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Participating in a reality show? Think again!

July 1, 2008

16-year-old Shinjini Sengupta suffered a paralytic attack and her parents are blaming the harsh treatment she got at a dance competition (reality show), but the TV show organisers blame pressure from parents. The doctors say reasons could be psychiatric, neurological, biological or viral..and tests are going on.

But whether or not the drubbing Shinjini received at the show played a role in her illness, it is a fact that such shows can have an adverse impact on vulnerable people. Some can take the public humiliation and some can’t.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of reality shows:
1) Song and dance shows/competitions like American Idol, Indian Idol or Biggest Loser Jeetega (weight loss show). Here the contestants are exposed to harsh and even cruel taunting words from judges. If they are voted out by the public it can be a double blow.

2) TV shows where a dozen or so people are put together in an unnatural environment (Survivor, Big Brother, Big Boss) without anything to read or any entertainment, thus forcing the contestants to interact with each other. Mostly it is the viewers who vote each contestant out. The artificial environment and tough competition gives rise to a lot of tension inside the house. Rude, petty behavior, back-biting and emotional outbursts are not just allowed but encouraged by the producers of the show as it makes the show more interesting to viewers.

But there are reality shows and reality shows and some that fall inbetween – like Splitsvilla on MTV, where a gang of girls compete to get the attention of two guys who have the power to vote them out. The girls go to extreme lengths to attract the attention of the boys, literally “begging for attention.”

Why these shows are popular
In India, Reality TV has caught on, and with rising TRP’s for such shows we seem to be seeing new formats every season. Various reasons have been put forward as to why people find these shows entertaining and voyeurism is often touted as a major reason, although there have been contrary opinions (Dan Brown)

Well, I do think it’s more than just voyeurism. People enjoy watching ruthless competition from the safety of their homes. It’s an outlet for their aggression and our animal instinct! There are many more reasons like the drama and emotion which is what bored viewers want.

What about the mental well-being of the contestants?
The viewers may rejoice but the contestants face insults and humiliation. In real life we face our humiliations silently, in the privacy of our minds and in our homes.

I have always wondered what public humiliation did to the minds of the contestants. A little reading unearthed the fact that there have been many cases of suicides of contestants during or after participation in such shows.

  • Way back in 1997, 34 year old Sinisa Savija threw himself in front of a running train. He had just finished participating in a reality TV show Expedition: Robinson which was filmed on a Malaysian island. He happened to be the first contestant to be voted off the island, and his widow has said this public humiliation was too much for him to take.
  • In 2005, a 23 year old participant (Najai Turpin) from The Contender an NBC reality TV show (boxing competition) committed suicide after filming was over and before the show was aired.
  • That same year Melanie Bell (a television producer) who was participating in an “experimental reality show” called Vegas Elvis (which has members of a film crew as contestants) killed herself.
  • Another case was that of 17 year old Carina Stephenson who killed herself after participating in a reality series called The Colony. The series involved spending four hard months in the Australian bush, alongwith other contestants.
  • And there is the sad story of Deleese Williams who participated in a reality show Extreme MakeoverSad girl which picked up “ugly” people and promised to transform them. In the show everyone was encouraged to point of the physical flaws of the participants, and family members too had to say what they felt. After the show (the transformation never took place) Deleese came back, severed her relationship with her family and a few months later committed suicide.
  • Last year 35-year-old Cheryl Kosewicz died in an “apparent suicide” after being eliminated from the CBS reality show Pirate Master.
  • There was also the attempted suicide of 22 year old Sisi last year, an X Factor finalist, after she was voted out of the show.
  • And a recent case is that of 26 year old contestant (Nathan Clutter) killing himself after being eliminated on a Fox Reality show called Paradise Hotel 2.

I haven’t come across any study which compares suicides of reality show participants and suicides in general society. But the fact that depression and suicide happen after suffering defeat in such shows raises suspicions that some factor in the show could be the aggravating factor. Something that tilts the balance. Sure, people commit suicide after failing in real life too and factors that drive people to commit suicide are ultimately pressure from family and/or society, but when a television show meant to entertain people is implicated, it’s alarming.

Why are vulnerable people selected?
One wonders if there is any sort of proper selection process for contestants. For example Melanie Bell had a history of depression but she was still allowed to participate in the show. Nathan Clutter was also supposed to be suffering from depression and was in fact thought to be bi-polar. In some cases life circumstances at the time of participating may make the contestant vulnerable. For example, 17 year old Carina Stephenson was going through a very vulnerable phase in her life, having just revealed to her family that she was a lesbian.

