Reality Television

The US version of Sasuke, called American Ninja Warrior.
Photo by blackfeathers via Flickr

How real is reality television? Liz Waid and Adam Navis look at why people love reality television so much, and how real it really is.

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Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

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And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

A man jumps across a broken bridge. Under him, there is a pool of brown water. On the other side, there is a long rope hanging above the water. Will he be able to climb the rope? Nearby, a crowd cheers him on. He is a contestant on the Japanese reality television program Sasuke. If he falls, the man will lose, and leave in shame. But if he continues on, he could achieve something few people have before. Only three other people in the world have completed every part of this competition. He will be a hero.

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Sasuke is a popular reality television program. Around the world there are thousands of reality television programs. Over a billion people watch them every week. All of the programs follow the same basic idea. They show real people in strange situations. But why are reality television programs so popular? Why do people watch them? Are they really real? Today’s Spotlight is on reality television.

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There are many different kinds of reality television programs. Some reality television programs follow wealthy women through their strange lives. Some show people competing to cook the best food. Some try to make a man and a woman fall in love. Others show people in situations that are not usually found in ‘real’ life.

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Big Brother is a reality television program from the Netherlands. In it, people watch what happens when a group of strangers live together. The people have never met before. But for the program, they live together for three months. And they cannot leave the house! Many other countries have their own version of the program Big Brother. The program follows the same general rules in every place. But parts of it change to make it better for one culture or another.

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But not all reality programs are meaningful in every country. National Firewood Night was a show produced in Norway. It was about cutting, storing, and drying wood. The program was 12 hours long! Almost 20 percent of Norway’s population watched the program. In other countries, people may not be very interested in how to cut wood. But Norway is a very cold place. And many people burn wood to heat their homes. The program was about the importance and meaning of making wood fires in Norway - a country of wood cutters. Derek Miller is an author who lives in Norway. In an interview with the New York Times, he said:

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“The sense of creating warmth, to share ideas, to share food, to share silence, is a very big part of what it is to be Norwegian.”

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But across countries and cultures, reality television is very popular. And there are a lot of different programs available. One reason for this is that reality television programs are easy to make. A traditional television program tells a written story. Each program requires writers, actors, set designers and many other people to create it. It takes many months to make. Making reality television is still a creative process. But each program requires fewer people and less time to produce. And many of these programs run for years without much change. Often, they are the same except for the people involved.

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Reality television also costs less money to make than scripted - or written - television. Professional writers and actors are expensive. But reality programs do not need either. And the people involved will often accept less money than professionals who work in television.

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But the people on reality television are often a big reason why people watch programs. These people are not acting out a part. They are regular normal people. They are just being themselves. But reality programs often put people in strange situations. Sometimes these situations change the way people act. To see how a person changes is very interesting. But it also lets the people watching wonder how they would react. Watching reality programs lets people imagine they are in them!

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One of the reasons reality programs are so successful is because they are about real, normal life. But many people do not believe that they tell the truth. They hear stories from people who have competed in reality television. They say some of the results are not true. Or that the programs show people differently than they are. So, how real is reality television?

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Troy Devolld is an editor and producer for many reality programs. In an interview with the television website The A.V. Club, he explained that there are two stories in every reality television program. The first is the simple idea that the program is based on. A good example is a cooking show, where ten people compete to start their own business. The second is the story of what happens to those people. It is the story of how they relate to each other. For this second story, producers need a lot of film footage. They film for many months. The producers then decide what will be on television. This means that they can choose how to show what happened. Devolld says:

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“Like with any news story, it is about choosing what film to use. You choose what to throw away. You also choose what events to change. Timing of when things happen is a big thing in Reality TV. Over four months, you are trying to find six or eight scenes that relate to each other. You make a program out of that.”

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The word “real” may not be the best way to describe reality television. But for many people who watch reality programs, how truly real they are does not matter. These programs are just good television. Lynette Rice is a reporter for the magazine Entertainment Weekly. She says:

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“Reality programs remain more popular than ever because no one makes anything better. A lot of traditional television is just not as entertaining. No one has created a program that makes me laugh harder than I do at ‘The Bachelor’. So I will keep watching every time.”

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Are there reality television programs in your country? What programs do you like to watch? Tell us what you think! You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at And find us on Facebook at

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The writer of this programme was Dan Christmann. The producer was Bruce Gulland. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. This programme is called ‘Reality Television’.

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You can also get our programmes delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official ‘Spotlight English’ app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.


Do you watch reality television? Why or why not? If you do, what is your favorite program and why?


Avatar Spotlight
said on September 12, 2016

I like watching reality television because it’s about the real life. It shows the scenes of around me through the camera. It helps me experience new countries through a small television.
Thank spotlight for an interesting article !

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on September 12, 2016

In generally I don’t like the reality Television programs because I think it is just losing of time but sometimes I watch it when I looking the fun.
God bless you

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 12, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: to answer the questions above
Date: Monday 12, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Adam Navis, Dan Christmann, and Bruce Gulland:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
Yes, there are reality television programs in my country. Big Brother Brazil is one of them in which is presented by Globo Television in Rio de Janeiro city.
I like to watch Television newspapers, break news, reality television programs, Entertaiment programs, cartoons, Mexican soap-operas, Brazilian soap-operas, films, and etc.
I like all the programs that I mentioned above.  However,  my favorite program is the News because I know everything in which happens in the world.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
Linh Nhi
said on March 23, 2017

I don’t trust any reality TV programs in my country, they acted too much and it came up too many scandals. But I watch reality programs of US or Korea, they are really good; and of course they are having some bad programs too; anw i think i should spend time for watching an interesting film than a reality program =)))

Avatar Spotlight
said on March 05, 2019

I do not like reality shows on television because I think they are not real and they have not importance, in my opinion. On the other hand, people who are invited to participate in these programs, in Brazil,  have a behavior that I do not accept as normal behavior. So it does not matter to me.