Reality TV: SportsBet’s new game

Australians love to gamble. We always have. It’s a central part of our culture; a practice almost as sacred as weekend binge drinking at the local RSL or chucking a sickie the day before a public holiday to get a long weekend.

At almost every venue in the country that serves alcohol, there’s poker machines, or at the very least, a TAB. Sport, of course, is the main product. The horse and greyhound racing runs pretty much all day for the particularly committed midday pub visitors, but there’s also the more popular AFL, Rugby League, Rugby Union, cricket, soccer, tennis, netball, boxing and cycling, all of which are always available to place a sneaky bet or two.

Heck, you can even bet on darts if you want to.

Recently, though, a new type of betting is on the rise. Australians also love reality television. Some of the country’s highest rating shows since 2000 have been reality-based: Big Brother, My Kitchen Rules, The Block, Masterchef, The Biggest Loser, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Survivor Australia, The Bachelor, Married at First Sight. The list goes on.


And funnily enough, most of these shows are in their fourth or fifth year, maintaining incredible viewerships with little to no change in structure or content.

We know exactly how these shows work by now. It’s impossible to keep count of the amount of montage trailers we’ve seen consisting exclusively of contestants throwing death stares at an unknown subject, followed by a mortified voice exclaiming “I can NOT believe she did that!”, or gaping open-mouthed as Matt Preston lifts a cloche to reveal some sort of terrifying mystery dish while intense orchestral music crescendos in the background (spoilers: it’s a croquembouche).

We’ve also seen the same parade of archetypal characters every season: the nasty one, the overly ambitious one, the ditz, and, of course, the one with the very good sob story.

Perhaps the beauty of these shows is the comfort we find in their unfailing consistency. They are reliable; we know exactly what’s coming every time we sit down to watch. In fact, we can almost guarantee it. That’s where the new type of gambling comes on board.

It seems that Australians have found a new way to mix one of their favourite pastimes with their favourite television shows. We’ve started to bet on them too.

We do it with pretty much everything that can be bet on. What would the hair colour of The Bachelor winner be? Which character(s) would die in the next episode of Game of Thrones? How many times will Masterchef contestants make the grave mistake of forgetting “the hero of the dish”?

When we bet on reality TV though, we’re not just betting on scores, teams or horses anymore – we’re betting on people and people’s feelings. It’s a lot like the Hunger Games, only very, very mild.

In 2016, for instance, thousands of Australians threw down their well-earned cash to have a guess at who Bachelor Richie Strahan would choose to be his one true love, and who would get their heart trampled on. SportsBet had Nikki at a less likely $2.50, and Alex at a much more promising $1.60. Alex, of course, took out the competition, just as we all thought. Shows what we know, I guess, because Alex and Richie split earlier this week anyway.

During My Kitchen Rules’ season that same year, Jessica Tichonczuk, came to be known as a bit of a antagonist during the series after taking a swipe at celebrity chef and host, Manu Feidel, about his weight. During the show, SportsBet cashed in on this too, by releasing a bet that rated Tichonczuk a $1.87 chance to be called a “bitch” by her fellow contestants more than 4.5 times during the remainder of the series.  

Maybe it’s just me, but that one just feels like glorified cyber bullying.

Regardless, this is a new phenomenon in the betting scene, but it certainly looks like it’s here to stay. Until the major networks can start bringing some new content to our screens, it’s likely that Australians will continue to try and (literally) make the most out of the shows we all know and love so well.

Masterchef Australia returned Monday evening, and The Bachelorette is coming back within the next two months. Let the games begin.