There are several reality TV shows out there. Some are what one would call “trashy”—or to be more polite: “guilty pleasure.” Others are heart-warming. Regardless of the theme, people often question the “realness” of these shows. Still, they can’t get enough of these reality shows. What fuels audiences to keep coming back for more week after week?
Some opinions on why people love watching reality TV so much include voyeurism and the pleasure of seeing someone embarrassed. However, a study by Michal Hershman Shitrit and Jonathan Cohen from the University of Haifa (Israel) found a direct relationship with the desire of the fans or their loved ones to join the show and their liking of the show. If humiliation were the source of their pleasure, they would not want to inflict it on themselves or their loved ones.
Empathy would be easily shown in the people’s love for RuPaul’s Drag Race when the queens talk about their struggles as they get ready for the main stage. The audience feels for the characters as they shed light on the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community. Jeff Goldblum even cried as Jackie Cox, a Pakistani and Muslim contestant, lip-synced to Katy Perry’s ‘Fireworks’ in a hijab and a kaftan that resembled the American flag. That’s how powerful reality shows can be.
According to Psychology Today, Americans love watching reality TV shows because it’s a concrete display of ordinary people becoming famous almost instantly. From the title alone, one example would be YouTube’s Instant Influencer, hosted by James Charles. Here, contestants compete in makeup challenges to become the next beauty guru celebrity. By seeing an example of how seemingly attainable fame is for an ordinary individual, reality shows condone the idea of gaining attention and improving one’s social status.
In a survey, fans of reality TV shows answered, “Prestige is important to me” and “I am impressed with designer clothes” more than other people. Take, for example, Selling Sunset, a reality TV show on Netflix that features million-dollar houses and glamorous real estate agents. It opens with a $43 million, 20,000 sq. ft. house up in the market, and you think, “Wow, mortgage,” but you’re also picturing yourself living in that house.
A reflection of the watcher’s character
The same study by Psychology Today found that people loved tuning in to Temptation Island not because of its sexual scenes but because of “a lack of interest in personal honor.” For them, it was not about morals and cheating. It was the convenience of it all, without any regard for what’s right.
This could explain the love for Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle. The show aims to teach conventionally hot individuals to redefine their definition of intimacy. Every sexual act has an equivalent deduction on the prize money. But because breaking the rules is easier than what’s right, the $100,000 diminishes rather quickly.
Being an avid fan of reality TV shows could be a genuine admiration or some kind of ironic consumption. Whatever the reason is, these shows have been deeply ingrained in the world’s media culture as more and more people sit in front of their TV’s and follow the “real” journey of the contestants.