Easy watching: The realities of reality TV

Nov 05, 2022
Source: Getty


Is there anything real in reality shows? I have a few favourites that I enjoy watching but more and more, all I can see is the formulae used to typecast people or players and how editing ensures that is the version seen.

The Block

The first season of Channel 9’s The Block aired way back in 2003 when 4 teams competed to renovate five-room homes with a budget of just $40,000.  In season 15 the budget was just over $300,00. The Block has reflected our obsession with property as an investment, not just a place to live, and the 2022 season is featuring “tree change” with huge houses and 10 acres of land requiring landscaping.

Just in case you’ve missed it, the basic premise of the show is that teams audition and are selected to renovate/build a home.  There are given a budget and each week they must complete a room or area and can win money based on the expert judges’ opinions of their rooms. At the end of the season, the homes are given a reserve auction price and the contestants get to keep the money over the reserve that their property is sold for at auction. Whoever wins the most money is the overall winner and wins, more money.

Lots of reality television shows offer prize money, but when it comes to winnings, no other Australian show comes close to The Block; some years lots of money other years not so much.

Over the many years The Block has aired, it’s won awards including Most Popular Reality Program in 2011, 2012 and 2015. It also won Best Reality Program in 2016, 2017 and 2018. In 2014, the show’s host, Scott Cam, won a Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality on Australian TV.

The biggest change since the start is that the couples, (sometimes the contestants are friends, siblings, and even parents and child but the majority have been couples), is that the contestants are much savvier about their own value and that they are not just renovating but “performing”.  The couples are often typecast into groups, and in my own classifications, these are: the favourites, the strugglers, the bitchy team, the hopeless at renovating team, and the ones who are not very likable. But lately, the teams are so much more aware of the game within the game and actively seek to define themselves.

The other shift is that originally the contestants seemed to actually do a lot more of the work. Now they seem to shop, plan, paint, decorate and design, with the other work left to tradespeople they contract. Given the price of the end product probably, a good thing.

In the early years, my son and I would race home from work, get dinner sorted and eat while we watched The Block, now I usually have a look at the Sunday night room reveal as they do a summary of the week.


The Real Housewives of … just about anywhere.

My favourite in the Bravo Real Housewives selection is the Real Housewives of Beverley Hills, but I have tuned into the Real Housewives of NYC, Orange County and New Jersey, and even Melbourne a couple of times.

The first Real Housewives aired in 2006 and was Real Housewives of Orange County – the Bravo press release read: “From Peyton Place to Desperate Housewives viewers have been riveted by the fictionalized versions of such lifestyles on television. Now, here is a series that depicts real-life ‘desperate’ housewives with an authentic look at their compelling day-to-day drama.”  The Bravo Real Housewives Franchise has 11 US versions, 19 internationals with numerous spin-offs.  The “authentic look at real life drama” concept is clearly a successful one.

The feminist within struggles with the whole idea of rich, pampered women who appear to be dependant, pretty shallow, and horrible to one another, but it’s addictive, and given the speculated contract payments, successful product spin-offs and profiles developed well. I wonder if maybe being all those things can be very lucrative and it’s me that’s got it wrong?  There is always tension between the women with various splinter groups, think Margaret Attwood’s Cats Eye or the year 5 playground, a trip away to magnify whatever tensions are within the group and also the use of social media and sneaky media releases that create drama, in case there isn’t enough. The talking heads/confessional analysis and commentary throughout the series are also edited to ensure controversy.

I suspect the women depicted in the RH franchise are not really all that much like the one-screen personas they have created or have had created for them. Like the rest of us, they have their good days and bad, say dumb things, and do dumb things. The difference is they have a camera following them, editors defining them, a “friendship group” created for them, and lots of designer clothes,  shoes, and large pay packets. There is really nothing real about it at all but suspend reality and it can be fun.


The Amazing Race

What could be more fun than travelling the world with your chosen partner and getting someone else to pay for it and maybe give you money at the end?

Sounds great, but then there are those dreadful challenges or roadblock things they require you to do in each place, at least one of which will involve your worst fear or phobia. Thinly veiled as culturally or geographically appropriate to the location, you must complete it to move on to your next clue and location. Fear of heights, vegans having to undertake tasks in a Moroccan tanning factory, claustrophobes having to negotiate a tight staircase, that kind of thing.

The Amazing Race has become more personality based each season, with the final 3 couples in the most recent season clearly having a strong connection to the viewers and the overall winners having the most heart-wrenching back story that even had this cynic shedding a tear.

It is one way you get to comfortably visit or revisit some amazing countries and places right at home.

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