Whether you’re a reality TV fan or not, it’s almost impossible to escape the drama. Just flipping through stations or scrolling the internet means running across the latest reality TV drama. Heartbreak and deception were at the tip of everyone’s tongue when Scandoval hit mainstream news, paving the way for future scandals to jump into the public’s consciousness.
Not even a VPN download protects you from the invasive tracking that turns your For You Page into a collection of juicy drama snippets. Media coverage of reality TV scandals expanded rapidly, which got us thinking: How familiar are Americans with reality TV regardless of their viewing habits?
We polled 1,000+ participants to get their views on reality TV in the US, and we even included a little scandal quiz to test their knowledge. The results were even more surprising, as our survey found that interest in reality TV shows is dwindling.
Reality TV Is Pouring Into The Mainstream
Is this news?
These were the words written by Hollywood actor Liev Schreiber under a New York Times Instagram post that would soon leave readers divided.
To the actor, this may seem like an unnecessary filler piece. However, Ariana Madix fans soon proved him wrong when they flooded his page leaving mocking comments. He later apologized, but Ariana’s massive support showcased one thing: reality TV is no longer a niche genre.
Vanderpump Rules centers around famous New York restauranteur Lisa Vanderpump and her large staff at Sur. The drama centers around former longtime couple and staff members Ariana Madax and Tom Sandoval. Madax repeatedly defended Sandoval and friend, Raquel Leviss, when accusations of them having an affair surfaced. Just by chance in March of 2023, Madax noticed Sandoval dropped his phone at one of his concerts, after picking it up she opened the phone and found proof of the affair. Thus Scandoval (scandal + Sandoval) was born.
Major news sites like NBC, The New York Times, and The Independent reported on the scandal in the entertainment section, alongside stories of A-list celebrities. People who never heard of the show were now reading all about Vanderpump Rules and becoming invested in the scandal.
Video compilations, newsreels, and memes popped all over social media and garnered interest quickly. Soon enough, everyone was in on the drama.
Ariana’s rise to fame due to the cheating incident gave her a foot in the door to do other shows. This included several entertainment talk shows and most notably a stint on season 32 of Dancing with the Stars. After all, millions of people everywhere can relate to the pain of being cheated on and everyone wanted the scorned person to come out on top.
But is Scandoval the outlier here? Not likely.
The Kardashians have clothing and makeup lines, were involved in Got Milk campaigns, and showcased on many of the memes that clutter social media. All because of Kim’s infamy after her adult video.
One of the original Real Housewives, Bethenny Frankel, even founded a food and drink company Skinnygirl — her low-calorie cocktails were a huge hit. But if you ask many, she is rather known for her drawn-out, nasty divorce with Jason Hoppy.
As you’ll soon discover, whether viewers are into these shows or could care less about tuning in, reality TV is everywhere. In our survey, we covered a broad range of reality TV-related questions and included trivia related to noteworthy scandals. Surprisingly, even those who asserted they didn’t watch much reality TV answered our trivia questions correctly. It goes to show how easily these shows permeated mainstream pop and celebrity culture.
On that note, let’s look at the results of our trivia quiz first. Don’t worry, we also included the correct answers, so you can test your knowledge.
