reality TV reviews and news

Why aren’t there old people versions of Survivor and Big Brother?

Old people can party and have fun, too. Why not put them on reality TV? (Photo by Shutterstock

Why do they not have a senior version {40+} of Big Brother or Survivor? —Debbie

First, thanks for the question, Debbie, and also thanks for terrifying me: Identifying seniors as anyone over 40 just gave me panic that I’ve wasted away my youth and now just have two years left until I’m propped up in the corner of a retirement home for my remaining 60 years. (I hope everyone wants to watch reality TV because that’s what I’m putting on the television.)

Seriously: I think mature adults and senior citizens are one of the great untapped pools of cast talent. Sure, occasionally a reality series casts someone 60+, but they tend to be an outlier. You can probably trace this to television’s obsession with youth and the idea that only people ages 18 to 49 matter for ratings; if they’re the ones with disposable income, the conventional wisdom says to create shows they’ll watch, which is interpreted as “cast young hot tight bodies.”

No offense to those young hot tight bodies, which are more than welcome on any reality show, but personality, life experience, and knowledge are what make for the best reality TV cast members, and older people have a lot to offer in those areas.

Yet it’s an audience and pool of talent that’s been underserved and under-tapped. More than 10 years ago, two broadcast networks announced plans for senior-themed reality series that sounded pretty interesting to me; neither went anywhere. Two years ago, TV Land aired Forever Young, which paired people 70+ with people under 30 and had them do tasks. As I wrote in my review of the series, the best part came when the younger cast members teaching the older cast members beer pong. How now one saw the potential for a docuseries—or a The Real World twist—in that moment, I have no idea. Actually, I do: the ratings were super-low and dropped throughout the series, so it probably scared networks away from old people shows.

To get back to the question: a senior version of an existing franchise. I think that’s a harder sell, even for me, because both Survivor and Big Brother work best when they have diverse casts. Survivor has been generally good about casting people with a wide range of ages, but in the same way that I wouldn’t want a season with just 20-somethings, I’m not sure I’d want a season of just 40-somethings. Likewise, as much as I want Big Brother to cast more people like Jerry and Renny, only Jerrys and Rennys wouldn’t work as well as the contrast.

But maybe that’s unconscious ageism creeping in. So why not try?

Since it’s a harder sell to do this with the more expensive show, Survivor, and since the Big Brother house sits unused for a large part of the year, why not try a seniors-only version? Keep it shorter, use the same house design as the previous summer to save money, and see what happens. Maybe it’ll end up like the awful spring season, or maybe it’ll surprise everyone and encourage networks to remember the lesson of The Golden Girls: The show was a massive hit, thanks to the talent of the actors and the rich material, but NBC originally wanted a series about women in their 40s, not 60s.

For reality television, this is ultimately all about casting, and finding great people of all ages should be a priority for every show.

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