Compare and contrast two different ‘reality TV’ shows and their associated web sites, discuss how they provide a platform for avenues of communication, marketing and interactivity. How are the audiences crafted and understood for each of these shows? Provide specific examples. Today, it seems you can’t turn on the television without coming across reality programming. Shows such as Big Brother, The Amazing Race, Average Joe, The Bachelor, Wife Swap, What Not To Wear, The Apprentice and Survivor have become increasing popular with both the American and Australian television audiences (Teven, 2004).
Not so long ago, reality TV was ridiculed for being the cheap and cheesy new kid on the programming block. Now, reality TV accounts for the most successful new television shows (USATODAY.com, 2004). As a result of this increased popularity, the industry has been forced to take this genre seriously. This popularity is reason enough to give reality TV the critical attention that it so richly deserves (Mhando, 2002).
European television programmers were the first to develop the concept of reality television. Then the American networks purchased some of these formats and brought them back to the United States. They also created some original formats themselves. Since the 1990’s, reality TV has become a major phenomenon with most major networks screening some form of realty programming (Wells and Tibaldi, 2002).
According to Mhando (2002:187), the supposed purpose of reality TV is to “place ‘ordinary’ people in ‘extraordinary; situations and allows other people (including the crew) to watch them react”. Wells and Tibaldi (2002:189) explain that this kind of programming differs from earlier so-called “reality programming such as Weddings and RPA which followed more of a socio-documentary model”.
I have chosen possibly two of the most influential reality television programs of which to base a discussion of this genre: Survivor and Big Brother. These two programs are the templates for which many copycat formats strive to imitate. Both have a multitude of successful seasons under their prospective belts, indicating that these are formats that work. Survivor was created by Mark Burnett and first aired on American television in the year 2000. It’s hard to imagine five years ago, it would have been “Mark who?” Since then Burnett has filmed nine successful seasons of the popular program in locations spanning the world from Borneo to Australia, Africa, Marqueses, Thailand, the Amazon, the Pearl Islands, Panama and now the island of Vanuatu.
“Deprived of basic comforts, exposed to the harsh natural elements, your fate at the mercy of strangers…who would you become?” (CBS Survivors Home, 2004). The premise of Survivor that for 39 days, 18 (American) strangers will be stranded on a remote island in Vanuatu. With no food or water and only the clothes on their backs, the contestants are forced to come together and “carve out a new existence, using their collective wits to make surviving in their rugged and primitive environment a little easier” (CBS Survivors Home, 2004).
Each episode of Survivor comprises of three days of life on the island. One day is essentially a rest day, where contestants work on forming a cooperative society, building shelter, and collecting food and water. Another day is where contestants compete against each other in a Reward Challenge. The winner of this challenge will receive things to make life on the island more bearable, such as matches, blankets, fishing equipment or even, a meal. The losers receive nothing. On the third and final day, compete in an Immunity Challenge, which is followed by a visit to Tribal Council. At Tribal Council, Survivors vote to send one contestant home.
One-by-one contestants are sent home until only two Survivors remain. At this point, the seven most recently eliminated contestants return to form the final Tribal Council and decide who will become the Sole Survivor and win US1 million dollars. The Survivor 9:Vanuatu website is one of the most elaborate web sites I have ever seen dedicated to a television program. The home page (see Appendix 1) is essentially the base from where you begin your experience.
From here you can find a range of information which attempts to appeal to viewers sense of participation. Including: the time slot for Survivor the television program (relevant for US residents only), photo of the current Survivor evictee and numerous links to Survivor cast profiles, opinion polls, various video footage, the Vanuatu tourism site, the Survivor Live Internet Talk Show, competitions and the official Survivor Chat Room.
Big Brother first came to Australia in 2001. The format consists of twelve strangers (the housemates) who are specifically chosen to undergo the experience of a lifetime. During the duration of three months they are to live together, eat together and be filmed together. They are filmed from the moment they walk into the house until the moment they leave. Microphones pick up every word that is spoken. Cameras, both hidden and visible can see every act committed.
The cameras are rolling 24 hours, seven days a week and can be seen on the Big Brother official website. Only significant and entertaining portions are shown on the 30-minute television time slot and there are many specials on during the week to keep audiences entertained, an example being the Adults Only Specials. Each week nominations are taken and soon after evictions of housemates are carried out, with the public phone and SMS voting to decide who should be evicted from the house.
Aside from livening up television history and entertainment, the housemates are guaranteed a great deal of money – $250,000 (Season 1), to be last housemate standing (Big Brother Online, 2001). Throughout the show there are many surprises, activities and hardships, which force the viewers to expect the impossible, but continue to enjoy the program at the same time (Big Brother Online, 2001).
Unfortunately, as Channel Ten are between series’ of Big Brother, the official website is currently unavailable. I feel that it is important to discuss this program due to the significant place in has within the reality TV genre. As such I have concentrated on web sites which are dedicated to the first and most popular series of Big Brother and also my memory of what the Official web site contained in 2001.
The single most prolific drawcard to the Big Brother site is the live stream from the house. 24-hours, seven days a week anyone with Internet access can log on and watch what is happening inside the house as it happens. Other features of the website include photos and profiles of each individual housemate, the latest news and order of evictions, interactive quizzes, message boards and chat rooms.
The website for Big Brother is without doubt an unmitigated success. Big Brother Online: Series One was “the biggest streaming event in Australian Internet history” (Mhando, 2002:186). At any given moment there were an average of 2500 people watching the live stream from the Big Brother house. There were 1.1 million page views per day on the website with a total of 86 million hits on the website over the entire period of series one.