|Our Reality TV Scandal Quiz Results|
|Questions||% of Correct Answers from Reality TV Fans||% Correct Answers from Those Uninterested in Reality TV|
|Which of the following reality TV stars have served a prison sentence?||55%||59%|
|Which reality TV program started shooting again after filming wrapped to cover the cheating scandal and breakup of a popular couple? The guy in the relationship cheated on his long-time girlfriend with another cast member who just got out of an engagement (with another cast member).||33%||22%|
|Which reality TV show had a storyline that covered dubious claims about a significant other’s cancer diagnosis? It included fraudulent documentation regarding stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lies about doctor visits.||34%||22%|
|Which of the following dating TV shows faced controversy before airing the first episode of its inaugural season? There were explosive sexual assault allegations over what occurred between two members during filming. Both parties spoke out, and an investigation concluded that no misconduct occurred.||19%||22%|
|In 2015, this reality TV family’s son was named in the Ashley Madison leak, but that was the least of his concerns. In 2021, he was arrested for possessing inappropriate videos and images of minors, and in 2022, he was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. Which show was he on?||43%||38%|
|Answers: 1. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino (Jersey Shore), Teresa Guidice (Real Housewives of New Jersey), Abby Lee Miller (Dance Moms), Apollo Nida (Real Housewives of Atlanta), Todd and Julie Chrisley (Chrisley Knows Best), Richard Hatch (Survivor), Jen Shah (Real Housewives of Salt Lake City), Amber Portwood (Teen Mom) 2.Vanderpump Rules 3. Real Housewives of Orange County 4. Bachelor in Paradise 5. 19 Kids and Counting|
A Tight Battle: Fans Vs. Less Enthusiastic Reality TV Watchers
In the table above, you can see that people who said they don’t enjoy reality TV were right up there with the fans. Sometimes, they were actually more knowledgeable when it came to our scandal trivia. For example, the sexual assault scandal on Bachelor in Paradise.
For anyone who needs a refresher, the scandal came about because DeMario Jackson and Corrine Olympios had a sexual encounter when many viewers felt she was too drunk to give proper consent. That’s right, the show’s cameras were rolling while the incident was alluded to in the background. During an investigation into the allegations, both parties spoke out. It was concluded there was no misconduct.
Major media outlets and publications like Rolling Stone, Business Insider, ABC, E!, The New York Times, and more all reported on the investigation into the allegations of assault. ABC News even teased an exclusive interview with The Bachelorette star, Corinne Olympios on Good Morning America.
Other Bachelor and Bachelorette stars weighed in on the scandal, like Ben Higgins, Tanner Tolbert, Caila Quinn, and Ashley Iaconetti. Most were supportive of the cast and crew. Ben Higgins, who starred in the 20th season of The Bachelor, shared his thoughts on his controversy during an episode of his podcast. The star explained to a wider audience that ABC show contestants aren’t forced to participate in intimate situations.
Despite Higgins’ assurance, news article after news article scrutinized the show, and soon enough the topic of consent was on everyone’s lips. Journalists slammed ABC for failing to protect their staff and even criticized the show for fostering an aggressive and competitive environment that could lead to risky sexual behavior among contestants.
The Bachelor in Paradise scandal was broadly covered, to the point that it even affected Jackson’s and Olympios’ mental health. But the constant media attention made it impossible not to know about the duo, even if you didn’t watch reality TV.
Non-reality TV watchers beat out fans of the show by a 2% margin in our trivia. Many of those that got it wrong answered The Bachelorette. It isn’t that far off, since Corinne Olympios starred in The Bachelorette season 13. This means they had a working knowledge of the scandal and the headlines it made, even if they didn’t get the correct answer.
We notice similar results with the Ashley Madison scandal. It was huge in the news a few years ago, with major celebrities getting called out for being involved with the escort service. While the scandal wasn’t directly reality TV-related, it didn’t stop one 14 Kids and Counting star from getting into hot water, and over 35% of both fans and non-fans alike knew it.
Josh Duggar didn’t start his scandal there, however. In 2015 he was accused of sexual abuse by more than one young girl. Duggar is currently serving a jail sentence after his computer was seized and found to contain inappropriate images of minors.
It’s not surprising considering that Duggar’s face was plastered all over the news. Even before the scandal emerged, a Change.org petition demanding the family’s show be canceled over homophobic and transphobic sentiments garnered over 200,000 signatures.
The family’s conservative views often worried the show’s critics, while Christian supporters were deeply disappointed with Josh’s adulterous scandal. Duggar blamed his action on an addiction to online adult material, which made headlines on websites like NBC News, ABC News, E!, and many others. Readers were quick to pitch in on the debate on online forums, citing hypocrisy on the reality TV star’s part.