Being a reality show contestant can be tough even for really tough people!
What viewers and wannabe contestants don’t always realise is how difficult it can be to be a participant in a reality show. It’s certainly no fun and games. They might think they can handle the negative publicity and public humiliation that might come with it, but they are not always the best judge of that. Participation in a reality show is a stressful life-event, and only someone who has gone through such a situation in real life (where they have been publicly humiliated) will understand what it involves. In a reality show it can be worse as people who don’t know you can recognize you! You could be taunted in school and college and called a loser. Not everyone can take it with a pinch of salt and a large dose of humour. It takes a lot of mental strength and courage to get through a reality show where one suffers loss and humiliation. Keeping one’s equilibrium is not easy even for normal people. It’s one thing to put up a show of being alright, another to really be so. Remember Jane Goody, the woman who humiliated Shilpa Shetty in Big Brother? The tables turned on her and this person, whom we all think of a real toughie broke down at the negative publicity she recieved and actually considered suicide! If strong people like that can get affected, what can happen to normal people? After all, one doesn’t know what awaits one at a reality show.

Are there any rules at all for selection of candidates?
Reality show organisers in developed countries do have certain rules they follow. For example, all Big Brother all contestants have to go through “a psychological assessment by an independent chartered psychologist with post graduate degrees in clinical psychology and psychotherapy.” Also, their medical history, recent prescriptions and illnesses are taken into account.

I really doubt whether such a procedure is followed by all shows, whether in India or abroad. In India, where this concept is still new I don’t think people even realise that one has to be careful about whom they select. It’s not just mentally ill people who are not recommended for TV reality shows. But also those who intensely need social acceptance and those who suffer from anxiety or even slight depression. The truth is that one never knows what can happen in a reality show and what the contestant might have to face for no fault of his/her own.

It is unfortunate, but reality show producers are actually quite happy if emotionally vulnerable people participate as it can mean more entertainment for the viewers. Drama, tears, emotion – that’s the stuff that viewers are looking for. So the producers may deliberately pick such candidates while going through the motions of being careful and just hope that nothing extreme happens. At times picking a candidate who is ruthless and mean can have an adverse effect on other contestants and this is also a strategy employed.

It’s the contestants who need to be prepared. All that craving for fame and name might just backfire. In western countries one gets the feeling that young people make these choices themselves, while in India parents tend to pressurize….either way I think only those with high emotional intelligence should be allowed to participate in these shows. Time to re-think that participation.

(Photo is copyrighted to me)

Related Reading: The greatest peril of modern society – Celebrity Culture
Suicide rates of the world and why people kill themselves
Rejecting others and isolating them seems to be a human trait (about the suicide of a young student)
Humans like forming ghettos
The Shilpa Shetty episode at Big Brother
Some people do not get affected by television
Rakhi Ka Swayamvar – Review

55 Comments leave one →
  1. Rahul permalink
    July 1, 2008 2:07 am

    Hi Nita,
    I would blame the parents in this context. Why do they push their children (like this girl) into these shows, being fully aware of their condition? And its not only about these shows but also about life as a whole.

    For example, I know many who have been pushed into courses ( or Engineering), vocations, etc by their parents against their wish.

    Its the Greed factor at play here.
    Fame, money…..from the shows………OR getting a High out saying ‘my son is in Infosys or Wipro’!

    Greed factor and selfishness of parents, yes I agree. People need to be given time to develop at their own pace. – Nita.

  2. July 1, 2008 3:02 am

    Why are vulnerable people selected?

    That is the key, Nita. This is hearsay, but I’ve heard from a friend whose friend works in LA as a recruiting agent – and their MO is to spot and zero in on insecure and vulnerable people (like the ones you mentioned above), and get them on the show. This is the dark side of showbiz which doesn’t get talked about much.

    The dark side of the reality shows, that sounds so grim doesn’t it. We had the dark side of the internet and I thought the dark side of tv was simply watching too much tv, but now here we are, the dark side of participation in reality shows! – Nita

  3. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 1, 2008 6:14 am


    I appreciate the concern that you have brought to — and the serious research you seem to have put into — this post. Notwithstanding the sad and shocking incident which prompted it, it is ultimately a comment on how the cheap, the popular, the third-rate, the inane, the glamorous and the instantly gratifying occupies so much importance in the minds of a vast majority of people. Not content with being just passive spectators (which is bad enough), they want a part of the action. Well, they get it.

    Let me right away admit that I know very little about the particular genre called reality shows, but the phenomenon called “public vote” that you refer to does strike a resonant chord. On TV I have once or twice seen music contests in which viewers’ sms votes, rather than the informed opinion of judges who had devoted their lives to music, decided the fate of the competitors. I don’t know if the judges in question knew beforehand what they were becoming party to. If they did, I condemn them.

    The organisers and the TV channels of course are the essence of all that is cheap, popular, third-rate etc (see full list above) and deserve to be flushed down the toilet. But more than any of these groups of witting or unwitting villains, I would place the blame squarely on the heads of the people who get taken in by such trash and pay the price. They are asking for trouble.

