Reality TV or stress pornography?

At one point or another we’ve all had some interaction with the pervasive reality television series Masterchef. Some of us follow it religiously, some occasionally while others simply chime in occasionally to comment on the ridiculousness of it all. It’s inescapable, and after 6 seasons of hopping between all three we’ve noticed some gradual changes in the nature, or rather, focus of the series.

It seems that every season the challenges become slightly more difficult, the time constraints slightly less realistic and the resulting tears more frequent. But more importantly it seems an increasing proportion of the show focuses on the stress, panic and anxiety of the contestants…and we’re choosing to ignore the ever-present sob story. With the recent announcement that the show will be back for a seventh season in 2015 with an average of around 900,000 viewers per episode, the gradual evolution of the show seems to be well received.

So what compels us to watch the inevitable crisis moments, the failure and the misery? Why do we enjoy watching the contestants suffer? Could it be a very mild form of sadism? Perhaps there is something cathartic about coming home from a long day at work to watch others flailing about in a state of panic. Unlike some other reality television shows in the last decade Masterchef isn’t overtly mean. Yes the judges can be unbearably smug and a little snide at times but that’s not where the cruelty lies. Contestants are simply set up to crack and fail through the design of the challenges and when they do, the cameras don’t miss a beat.

Former 2013 series contestant Jules Allen recently spoke out about how contestants were encouraged to crack open for the cameras. It’s no secret that the immersive nature of the show is designed to produce high emotion but is this level of drama-come-stress-pornography necessary to maintain an emotional connection with the viewer?

Sadly we’re not above it all either. Lunchtime conversation in the office reveals that we’re all somehow fairly up to date considering no one claims to be a regular viewer. We’re reminded of a clever skit by English comedians Robert Mitchell and David Webb.  Whether you’re watching ironically or watching sincerely, you’re still watching.


For many years now, the media industry has loudly trumpeted the so-called fragmentation of the media landscape. You can't get the same audiences you used to get... the eight pm timeslot is dead they said.

Well, I would like to draw people's attention to the phenomenal success that Underbelly is currently enjoying. The ratings have been:

Week One: 2.5 million
Week Two: 2.4 million
Week Three: 2.3 million

Underbelly has set records for television audiences in the last twenty years.

In the face of this, I believe it can reasonably be argued that the eight pm timeslot is in fact alive and kicking, it's just waiting to be filled with good top quality content.

People have simply grown weary of the endless streams of crap they are being served on a regular basis - magazines suffer from a similar fate. Blaming all their woes on the rise of the Internet and the provision of free (not to mention high quality) journalism.

However some magazines are rising to the challenge, Monocle is a great example of a new entry that is quickly gaining market share through a reputation for excellence in all fields. Describing itself as a 'global briefing covering international affairs, business, culture and design' Monocle delivers to people's growing desire for high-quality content.

A great example of renegade intelligent media is Smashing Telly which describes itself as;

'Smashing Telly is a hand edited collection of the best free, instantly available TV on the web. Not 30 second clips of a dog on a skateboard, or the millionth person to mine the Numa song, but classic clips and full length programs, with a focus on documentaries and non fiction. Smashing Television, not Gimmick Television."

here's hoping this rise in intelligent, considered media is something we will see much more of!