Reality television is a relatively new phenomenon, starting with The Real World in 1992 and expanding into a worldwide craze with the huge successes of Survivor and Big Brother. The genre attracts a lot of criticism for various reasons, including the exploitation and humiliation of its participants and the glamorisation of materialistic lifestyles and vulgar behaviour. Critics question the appropriacy of the use of the word “reality”, as what the audience sees on screen is often strategically edited or staged for the camera and the contestants have typically been told what to say or do ahead of time.
The people who take part in reality television shows are often placed in claustrophobic, stressful or uncomfortable situations, and the producers aim to promote conflict and drama in order to raise ratings. Tempers flare, fights break out, and contestants crack under the constant scrutiny and pressure. When compiling the list of the most seriously shocking reality TV moments, there’s no shortage of incidents to choose from among physical abuse, bare-faced lies, serious accidents, furious rants and surprise walk-outs. The following are just a tiny portion of the unsettling, embarrassing and downright gob-smacking moments that have been broadcast on reality TV over the years.
10. Australia’s Next Top Fail
Australia’s Next Top Model has had its fair share of controversies over the years, but what happened during the live final of cycle six was by far the most embarrassing of all. After viewer votes were counted, presenter Sarah Murdoch announced that 19 year-old Kelsey Martinovich had been crowned the winner, landing herself a contract with Priscilla’s modelling agency, a spread in Harper’s Bazaar Australia, a Ford Fiesta Zetec, a trip to New York and $20,000 in cash. The audience erupted into applause and a thrilled Kelsey made her speech of acceptance and thanks…
A few moments later, however, a look of absolute shame and disbelief crossed the presenter’s face, as she was told that she had been fed the wrong information. The other remaining contestant, Amanda Ware, was in fact the winner. Cue shocked silence and cringe-inducing, gut-wrenching awkwardness.
9. Fear Factor Contestants Make Asses of Themselves
The American reality game show, Fear Factor, challenges its contestants to complete three different stunts in order to win a grand prize of $50,000. While the show often sets out to disgust its participants and viewers, it kicked things up a notch in one particular episode, during which three pairs of twins guzzled pints of donkey urine and semen.
The episode was scheduled to air in January 2012, but was cancelled by NBC at the last minute. It was eventually broadcast on Danish television, and is available on YouTube. In an interview with TMZ, contestant Claire Odioso commented “we are proud of what we did.”
8. Toddlers & Thigh-high Boots
American reality television show Toddlers & Tiaras follows the contestants of child beauty pageants and their families. While the pageants are always unnerving thanks to their sexualisation and fetishisation of infants, one mother went a step too far when she dressed her three year-old daughter up as Julia Roberts’s character in Pretty Woman (a drug-abusing prostitute).
Kitted out in PVC thigh-high boots, a blonde wig, a tiny crop top and a skin-tight miniskirt, the tiny child paraded herself in front of a perversely delighted on-screen audience. In the face of the public backlash which followed the broadcasting of the episode, the mother defended her actions by claiming that it was the “funniest thing ever” and that it drew lots of attention to her little girl.
7. She Dreamed a Dream
When Susan Boyle first strutted on to the stage of Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, the audience were seen rolling their eyes and laughing, and judge Simon Cowell talked to her in a condescending and mocking manner. Because she was middle-aged and ungroomed, got flustered when asked about where she was from and spoke in a thick accent, it was clear that not much was expected from her in terms of vocal talent.
When she began to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables, however, her clear mezzo-soprano voice blew everyone away. The audience gave her a standing ovation, Piers Morgan called her performance “the biggest surprise I have had in three years”, and her first album was the highest-selling album of the year.
6. Mini-Me Needs to Pee
The aptly-titled The Surreal Life is a reality television show that takes a group of past-it celebrities and films them as they live together in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. One particularly memorable and somewhat disturbing episode in season 4 witnessed Verne Troyer, the 2ft 8 actor most famous for playing Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies, getting incredibly drunk, stripping off all of his clothes, riding around naked on a scooter, urinating in the weight room of the house and then passing out.
5. Kourtney Kardashian Delivers Her Own Child
The Kardashian family are known for sharing their lives with the public, mainly through their reality television show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It became clear that there were almost no limits to what E! would show of this family, however, when they allowed cameras to film Kourtney pulling her own baby out of her lady parts. Her entire family was present in the delivery room to welcome the new-born Penelope Scotland to the world. There are some things you just can’t unsee.
4. Snooki Gets Punched
Jersey Shore was controversial enough for its perpetuation of Italian-American stereotypes and use of ethnic slurs, but it really grabbed the public’s attention when Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi – the show’s minuscule, spoiled and proudly ignorant star – got punched in the face in a bar after accusing a fellow patron of stealing drinks. The force of the blow was so strong that Snooki’s head was sent reeling back and she was knocked off her stool. The aggressor, former gym teacher Brad Ferro, was fired from his job following the incident.
3. Turkey Slap
The Australian version of Big Brother hit headlines in 2006 after two contestants, 20 year-old Michael Cox and 22 year-old Michael Bric played a late-night “prank” on fellow housemate Camilla Severi. The two men called Severi over to their bed, before Cox slipped his genitals out of his pants and rubbed them on her face as his companion held her down (an act known as “turkey slapping”). The offenders were swiftly removed from the house after committing the act. They were condemned by the media and the public, receiving death threats and even earning criticism from then Prime Minister John Howard, who called for the “stupid program” to be taken off the air.
2. Tyra Goes Ballistic
It’s no secret that Tyra Banks is a few cards short of a full deck, but no-one was expecting what happened during cycle 4 of the show after the surprise double elimination of contestants Rebecca and Tiffany. After Tyra observed Tiffany making light-hearted comments and laughing while hugging her competitors goodbye, she decided that the model wasn’t taking the show seriously enough and went off on a long, hysterical rant, yelling: “Be quiet Tiffany! Be quiet! STOP IT! …I was rooting for you, we are all rooting for you! How dare you!” Yikes.
1. Celebrity Big Brother’s Big Bother
The 2007 series of Celebrity Big Brother stirred up huge controversy all over the world, as the late Jade Goody, glamour model Danielle Lloyd and S Club 7 singer Jo O’Meara embarked on an (allegedly) racist bullying campaign against Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty. Goody referred to Shetty as “Princess”,”Shilpa Poppadom” and “Shilpa Fuckawallah”, while O’Meara mocked Shetty’s accent and generalised that Indians were thin because they were “sick all the time” from under cooking their food. Lloyd commented that Shetty “can’t even speak English properly” and that she didn’t like her touching her food because she didn’t “know where her hands have been”. The show was the subject of over 44,500 complaints from the public, and resulted in many of Big Brother’s sponsors withdrawing their support.