It is that time of the year again. The time where an abundance of reality TV shows come back onto our televisions during these harsh Winter months to provide us with some stellar, albeit mindless, entertainment. Families from across the country pinpoint these shows as creating the one time of the year where everyone sits down in the same room to willingly watch the same thing together. One show in particular, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! has become somewhat of a tradition in my house. There is something about all of us in the same room watching mostly C-List celebrities eating bugs and arguing with each other for three weeks as the fire is lighting and we snack on whatever is in the cupboard that just gets me excited for this time of year. Even shows like The Great British Bake Off or Come Dine with Me are perfect to watch with the family. They do not take much fixation to watch, and they are perfect to have in the background as you talk about your day with everyone else in the room. Wait a minute, those are all British shows. What about Irish reality shows?
I would like to compare reality shows to a box of Celebrations, the ultimate Christmas treat. There are eight chocolates in a box, all of varying popularity. British reality shows are the Maltesers, the most popular one available and the most quality. American reality shows, while not necessarily Galaxy quality, are always taken without any hesitation. Irish reality shows are Bounty. You have the majority that hate them and would not touch them, but you also have that passionate minority that will always choose Bounty before anything else. That small minority allows Bounty to stay in Celebrations. The small, passionate, usually older community that Irish reality shows have, that always watch them, keep Irish reality shows in demand, even if the quality is considered poor by some. For those that the Irish reality shows do not appeal to, however, it is a bit of a wild ride.
In terms of reality television shows, Ireland has had some absolute stinkers down the line. Speaking of stink, RTÉ genuinely thought it was an entertaining idea to have Mairead McGuinness present a show about eight “celebrities” as they…worked on a farm. Celebrity Farm was Ireland’s competition for the UK’s increasingly popular I’m A Celebrity back in 2003. It may just be me, but I would rather watch Caitlyn Jenner eat scorpions instead of some lad from Fair City milk a cow. Heartbreakingly, Celebrity Farm only lasted a season, but what about Ireland’s other 2003 reality show, Cabin Fever? The idea was a stroke of genius: putting eleven randomers with no prior sailing experience on a ship as it sailed around the coast of Ireland, with the last man standing winning €100,000. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the boat ran aground off Tory Island two weeks into its eight-week run. The ship broke into pieces, the contestants nearly got seriously hurt and the show was cancelled. Lord have mercy.
It is probably fair to say that Irish reality television’s disastrous year of 2003 inspired RTÉ to not think of any original ideas anymore. Because Britain had Ant & Dec presenting every successful British reality show, and American TV was plastered with images of Donald Trump – while he was still just that businessman who said “You’re fired” – Ireland decided to just make their own versions of these kinds of shows. Bill Cullen became an unlikely TV star with Ireland’s The Apprentice, while Lucy Kennedy turned into Ireland’s answer to Holly Willoughby with presenting roles for about ninety percent of Irish shows. We got Irish equivalents to almost every popular reality show. Fade Street, that show where Vogue Williams rose to fame, was our version of The Hills. There came a point where Ireland just dished out reality shows just for no reason. It was a copy and paste job, except for the odd original concept. Anyone remember Fáilte Towers? I was sadly reminded of it thanks to this.
Nowadays, the Irish reality show genre is not nearly as over-saturated as it was once. They have decided to play it safe with their own versions of Gogglebox and First Dates. Nowhere near as good in quality as the parent versions, but not as bad as watching someone clean pig styes. We do have Ireland’s Fittest Family, which has become a smash hit and is somewhat of a diamond in the rough, but that cannot hide the embarrassment of the reality shows that our nation has had to suffer through over the years. Hopefully RTÉ sticks to what they have and do not try anything mad. Could you imagine Ireland’s own version of I’m A Celebrity? We would be having the likes of Samantha Mumba doing Dingo Dollar Challenges with Des Bishop down some field in Mullingar. Ireland is significantly weaker than its competitors when it comes to this genre and it will remain that way. Honestly, it is probably a good thing.