Reality TV is the perfect escape because it's far less scary than real-life right now

'Too Hot To Handle' (Photo: Netflix)
'Too Hot To Handle' (Photo: Netflix)

Bashiera Parker is Channel24's International and Royal News Editor. She recently wrote about how the coronavirus will change our relationship with celebrities forever, and yet, she says the one thing she can't get enough of amid lockdown is the chaos that is 'The Bachelor SA', 'Too Hot To Handle' and every other reality TV show Netflix is streaming right now. Here, she explains why its okay to indulge every now and then.

You ever get so engrossed in a show you start dreaming about potential scenes and scenarios and featuring in them? Did Kim really just punch Kourtney in the face? Will Jessica ever reciprocate Marc's feelings in Love is Blind? And, wait, IS THAT ME GOING ON A ONE-ON-ONE DATE WITH THE BACHELOR? Find out in the next episode of my dreams, because I have fallen into an abyss of trashy reality TV and, I'm afraid, I'm too far gone.

With the lockdown I've found myself binging almost every Netflix reality show – my latest obsession came in the form of Too Hot To Handle, which saw a group of thirsty commitment-phobes having to abstain from sex, heavy petting, kissing, and any form of self-gratification for a cash prize of $100 000.

Francesca Farago and Harry Joswey in 'Too Hot To H

(THIS IS GOING TO BE INTERESTING: Contestants Francesca and Harry unable to keep their hands off each other in a show where they're required to keep their hands off each other. Photo: Netflix.)

I didn't have any dreams about this one, don't worry, but I did watch it in 24 hours and enjoy every minute of it.

I'm taking sides, indulging in full-on Twitter rants – I'm so invested that when things don't go as planned, I feel personally attacked.

So why this sudden obsession with shows we'd otherwise put on the back-burner – and leave there? Well, it's simple, really: We could all do with a reality that's far less scary than our own right now.


"There is an element there of being freaked out by something, and watching it is almost like watching a car wreck. You know, you are driving along the highway, and you see a car smashed up, you slow down; it's the same kind of thing." – an anonymous university professor on his love for Judge Judy in a study on reality TV conducted by Charles McCoy, Assistant Professor of Sociology at SUNY Plattsburgh and Roscoe Scarborough, a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Virginia at the time.

There are many contributing factors that come into our desire to watch reality TV. Whether you genuinely care about or connect with the people on screen, or you're watching it as a guilty pleasure after a long day just to see things fall apart, we can't help but indulge in the drama that unfolds. This has a lot to do with (1) voyeurism and (2) social comparison theory.

According to Turkish psychologist, Lemi Baruh, voyeurism, or rather, trait voyeurism has to do with people's innate desire to see "what they cannot otherwise see" when "the curtains are left slightly open". This means we can't help but be nosey. We love a juicy skinder story and seeing all the drama unfold right before our eyes? Get me some sugar and spill the tea.

Social comparison theory, first proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, is another trait we have as humans in which instinctively evaluate themselves in comparison to others. To put it simply, watching someone lose their shit on screen, makes us feel better about ourselves.

And then there's the debatable aspect that ties into all of the above: it's all real. Of course, reality TV has been cut and edited to elevate the drama – we recently spoke to The Bachelor SA's Rikki who said the editing in a recent episode "was clearly out to make [her] look bad" – but we still know that the people we're seeing are real, this is their lives, this is their reality – and it's nothing like ours.

Marc Buckner and Rikki Brest on The Bachelor SA.

(I CAN'T LOOK AWAY: Marc and Rikki's last chat before her final rose ceremony was awkward, to say the least. Photo: M-Net.)


Channel24's movie and TV editor, Leandra Engelbrecht, recently wrote about how series is actually getting us through the lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She says, not only does binge-watching reduce stress and actually increase our brain's production of dopamine – the pleasure hormone – according to Clinical psychologist, Dr Renee Carr, it's also a form of comfort during a rather difficult time.

On rewatching our favourite shows like Friends, The Office and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, she writes: "See we know what's going to happen, there are no surprises. It's like visiting old friends and re-connecting again. And in a world that is very uncertain at the moment, we are all yearning for comfort."

So on her love for reality TV, and specifically The Bachelor SA, she told me: "What keeps me hooked is not so much whether he will find true love. It's the drama of the journey, the microscopic look at how people deal when they're in a situation out of their comfort zones."

Marc and Qiniso on 'The Bachelor SA.'

('I WASN'T IN CHARACTER - I WAS ME': Qiniso van Damme was the latest to leave the Bachelor mansion after being accused throughout the season of not being on the show for the right reasons. Photo: M-Net.)

For The Juice editor, Graye Morkel, it's all about the crazy "on-screen chaos" when it comes to 90 Day Fiancé. "The reason I find it so hard to look away from the on-screen chaos is that there is a creepy sense of entertainment I get by looking in from the outside on someone's private life. Just as I am about switch the channel from the crazy, the show draws me back in with a secret jail time scandal, and never-saw-it-coming catfish (or did I, and I was just waiting for the bomb to burst in the most over-the-top way possible!" she said.

But whether it's about the voyeurism for Leandra or the mess that is reality TV for Graye – or in my case the scenes they didn't show us and somehow ends up airing in my dreams – we all find ourselves on Twitter discussing the latest on our favourite shows.

And just for a moment, the world is a lot less scary. 

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