I’ll be the first to say that I’m secretly a bit of a fiend for reality TV. In comparison to some of my friends, I’m still quite low down on the list of die-hard reality TV fans, but I’m absolutely not ashamed to admit I love it. I think my origin story begins with Big Brother – the sheer unadulterated-ness of it all. Even as a 10-year old (?!) I was hooked, fascinated by both the lunacy of it, and the normalcy. Growing up in south London meant that people often labelled “crazy” were pretty regular to me. In fact, a simple stroll through Camberwell would almost definitely guarantee me stumbling across people that’d be labelled crazier.
This affinity for reality TV only grew stronger because of the shift in access. There was a point in my younger years when a proclamation that one had a Sky box at home would draw dramatic gasps around the playground. Now, people have access to watch whatever they want – and not just whatever, but whenever they want, from any country they want and on any device they want. Access to television, whether that be through legal or not-so-legal means (no judgement!) is at an all-time high. This in turn, means the amount of variety available has skyrocketed – this is not that astute an observation, admittedly, but stay with me. Because where variety within TV often lends itself to variety in genres, the variety within reality TV has been different. It’s what I like to call, the globalisation of reality TV.
Where my reality TV scheduling was previously dominated by the once-hilarious cast of The Only Way is Essex and staggered appearances from the queens of Real Housewives of Atlanta, my current roster has diversified greatly. I’ve left behind the shackles of TOWIE and travelled south of the river to delight in E4’s Made In Chelsea, which I have to announce, might be the best of the best when it comes to British pseudo-reality TV at the moment. Not to sound all kumbaya, but the advancements within the world of reality TV mean that my consumption is now a melting pot of cultures, classes and identities.
Before, non-white people were either vilified for doing things white counterparts did regularly (for example, Makosi from Big Brother’s sixth series (pictured above), getting intimate in the hot tub with co-star Anthony), or conveniently, and awkwardly, placed as the sole non-white friend of the group (anyone remember Vas from TOWIE?). The diversification of reality TV, albeit not perfect, has allowed for so many different faces and personalities to grace our screens, and I am absolutely here for it. Because of this, you suddenly have something in common with people you may not have had anything in common with prior. The globalisation of reality TV has single handedly filled the silent gaps between the likes of co-workers and random people at gatherings that you’re forced to make conversation with. Where once lied fear and desire for escape, now lies a simple yet effective conversation filler –
“did you watch last night’s Love Island?”
What’s best is that it doesn’t stop there. Oh no - previously, conversation with colleagues about reality TV covered ITV2’s Love Island at best; but just the other day at work, I discussed the entire Real Housewives franchise, co-analysed what Selling Tampa was missing to be just as good as Selling Sunset, shared excitement over the incoming second series of Netflix’s Bling Empire and was recommended two new shows.
You know what’s even better? They’re so different. The wildly raucous nature of Geordie Shore cannot be compared to the mild-mannered, underhanded environment of Selling Sunset. When I had COVID and was basically bed-bound, I binged Netflix’s My Unorthodox Life, which follows fashion mogul Julia, and her life post-leaving an orthodox Jewish community. It was riveting, but again, cannot be compared to the sex-crazed Too Hot to Handle. If there was a reality TV spectrum, these shows would be scattered along it. Yet their existence on this very spectrum is proof that there are underlying similarities that ultimately tie together the world of global reality TV. The unrelenting drama and explosive scenarios that have seemingly come from nowhere – check. (See Maeva planning to propose to James on Made in Chelsea). The ridiculous yet annoyingly relatable ‘characters’, that you deeply want to believe you have nothing in common with but will eventually empathise with at one point or another – check. (see Kandi, crying at the classic RHOA reunion).
The cultures that these programmes showcase are so vastly different, and yet, in a twisted, beautiful way, so similar, is great. Of course, there’s still development to be done, and these shows aren’t an instantly perfect representation of diversity. But they undoubtedly support the fact that diversity is never a bad thing. They’re also testament to the idea of representation within entertainment being so important, something that people have repeatedly called for. The world of globalised reality TV is doing a great job – demanding more from it isn’t a criticism, but rather a celebration of the art and a call for it to keep getting better.