    Pardon me if I sound callous: for Shinjini Sengupta as an individual, I have the utmost sympathy, but for her as a type I have nothing but the utmost contempt.

    I have empathy for the “type” Vivek. It’s human nature to want fame and name and often they are victims of their parents ambition of fall prey to participating in the rat race. I agree with you about the song and dance competitions though. The emphasis on popularity at the cost of merit is common there and I hate that. Nita

  4. July 1, 2008 7:52 am

    I second Vivek in almost everything he says in this previous comment, as opposed to virtually nothing he says in others!

    Idealogical difference eh Rdoc?? 🙂 – Nita.

  5. July 1, 2008 8:05 am

    Superbly researched post, Nita! You beat me to this one. I have something to say about the plight of Shinjini and these non-sensical “reality” shows, but it is still incomplete. I hope the girl recovers completely soon!

    Thanks Raj. I look forward to your post on Shinjini. Mine is not really about her. – Nita.

  6. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 1, 2008 8:05 am


    What a pleasant surprise!

    But one point of clarification, please. Do you mean what I say in other comments amounts to virtually nothing, or you agree with virtually nothing that I say in other comments? 🙂

    hahahahaha!!! That’s a good one Vivek! I think the latter! 😀 – Nita.

  7. July 1, 2008 8:51 am

    //But there are reality shows and reality shows // typo???

    I hate reality shows and I really dont understand why do people like it so much? to spend time and money [keeping the TV on 🙂 ] for seeing tears, drama, back biting and general bitchiness ???????? Are the viewers sadist tat they derive pleasure from such shows?

    I was going to write a post on this Shinjini incident but you did it first and ofcourse far better 🙂 I agree with Rahul that parental pressure is to blame also.
    I can never take part in a reality show because I know my limitations. I hate being ridiculed or embarrassed. The contestants are to be blamed too for inflicting this stress upon themselves without first evaluating whether they can bear it or not.

    Reema, that’s not a typo, but a figure of speech. And about the audiences for reality shows, I think a bit of sadism is there in all of us! Well, not all, but quite a few I think if one goes by the TRP’s. And look forward to your post on Shinjini. Mine is not really about her, she was just the trigger. – Nita.

  8. vivek mittal permalink
    July 1, 2008 9:20 am

    I have sympathy with Ms sengupta…’s a new concept in today’s relity shows(singing competitions in particular), where judges talk roughly to the participants who dont perform well….this trend started with first Indian Idol….. and this concept of many of today’s reality shows is against the normal social etiquette….while earlier in any such kind of shows judges used to be decent and sober
    But i like reality shows like M TV Roadies…or few singning ones like Indian Idol…..but never dancing shows

    I guess some shows are quite entertaining. I have not seen MTV Roadies but I know it’s very popular. I have watched Indian Idol first season but when I saw that talented singers were being voted out, I lost interest. – Nita.

  9. Sakhi permalink
    July 1, 2008 9:37 am

    As usual, awsome post, nita! 🙂

    Thanks! – Nita.

  10. July 1, 2008 12:09 pm

    phew !!!!
    well,i dont watch that much of reality shows its shows more drama then any soap …
    many reality shows create an artificial fight or something like that just to increase the TRP ratings..

    i dont see the poimnt behind humiliating anybody in these shows..just to make it more interesting..
    well , till we know whether the parents relaly forced her join the show we cant accuse the parents..these days children are too much eager to be famous and get on AiR..

    the comment judges passed that ” that she was doing anything exce[pt dancing was too harsh ”
    i felt so there was no need of such statements. judges deleibrately give rude remarks just to make the show more interesting which by any means is quite absurd..

    True, reality shows are often fake. At times I even think that they are scripted! – Nita.

  11. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 1, 2008 12:36 pm


    //I have empathy for the “type”…etc.//

    Speaking as the snob (pl. note the “n” there) that I am, if I were so desperate for “name and fame”, I’d earn them by doing something “different” (even if ridiculous) tha doing the same asinine things that thousands of others are already doing and millions watching them at it.

    At a more serious level, this craze for instant fame is taking its toll in serious areas. You would not believe the number of parents who, enrolling their kids for extra-curricular things such as classical music or dance, have foremost in their minds the question “in how many months will [s]he be able to perform on TV? This attitude, together with the connivance of a few teachers keen to make a fast buck and TV shows desperate for TRP ratings, grossly devalues the art.

    Indian parents are definitely into this, trying to make their kid make them “proud” in some way. That’s really sad. And where reality shows are concerned, it’s much easier to become famous this way isn’t it. – Nita.

