• Justin Scroggie

Making a reality show? 9 Lessons from Lockdown




One of the tools I’ve developed for consulting on reality formats is The List of Opposites. Imagine 2 columns. In the left-hand column is Life as most of us experience it. In the right is Life in the constructed world of a reality show. The purpose of the List is to help producers identify and tighten the pressure points in a reality format. Scarily, it also reflects life under Covid.


Free Will vs RULES. We all want control over our daily life. But a reality show requires rules that limit your life and deliver consequences when you break them.

Company vs ISOLATION. We are social beings, we like to choose who we spend time with and for how long. Reality contestants are often kept apart from friends and family, or must try to cope with the enforced company of strangers.


Seriously, I wrote this List several years ago.


Activity vs BOREDOM. In real life there is often too much to do. To a reality TV producer, boredom is an essential tool. Bored people gossip, overshare and argue, and after hours of doing nothing, they are willing to do anything.


Take Your Time vs TIME PRESSURE. Reality contestants often forget what time, or day, it is, especially without their phones. Too little time can be a pressure, but also too much: it is increasingly stressful to remain on a reality show after others have been eliminated.


Comfort vs DISCOMFORT. Depriving contestants of comfort brings out the best or the worst in them. Making them compete for comforts? Definitely the worst. Toilet rolls, anyone?


In the Know vs IN THE DARK. We all love to be ‘in the know’, we hate to have secrets kept from us. But in a constructed world, what is actually true, what do we assume to be true, and what are we not being told?


Privacy vs EXPOSURE is on the List. So is Self Determination vs PEER PRESSURE. But let’s end with:


Power vs POWERLESSNESS. No one likes feeling completely powerless. So we give reality contestants choices to make, rewards for good behaviour, a benevolent ‘voice’ to listen to their troubles. Unfortunately the choices are binary, (greater or lesser evil), the rewards only seem good because you’re isolated, bored, uncomfortable, in the dark etc.


And the ‘voice’ isn’t really listening.

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