What Happened to Reality TV?

Posted on June 2, 2015

Remember the early days of reality television? When The Real World was an actual social experiment in seeing how real people lived and interacted with each other? Better yet, remember whenBig Brother was intriguing and wasn’t all about the sensationalized drama? Remember when the genre wasn’t even a genre yet, just a collection of groundbreaking experimental programming? Those days are no more. Now “reality” is all about the spectacle and the ability to either ridicule or celebrate those that embody it.

I am truly sad that for the first time I will not be watching Big Brother on CBS. For years, I have been an avid watcher of the show, anticipating each new “summer of secrets” and the twists that the houseguests would have to face. Every year, there were people to root for and people to loathe. But the appeal of Big Brother was to see the different forms of gameplay that the houseguests would use in an attempt to win $1 Million. Lying. Cheating. Secret alliances. “Honest games.” Pure physical domination. All completely valid methods of gameplay that won somebody the prize.

But in recent years, the show started to lose its appeal. Casting started to lean heavily on vapid personalities, eye candy, and less strategic thinkers. Outcomes became predictable (last season, we knew within the first few weeks that Derrick would win unless something unexpected happened … it didn’t). And then there was the racism that plagued season 15. Suddenly, the interpersonal aspects that made the show so entertaining to watch (like The Real Worldbefore it) disappeared.

CBS’ Survivor has suffered the same problems. As potential contestants have already seen cycle upon cycle of the series, they have started to follow predictable paths to seek victory. Minorities are almost always either excluded from alliances or ranked at the bottom of the pecking order. Weak-bodied/weak-minded players have realized that there is strength in numbers, and strike at the more competitive targets first. Sooner or later, it feels like watching the same season over and over again.

And that is what the reality television genre is facing now: burn out.

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