Lights, Camera, Love!

What’s with it with all these relationship reality television shows? Sophie Austin asks why watching lovers onscreen is such a hit.

These days, it’s hard to go channel surfing without running into a Surfer’s Paradise hunk giving roses to blondes in bikinis. Or a Melbourne couple going through their mid-life crisis. Or Barbie and Ken from Bondi having the time of their life in their honeymoon phase.

So what is it about relationship reality television (AKA, observational docusoaps) that has Australia foaming at the mouth? I’ve been exploring what makes #relationshpgoals and #relationshipwrecks such prime-time telly.

We just want to feel good

According to recent television ratings over 1.3 million Australians tuned in to Married at First Sight last Monday night. That’s more Australians than those watching Manu scream for “more sauce!” on My Kitchen Rules. But why so many? As we’ve seen in shows like I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, Australians get a kick out of seeing beautiful people in not so beautiful circumstances.

It’s not hard to notice everyone on these shows are straight from a Vogue magazine, or plucked from an H&M fashion shoot, or look like your favourite male soccer player. Some may argue that it’s thanks to makeup, but they all have white pearly teeth for a reason.

It may just be the fact that we like seeing the world’s prettiest people in mundane scenarios. No matter how rich someone is, how beautiful someone is; they still have breakups, breakouts and really bad hair days. Just like the rest of us do.

We all like some juicy drama

7 o’clock television shows like The Bachelor, Bride and the Prejudice and Seven Year Switch are dripping with one thing in common: conflict. There’s just something so addictive about watching couples fight it out right in front of our eyes.

That something might just be our innate nature to feel empathy. In 2015, psychologists by the name of Michal Hershman Shitrit and Jonathan Cohen conducted a study asking 183 viewers about their love for reality television. They discovered that their obsession is less about humiliation and more about empathy.

On the other hand, viewers could just be a little sadistic and get a kick out of seeing people “have it out” without having to leave the lounge room.

We want to feel the love

Feel-good TV isn’t anything new. Soap operas have had our hearts singing since the 50s. Neighbours, one of Australia’s most beloved soaps, has been on demand for over 32 years. This has transferred into reality television. There’s always happy endings, hugs, kisses, roses and long walks along the beach.

It may be a guilty pleasure, but it’s what gives the audience heart-eyes. You know that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when your pet does something cute? Or when you managed to snag the last mushroom and steak pie on the rack? That’s the feeling Australians get when they watch Mr Bachelor down on one knee asking his missus to marry him. And who can fault anyone for being a love-junkie?

Feature image, Jamie Street, Unsplash, no changes made.