Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Fakery of Reality TV

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: The Fakery of Reality TV

Article excerpt

The other day I had a very dispiriting conversation with a TV industry insider. It turns out that everything you see on reality TV is fake.

It's the 'everything' part that really bothered me. Obviously, we all sort of know that most TV is faked: that close-ups on wildlife documentaries are sometimes filmed in zoos and that the meerkat they pretend is the same meerkat is actually three different meerkats; that the chance meetings with colourful characters and experts are all prearranged and that when they answer the door and act surprised it's often the third or fourth take; that the glamorous parties and realistic, totally unstilted dialogue on Made in Chelsea wouldn't happen if the cameras weren't there; and so on. But some things I thought were sacred.

Storage Hunters, for example. It had simply never occurred to me that, when the man cuts the chain with the bolt cutter, the tarpaulin is pulled off, and the storage locker for which the successful bidders have paid just $300 contains a Riva speedboat, an original copy of the US constitution, Neil Armstrong's space helmet and a jar of 1933 double eagle gold coins, there's a possibility that at least one of these items might have been put there beforehand by the production crew.

Also dog training. For the past couple of years, I have been trying -- without much success, it must be said -- to teach our dog that I am its pack leader by always making sure to precede it through gates and doorways. Turns out, though, that this is just some complete rubbish that Cesar the alleged dog-training expert came up with on his now defunct series Dog Whisperer. Apparently -- as subsequent research has shown -- your dog doesn't respect you in the slightest if you go through doorways before it does. This, certainly, tallies with my own experience.

Now we're starting a new season of one of my favourite reality series, The Island With Bear Grylls (Sunday, Channel 4). In the past, this has got itself into trouble by helping out the struggling contestants with little cheats. One year, for example, the production crew brought on some pigs -- tame domesticated ones: ergo, comfortable in a human's presence -- for the starving girls tearfully to slaughter. On another occasion, just when the group were on the verge of dying of thirst, they handily chanced upon a supply of fresh water from a rubber-lined pool such as is often found on remote, uninhabited islands. …

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