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Local reality shows do it better than any international show

Reality shows are often accused of being scripted, but South Africa isn’t. From the roughest of diamonds, to the most polished depictions, what we see indisputably authentic and distinctly local
Thu, Feb 24, 2022

There is a moment in the second episode of One Night with My Ex that emphatically disproves the old trope that reality TV is not real. In fact, this single magnificent scene in an emotional tornado of a show has cemented the fact that South African reality TV, when we get it right, is the epitome of authenticity. Welcome to my TED Talk…

In case you haven’t heard of it, the premise of One Night with My Ex is in the name. Two ex-lovers get booked into a hotel room and then air their soiled panties. This is the point in the conversation where I must issue a spoiler alert, though no amount of narration could spoil the purity of what I saw.

In summary: Gentleman A, having found himself whispering unsuccessful sweet nothings to his former lover for an entire evening, resigns himself to a night on the couch. Forlorn, he curls up underneath a thin blanket moaning about being cold. Silence… and then like a drowning man flailing as he takes his last breaths, a helping hand plunges into his sea of sexual frustration in the form of the word “come”.

What follows is the possibly the most genuine expression of joy that television may have ever captured. People have written R&B songs about the look on his face. Poets have waxed lyrical about those levels of ecstasy. When Benny Benassi wrote “Satisfaction”, Gentleman A’s face is the message he was trying to convey.

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One Night with My Ex is not the only example of South African reality TV brilliance. You can debate the finer points of the show’s ethics but watching Moss on Uyajola 9/9 is realer than any episode of Cheaters you will ever see. Even Pastor Seeks a Wife is more authentic than any international iteration of The Bachelor you could ever come across.

What the show does surprisingly well, especially when compared to its international peers, is how it handles queer relationships. Generally, the depiction of LGBTQIA+ relationships on these types of shows is ham fisted and centres around a lot of tropes. These relationships feel much more human and genuine.

Perhaps the reason that this show works so well is the reason why we all fell in love with reality TV to begin with. Life is hard and it often feels lonely. Reality TV allows us to actually see ourselves on our screens. Not some doctored Issa Rae version of ourselves but our real selves. These are people you could bump into at Bowls Club telling stories that you have either experienced or had someone close to you experience.

I mean when has anyone on Temptation Island USA ever had a gold tooth? However cringey or sometimes messily they may be shot, South African shows will always win the reality TV Olympics because we, more than anyone else, embody the spirit of J.Lo when she sang “I’m real!”