Locked down in our homes, it is tempting to think that the number one Netflix series Too Hot to Handle is actually premised on a form of social distancing. That is how skewed our thinking is. You stay away from the hot contestants and if you are able to abstain from sexual activities, you win the prize.
And it’s not just this show; reality TV shows in general have been seeing a surge in viewership during the coronavirus lockdown. In some strange way, reality TV shows are offering a sense of stability right now.
Reality TV is ‘finally’ relatable
The sort of escapism that reality television offers is more in demand when the world has been turned upside down. It’s easier to get involved in the fight between Kourtney and Kim Kardashian than think about a deadly virus wreaking havoc.
The words most used by us during the lockdown are ‘unreal’, ‘surreal’ and ‘dystopian’. All these words apply to shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Bigg Boss. So, they are especially relatable to coronavirus lockdown mood. In fact, all of us are trapped in an endless loop of sameness, scripted drama, house work and office work – much like the nauseating claustrophobia of Big Boss house.
Yes, there is no camera following us inside our homes. But, we are recording our moments ourselves and sharing them on Instagram. Of course, after lockdown eases, apps like Aarogya Setu will trace and track all our movements. Inside our homes, there is no prize money to stay locked in, but if we remember to wash our hands, we will live.
Coping with Covid
In Bigg Boss, Shonali Nagrani yelled “Pooja, what is this behaviour” when another contestant Pooja Misrra kicked a trash can and this moment transformed the meme world for the better. With vines, audio memes and even music videos, Nagrani and Misrra did exactly what they were hired to do — make people forget larger issues to derive pleasure from the pettiest and stupidest of things.
It also reminds us of a world that existed before this virus, one which may never return.
As senior writer at WIRED, Jason Parson, writes, “Today these shows are more than shameless pleasure dumps. They define the world as it was, not as it is currently. I find comfort in that unreality. They lack the harsh physical truths of present terrors.”
People are also finding solace in shows like Masterchef Australia (sorry, not sorry, no other version counts), Great British Bake-Off, American Idol and even reruns of Indian reality shows like Dance India Dance. The fact that more and more people are tuning in to these shows, proves that they are as good as the dramatic ones. These shows are also popular right now because no one mentions ‘coronavirus’, ‘Covid-19’, or ‘curve’. And at some level, we are all tired of these words.
Some other shows are adapting to the quarantine. American Idol recently aired an ‘at-home’ episode where contestants sang songs from their homes, while judges assessed them from theirs.
Empathy for contestants
Another reason for this continued popularity of reality TV is that people can now identify with these shows.
Alice Jones, who writes on arts and entertainment, argues that this “perverse appeal” for reality shows is because “they offer a frisson of recognition with contestants, confined for days on end, squabbling over household chores or disappointing food supplies”. She adds that we may have more empathy for the contestants while we are watching them now than in the past.
And she is right. In Too Hot To Handle, although the contestant will only lose prize money if they fail at social distancing, it still makes you somewhat sympathetic to them, emphasis on ‘somewhat’. And this, despite knowing that we may lose a lot more than prize money if we fail at quarantine.
Views are personal.