Why you should not take participants in reality shows seriously

7 minutes to read
Nesrine Benyakhlaf

Everybody loves a good reality television show, right? However, these shows aren't as innocent as they seem.

I don't want to keep up anymore

Let’s talk about something that's been on my mind lately, namely: reality shows and my love-hate relationship with them. 

These shows are insanely popular and seem to appear everywhere. If you haven’t seen them, your grandma probably has. No matter what you do, you will be confronted with these shows one way or another. Names, rumours, speculations and images will pass by on your social media accounts. Various reality stars use their fame to promote their products, such as Kylie Jenner, who has launched her own line of cosmetics, including the Kylie Jenner Lip Kit, that makes your lips look like they were stung by a bee, for €50. Due to the busy nature of my life at university, I do not watch a lot of television, but when I do I usually watch reality shows. I'm not really sure how I end up watching them, but it's addictive. Temptation Island, Expeditie Robinson, The Hills, Boer zoekt Vrouw and of course Keeping up with the Kardashians: these titles are a few of the popular shows that we have nowadays. As a viewer, a lot of disbelief comes into play when watching this type of television. Did she really just say that? How can someone act like that? Therefore, an episode not only creates a lot of questions, but also amusement. Let’s be honest, we rather watch others make stupid decisions than we make  them ourselves. 

Accessibility of reality shows

It is easy to say that reality shows are part of contemporary popular culture. The shows are mostly about ordinary people like you and me. However, the participants are part of a highly visible platform and their life is documented in a sensational way that is enteraining to viewers. But why is something as reality TV so popular, when we know that it's beings manipulated by the directors? Forced conversations and remaking a scene are daily business in reality world (The Guardian, 2017).  These two things make it hard for me to accept reality televsision, even though it is a kind of guilty pleasure. 

 it is a kind of guilty pleasure.

It is very irritating if a show calls itself a reality show, when everything is manipulated. In our everyday lives, we rarely have any control on real life situations. Therefore, it is unrealistic if a show calls itself ‘reality’ when the events it depicts are being manipulated by others, such as directors or a team of producers. The reality in these shows is the reality the producers think the audience wants to see. The characters need to act according to the role given to them, even though their reaction would be different if there were no cameras around to document everything. 

It already starts with the chosen cast. A ‘reality’ cast consists of heroes and villains, because that leads to a sensational chemistry. Besides, producers are open about their selection criteria and look for strong characters and show ponies among possible candidates (The Guardian, 2017). Knowing this makes me feel betrayed as a viewer. The characters in the show are picked strategically and are somehow forced to act and speak in a certain way. As a viewer, I feel the word 'reality' is misused, when everything in these television series is scripted and planned beforehand. However, that does not take away that I automatically ‘idolize’ characters in my mind. Some characters have made certain statements that I like and look a certain way that is pleasing to me. This makes me identify with them and makes me feel like I could have been friends with them, should my life have run a totally different course up until now. In other words, the strategic plans of the producers work and that is frustrating. As a viewer, I look at the characters as if I know them. Their achievements in life could also be my achievements, because we are very similar. 

Reality shows are easily accessible and also have a social media presence. I follow two Kardashians on Snapchat, for example. Do I have a valid reason for doing this? Not really. If you asked me in real life about my opinion on them, I would say that I dislike the Kardashians and that we should focus on relevant topics in the world instead, such as famine. However, I'm just fooling myself, because a part of my daily focus is on them instead of on famine. I follow their steps as if I personally know them. Even the way they dress and apply their makeup has become a source of inspiration for my own wardrobe, which brings me to another point. The characters of popular reality TV become a brand. Everything they do seems to work. The media are focused on them and they profit from all this attention that is being given to them.  

According to Forbes Magazine Kim Kardashian got 18 million dollars for her product line and personal appearances in her own TV series in 2012 ( Dicks & Nanton, 2013). 18 million dollars for simply existing. Let that just sink in. 

18 million dollars for simply existing. Let that just sink in.

As a hard-working student with a minimal survival income, that amount of money looks absurd. Therefore, I cannot take these reality shows very seriously. Every act is staged and the participants get payed for it. It is quite disturbing that society makes a distinction between the hard-working people behind the cameras and the ones that work in front of them. An ordinary teacher, for example, will never get that kind of money, unless there is a camera in front of them. That makes the line between reality and reality TV very thin, because when is something valid enough to be aired in a reality show? It is clear that reality TV is the most dominant marketing medium in history. Therefore its economic value results in high payments for reality stars (Hill, 2015). Reality TV is understandable when it is connected to something everyone can interpret. These shows grab the attention of the audience with phenomenal moments that are constructed by the producers, otherwise their popularity would decrease (Hill, 2015). 

Don't be so dramatic 

That takes us back to the beginning statement. The reason I do not take the participants on these shows seriously, is because everything they do is staged. Their influence is huge in our society and therefore their way of living becomes the ultimate goal, or even the norm. That can be very misleading and even dangerous. As a young adult, I recognize their influence in my daily life. As I already mentioned, I follow them on certain social media and ‘know’ a lot of facts about them. But what happens if teenagers have access to these ‘celebrities’? Do we need to support these fictional reality shows in our society, even though they create a fake depiction of what life is really like? 

I don’t think so. Creating an illusion of life can only have negative effects on the long term. The produts shown in these programmes become immensely popular almost immediately, for no good reason except to benefit the participants and the marketing world. For this reason, I would argue that we need to take our own reality back from these series. Every individual has the right and obligation to set their own norms for the life they want to lead. This shouldn't be done for us by a manipulated character on television or social media. We don’t need a show to tell us what reality is. We actually live in reality and we need to realize that as soon as possible.

In summary, dear reader, let's try to come back to our senses and stop looking at other people living life. Our lives are exactly the same, but for this one difference: we don't have to remake scenes or have forced conversations, because it looks better on camera that way. Just look around you and look at yourself. Do what you like the most, without comparing yourself with a fake doll on the television. If you want to join me in this, we can eventually ban all those manipulative shows from television and eventually create a new popular culture. How exciting! 



Dicks, J. & Nanton, N. (2013). Kim Kardashian and the power of a celebrity brand. Fast Company. 

Hill, A (2015). Reality TV. New York: Routledge. 

Hunt, E. (2017).  Behind the scenes of reality TV: ‘You’re a little bit daft to apply’.  The Guardian.