  12. Captain Sharks permalink
    July 1, 2008 1:08 pm

    hey,is it right to say wwe too is a reality show,lol ? then it wud be d only one i like to watch…xcept for sum music n sports channel,d whole tv box is fully faltoo now,most particularly hindi news channels r d most irritating ones…..
    i pray Shinjini recovers soon…..

    I guess when we think of reality shows we all think of The Truman Show! – Nita.

  13. Captain Sharks permalink
    July 1, 2008 1:12 pm

    yeah….i completely agree with d above comment of Vivek…..

  14. July 1, 2008 2:04 pm

    Shefaly posted this link in my post:

    I am scared that it may be very insensitive and hurtful despite presuming noble intentions.

  15. Ravi permalink
    July 1, 2008 3:31 pm

    I wonder why would any one participate in a reality show? Its like asking some moron (reality show judge) … this….” Im a fuc**** loser could you please comment on my dancing skills…..”.

    I seriously doubt the credibilities of reality show judges. Even in american idol you dont have micheal jackson or mariah carey chose idol. Even in Indian idol you dont see amitabh or lataji comment on a 19 year old. I think its very depressing to be judged by some loser. It is acceptable if you are judged by your dance class teacher but not by some idiot who made criticizing as his/her job.

    By the way ppl who participate in reality shows are trying to be rich and famous with minimal effort and talent. Come on grow up people…does anyone remember VIVA (boy n girl band). They were winners in some contest conducted by [v] in 2003. Where are they today? At that time the sponsors even hyped the band as very talented and AR rehman is dying to work with them..blah blah…

    Reality shows lack reality…So the participants deserve this kind of treatment….When I first saw this girl shinjini on Times Now…I fell off my chair and rolling on the floor with laughter….lol.

    I too doubt the credibility of the judges. And when you say Reality shows lack reality, I agree! These judges deliberately insult, just to get a reaction out of the participants! – Nita.

  16. Ravi permalink
    July 1, 2008 3:39 pm

    I happened to see this reality show Splitsvilla couple of times on MTV. The girl participants are from different background some of em are models and some are bartenders, belly dancers surprisingly some are students. I dont know who would marry these girls.

    I felt like shouting “Gimme a break!” Adult entertainment MUST be a part of our lives at least for knowledge and private entertainment. If it is wrong and and what about these girls who participate in shows like splitsvilla. They wear explicit wear and dive into a pool with some random guys. Im not against explicit shows if we are in US by the way I like it this way but who we are fooling by taking pride in our culture and traditions? I wish someone could answer my questions.

    Ravi, I don’t know what you mean by Indian culture and traditions. If you mean girls swimming in girls-only swimming pools with their clothes on, well, I think it’s time we got rid of that stupid tradition. – Nita.

  17. July 1, 2008 4:14 pm

    hmm…i have experience in facing humiliation on stage…we have this thing called ship wreck in culturals,where we are talk as a celebrity,fighting for on boat with others…they really insult you and well “no vulgarity” is only on paper…but i am not complaining,though i havent cracked it,i like it ,as it really brings out a persons ability to hold is like if you were really in a spot what will you do?

    HA these T.V shows…well they do bring a few good talents,but then they should have judges who understand the contestants,might be they are celebs but that doesn’t mean they should swear and insult…

    Vishesh, so you know what it is like! Yes I agree, it does in a way test you. In fact in colleges too “ragging” is supposed to test students, they are supposed to face it and take it. If it’s mild they take it but if it gets too much they sink. And everyone has a different tolerance level. Somehow I think of the behavor of judges in reality shows like some kind of sanctioned ragging. But they are actually the same. As you said the judges swear and insult, but it’s all legal. I guess because money is being made out of it?? – Nita.

  18. July 1, 2008 5:30 pm

    In future(now), everyone will be famous for atleast 45mins.(1hr – ads).

    * They might commit suicide after those 45mins are over.

    Though a different scenario, check this quote from Million Dollar Baby:

    Maggie Fitzgerald:” I can’t be like this, Frankie. Not after what I’ve done. I’ve seen the world. People chanted my name. Well, not my name, some damn name you gave me. They were chanting for me. I was in magazines. You think I ever dreamed that’d happen? I was born two pounds, one-and-a-half ounces. Daddy used to tell me I’d fight my way into this world, and I’d fight my way out. That’s all I wanna do, Frankie. I just don’t wanna fight you to do it. I got what I needed. I got it all. Don’t let ’em keep taking it away from me. Don’t let me lie here ’till I can’t hear those people chanting no more. ”

    That’s a beautiful quote Anshul! – Nita.

  19. July 1, 2008 5:47 pm

    Hi Nita mam, by chance I came across your wonderful blog and it really enthralled me a lot. All of your articles are imprressive and this one seems has been written after lots of research. I appreciate your endeavour.

