If asked about the main components of a hit reality show, most people might suggest celebrity spats, humiliating tasks and plenty of controversy. And while the tasks on this year’s series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here have been sufficiently testing for contestants, the show has a distinct lack of the gossip-worthy drama usually expected of reality TV.
So what has changed?
An age-old format stripped bare
In the past, viewers were captivated by any squabble or conflict they saw in reality shows, no matter how small or contrived. Whether it be Janice Dickinson and Lynne Franks on I’m A Celebrity… or Charlotte Crosby and Gaz Beadle on Geordie Shore, viewers would latch on to any slight altercation and producers would purposely amp up tension to create explosive arguments.
But now, it seems a larger focus is being placed on positive, uplifting stories, marking a shift away from the often confrontational and provocative nature of reality shows that viewers are used to. Wholesome discussions are starting to replace hostile arguments, possibly segueing in a new era of reality television.
In recent years, reality has branched out and moved away from its roots beyond traditional talent competitions and celebrity feuds. With the arrival of unique offerings like Gogglebox and The Undateables, viewers are bearing witness to a greater variety of representation and backgrounds than ever before.
While the premise of the reality genre has fundamentally stayed the same, viewers now expect more nuance to the lives they see on reality shows. And this is most pronounced in the most recent series of I’m A Celebrity…
Stars provide food for thought
When previously viewers would have been disappointed by the distinct lack of rivalry in camp, this year other topics have been dominating headlines about the show. In between gruelling trials and meals consisting of little more than rice and beans, the celebs have been tackling important social issues and have in turn provoked discussions across the nation.
Anne ‘The Governess’ Hegerty has been praised for starting a frank conversation about her Asperger’s syndrome, acknowledging how it affects her daily life and interactions with others. The infamous Chaser is known for her tough exterior on ITV quiz show ‘The Chase’ hosted by Bradley Walsh. But after hearing her open up about her struggles with autism, viewers have warmed to Hegerty. Her honesty even led to a letter written by an 11 year old autistic boy going viral as he thanked her for being an inspirational representative of people with the condition.
Other celebrities in the camp have been discussing issues such as eating disorders, disability and sexism, proving that meaningful conversations can be integrated into a show founded on lighthearted slapstick.
But what does all this tell us about viewers’ relationships with celebrities and the media industry more broadly?
Reality TV gets real
Audiences are increasingly searching for a deeper connection with their favourite celebrities. As social media now allows stars to share details of their personal lives quicker than you can say ‘Boomerang’, fans are craving a more honest portrayal of the celebs, whether it be Anne Hegerty or a popular Instagram influencer.
And it seems that I’m A Celebrity… is now making space for these thoughtful conversations and showing a different side to the campmates. In the past it would be rare to see candid conversations about gender stereotypes and mental health on primetime TV but they are now at the forefront of discussions on and about the show.
So could it be that reality TV has completed a full 360 degree turn and started to depict the true reality of celebrities’ lives? Or is this just another ploy by producers to increase ratings?
We may never know – but it’s clear that viewers now expect much more from reality shows than slime, cockroaches and arguments over how to cook wallaby wings. Rather than playing host to the rowdiest arguments on television, reality TV has escaped its past to open up conversations about some of the most significant issues in modern-day society.
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