If reality TV is supposed to be fun, why is it trying to be woke?
CBS announced in 2020 that its reality TV shows, from “Survivor” to “Big Brother” to “Love Island,” would be getting a progressive makeover. In the fall, following a violent summer of Black Lives Matter protests, the powers that be at the TV network declared that all reality shows from now on would feature a cast that is at least 50% nonwhite.
“The reality TV genre is an area that’s especially underrepresented, and needs to be more inclusive across development, casting, production and all phases of storytelling,” CBS CEO George Cheeks said in a statement.
The next year, “The Bachelor” host Chris Harrison was pushed out after defending a contestant as a victim of the “woke police” when fans criticized her for attending an Antebellum-themed fraternity party.
All of this soul-searching promised to deliver an era of progressive reality TV in which cast members of all races and sexual orientations live together in harmony. What it really did was create a culture in which reality shows either serve up progressive proselytism or remain exactly as shallow as they’ve always been.
In season 41 of “Survivor,” which aired last fall, host Jeff Probst dropped his catchphrase “Come on in, guys,” because, you guessed it, not all of the contestants were actually guys. This occurred despite self-proclaimed “queer woman” Evvie Jagoda, a contestant on the show, telling Probst, “I, as a woman, as a queer woman, do not feel excluded by ‘guys.’”
All it took was another contestant, who said he had a pregnant transgender husband at home, to support the trendy change, which Probst heartily embraced. “I, too, want to be part of the moment,” Probst said.
If “the moment” means ditching gendered language in an effort to be more inclusive, apparently it also means forming allies based on skin color. That same season drew ire from fans when a coterie of contestants formed an all-black alliance. Perhaps this simply strategic. Most likely it was based on nothing but identity politics. In fact, the contestants admitted as much.
“I formed a Black alliance because I am a Black woman and Survivor being a microcosm of the real world would not let me forget that,” wrote contestant Liana Wallace. “I formed a Black alliance in solidarity. I formed a Black alliance because it meant George Floyd, Emmett Till, and that little Black girl with a dream who might be watching, knew that I saw them and that I would not forget them, not even for $1 million dollars. I formed a Black alliance and am unapologetic about it.”
CBS’ “Big Brother” follows the same model as “Survivor.” Contestants vote each other off until a winner is left with a pot of prize money. The participants followed not only the same program model but also the same political plug. In season 23 last fall, the six members of the alliance, called The Cookout, said they banded together to ensure that the show would have its first black winner.
“It was incredibly difficult to put my personal game aside for the benefit of the Cookout,” contestant Kyland Young said. “I came into this house expecting to compete just for myself. But as soon as I realized there was a bigger opportunity and I had to shift my goal from being the first Black winner of ‘Big Brother’ to just ensuring that the first Black winner happened this year no matter what — even if I had to give up my entire game, that choice was easy to make.”
Fellow competitor Derek Frazier noted, “We’re here to also change the culture. Think about the year we just had. The whole Black Lives Matter movement — like, it’s important for us to be here.”
Gameplay: 0; Critical Race Theory: 1.
Then, you have “Love Island USA,” first on CBS and now streaming on NBC’s Peacock. This season, there’s little wokeness coming from the minds of the contestants. There’s little of anything at all, actually. With lines of dialogue including, “Is Minnesota its own state?” this isn’t exactly a show to look to for wisdom on race or gender relations.
This season does feature a bisexual contestant, and though her sexuality was eagerly and unequivocally applauded by her fellow contestants when she announced it, it hasn’t come up further. Watching “Love Island” is guaranteed to drain exactly the same number of your brain cells as it always has. But this time with a more diverse cast!
The problem with reality TV’s turn for the woke is two-fold. First, as we’ve seen with “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” executives and hosts’ obsession with “inclusivity” matches contestants’ enthusiasm to make their mark on reality TV in the name of diversity. As popular culture becomes more obsessed with diversity, equity, and inclusion (or DEI), so will reality TV, in which woke show runners want to capture the zeitgeist and competitors aim to show that they’ve done something more significant than compete for a wad of cash. This means that viewers, rather than watching the fun but ultimately trivial shows they’ve come to expect, will be subjected instead to lessons in LGBTQIA+ tolerance and Critical Race Theory.
Second, shows such as “Love Island,” thanks to their diversity quotas, may pretend that they’ve taken one giant leap for mankind by casting more nonwhite hot people, but that doesn’t make the show more progressive, or its characters more tolerable. The typical Hollywood playbook is to claim that terrible films that flopped — the all-female Ghostbusters being a notable example — really just failed because racist and sexist audiences couldn’t handle them. In reality, a diverse cast is not the primary essential for a guarantee of good entertainment.
Good entertainment, at least in reality TV, comes from a clever premise and interesting contestants. Despite the diversity quotas and woke virtue signaling, there aren’t any shortcuts for good TV.
Madeline Fry Schultz is the assistant contributors editor at the Washington Examiner.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.