Like it or not, reality television is close to impossible to avoid. But with everything that is going on in the world, sometimes switching off to watch your favourite TV personalities battle it out in a bush tucker trial may be exactly what you need. No one can deny its popularity; it is spoken about all over the internet, on social media, in magazines and pretty much everywhere. Some may argue that the shows are misleading and that they exploit people’s ideas of stereotypes, others say they are harmless – or mindless – entertainment.

Rather than hide behind the frequently coined ‘guilty pleasure’ excuse, I am going to admit that I’m one of the people who watches and enjoys lots of reality TV. Don’t judge me! But even I sometimes worry that we care for reality TV stars more than we should. The everyday people who enter these shows start out just like you and me – but soon find themselves on the front page thanks to these shows, and everyone knows by now how difficult it is to deal with such a meteoric rise to fame. It is so easy for viewers to get caught up in the whole thing and forget that these people aren’t actors. This is their ‘reality’. Perhaps this is something that warrants more consideration from the producers of these shows, as well as hopeful cast members.

With Love Island currently airing its sixth season and more popular than ever, I’m going to use the show to explain why reality TV stars deserve to be treated better. This group of young singles are thrown into a villa in Majorca – or more recently, Cape Town – with the expectation that they will split into couples and move towards the end goal of finding “true love” (otherwise known as a lucrative couples TV deal) and stroll off into the sunset with £50,000. But the price of fame is high. Previous contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis both took their own lives in the space of 12 months, and sparked a national conversation on the programme’s duty of care processes. The show has since developed a new set of procedures designed to protect the welfare of Islanders, flagging vulnerabilities earlier so adjustments can be made. They could be given the option to leave, or offered compulsarary therapy sessions away from the cameras afterwards.

The support for Islanders as they re-adjust to life after the show is crucial. The success of the show means that the majority leave with thousands of new Instagram and Twitter followers as they are catapulted into a variety of sponsorship deals with different brands. This opens them up to criticism, though. As they leave their old lifestyles behind and deal with their new found fame, facing up to whether they have made a good impression on the public during their moments of air time each evening must be tough.

It’s crucial that this happens on all reality television shows to ensure that cast members are helped with any public criticism that they encounter. It is equally important to remember that the image and lifestyle portrayed in certain shows isn’t reality at all. Some programmes, like The Only Way Is Essex, include a message at the beginning saying ‘Although the people are all real, some of what they do has been set up purely for your entertainment’. This is one good way to highlight the fact that it is still a television show, and not real life. Anything that can be done to stop viewers of the show from comparing their own lifestyles to television – and taking their jealousy to social media – is vital.

People can be so quick to judge, but with the growing awareness of mental health issues, isn’t it time we stopped for a moment to think before posting that negative tweet? Because it is, after all, a real person behind the image. Just like you.

Holly Duncan-Quinn

By Holly Duncan-Quinn - Consultant

24 January 2020

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