Hit the reality check button on your remote

meme-reality-TVWE’RE told reality TV is reality, but it’s as scripted and manufactured as any episode of True Blood or Game of Thrones or Mad Men. Except nowhere near as good. Those shows have vampires, swords and far better looking people. Watch them instead.

Also, each reality TV series has exactly the same storyline. A group of people have a dream: chef, renovator, singer, husband, wife, losing weight etc.

Challenges, eliminations and other annoying contestants provide obstacles to that dream. Further drama is imposed by judges and rules.

The dream often isn’t even that hard to achieve. You want to be a chef? Get a job as an apprentice chef. Lose weight? Eat less and exercise more. Renovate a house? Buy a run-down one and get started.

What people on reality TV really want is attention. Don’t give it to them. Save it for people who deserve it. Like pop stars, sportspeople and serial killers.

To make an episode of reality TV, they record hours of footage over several days from multiple angles and then pick out anything that could be a disaster, argument or crisis. Rarely is there more than one. Often there aren’t any and they must be invented.

Next, this seemingly major event is used to structure the episode. The editors trawl the footage for facial expressions, comments and body language that might look interesting. They take things out of context if required, to make the most of this perceived pivotal event, which was probably barely noticed in filming.

Teasers and previews of the event are replayed continuously. Through commercials, social media ads, TV news stories and in newspapers, along with constant clips played during the episode itself.

What’s promised is a true game changer, something that alters everything that can’t be missed, and after which nothing will be the same. When it’s finally revealed during the last minutes of the episode, it is always utterly underwhelming.

Afterwards there is another promise of an unbelievable secret or crisis, to be unveiled next week, and which always turns out to be similarly disappointing.

If these shows had to match the enthusiasm they have for what is going to be revealed to what actually happens, the only thing they’d be allowed to show on the adverts is a shrug, and the presenters would be replaced by mannequins.

Reality TV preys on our need to know. Deal or No Deal is a game show that does this so well it does not even need questions. Thus it eliminates the need for the audience to do any thinking at all.

Again and again reality TV is the pretty blonde, showing us a case with a number and asking: “Do you want to know what’s inside?” We keep coming back. Instead of holding on for another disappointing reveal we should be asking ourselves: “Who cares?”

I’ve found something far superior to reality TV. It’s very similar but you’re the star, and every plot line revolves around you.

It’s called reality.

You do need to get out and interact with other people and all that is a little intimidating at first but stick with it. You won’t regret it, I promise.

This article first appeared in the Brisbane Courier Mail:


Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.

His debut non-fiction book, ‘Mining My Own Business’ is available now.