesday, July 15, asks contestants to speed eat, then compete in belly-jolting stunts designed to induce vomiting.

“Would that we could purge ourselves of this genre as easily,” said David Bianculli, the author and TV historian who operates the Web site tvworthwatching.com. “The concept of “Hurl’ is particularly heinous and repugnant. When you add in shows like “I Survived a Japanese Game Show’ and “Wipeout,’ the cruelty and cynicism have been ratcheted up so high this summer, it really is time to pull the plug on this genre.”

The summer dumb-down is an annual programming phenomenon. Rating levels drop significantly with families on vacations and spending more time outdoors. Viewing by teens and kids home from college increases, so that’s the audience being targeted.

“I wouldn’t overstate what’s happening this summer,” said Richard Huff, author of “Reality Television” (Praeger, 2006). “Yes, much of this is desperation filler stuff left over from the strike, but I don’t think anyone is expecting to see ‘Greatest American Dog’ on the CBS fall schedule. And I don’t think this is the end of western civilization. It’s the summer. It’s time for cotton candy.”

Sticking with the food metaphor, another author and TV historian, Robert Thompson, also believes that the danger is exaggerated.

“Look, most of this stuff is absolute junk, but summer is when you get junk food,” said Thompson, a professor of communications at Syracuse University. “You get your fine French meals in November, and we’ve got our FX and HBO, so we’re not in a state of extreme poverty as far as quality television goes. The danger would be if all of television became ‘Greatest American Dog.’ That is not going to happen.”

The ratings for many of the major reality series, including “American Idol,” were down this season. Some see this as sign of reality burnout: too many shows, too little imagination.

“But ratings were down for all shows this season because of the writers strike, and “American Idol’ still was the biggest thing on TV this year,” Huff said. “And, sure, there is a copycat mentality, but that, too, is true of all TV.”

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