Where do millennials like me go now for TV authenticity? Big brother | Lauren O’Neill

Jhe third season of Netflix‘s bikini abstinence reality show, Too Hot to Handle, launched on the platform in late January with a surprising twist. At the start of the first episode, the show’s narrator, Desiree Burch, explained to viewers that a day after wrapping filming for the second season last year, a brand new cast was introduced to the villa. broadcasting in the Turks and Caicos Islands. As with the second season contestant brigade, the season three band were not told they would be appearing on Too Hot to Handle, whose harrowing reputation precedes him. Instead, the program makers told their group of singles that it was a sexy show called Pleasure Island, with a fake host and their own lingo on the show..

Participants of Too Hot to Handle the third season had no idea that this trick was also used on their predecessors. They seemed discouraged, though still somewhat conscious, when told. But it’s no surprise the show’s producers were keen to pull the rug out from under them in pursuit. of “authenticity”. Reality TV is now consciously commercial, with contestants increasingly viewing its shows as a fast track to brand partnerships and endorsement deals in a pipeline of TV influencers to Instagram. Participants enter with the intention of growing their following on social media and signing lucrative promotional offers when they leave. Over the years, even the format and production values ​​of reality television have become predictable: we get scene transitions with establishing shots, musical interludes and core character tropes that become even more pronounced. during assembly.

Many reality TV fans are old enough to remember that things weren’t always like this. Recently, I’ve noticed people online sharing some noisy grainy clips of the UK’s original reality juggernaut, Big Brother (during confinement, three “superfans” even launched a podcast devoted to the analysis of each episode). Despite the scandal this show courted over its 18 years on the air and the fact that its early contestants were forced to contend with a savage pre-Leveson tabloid culture, the show’s snippets now seem like a stark counterpoint to current reality TV. The first series, launched on Channel 4 in 2000, was presented as a “social experiment”. Attendees included a bricklayer from Liverpool and an ex-nun from Ireland. To begin with, the candidates were not expected to do anything other than come as they were, to a house where their every action would be filmed for two months. People came from all walks of life, and top percentile warmth was not necessarily a prerequisite for selection.

Of course, Big Brother was not without its controversies: it was accused of shamefully showing public prejudice, exploiting vulnerable contestants and stigmatizing social issues. In 2020, season six contestant Makosi Musambasi told Grazia magazine that she felt she was treated differently from other contestants by the public because of her skin color. And the press reaction to the show has been cruel: the late Jade Goody, when she appeared on the third season of Big Brother in 2002, was called a “pig” on the pages of The Sun.

While Big Brother has exposed often ugly truths about the UK, it’s the show’s bizarre yet straightforward format and often disheveled contestants that are remembered with particular fondness by millennials like me. Big Brother and his iteration of longtime celebrity was remarkably unpolished. Many shows, such as Strictly and The Masked Singer, now consist of heavily formatted celebrity competitions that couldn’t be further from the deeply real magic of a Welsh teenager coming up with a song about “cooking an egg for the very first times” to a delighted audience of millions.

It was six years ago last month that one of Britain’s greatest TV moments in recent history: when Celebrity Big Brother season 17 Contestant Tiffany “New York” Pollard mistakenly believed her roommate David Gest was dead. (Gest, in a tragic coincidence, actually died just months after leaving Big Brother’s house.) Even though it happened in 2016 (just a year after Love Island, as we now know has begun), the video footage of the moment – which is poorly lit and features the housemates who also look unkempt as you’d expect from people who haven’t left the house in over a week – feels a world away from Too Hot to Handle’s glossy, slick look.

Reality TV is partly an oxymoron – the nature of editing something into entertainment has always meant removing at least some of its resemblance to real life. Importantly, this creation of distance between viewers and competitors can also be a useful corrective to the strong, unfair and deeply personal attacks that many fans, now armed with social media accounts, frequently target TV recruits. -reality. But as the genre has evolved, the “reality” aspect has become more confusing. Where Big Brother could have been a funhouse mirror held up to everyday life, our current formats are more like a phone camera with Instagram filters. It’s no surprise, then, that those of us who remember Big Brother’s first decade find pleasure in revisiting its pure “please don’t swear” chaos.

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