The tragic suicide of Love Island’s Mike Thalassitis has raised serious questions about how much emotional support and preparation ‘reality TV’ contestants should receive before their lives inevitably become lived out in front of the public before they lose interest. However, beyond this – and, indeed, beyond whether this is evidence of a deeper state of masculinity being in crisis or not – we might also consider what this says about the current phase of a genre that has always brought the basis of ‘reality’ and how the contestants understand it into question. The two recent deaths of previous Love Island contestants ultimately reveals that reality TV is no longer an amateur’s game.*
A key aspect of the claims of TV being a ‘reality’ is not any claims to ‘truth’ or indeed ‘authenticity’, but rather a differentiation between participants that are ‘amateur’ rather than ‘professional’. With no hint of irony, Geordie Shore’s Scotty T has suggested as much.
Those that grace our screens in various shows with their fake tans, hyperbolic outbursts and fed lines on Love Island have missed a key to the professionalism that is required of an extreme show like Geordie Shore (perhaps, alongside Ex on the Beach as the most honest and purest distillation of what the genre has become).
As Scotty suggests, it takes the professional stamina of those on his own show to do it properly. And this is what they do. But crucially you always get the sense with Scotty and his Geordie tribe that they have understood what the genre asks of them. They don’t take the show or themselves too seriously. And because of this they can keep both a professional distance from the potential tragedies of life, love and reality – all the while sustaining their place in a highly competitive series, with a spirit fun and frivolity that entertains and disgusts in equal measure.