Dangerous Addiction or Harmless Pastime?

With the MAFS season finale drawing millions of viewers, and the new season of BIP poised to do the same, is it time we questioned why we’re so drawn to reality TV?

MAFS (Image Source: Who Magazine)
MAFS (Image Source: Who Magazine)

The scandalous season finale of Married at First Sight (MAFS) caught the attention of a whopping 1.96 million metro viewers (including myself and my 3 housemates). While some may sigh with relief at the show’s wrap-up, thinking the timeslot will be filled with something a little more, shall we say, intellectually stimulating, reality-tv hungry viewers like myself will simply switch over to Channel Ten to devour the new season of Bachelor in Paradise (BIP). The season premiere, which aired last night, was filled with plenty of producer-manipulated drama, including a shock revelation from Brooke Blurton and Paddy taking a swipe at Bill for sliding into female contestants’ DMs prior to entering the sanctum of paradise (gasp!). And there’s plenty more still to come, with the much-anticipated showdown between exes Alex Nation and Richie Strahan pegged to take place during tonight’s episode.

Even though I loathe the premise of the show (it essentially condones the exile of single people and ensures plenty of humiliation and degradation along the way), and am well aware that it’s painstakingly edited to maximise tension, I’ll still be tuning in at 7:30pm. Which leaves me wondering; if I hate it so much, why can’t I look away?

I’m certainly not the first person to question my addiction and, more pressingly, my own sense of morality. Is it wrong of me to watch shows where much of the entertainment is borne out of the humiliation, degradation and embarrassment of contestants? Thankfully, research suggests not (cue sigh of relief). In fact, many researchers agree that the majority of viewers recognise how contrived reality TV shows are. We know the scenes unfolding aren’t really real. No matter how genuine contestants may seem, all it takes is a glimpse of a camera-holding producer or an overdramatic voice-over to remind us that this is not a reality program; this is an entertainment program. In viewing, we abandon our own reality, (you know, the one filled with rent, bills, work, deadlines, long commutes, traffic jams, relationship struggles, mental health issues) and enter ‘reality’ TV, where everyone is good looking, half-naked, drink constantly and have nothing better to do than pick fights and hand out roses, all against the picturesque backdrop of an unspecified tropical location. From this perspective, it is clear that watching reality TV is, ultimately, a form of escapism.

As long as our voyage to this alternative universe ends once the credits roll, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in tuning in.