A contestant on Beauty & The Geek opened up about their experiences with being on the autism spectrum on tonight’s episode, and it was honestly so refreshing to see a marginalised identity exist on a reality show *without* being tokenised.
Obviously, diversity on TV is super topical right now. It’s something we’ve been demanding for ages as an audience – and it’s also something that can be easily exploited.
Take Elly and Becky Mile‘s season of The Bachelorette, for example. The Bachie franchise is not exactly known for its diversity, but despite that, the trailer for Elly’s season gave the most screen time to Black contestant Ab Sow.
The constant use of Ab in the promotional material basically baited us into thinking the show was going to be more diverse than usual. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t, and Ab actually left in the first episode – he wasn’t part of the season at all, really.
Channel 10 putting AB front and centre for all the first episode promos like, "Look, we TRIED to have diversity but he left!" ???? #TheBacheloretteAU
— Carla Viz (@thecarlaviz) October 7, 2020
The same can be said about Angie‘s season – Niranga was given heaps of screen time in advertisements, and barely any at all in the actual show.
Who would have imagined when Niranga uttered the words "Obviously I'm not her brother" in the promo that they would be the only words we'd ever hear him say#bacheloretteau
— Nez (@fraggle73) October 17, 2019
To me, it definitely felt like tokenism – using a person’s identity to fake progressiveness, only to toss that person aside and not actually protect them from bigotry that is inevitably going to be directed that way. Or worse, use that bigotry as a plot device, like we saw with Areeba in Locky‘s season of The Bachelor.
And let’s not even talk about how bisexuality was handled in MAFS.
The point is, reality TV shows (especially the dating kind) are well practiced in exploiting marginalised identities for views and clicks, without really being sensitive to the person involved.
Beauty & The Geek, however, did something I rarely see on TV – they *didn’t* use a contestant’s marginalised identity to market their show. And maybe the bar is low, but I think that’s a great step forward for reality TV.
In today’s episode, Geek Kyle told his Beauty, Leticia, that he has autism. He opened up about how that’s affected his ability to connect with and understand girls, and dating in general.
Leticia was a great listener, the two had a sweet moment where she understood the gravity of the trust he was placing in her, and the show moved on.
And the fact that it wasn’t a big deal IS the big deal. Because Beauty & The Geek *could* have tokenised Kyle’s autism and used it to pat themselves on the back for ‘diversity.’ They could have used his autism in their advertisements as a ‘bombshell’ or ‘huge shock.’ They could have done all the other shitty, unethical things I am so used to seeing reality TV do, and they didn’t.
Instead, we saw Kyle talk about being autistic himself, describe what that means for him to a friend, and then go about the show as normal. Without having to explain himself to any other contestants. And it was done sensitively, without it being a huge secret that was spilled. It’s just who Kyle is.
It was nice to see Kyle find the confidence to open up about his autism diagnosis and show us the world from his perspective. Also nice to see Leticia display empathy and an open mind in return???? #BATG pic.twitter.com/sglZhk7Und
— seapunk aesthete ???? (@BiancaNeveXO) July 19, 2021
I’m so used to seeing diversity be blatantly tokenised on reality TV that it was lovely to just see Kyle be himself. And honestly, this is what I want reality TV to be like when there are diverse contestants. I want them to be able to share their experiences, in their own words, with a person they trust and feel comfortable talking to – without having to be the face of their identity in a million advertisements, or being used to check a box.
Good on you Beauty & The Geek producers. This show just continues to be wholesome, and it shows that reality TV doesn’t need bullying or bigotry to be entertaining.