If someone had spoken to you of reality television three decades ago, you might have considered it a smart idea, but one that would soon lose its sheen. After all, how many times can you watch a group of people trying to sing, survive on an island, or annoy each other in a claustrophobic house?
Turns out, the answer is way more than we could have expected. Survivor is soon to go into its 35th season in the United States alone. Relative newcomer The X-Factor UK is on its 14th season. The Voice, Idols, AGT, BGT, and many other Got Talents have been going for decades around the world.
What is the reasons that these shows not only get renewed, but also still get massive viewerships? For the same reasons, people in the States find ways to watch UK TV abroad and vice versa, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
There are significant reasons reality TV is still so popular and remains relevant to this day. These are just 3 of them.
1. Instant gratification
While the world rags on millennials for their addiction to instant gratification and seeming difficulty in taking the more difficult route, it’s actually the previous generations that brought us to this point. Shows like Idols started in the ‘90s, remember. For better or for worse, these shows give people hope that they can become famous overnight. Corey Taylor, in his book Seven Deadly Sins, points out that people don’t join these shows because they want to make music – they can do that like everyone else in the industry. They join because they want instant fame.
In a world in which the latest tech advances include ways to more quickly unlock our phones, expect the thrill of instant gratification to continue to grow.
2. They give us a “hit” of empathy
Anyone who has read YouTube comments can agree that empathy is something we need more of. People are mean. They get upset at the smallest thing, attack people for being themselves, and can’t stand someone who disagrees with them. And I say them but I really should be saying us. We’re not very good at empathy these days, possibly because we’re often judging from behind a screen instead of face-to-face. Reality contests, however, give us a “hit” of the sacred substance. We may be mean to some of the contestants, but we can get on board with at least one contestant’s journey, and really feel for them. We get invested in their success, feel good when things go their way, and feel sad for them (and proud of that sadness) when they don’t.
3. They make life interesting
Not our lives, that is, but the lives of their contestants. We all want to believe that life is more than the day to day grind of work, domesticity, and relationships falling into disrepair. Reality contests show us interesting lives. Every contestant has a sob story – something significant that has happened to them. Reality shows are very good at showing us only the interesting parts of a life, and make it seem like the story they tell isn’t nitpicked from tons of boring information.
All of these reasons are as relevant today as ever. The age of reality TV contests is far from over. Expect Survivor 135 to be running in your old age!