ARE REALITY SHOWS EXPLOITING PEOPLE?

In February of 2019, I released a Twitter thread that went viral on the ‘secrets of BBNaija that nobody seemed to know.’ I wrote this thread after a friend of mine expressed how badly he wanted to go for the auditions, and I shared my thoughts on the show with him and was surprised how he couldn't see some of the issues I posited. I decided to share these thoughts, which later went on to amass thousands of interactions and backlash.

One thing I pointed out in this thread(which still holds) is that all reality shows are not built around ‘the house’, ‘the games’ or ‘the contestant’ but around you.

Yes, you. The catch is your attention. It is undeniable that attention is the new social currency, and multinational companies are investing fortunes in research and systems to get more of it. Every caption, every TikTok trend, every ‘content’ targets your attention. The algorithms, user interface and programming, are optimized to keep you glued to your screens for as long as possible. Have you ever wondered why people would put their lives on hold to watch other people sleep on a reality show?

There is also the disproportionate need to be famous in our generation. Call it celebrity status, stardom or influence(er); whatever moniker you ascribe to it, it has become much more attractive. Celebrity status which was once seen as a prize handed to only the extraordinarily gifted has now been democratised and we all want our bite of the cake. The idea of going from obscurity to amassing teeming fans who are ready to go to war on your behalf? Come on, who doesn’t want that, right?

The Nigerian experience is even more complicated by the rate of poverty in the country. Rising poverty has made shiny objects even shinier, thus, making every avenue for quick wealth and fame a compulsive pursuit.

There is also the need for humans to feel wanted. You can tell from the way rejection often affects our psychology. So, imagine having a show (The Bachelor) where a man goes into a show looking for ‘the one’, so he essentially dates over 50 women, and the winner gets the man. This plays on the human need to be wanted and the female craving for exaggerated pseudo-romantic stories. The irony of this double exploitation is that 49 women have to be rejected on international television for one woman to emerge as the winner.

Speaking of ‘the bachelors’ franchise, a very popular reality TV show, they seem to fall short of their alleged goal. In 42 seasons, experts state that only five couples have ended up getting married. Which brings us to the question: who wins with reality shows?

The success of reality shows in recent times cannot be ignored. With The bachelors reaching up to 5.49 million viewers in a week (besides syndication) and BBNaija garnering an audience of 309 million (more than double the SuperBowl). Experts say that category sponsorship of BBN cost $1.5 Million, product sponsorship about $416,666 and other smaller sponsors pay about $104,167 (BrandSpur Ng).

I dare say that when it comes to these shows, you are the product, the contestants are baits (or content at best), the shows are a well-oiled machine, and the real winners are the investors and sponsors.

So, the next time you think of reality shows, always remember, you are as much of a player as the contestants.

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Ajayi Tobbi

Ajayi Tobbi

Content & Copywriter based in Nigeria, with 10,500+ views and an M.Sc. in Architecture. I curate emotions through storytelling and thought-provoking Op-eds.