The rise of Australian reality television: why are we so mean?


Recently Channel Nine aired the finale of its most successful reality series for the year, Married At First Sight.

You probably watched it, and you’re certainly not alone in doing so. TV Tonight put the finale’s viewership at just over 1.39 million, snatching the ratings lead from Channel Seven’s ever-dramatic My Kitchen Rules.

For those unaware, I’ll quickly summarise this beautiful piece of Australian drama.

Self-described as “Australia’s most controversial social experiment,” MAFS throws together twenty random strangers… and marries them. 

According to the show’s creators, MAFS uses, “a mix of neuroscience and psychology” in an attempt to create ten perfect matches from these twenty strangers, and help the couples to find their soul mate.

Well, thank god there’s neuroscience and psychology involved – otherwise, this might be really stupid.

In the wake of MAFS’ premiere on our screens, I feel like I need to ask something: Australia, why are we so mean?

I ask, because MAFS is by no means the only Grease 2-level of stupid show on Australian screens right now whose entire basis is essentially one of humiliation. In fact, it’s one of dozens shown on the three biggest commercial networks (Seven, Ten and Nine) alone, and some of the most popular of these premiered within the last twelve months.

Yes, Australia’s thirst for the ‘real’ (a.k.a. ‘watching fellow ordinary people suffer a series of ridiculous, uncomfortable and generally embarrassing situations in the desperate hope that it might make you feel a little better about your shitty day at work’) seems to have grown recently.

Notable additions to Australian primetime include Ten’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! which clocked an average nightly viewership of 823,000 this year, and Nine’s RBT, which has recently returned to our screens, welcomed by a primetime audience of around 302,000 in metro areas alone.

The former involves a group of Australian “celebrities” – let’s be honest, we’re playing it pretty fast and loose with the word ‘celebrity’ here – attempting to survive in the jungle whilst participating in tremendously valuable, character-building activities like ‘Eat This Gross Thing!’ and ‘Shower In These Insects!’, while clinging to any last shred of popularity they may hold with an audience that requires all contestants to wear name-branded jerseys just so we can remember who they are.

The latter is – you guessed it – just a show about Random Breath Testing. While this might not sound like a particularly exciting concept, RBT has clearly found an untapped market in Australia’s desire to watch live footage of strangers being reprimanded for minor drink-driving offences, falling over in public and swearing at the police, because it’s currently in its eighth season. But don’t worry, Nine is keeping it fresh, with the latest trailer promising “MORE arrests, and MORE excuses!” than ever before.

Yes. We are actually watching this stuff.

Now, I understand the importance of entertainment. Life is busy and exhausting, and sometimes we’d prefer just to not have to think for an hour or two each night. And I’m certainly not suggesting we all completely ditch TV in favour of spending our evenings gathered around the fireplace discussing the global economy, sipping on brandy and muttering phrases like, “mmhm, yes, quite.

But shows like these are doing us damage. Not only are they brain-meltingly lacking in any meaningful content, they also encourage us as a community to place a positive value on the genuine humiliation of others.

So please, go watch something else tonight. Watch MTV Cribs, watch the live-action Horrible Histories, watch the 2005 classic family/comedy flick Are We There Yet? starring Ice Cube. Pretty much anything that isn’t one of these shows.

You’ll probably be a better person for it.