Duggar wasn’t the only case respondents were quite familiar with. They clearly knew the dirt when it came to which pseudo-celebrities had been arrested. We gave respondents a chance to pick all that applied from 15 different reality TV personalities. Even though most of them were from different shows, 55% of fans picked out who did time — with self-proclaimed non-fans doing a bit better at 59%.
Our survey showed similar results among all trivia questions. Only 14% of respondents said they don’t watch reality TV. Despite this, over a third of them managed to answer the questions correctly. It’s not that surprising considering you can’t even log on to social media sites without immediately knowing which deckhand is about to be fired on Below Deck or which hopeful contestant is creating drama on The Bachelor.
Are Younger People Becoming Disinterested in Reality TV?
Who is the main demographic for reality TV? Of those who participated, 56% were in the Gen X demographic or older — the Gen Z crowd only accounted for 13%. Additionally, most preferred cooking and food, or true crime, content over any other category (including celebrity-related shows). It’s possible Gen Z just has more interest in social media as opposed to traditional TV, having grown up in a predominantly digital world.
Overall, it appears that interest in reality TV in general is starting to decline. Maybe it’s because people are getting back out into the world again after the COVID-19 lockdown, or because you can’t turn the channel without running into a new reality TV show. Regardless of the reason, interest is waning. Over 42% of individuals we polled said they watch 3 different reality TV shows a year — or less.
However, not everyone who knows about the drama watches reality TV shows religiously. When viewers are not tuning in on TV channels, YouTube is the preferred place to get information about reality TV-related scandals according to 29% of respondents. Social media giants Instagram and TikTok are close behind with 22% each.
We started noticing this trend during the first COVID-19 outbreak. It became all too common to turn on YouTube and catch all the latest updates on MTV, TLC, and E! reality TV scandals — with hilarious commentary from the YouTubers posting the content. The trend never stopped. After all, why sit through the boring stuff when you can just view the juiciest bits of reality TV action on your favorite video platform?
Are Reality TV Scandals Mainstream Newsworthy?
31% of respondents admitted they watch reality TV to escape real-world issues, but 10% go above and beyond to keep up with everything reality TV — watching over 15 shows a year. But there has to be a limit.
While they enjoy seeing the latest reality TV show scandal and drama on YouTube and social media platforms, respondents don’t think it belongs in mainstream media.
Both reality TV enthusiasts and those with no interest in the genre seem to agree. Overall, 75% of respondents concluded that reality TV scandals and events aren’t newsworthy.
When asked why, respondents answered that Americans want real-world news, and they trust major outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, Bloomberg, to give them important information. Since so few believe that what they see on reality shows is unscripted, it’s no wonder they don’t find these scandals newsworthy.
While respondents might not find these scandals newsworthy, a shocking number of them knew the right answers to our survey trivia. This means they watched the news piece, decided to follow the link to reality TV scandal content or read about it in a magazine.
Whether it’s by conscious choice or completely accidental, reality TV has made its way into American households. And why not? Other people’s problems make us feel like maybe ours aren’t so bad after all. Especially when those people are beautiful, rich, and famous.
There’s No Escaping Reality TV
Whether you’re a fan or not, you will see reality TV flooding your Facebook, Instagram, YouTube stream, and more. Reality TV stars have web pages, social media accounts, and brands. Everything from the cooking aisle to the makeup department at the store has at least one reality TV star’s product.
Mainstream media sources like The New York Times, BBC, and NBC all cover the lives of reality TV stars too. The more drama, the more noteworthy it seems. Despite it being everywhere you look, it’s clear Americans themselves don’t think it constitutes news. Still, no one can avoid running into the latest scandal — even if reality TV drama isn’t on their must-watch list.
This oversaturation of reality TV in the media has also made it lose its luster for many people. A problem that could make it difficult for the directors and producers of these shows to find contestants, sell pitches, and keep their audiences captive in the future. Stars may also have to work harder to maintain relevance, which could lead to elevated levels of ‘fake’ drama.