Is there a future for reality TV?
The relationship between reality TV and social media cannot be denied.
It's symbiotic, it's crucial, and it's palpable - for where would Bake Off be without its torrent of memes, Love Island without its trending topics?
The role of the audience in TV has never been more significant, and it's also never been more critical. For decades viewers have tuned into highly edited series', formed their opinions, and cast them into the ether - generally informing friends and family members which characters like, who they dislike, and who they hope to never see on their TV screens again.
Pivotal in this exchange has always been the media. The hype surrounding early reality TV shows like Big Brother UK could not have existed in the supreme way it did without the salacious headlines, shocking exclusives, and entirely questionable front page photos.
Back then tabloids told the public what to think. Unflattering pap shots of Jade Goody circa 2003 made her trashy. Suggestive subheads about Rebecca Loose made her a villain. Now, the same judgements continue to be forced but sometimes, the public now have the power to determine them.
Get enough retweets on a complaint about a show and it becomes news. Make enough memes and viewers will come to you for insights. Shout loud enough and people will start to listen.
In the early noughties, the only way to find out how the public felt about a reality TV contestant was to listen to who was booed on eviction nights. Now, you can find out instantly.
Twitter, Instagram, and more recently TikTok have become hubs for reality TV tête-à-tête - and rightly so. These shows are entertaining, oftentimes watched by millions. They're overly produced with the intention of sparking conversation, controversy, and ridicule - which they do, in their droves.
Love Island relies on its Twitter-fuelled ad breaks. The poorly photoshopped pics, the in-depth insights, the uproar as yet another real life human being has their heart ripped out on national television. A series like Love Island relies on its fan base - and their keen social media usage - to stay relevant. But there's just one problem with social media; you can't control it.
This summer's instalment of the reality TV dating show was prefaced by a request from producers and host Laura Whitmore that viewers "be kind" to the contestants online. A mere two days into the series and islander Chloe Burrows had already received death threats to her personal Instagram account which was being managed by her friends and family.
"We would once again urge all of our viewers to think before posting, and remember that our Islanders are people with feelings," a spokesperson for the show said at the time.
But Love Island isn't the only series bound to an impassioned fanbase, social media hype and entirely unacceptable threats of murder.
Love Is Blind's Jessica Batten recently spoke of the online abuse she received following the airing of the show's first season, in which she was globally dubbed "Messica" following her misdirected dealings with other cast members, trolled for her age (32 at the time), and rebuked for her consistent drinking, which she has since said was "disturbing" to watch play out on screen.
Fellow cast members Carlton Morton and Diamond Jack also spoke of receiving death threats last year following a heated conversation they had about Carlton's sexuality. Carlton was criticised for being bisexual. Diamond was chastised for her reaction to Carlton being bisexual.
Even a twee show like the Great British Bake Off has not been spared from adverse viewer reaction. Back in 2019, contestant Candace Brown said she was "threatened with rape" because she wore lipstick. Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood has also experienced death threats for letting specific contestants go from the show. Ahead of this year's series, which starts next week, Hollywood told viewers to "be careful" about what they post online.
"I’m a judge on a baking show, I’m not a politician, I’m not anything else – I’m just a baker and I get bombarded with stuff that I shouldn’t be bombarded with," he said.
"I’ve learned to live with it, however difficult it is, but it’s not fair on the bakers because they’re raw, they’re new, they’re not used to this, and you’ve got to be really careful. This can damage people, this really, really hurt people."
But where there are pleas from presenters, producer statements, and amended duties of care, there remains the simple fact that while most people wouldn't dare tell a contestant on a reality TV show to kill themselves, plenty of people unfortunately would.
TV shows can control who they include in their programmes, how their content is presented, and what is broadcast and what isn't - but they can't control how people react. What they like, what they dislike, what they complain about, what they revere. Social media makes these shows, but it also has the potential to destroy them.
For Love Island, it's clear that change is needed. Viewing figures are dropping, criticism is rife, and Ofcom complaints have reached a new high. It would be easy to blame the vitriol purely on those who are watching, but they're watching what's been put in front of them, especially curated to entertain, to appal, and to divide.
Reality TV isn't going to last very long in its current format. The days of creating villains may be over, but the ones of constructing reality are not. As long as anonymous Instagram accounts exist, unfortunately, so will the trolls.