Reality TV shows seem to be all that we see on TV these days. And there seems to be nothing off limits for the genre. There are shows about people, such as Dance Moms and Duck Dynasty, shows about jobs, like Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers, and competition shows, such as The Challenge, The Amazing Race, and Survivor. Reality shows cover everything from X Factor to MasterChef. But why do we like reality TV so much?
Grabbing Audience Attention
Part of the success of these reality TV shows comes down to the audience participation. Some – such as The Voice – rely on viewers to choose who they want to win. Actively supporting contestants is required and the participatory nature makes the show must-see TV. After all, if you’ve invested in the contestants, you feel like there is something at stake for you when watching the show. Dating shows even snatch our attention, such as Married at First Sight and The Littlest Groom.
Even for shows such as Survivor or America’s Next Top Model, where there is no vote in, audiences fiercely back the contestants they want to win. In doing so, they are able to have a vested interest in the show, which results in the experience of watching the show being more exciting. You may only lose pride when your favourite is unceremoniously removed from the show, but you still feel the tension when the show airs.
This isn’t new and isn’t specific to the reality TV sphere. Some people have compared reality TV competition shows to sports, as they can be just as consuming and lead to diehard loyalty for fans. The tribalism involved in these shows is much like the diehard loyalty sports fans have to their treasured teams. Fans of certain reality show stars will whip up similar amounts of fierce support on social media as would be seen during the World Cup or Olympics. These diehard reality fans are known as fandoms. The RuPaul’s Drag Race fandom, for example, is often called out by contestants for sending harmful social media posts to ‘rivals’ of their favorites.
To compare reality TV to sports wouldn’t be as farfetched given how similarly they are treated. For instance, there are even options to place bets on certain reality shows, especially those that aren’t filmed beforehand. This makes sense as sports betting is increasingly popular. As we can see with the list of betting options sbo.net shows, sites are highly competitive when it comes to attracting customers. This shows how popular the competitive spirit is when it comes to sports. This competitiveness is transferred over to reality TV, especially competition shows that hinge on prize funds.
Franchises with a Life of Their Own
Some reality franchises turn from fly-on-the-wall documentaries of the ‘other half’ into fully-fledged franchises with their own rulebook, guidelines, and microclimate of fan support. The Real Housewives of Orange County first aired in 2006 and gave us a glimpse behind a gated community in California. The women were regular people, who just happened to be rich enough to live privileged lifestyles. Fast forward to 2021 and the show has spawned countless US and international editions and has attracted names such as actress Denise Richards and Top Model alum Eva Marcille.
Keeping Up with the Kardashians (2007-2021) is the best example of how a seemingly simple reality show about a family with some fame turned into a behemoth and helped the stars become even bigger. The concept of reality TV and the most famous family snowballed together. Copycat shows have since popped up with their participants aiming for stardom. The latest is 2021’s Buried by the Bernards – a show about a family who run a funeral home.
The appeal for reality TV is just this. Whether it’s a gameshow, a competition show, or a documentary series, participants can become household names. This can be leveraged for fame and fortune. For example, Kelly Clarkson started life on 2002’s American Idol, which she turned into a career. Omarosa Manigault and Bethenny Frankel’s early Apprentice success gave them careers in politics and business, respectively. In 2004, a televised talent show The Search for the Partridge Family brought actress Emma Stone to our screens.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is a good example of reality TV shaping culture. When it first aired in 2009, drag wasn’t something most people were actively aware of and there existed a stigma. Flash forward to 2021 and drag stars are on the cover of Vogue and making it on Broadway and in Hollywood. This would not have happened without the show. The show even made its way to the UK and the success helped resurrect the BBC3 TV channel.
Reality TV Detractors
Not everyone is a fan of reality TV. Some people critique it for being too simplistic, while others, even celebrities like Gary Oldman, don’t like the kinds of people showcased and the influence they have. The Kardashians are a prime example of this, but others take umbrage with the possibility of fame that is dangled before us. Not everyone can or needs to be famous and reality TV makes it seem as though everyone can become a celebrity. Some are simply derisive about the nature of reality TV compared to scripted fiction or hard-hitting National Geographic style documentaries.
Reality TV is not likely to fall out of favour anytime soon. It’s cheap to make and attracts viewers. There’s something about seeing real people on TV that helps people unwind. This could be through competition shows we’re glad we didn’t enter to documentaries about lifestyles we’ve always wondered about. It’s clear that the US has found its niche and it doesn’t look to stop making TV that astounds and amazes – and receives criticism all at once.