Why it matters if reality TV is real or not

Of all the fallout after last week’s revelation that House Hunters is often faked, I was most bothered by two reactions that I have heard over and over and over again during the two decades–20 years!–since the dawn of reality television in the form of The Real World.

Those responses: 1) All reality TV is fake, and 2) It doesn’t matter if reality TV is real or not. Both are bullshit, and I explain why in this essay for The Daily Beast.

There are some people who will insist that all or nearly all reality shows are fake, or are scripted, or use actors, or whatever. That’s moronic and sounds so ignorant it’s sad, but it’s an easy way of avoiding critical thinking. The truth is there’s great diversity in reality TV, from the fakey fake fake to the brutally real, and how real or fake a show is depends upon so many different factors that it’d take a book to identify them all.

More importantly, however, is that it really does matter when reality TV isn’t real, because the label “reality TV” has meaning that changes our relationship to the show.

Survivor San Juan Del Sur's dark cloud is lifted

John Rocker

In its third episode, Survivor San Juan Del Sur improved significantly as John Rocker faced off against an Amazing Race villain. But the Exile Island reward challenge remains a drag on the series.

Why Dick Donato left Big Brother 13

Dick Donato

The Big Brother villain known as "Evel Dick" has finally revealed why he left the show during its 13th season: he learned he was HIV positive.

Also: Dick claims he had no choice but to leave the game.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.