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The risks of reality TV

In the 1990s, reality TV emerged as a brand new genre, with shows like The Real World, Survivor, and Big Brother taking over the small screen.

These US-based shows grew in popularity so quickly that, over time, they became global franchises.

Today, there are over 100 reality TV shows spanning multiple categories in the UK alone.

From cooking shows like the Great British Bake Off to dance shows like Strictly Come Dancing and dating shows like Love Island, it’s clear that viewers cannot get enough of the genre which is why they’re still so popular.

Contestants from these reality shows might even nail endorsement deals and sponsorships or become celebrities in their own right.

Why are reality TV shows so popular?

As ironic as it sounds, reality shows provide viewers with an escape from actual reality.

In Love Island, Big Brother, and Geordie Shore, the contestants live in gorgeous homes with exceptional amenities.

In some of these shows, all aspects of the show, such as dates or meals, are paid for and contestants essentially never have to worry about what’s going on in their lives while on the show.

In The Bachelor, contestants go on extravagant dates, ride in helicopters, and experience activities that everyday humans don’t necessarily get to try.

As viewers watch contestants partake in these activities, go through challenges, and expose themselves emotionally, they tend to believe they know who these contestants are on a personal level.

According to experts, viewers tend to see these people portrayed as friends on-screen.

Reality TV and social media

Over the years, the relationship between social media and reality shows has grown stronger.

Love Island, for example, often encourages its viewers to tweet, comment, and interact through the screen or on social media by voting for their favourite participants to keep things exciting.

By encouraging such interactions, these reality TV shows are unknowingly exposing cast members to possible instances of cyberbullying on social media.

Even if these shows don’t necessarily encourage interaction, in some ways, the mark of any “successful” reality TV show is how much it’s talked about on social media and the memes it can generate.

Depending on their actions and what they say, these reality stars get thrust into the spotlight, turning them into overnight celebrities—whether they realise it or not.

It’s also worth noting that most participants in the show are contractually obligated to market the show and increase its viewership through social media.

These contracts are usually signed before participation in the show, which means that the contestant might still have to fulfill these obligations even if their time on the show was terrible or if they’ve been booted off.

The problem with reality shows

Unfortunately, not every reality show contestant is well qualified to deal with the fame and judgment of being a reality star.

In particular, the focus has been placed on Love Island UK following the suicides of former contestants Sophie Gradon in 2018 and Mike Thalassitis in 2019 after an onslaught of cyberbullying and the pressure of fame.

Steve Dymond, a former contestant of the Jeremy Kyle show, also committed suicide in 2019.

Dymond’s suicide subsequently led to the cancellation of the show.

What could be done

In the wake of Thalassitis’ death, former Islander Alex Miller admitted to suffering from suicidal thoughts following his appearance on the dating show in the fourth season.

Fortunately, one of the producers on the show saw Miller’s struggles—which he posted online—and sought help for him.

In light of the various scandals, Love Island and its network, ITV, announced that it would provide extended aftercare for its contestants.

Producer Richard Cowles also mentioned that all Islanders would meet with a therapist whether they request to or not and will be given social media training and advice on financial management.

Contestants will also receive comprehensive psychological support, a proactive aftercare package that extends to all Islanders, and guidance on taking on management after the show.

In addition to providing training and mental health assistance, reality show producers and writers could protect cast members more by steering clear of creating story arcs that portray them in a negative light.

Writers and producers occasionally create overly dramatic plots or produce clips that lead to heightened levels of drama that would hook in viewers.

Hopefully, these strategies will help reduce the likelihood of another reality show contestant tragically taking their own life.

Featured image credit: epictop10.com via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license

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