I’m all about reality TV. I mean, I love watching regular people get thrown into wacky situations or love scenarios. It’s an almost ridiculous concept to watch strangers get put in a house together, or marooned on an island, so why do we love watching it so much?
Entertainment aside, I think there’s a much bigger reason to why we love watching reality TV.
We love reality TV for the same reasons ancient Romans watched people fight in the colosseum. It was people at their realist, in a way. The winner, although probably a slave, or a commoner, wasn’t abhorred, but praised and cheered on by the thousands of upper class that watched, and even became celebrities as a result. Now, I’m not saying that reality show contestants are slaves or commoners, but the format of entertainment between us and the colosseum goers is still the same.
We as humans can project ourselves into their shoes empathise with their struggles. It’s a freaking strange, but unique trait that us humans have developed.
I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on anthropology, but I did happen to read the book Sapiens (does that count?) And in the true nature of Sapiens, I’ve got some poorly remembered ideas and arguments for discussion.
Sapiens suggests that gossip is a natural human instinct. Gossip is how we inherently learn about the world around us – or the society around us and what’s going on. Reality TV is the modern world embodiment of a prehistoric instinct to absolutely love gossip. At the end of the day, we are super social animals at the core. We love drama, we love a bit of low or high-key tea, we love watching people rise, and weirdly enough we love watching them fall too. There’s something about the structure of all reality TV shows that we just can’t get enough of.
Maybe it’s because they portray a few fundamental humans traits, in their most raw form. Add in some over-producing, dramatic music for effect, and you have a winner.
Like, think about it for a second. Some core human traits in reality TV that we all relate to include;
They’re the most complex and raw human emotions portrayed by real people in real situations, in an easily consumable format, so it’s no wonder they catch on so quickly. Whereas actors in movies and sitcoms are portraying characters, contestants on The Bachelor or MasterChef are portraying what it is to be themselves.
Survivor is a show that strips societal norms, watching fresh-faced city slickers thrown into the wilderness to survive. It’s got a Lord Of The Flies feel about it, where people know how to lie well often go very far into ‘the game’. I mean wtf? But it makes for great viewing, because there is betrayal, trust and triumph.
Big Brother (RIP) reminds me of some kind of science experiment where a bunch of people get thrown into a small environment and we basically just watch what happens. It’s funny watching different personalities that wouldn’t normally mix in the outside world have to sleep and eat next to one another. It’s golden content and one that’s a guaranteed source for entertainment.
And finally, the crown jewel that is The Bachelor portrays a feeling we can all relate to; the search for love and acceptance, but also watching a tonne of female personas compete for it. The quiet lover, the diva, the gossiper and the villain, or just the downright crazy. Not only can you relate to some of the moments in the show, but perhaps more importantly, it gives you a talking point at work or uni. Something that brings you and your friends together.
Sometimes you’re rooting for the underdogs, watching a bully get defeated and ultimately seeing the humble favourite rise to a gracious win. Maybe you vibe the villain, and resonate with the siege mentality type of perspective (yikes, might be a warning sign for you tbh).
You can hate them, or love them – but you’ll still get hooked just the same. People are so opinionated when it comes to shows, and they encapsulate such a diverse range of audience.
Ultimately, I think sometimes reality TV gets a bad rap. I mean yes it’s cringey, yes it is often very overproduced, and yes it feels fake at times. But it’s human emotion in a pretty raw format, which means entertainment is almost always guaranteed.