    Thanks. 🙂 Welcome and do come again. – Nita

  20. July 1, 2008 6:57 pm

    Hi Nita,
    u know what some kids here say when are asked what job they want to be when adult?…”famous”…FAMOUS they say!!! as if it was a job! To start in a reality show and then make a route to all the crab programs on TV, u know the kind of gutter press…I’m amazed of all the rubbish on TV…

    Yeah, becoming famous has become a kind of life ambition, not about doing something well. I guess for that short span of time these people do have a lot of fun! I think they think that it will lead to better things, but most it doesn’t. – Nita.

  21. July 1, 2008 7:26 pm

    what an excellent article, so well researched! – and very convincing. I mean, for any normal human being this kind of humiliating show is already a diagnose of a problem…But you put it well in facts, that is where an emotional blogger differs from a journalist.
    I see this reality show madness as a by-product of many modern trends – well notices by francina (above) – people want to become FAMOUS..and that is not difficult today, also with the WEB2.0 tools…

    The problem is only that the consumer society makes people to “extroverts” – seeking the truth outside. it is not easy to get mature nowadays. At least if once makes media and fashion to his/her religion.

    Thanks Axinia. As you said why should any normal human being go through humiliation just to get that little fame? A fame that doesn’t even last! A fame that in fact can be be negative! – Nita.

  22. July 1, 2008 8:01 pm

    yeah, Hi Axinia! and Nita again!
    Here we have many gutter TV programs, with “journalists” talking about others lives and miserys…(I’m sure today this kind of programs are spread in the whole world) U know who are this “journalists” ? People who started in a reality show, or a wife of somebody famous, or the taxi-driver, the housekeeper of famous people…anyway, its all RUBBISH!
    You can see this “famous” people completely addicted in appear on the TV!!!

  23. July 1, 2008 9:44 pm

    The point at issue is not why vulnerable people are selected, it is why vulnerable people participate in these programs. If you cannot take it on the chin and perhaps even dole out some hard stuff to your competition like Shilpa Shetty did, you have no business participating in these programs. In the case of Shinjini, the television media went after the story hammer and tong and made a mountain out of a molehill. Why did the so much affected father allow his daughter to participate in the first place? Does any one know the current status? Has the same television channels followed up on the story and reported the current status?

    I think that they think they are not vulnerable. Or that they are so egoistic that they think everyone will praise them. Haven’t you come across people who think they are the best singers or dancers but are actually very average? It’s the parent’s fault in a way I think. Parents think the world of their children and are so biased that they often see their kid as the best and they convince the child that he/she is the best – Nita.

  24. July 1, 2008 9:51 pm

    I boycott reality shows with a couple of exceptions (“Little People, Big World” and “Jon & Kate + 8”). I have a real curiosity for seeing how midgets adapt to the World of regular sized people. Also, I like seeing what it is like to raise 8 children without going insane.

    When I was younger I watched MTV “Real World” a lot. I had to stop after Pedro Zamora died. It was too depressing knowing that he suffered and died even though he was so strong throughout. People need to look inside and question why they watch this entertainment. It is the signal of cultural decay.

    I agree that some reality shows are interesting and can teach us something. However at times they start off well and then deteriorate into a circus! – Nita.

  25. July 1, 2008 10:42 pm

    The judges are also no experts. For the love of God, I cannot understand how Farha khan can judge a singing contest? I also cannot understand why people start crying when they loose. They always know that there would be one winner. Then why does the whole cast and crew of the show start crying when someone gets out? This shows that the contestants are very vulnerable and the program banks on this to gain popularity.

    When you say that “the judges are also no experts” well, that is the crux of it. They are often just celebrities and we are supposed to hang on to their every word! You take even some columns in newspapers, just because it is some celebrity’s opinion we are supposed to think it’s right!! – Nita.

  26. July 2, 2008 1:27 am

    Most reality shows thrive on people who are willing to make a million dollar fool out of themselves just for a few minutes on television. As for the real “winners” of these shows, they sink into oblivion the minute a shows moves on to its next season. In fact moments of emotional outbursts, anger, tears and insults are often used as a “trailer” for an upcoming episode. Sadly, that does keep our scandal-seeking population hooked!

    They sink into oblivion alright and that’s because they don’t really have talent…but this 15 mins of fame is what they get for their troubles! – Nita.

  27. July 2, 2008 3:20 am

    Excellent post Nita. I may be completely off base here but IMO, the reason why reality shows which portray base human emotions are a hit is almost all humans take some pleasure/interest (guilty or otherwise) in seeing someone or something in bad light – we just have vastly different levels of tolerances. Or perhaps we like to know the flaws in others as it maybe makes us feel better?

    I know that is a broad sweeping statement but my main indicator is that the most common form of real life humor is almost always at the expense of someone else. We all have enjoyed it in some form or other on some occasion. Perhaps a joke about someone making a fool of themselves, a funny rant about someone. etc. Enjoying reality shows, gossip shows, etc. could just another form of “hey look at that person!”?

