When television began in Australia back in 1956 it was all very innocent and polite – a technological and entertainment novelty rather than a force for social change. We had variety shows, the Three Stooges, Our Gang, Disneyland, a bunch of American sitcoms, a nightly news service and the ‘epilogue’ at midnight when stations shut down until the following day. Roll on some 66 years and that initial innocence has long gone, replaced by a furious ratings war in which so called reality shows have become the flagship of the commercial stations.
Dating, cooking and home renovation have been the mainstays of these modern shows but lately we have seen the emergence of programs in which human beings are asked to push their physical endurance and mental stamina to the limit. The global franchise Survivor has now been running for some 20 years and embodies all the qualities of a classic reality show – conflict, conniving and, constant twist and turns. Contestants are required to bust their guts but a certain dysfunctional camaraderie prevails.
On the other hand the forerunner of most of the current shows was probably Man Vs Wild in which British adventurer Bear Grylls was dropped into an ultra remote wilderness area and survived entirely on a diet of fried snake with a side serving of scorpions. As a former SAS trooper he used his extensive training to conjure up a multitude of survival solutions and a small fortune in TV exposure in the process.
Since Bear we have seen an explosion of similar shows – like the long running Naked And Afraid, in which a nudie couple are plunged into some godforsaken jungle for 21 days of hell and leeches attached to parts of the body that are best left pixelated. Hey, Johnny Weismuller did the same thing over a half century ago, but at least he kept his kit on. America’s Discovery and History channels churn out much of this content (aka trash), such as the latter’s Alone, in which contestants compete for a $500,000 prize by remaining in an extreme natural environment for as long as they can.
Not surprisingly we have seen the emergence of similar homegrown shows like Channel 7’s SAS Australia, in which a bunch of disparate local celebrities are put through psyhical and psychological torture by former UK solider and marine Ant Middleton and his cohorts. Many of them like Schapelle Corby and footballer Barry Hall (who gets set on fire in the new series), are there to seek redemption, which can only come after you have been dropped from a helicopter into an ice cold lake. It’s apparently a ratings winner, and a good pay day for the celebs, but the cynical will see through it as total bollocks. And will bossy boy Ant stop referring to this fine country as “Oshtralia’!
Few of us will ever be in a situation where we are stranded in the middle of nowhere and have to live to on a diet of lizards and grubs. So how about a series of reality shows that relate entirely to the current COVID dominated urban experience. In the new hit reality show, Smile – You’re On COVID Camera, a group of fully clothed contestants, embark on a 24 hour treasure hunt to amass as many points as they can. The winner receives a 12 day cruise on the Ruby Princess, a Pete Evans biocharger and two weeks in a quarantine hotel of their choice.
The tension is palpable as our six anointed players set off to grab a six pack of toilet paper and the two limit serving of barbeque snags from Coles. A bit of old style argy bargy as the last rolls of bum fodder are ripped from the shelves at Woolies. It’s a real struggle to find a Rapid Antigen Test in Sydney but one lucky contestant manages to swap an autographed tennis ball from Novak Djokovic for the last remaining at a servo in Edgecliff.
It’s now the push for big bonus points with the much sought after PCR Test. Our players drive all over Sydney to find a testing staion that’s open and a queue that doesn’t stretch to Wollongong. It’s a long, long wait but one very enterprising contestant manages to drop from a helicopter (courtesy of SAS Australia and our old mate Ant) and be first in line for the test. Take that ‘Oshtralia’ – we have winner!