The Tide Is Turning For How We Treat Reality TV Contestants, But Is It Too Late?

We’ve been consuming reality TV with as much thirst as we consume water since the early noughties, when millennials were lil kiddies and before some members of Gen Z were even born. So you could absolutely say that reality TV has been a big part of our day-to-day lives since they began.

Being someone that remembers tuning in to the very first season of Big Brother and going on to literally make a career of analysing reality TV, I can tell you that I’ve seen a bunch of changes to how these shows are formatted and while there’s definitely been an improvement, we still have a long, long way to go.

This morning, Bachelor In Paradise star Jamie Doran announced that he is pursuing legal action against Channel Ten and Warner Bros. Australia over his portrayal on the new season (a Network 10 spokesperson told PEDESTRIAN.TV they have not received legal paperwork).

We’ve reached out to Jamie for a comment but have not yet received a response and cannot assume how he’s feeling right now.

It comes after Channel Seven was forced to cough up workers compensation to one of its former House Rules contestants who say they copped the villain edit, a go-to reality TV technique that almost every so-called ‘villain’ has accused producers of using.

This win may have set a huge precedent for the entire industry but it seems like no one has learned their lesson ‘cos it’s still happening on House Rules, Bachie and all their sister shows.

Nicole Prince (right) appeared alongside friend Fiona Taylor on the fifth season of House Rules. (Credit: Seven)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a reality star who hasn’t gone on to call out the editing of the show, with many claiming to have been subjected to hate speech and abuse from the Australian public.

So when they’re getting absolutely ripped to shreds by folks online as the show airs, and when they continue to cop public scrutiny after it’s over, what help is available to them?

According to Bachie host Osher Günsberg, the network has a team of “mental health professionals” employed to assist contestants who may be struggling with the process.

“It’s probably pertinent to point out that everyone on the show has full access to mental health professionals as well as support from the Warner Bros. Australia and Network 10 teams before, during and after production,” he tweeted as fans voiced their concern for Jamie after a recent ep of BIP.

He added, “To be CLEAR. The amount of mental health support before/during/after production for the people on this show it significant. But you’ll never know who accessed it, who asked for it, and who continues with it because of privacy. But trust me, it’s ROBUST.”

But is this “ROBUST” support system enough to shield contestants from a tsunami of hate? Obviously in Jamie’s case it isn’t.

To be fair, the idea of caring for a contestant’s mental health seemed to be a completely foreign concept in the early noughties so the fact that there are systems in place is definitely an improvement, but these lawsuits are proof that we’ve still got a long way to go.

Another instance where we need to do better is representation.

I remember in one of the first seasons of Big Brother, the series addresses the blaring lack of LGBTQIA+ representation on television by including not one, but two gay housemates.

Pretty cool, right? Especially for young viewers such as myself who were only just coming to terms with their sexuality and hated the fact that there was no one like them on TV.

But before you praise the series for supposedly being ahead of its time, let me remind you what both queer men, and us as viewers, had to endure.

David Graham was one of two openly gay men on the 2006 season of Big Brother.

Not only were the men subjected to jokes and nasty comments from some of their fellow housemates (and the public), but one of the Friday Night Games is tattooed in my memory for how offensive it was.

The game involved having the two men dress up in pink ballerina costumes and prance around for the enjoyment of both their fellow housemates, and the viewers. This was no win for diversity. Quite the opposite.

It showed us that queer folk were only worthy of being on our screens if they were mocked and portrayed in a gimmicky way. The fact that this scene is still burned in my memory literally decades later tells you how damaging it was for a young, budding queer kid.

And don’t even get me started on There’s Something About Miriam, a show designed to malign and humiliate the trans community for entertainment

While it’s great that this kind of stuff doesn’t fly anymore, there’s still a blaring lack of LGBTQIA+ & POC representation on reality TV and based on Bachie host Osher Günsberg’s recent tweet, we’re nowhere near solving it.

Here’s hoping the latest lawsuit is a wake-up call to reality TV producers. These shows can be so fun and entertaining, especially when times are tough and we need some form of escapism, but escapism for us can be literal torment for others, namely the people who have signed on to entertain us.

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