Is producer meddling ruining reality TV?


Channel 4’s mind-bending social media-based reality show The Circle continues to go from strength to strength, with season three’s closing episode airing last week and finding 1.24 million viewers – its most-watched finale ever. Since 2018, the show has garnered a dedicated following, with a second US series screening at the end of the month.

Like many of the best reality shows, it sounds ridiculous on paper and is utter genius on screen. The premise appears convoluted, yet it’s simple: it is a popularity contest in the most literal sense. Contestants battle it out for £100k, sucking up and scheming their way to the final. The cast live in the same apartment building but can’t meet, and rate each other based on their carefully curated profiles. The most popular players come out on top as “influencers”, complete with blue ticks and the ability to “block” their rivals.

Some players choose to play it straight, usually accompanied by a self-righteous speech about the importance of “being yourself”. Others fake it til they make it, such as season one’s Freddie Bentley, a gay 20-year-old from Essex, for whom “playing it straight” had a more literal meaning. This gives way to a number of surreal set-ups, such as a woman, 43, using her 25-year-old son’s pictures to chat up other women, or Richard Madeley masquerading as a 27-year-old PR girl called – wait for it – Judy.

There’s a lot going on with this show already, which is why the incessant meddling of producers this year almost ruined it. From the outset, it was clear that the programme-makers would be taking a more hands-on approach to a show which is already, like any reality show, heavily produced. The first contestant blocked from the game was Yolanda, who had gone in as her husband, Chris. She was, however, immediately given the opportunity to re-enter the game, this time by cloning the profile of an existing contestant, Tally, and making the rest of the players decide who was the real one and who was the fake. While watching Yolanda scramble to try to convince the other players of the arbitrary meanings she had ascribed to Tally’s tattoos was amusing, she ultimately failed and was sent home. The twist somewhat failed, too; the novelty wore off when it became clear that Yolanda wouldn’t succeed in her mission. It wasn’t as sly as producers thought either; Vithun, one of the sharper contestants, immediately twigged that Yolanda was behind the new account.

Jack Fincham and Dani Dyer
Jack Fincham and Dani Dyer, whose Love Island relationship was tested by producer twists. Photograph: Jonathan Hordle/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

This “twist” was repeated later down the line when two other blocked players, catfish Femi (a Londoner named Joey, playing as a newly arrived immigrant from Nigeria) and Pippa, were given the chance to return by joining forces to impersonate a priest. The contestants ended up guessing that it was them, too. And since the show finished, it has been claimed that one of the most tense moments of the series was entirely orchestrated. James, former cast member Hunter on the 90s series Gladiators, entered The Circle as an NHS nurse named Gemma. After his departure he visited his on-screen nemesis Manrika, but in a recent Instagram live video, he revealed that he had actually wanted to see 85-year-old grandmother Dot (who was really her grandson, Scott, 30) instead. The producers had asked him to visit Manrika, he said, and had allegedly controlled who he had been able to speak with during the game.

Producers poking about is part and parcel of every reality show; to say I’m entirely against it would be to say I’m against reality TV. If I didn’t want it at all, I’d be writing columns about documentaries. But it’s an art; the people behind the scenes should never be so obviously present that they feel like characters themselves. At its best they can foster some incredible TV moments, but at its worst their input can feel last-ditch and desperate. For instance, in series four of Love Island, producers seemed to do everything in their power to cause drama between eventual winners Dani Dyer and Jack Fincham. They roped in his ex-girlfriend Ellie Jones, and then sent a video of his shocked reaction to her entrance to a distraught Dyer. She was beside herself with worry and so was the public; it led to more than 2,500 Ofcom complaints. This kind of manipulation becomes more drastic as series progress, in the hopes of spicing up a long-running show. The producers of The Bachelor have long been accused of telling the bachelor who to save in the eliminations, while multiple, unnecessary gimmicks and challenges were the nail in Big Brother’s coffin. Season 13 of Drag Race has been subject to criticism for its most recent twist, too, which saw queens introduced in pairs, and then immediately asked to lip sync for their life to avoid elimination. It was, however, instantly clear that these exits couldn’t be real, or the series would progress with half the number of cast members. It was so clear in fact that – you guessed it – the contestants realised immediately.

The latest series of The Circle might have felt like it was being masterminded by its makers, but, ultimately, it was saved by a shock orchestrated by the contestants themselves. In one of the biggest upsets in the show’s history, military policewoman Natalya, posing as paratrooper Felix, won the show by faking a romantic relationship with resident villain Manrika. The outcome was entirely unexpected, unlike the dramas which had preceded it. It served as a reminder that reality TV is at its best when contestants are given the space to be their weird and wonderful selves – even if they’re catfishing.





READ SOURCE

READ  Programmatic OOH tipped to go 'mainstream' in 2020

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here