    PS: BTW, I hate all these shows 🙂 – but does not mean I don’t appreciate a “good” joke 😉

    Arunk, thanks. I think what you say is right for some kind of shows. We know we can’t be out there suffering all that so we can see it happening to someone else and take a kind of perverse pleasure! – Nita.

  28. nimmagadda permalink
    July 2, 2008 3:57 am

    Though misfortunes like these occur, the shows don’t stop. People continue to watch them. Producers continue to make money. Ironically, the media hype about the girl’s misfortune only improved the show’s ratings.

    Yep, it’s all going to continue. But I hope they will have some safeguards in the future to ensure that only those contestants who are capable of taking this stuff participitate. An minimum age of 18 might help and also stringent tests before performances. Also, judges should be told to behave. – Nita.

  29. July 2, 2008 5:09 am

    You have given me some things to think about.

    Regarding reality shows- my thought has been what is the self-confidence or self esteem level of a person who wants to be on a reality show to find ‘true love’?
    Yes in real life we can compete for our true love, but not like in the reality shows. I have read stories and heard news stories on tv that proved some such reality shows are not real- but in fact scripted. Even in cases where the final result was the chosen male/female was to marry the one doing the choosing. Can you imagine going on a show and having the producers choose your future mate because that person has more ability to garner ratings? Often the contestants trying to win love of the other are required to do weird and even dangerous stunts and can physically hurt themselves quite badly. Falling in love with someone who hurts and injures themselves for you- — I somehow think there is something very unnatural about this equation.

    I doubt whether anyone joins a reality show to find true love. Sure, they may be saying it, but that’s what they must have been primed to say. I agree, the shows are mostly scripted, at best loosely. Unnatural is the word! – Nita.

  30. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 2, 2008 6:34 am

    Ramana Rajgopaul,

    //…why vulnerable people participate…//

    Isn’t it precisely because they ARE vulnerable? They are usually insecure, have low self-esteem, are desperate for their fifteen minutes of fame, believe that the approbation of herds. And because the tastes and the judgement of herds is in most cases questionable, a few of these vulnerable people do get more than fifteen minutes and become established on the firmament of fame as stars, thereby reinforcing the craze and claiming more Shinjinis.

    The only way to survive in such a madhouse is to have some qualities that may not get you too many friends, but will keep your sanity intact — skepticism, irreverence and snobbishness.

    If you can also learn the art of deflating overblown egos in the presence of audiences, that’s a bonus. But it’s a tool to be selectively, subtly and sparingly used, only against the worst of scumbags who you genuinely think are disposable, and whom you would in fact like to kill or maim if that were not against the law.

    It could also be because of high self-esteem! For example some people believe they are the greatest and will win a competition but they are actually quite average! I agree with the said qualities you mentioned. You need to have those and a huge sense of humour and the abaility to laugh at oneself! – Nita.

  31. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 2, 2008 6:36 am

    PS: Correction to the above: “believe IN (not THAT) tge aoorivatuib…”

  32. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 2, 2008 6:46 am

    PPS: Sorry, I don’t know how that “tge aoorivatuib” came about. It is, of course, “the approbation” [my right hand went a bit off-key 🙂 I think].

  33. July 2, 2008 10:58 am

    Simple solution: turn off that TV and read a book, or go for a walk, or a bike ride, or fly a kite, or water some plants – the choices are endless. 🙂

    Whenever a discussion of TV reality shows comes up, let the other people know you don’t waste time on such stupid shows.

    Amit, 🙂 – Nita.

  34. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 2, 2008 11:10 am


    If that one is addressed to me, believe me I do all the things you suggest, and more. But since I am a family man and a social animal, the only foolproof solutions I can think of are (1) to become a hermit and (2) to become an ostrich. Unfortunately the first at present lies beyond the scope of practicability, and the second, I don’t think stem-cell research has evolved to a point at which such reverse evolution is as yet possible to engineer.

  35. Guqin permalink
    July 2, 2008 2:48 pm

    Just some random thoughts:

    1. I am very very surprised that even this US culture has reached India in this intensity.

    2. In US, I think it is a direct consequence of the life condition in the post-modern society. People are isolated from one another like individual fish in individual tanks. They can see one another but in fact there is no communication. Reality Show fulfills people’s need in peeking into others’ lives, a sort like mass-cooperated paparazzi. Everybody is some pitiful Princess Diana.

    3. (Still in US or western world in general) Aging Democracy-Freedom has the society evolved into mediocrity: Mozart or Raphael can’t survive in the modern world, but Michael Jackson and Andy Warhol will rock. In long run, there is a lack of truer deeper entertainment. Surface colorfullness but deeper boredom. Bored people usually begin to gossip. RS is a new form of visual massive gossipping.

