From The Bachelor to Dancing With The Stars, primetime reality television programs have captured the attention of women across the globe, and studies have shown that women overwhelmingly trump men in their consumption of non-scripted TV series for almost every subgenre.
However, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, recent allegations have revealed some major reality television programs are not safe spaces for women.
When Carlota Prado entered the “diary room” on the Spanish version of Big Brother, a reality series hosting a group of strangers living together and being constantly filmed, she had no way to know that she was about to watch her own sexual assault.
The diary room is where contestants get to speak directly to the camera, and directly to the figure of “Big Brother.” After drinking enough to fall unconscious during a party put on for contestants, Prado was sexually abused by another contestant, José María López. Instead of interfering and stopping the assault, producers continued filming and did not tell Prado what had happened to her until she entered the diary room.
It was there that Prado was shown the footage captured that night. She was filmed watching her own assault, and her reaction was devastating. Prado sobbed, screaming for Big Brother to “please stop.” Big Brother then asks Prado to now tell the other contestants about the abuse she endured.
The dark underbelly of reality television is also slowly revealing itself in America, where producers of the hit competition show Survivor inappropriately handles several cases of contestant-on-contestant harassment.
From the very start of the season, female contestants were speaking up against repeated instances of sexual harassment. The women complained on camera that Dan Spilo, a fellow contestant and Hollywood talent manager, had touched them inappropriately. There was no way to dispute their claims, since the cameras caught examples of the behavior.
When contestant Kellee Kim raised the issue to producers, they simply offered Spilo a warning rather than kick him off the show altogether. Since the show involves voting contestants off every week, Kim was consequently kicked off the show for making enemies with Spilo and his supporters. Producers later removed Spilo from the show without explanation or apologizing to Kim.
These reality television shows aren’t just creating popcorn entertainment for viewers at home. They’re also leaving a lasting impact on the men, women, and children who consider these shows to be a reflection of real life, and these television shows are constructing a reality where survivors of sexual violence are tormented and exploited instead of supported.