The good, the bad and the reality of TV’s most controversial genre

Steven
9 Aug • 3 min read

Admit it, whether you love them or hate them, at some point in your life you’ve been engrossed in reality TV one way or another. Whether you were blown away by social-experiment -turned-national-treasure, Big Brother - or driven to the verge of throwing up by one of the Bush Tucker Trials on I’m a Celeb, reality TV has had us all in its grip.

When executed well, these reality shows capture the unpredictable brilliance that their name suggests. However, controversy is never too far away when they’re concerned. So, it begs the question: how have these unscripted, explosive bits of TV folklore managed to stay afloat for so long?

Few have been more controversial than the singing contest franchise and brainchild of the original TV Mr. Nasty, Simon Cowell - The X-Factor. To commemorate the show’s 17-year stint coming to an end, we delve into our reality archive and dig out some classics.

The Good

Despite being a relatively recent addition to the world of reality TV, Gogglebox is certainly on its way to making a lasting impression. And who would have thought it? A show documenting ordinary folk watching telly from the comfort of their own homes. Is it a sign that we’ve finally reached the bottom of the barrel for new concepts, or a totally simple piece of genius telly? We think it’s the latter!

Although the celeb spin-off has produced some utter gems, the original incarnation is what really captured our hearts. From Sandy and Sandra’s formidable double act, to Leon and June’s impeccable comic timing, Gogglebox has undoubtedly made staying in on a Friday night thoroughly enjoyable.

The Bad

Well, we say bad. But there is something disturbingly thrilling about watching celebrities in uncomfortable living conditions, completing challenges you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here is equal parts entertaining as it is stomach turning - and that’s most of the appeal!

We’ve seen some things over the years: Paul Burrell screaming for dear life as creepy crawlies took residence in a ridiculously enclosed space. And what about the birth of Katie Price and Peter Andre’s relationship, not to mention the rebirth of Peter’s pop career. If that’s not enough to leave you wanting more then we don’t know what is quite frankly…

The reality

Now this shout is about as real as it can get. To the point that Channel 4 bosses opted to even show extra, minute-by-minute footage of housemates throughout the day, and even footage of them asleep at night. Odd, we know.

You can’t deny that Big Brother changed the TV world. Fronted by the calm, yet incredibly charismatic Davina McCall and characters that were just as relatable as they were otherworldly. Not short of controversy though, it’s fair to say that Big Brother has its naysayers. Looking back however, the noughties is light of a few of its most iconic telly moments and pop culture references without it.

It’d be a massive stretch to suggest that these shows or any reality shows for that matter are everyone’s cup of tea. But, you just cannot overlook their cultural impact. Of course, many of them wouldn’t survive in today’s climate. These pillars of British television are an acquired taste, most definitely. They’re surely easier on the palette than the Kangaroo testicles served up on I’m a Celeb though. Surely...

Which reality shows have you hooked? Do you prefer the classic appeal of Big Brother? Or maybe you’re engrossed in watching other people watch TV on Gogglebox. Let us know via email, Twitter or Facebook.