    4. Lack of sympathy and increase of insecurity in the morally declining world: Well, I am a looser, but isn’t it nice to see some bigger loosers being pants-pulled off on stage…?

    5. Most importantly, it is the terrifying organizing power of the democratic-capitalistic society (seen movie “The Matrix”?). People are lost in it (thus we all become “small people”). Yet images of movie stars, supper riches, post royals etc. are flying in the air. Gosh! Where am I? Better to get some quick fame before I turn 30… OK! The society answers in Andy Warhol Effect “everybody can be famous for 15 minutes”. Then in its highest form, the Paris Hilton Effect: famous for being famous.

    6. China and India are not yet even “modern” (whatever that word means), yet are already coping “post-modern” addictions, a kind like an ordinary man coping a rich man’s unhealthy habits in admiration of the rich man.

    Gugin, thanks. I love that comparison of yours of a fishbowl! You are so right! In India our society is such that it is very closely meshed and we are already a lot into each other’s lives and our voracious apetitite for reality shows has not yet been developed. Also we are a more emotional society and therefore I think that if reality shows are to surivive and thrive in India they will have to adjust to Indian sentiments and ethos. You are absolutely right about India and China being unable to cope with the sudden westernisation. They have evolved that way, we are simply taking their habits and transporting them here without understanding. The culture clash is showing. – Nita.

  36. Ravi permalink
    July 2, 2008 2:56 pm

    LOL Nita,

    Why would I object to girls swimming in girls-only pool? In this reality show Splitsvilla, in one episode all the girls were asked to flirt and woo a couple of guys by searching for some stupid things left in the pool. First thing reminded me of that scene is very gay…lol. And I wondered when does lesbian activities started to show on indian Its ok to show such things if it is in an Emraan Hashmi movie. Im shocked to see college students doing such things by the way Im regular to beaches in florida still this reality show is shocking!

    MTV india is just doing a replica(splitsvilla) of this american reality show “A shot at love with tila tequila”. In this show the participants openly agree that some of em are lesbians and the judge herself declared that she is bisexual. The show is only for adults….and I have no idea why MTV india chose to reproduce this show for our audience…this is so wrong and kids will be spoiled big time especially innocent girls.

    Girls only? Girls should swim wherever they wish! 🙂 Yeah, I knew you had probably not written what you meant! 🙂 But what I was trying to say is that if Indian culture means repression of women, let’s all look down on it! Also I see nothing morally wrong with homosexuality or lesbianism. People don’t become like that because of TV shows. They are like that for other reasons.- Nita.

  37. July 2, 2008 5:23 pm

    Vivek, no, my comment wasn’t directed at you. 🙂

  38. Ravi permalink
    July 2, 2008 10:02 pm


    I thought that premarital affairs and flirtatious/nympho behavior of a person is forbidden in our society. Apparently Im ignorant of our culture…lol… I didnt know that only oppressed indian women stay away from those sort of things… 🙂 India is fast approaching western countries regardin culture and other things like pot, weed…..not in the development though 🙂

    Sure these things are forbidden, but why should it be? These things are forbidden only for women. I do not believe in double standards – Nita.

  39. Ravi permalink
    July 2, 2008 10:03 pm


    I respect your opinion but for me lesbians and gays are just EEWWWW…lol

  40. lallopallo permalink
    July 3, 2008 2:21 am

    Oh my God..such a long article! Forgive me that I just scanned it quickly rather than carefully reading each word .
    ..Iam glad that you researched in such detail and I hope more and more people could read your post.

    You have talked about something very bizzare happening in Indian television & I agree with your views here..
    I watched 2-3 full episodes of a reality show Star of India last year and last month when my parents were here, I again watched couple of episodes of some reality shows on Indian channels..
    These shows clearly play on sentimentality of Indians..when participants get eliminated or otherwise, there is blatant show of emotions by everybody ( participants, parents , judges etc). Judges behave like Gods and you just wish that you can go there and smack their faces..
    Subtlety in emotions and conduct is a rare customer in these shows & you feel nauseated by intrusion of privacy of the participants both by show organizers/judges and participants themselves.
    To put it simply, these shows are regressive and not a done thing in an intelligent society.

    Whenever anyone says a long article, I feel so guilty! 🙂 I guess I just let my mind run away with the words. I also hope that someone reads in detail, perhaps someone from google search might! 🙂
    And when you say judges behave like Gods, yeah, over here it’s like that. I too feel nauseated, more at the behavior of the judges. – Nita.

