What’s Really the Message in Reality TV?

The Block Glasshouse Michael and Carlene remained scandal free.  Source: Provided
The Block Glasshouse Michael and Carlene remained scandal free. Source: Provided

Does reality television have a message for it’s viewers?  Is it “Be rewarded for your hard efforts” or “true talent will see you reach the top”?  What about something less positive like “lie, cheat, bitch and moan your way through your journey”.  With the recent dramas surrounding The Bachelor, The Block Glasshouse and Big Brother, that last message seems to ring more true.

It’s funny to think that just over 20 years ago, we got our first taste of reality television in the form of the classic Sylvania Waters.  It was touted as a ‘fly-on-the-wall look into the lives of Noeline Brown and her partner Laurie Donaher, their family and their lavish lifestyle in the Sydney suburb of Sylvania Waters.

The 12-part program was one of the first for Australian television and became one of the most talked about programs in the early 90’s.  It had its lovers and it had it’s haters, but either way, the show was an early indication of just how

Now jump forward 20-odd years where the genre that was considered taboo all those years ago has now become a staple on our screens. Everyday people (and sometimes celebrities) are starving themselves in isolate locations trying to avoid being voted off an island, they’re cooking for strangers, they’re living with strangers being filmed 24 hours a day, they’re dancing or singing or performing magic in-front of large audiences, they’re re-building and designing multi-million dollar apartments, they’re competing against strangers to win the heart of a person they don’t know…it seems there’s not much that hasn’t been covered by the genre – heck, there’s even people meeting and going on a date for the first time completely in the nude!

But it seems, especially of late, these programs that are saturating our networks are becoming more and more surrounded by scandals and outrageous antics both from those working behind the scenes and the contestants involved leaving one to wonder – just how positive is the message that reality television is trying to push?

Chris the 'EPA Inspector' on The Block Glasshouse
Chris the ‘EPA Inspector’ on The Block Glasshouse

One of the biggest on-going stories is from Network Ten’s The Bachelor, which ended two weeks ago is still getting people talking with ousted girls and the Bachelor himself (and Australia’s most despised man of the moment) Blake Garvey, offering up exclusive tell-all’s that don’t really seem to tell all…at all. Surely Network Ten must be loving the publicity for the show coming off the shock of Garvey ending his engagement to winner Sam Frost just weeks after proposing, but now, has the circus that has erupted after the finale tarnished just what the show was actually about?

For instance, season one’s bachelor Tim Robards walked away with a long-term relationship in his final pick of Anna.  It was a happy ending that also cemented the message behind the show.  Sure, most people really only tuned in to see a bunch of super spray tanned girls bitch and bicker about each other while trying to ‘win’ the heart of a man but now even that has been out-shone by Garvey and his post-show antics.

Big Brother contestants Cat and Lawson have lie-down kisses. Source: Provided

This current season of Big Brother is also skirting controversy, from housemate Gemma’s brutal evicition to last years winner, Tim Dormer re-entering the house to housemates Cat and Lawson starting a relationship all-the-while Lawson’s girlfriend Candice sits on and watches.  While Big Brother and controversy have never been to far apart from each other, this season seems to have more people questioning the antics of the housemates and those behind the scenes – who some feel, may be pushing for certain actions to occur.

Even The Block has come under scrutiny for falsifying events regarding a visit from the EPA to inspect a 12,000 litre fuel tank discovered buried under the site (which was heavily played up by the show) There was a fuel tank, it was a big mother of one, but no one from the EPA was ever actually there to inspect it.   The finale of the show also brought some murmurs of unhappy viewers when three of the five couples failed to make a decent amount of coin from their auctions – and while producers and contestants have little control over the final auction outcome, it was hardly a glowing reference for wannabe contestants on future series.

In the end, we are now at a point where we’ve come to expect schlock and drama from reality television as a way to hopefully boost fledgling ratings but is it worth it at the expense of respect and decency?  Here’s hoping shows like My Kitchen Rules’ drama and scandal stays around someone using store bought pastry for a desert dish!

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