The rise of reality TV: why are we obsessed with it?

There used be a time when we were satisfied with just soapies and drama series’, but recently reality TV is our new “it” thing, and it does not seem like this wave will die down any time soon.

Admit it. Since Living the Dream with Somizi aired, you probably feel like you know the guy enough to invite him to your crib for lunch. That “exclusive” look into his private space is the reason you keep going back for more.

Most of us grew up in families that religiously dropped everything to watch Generations every night at 8pm (or some other soapie/drama). No one explained why we did it or why it was important, but we knew we were not going to miss a day in the life of the Morokas.

The reason why soapies sank their hooks into us was because, at some point, Karabo Moroka became a non-fictitious character. There was literally an aunt at my house who claimed that Karabo (not Connie Ferguson) was dating her son, in Thembisa. Struu!

Anyway, fast forward to the last couples of years, content producers have figured out that we are really just curious at heart. So they decided to introduce us to the actual people behind the characters we see on our televisions. After we got a glimpse of them on talk shows, we were elevated to having a front row seat into their lives.

We may not have known it but, at that moment, we met our next obsession.

We are obsessed with having a piece of private information to chat about during tea breaks and, sadly, to have a benchmark on which we base our “one day is one day” fantasies on. Reality TV has seen a steady growth in South Africa, and we have seen various concepts of it. Granted, initially we just copied and pasted American shows and they were quite cool. From Survivor, Strictly Come Dancing to Idols, we embraced these foreign concepts and made them “our own”.

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We have since escalated to reality TV that satisfies our truest nature: curiosity. Winning a one million cash prize on a game show or gaining 15 seconds of fame for your talent was, and is still, great. However, that will never beat knowing that Penny Penny is child number 68 (and has 18 of his own…that he knows of) or watching Dineo Ranaka fighting with her mother on national TV.

So now we find ourselves shamelessly watching our celebrities in their private spaces; seeing how they choose their outfits, how they look when the wake up (albeit they mostly have make-up on) and seeing them cry when things don’t go their way… and we love it. All of it!

Here are some of the reasons why we love it:


We (fans) always feel like we “made” these people. I mean, the fans buy their CDs, support their concerts or performances and buy their merchandise. Not forgetting that we “make” them more appealing to their employers because we follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumbler and everything in between. I am not taking anything away from them, I mean it is their hard work and perseverance that got them the jobs. But you know what I mean…

Feeding our curiosity

We just really want to know. That is all we want. We want to know why Somizi and Bonang aren’t friends anymore, why Dineo decided not to pursue being a sangoma after she had an ‘episode’ or why Papa Penny’s children did not show up for his family reunion. We end up knowing answers to questions we never even asked, like how according to Penny Penny “black people are goldy bones”.

For pure entertainment

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The level of entertainment that reality shows pack is unbelievable. A show that manages to have people talking for hours after it ends or has viewers putting in orders for the next season is clearly doing something right. We are not even entertained because it’s celebrities like Somizi, Dineo or Papa Penny. Yes, they are entertaining. But people we have never heard of also keep us glued to our screens week after week on shows like Khumbul’ekhaya, Our Perfect Wedding and Date My Family.

We are entertained because finally we can relate. For example, we can relate to Somizi’s flamboyant life because we aspire to be him and we relate to struggles he’s had to endure to get where he is now.

Bonang, who has backtracked on her previous comment to never have a reality show, now has a show in the pipeline. Word has it that DJ Zinhle is also currently filming while Zahara has joined the list of people busy brewing up reality shows. I am also assuming AKA is headed in the same direction (he already has a web series).

I’ ready for them. In fact, all SA celebs should look into having one. Someone should probably hurry up and create a channel just for South African reality shows. I don’t think this obsession will ever end, not as long as we ‘likers of things’ exist or we still live in SA (where anyone can become a meme at any time).

Most importantly, as long as our curiosity remains, we will always tune into that show.

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