  41. Ravi permalink
    July 3, 2008 6:02 am


    Nope they do apply for men as well as women thats why I referred to a person not to just men/women.. peacexx

  42. Ravi permalink
    July 3, 2008 6:09 am


    If you ask me why these things must be forbidden I dont know the answer but my intuition tells me its just not appropriate… 🙂

  43. maleesha permalink
    July 3, 2008 9:43 am

    I think that the fates of the people you mentioned are so sad. People used by TV networks who made a poor decision and had their lives “destroyed.” Just so the networks could make money and get ratings.

    I agree and am glad you mentioned this. While reading about those cases I felt very sad too, particularly the one case in the extreme makeover show. that seemed directly related to participation in the show- Nita

  44. Guqin permalink
    July 3, 2008 11:23 am

    I heard that homosexuality was actually more open in the ancient times in many societies. Appropriate or not can be purly conceptual, often as a result of the organizing power of the “civilized” society. For example, the concept of virginity is clearly an invention by the “civilized” people, most likely by men who wanted to control women for their selfish purposes. But once it is invented, it has become very real like the invention of paper money. For example, Christ was supposed to be begotten by a virgin. Does that really make the story more pure? In my opinion, this story already has a unhealthy taste to it since it invites imagination to a young woman’s private life. I always suspect if this story is added by later writers (like Confucian schlars adding rules to control women in China centuries after the death of the old man which in fact defy the old master’s original teachings).

    Rejecting homosexuality may be of a similar nature as obssessing virginity. If we don’t even worry about it, it will most likely find it own peaceful, natural place in the society.

    I am surprised by your discription of the situation for women in India. I thought original Hinduism is quite feminent in nature and celebrates womanhood as seen in Indian sculptures (images of healthy, sexy and sexual women), and so is the design of the Sari. Is the surpression of women largely a result of conquests of foreign traditions?

  45. July 5, 2008 1:19 pm

    I’m just non-plussed. TV business houses are in the business of TRP ratings/entertainment – fair and square. Get me one reality show that does not promote itself based on the emotionals of the participants and I will show you a TV show that really changes lives for good.

  46. Peeyush Thomas Kurian permalink
    July 10, 2008 4:31 pm

    Well, it might be because I am a less sensitive person. But i dont see what such shows have done wrong. The aim of such shows are to provide entertainment and recognise talent. And as far as i know they are doing it.

    If you consider the merits of such programmes in India, atleast in Kerala, where education is limited to being an engineer/doc/mba/mca, such programmes have definetly done their share for aiding in fostering such talents. The advent of such reality show have brought tremendous change in the attitude in our generation as well as our parents. Whatever be the reason, fame, money etc, they do allow and try to foster such talents of children more now coz of such talent shows.

    It has been, as such shows claims, a dream come true for many contestants. And ofcourse there is a price they have to pay for it, it wont be and is never going to be easy. It is also an oppurtunity for the less priveleged among us to showcase their talent win money/fame /appreciation…

    About the girl, i feel sorry for her like i feel when i hear about any tragic events. But i cannot find even a tiny bit fault with the TV shows as such. The parents or whoever is taking care of the children are responsible for their health not the media.

    Judges being cruel, come on, it is after all a TV show. Almost everyone who has heard about american idol, either love simon cowell or love to hate him…There has to be such wacky comments from judges to keep the show entertaining/interesting etc etc. If all contestants are given similiar feedback in a monotonous way, how long will it take before that exercise become hell boring to the viewers!!

    Anyway, summing it up, those who try to get a piece of moeny/fame etc through these shows, should be willing to pay the price for it. And TV show judges are not your big brother or sister…And finally it might a dream for you, but for such TV networks, it is their life/business…

  47. Peeyush Thomas Kurian permalink
    July 10, 2008 4:34 pm

    oopz…forgot to mention one thing,..good post…

  48. Note permalink
    January 20, 2009 8:17 am

    As a note, it was not Deleese Williams who killed herself, but her sister Kelly McGee. The sister was anguished about comments she had made within earshot of the contestant, and now Williams is raising her orphaned niece and nephew.

  49. sunil kumar permalink
    June 22, 2009 11:38 am

    I appreciate the concern that you have brought.
    I think that the fates of the people you mentioned are so sad. People used by TV networks who made a poor decision and had their lives “destroyed.” Just so the networks could make money and get ratings.

  50. Lorenda Jubilee Eeson permalink
    July 12, 2010 7:12 pm

    I believe that we need to investigate all contestants who are suffering from these reality shows and vote for and end to Big Brother that humiliates the human to a form of animal zoo like state which is not only the gateway to an evil that perverted society by bad role modeling but that has retrogressed society to annimal behaviour. this l of respect for bounderies I am veryhapp
    that big Brother is atan end

  51. sunil sampson permalink
    June 13, 2011 8:49 pm


    If you ask me why these things must be forbidden I dont know the answer but my intuition tells me its just not appropriate… 🙂
    sunilo sampson


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