Day 218 in the New Statesman office. The workmates are flagging, again.
While thankfully there are no hidden cameras in our newsroom, we can reveal that there are lots of hardcore reality TV fans among the NS team. And their mid-summer post-Love Island
slump inspiration means we’re spending this week looking back at our favourite – and most hated – retro reality shows.
Every day this week, we’ll be running pieces dedicated to the candid scenes that had the most impact on our youthful brains, or re-assessing past problematic concepts, from the genre’s dubious canon.
Below is a list of these pieces – and other articles on retro reality TV we’ve previously published – which will be updated throughout the week:
Rediscovering Loft Story – a French reality TV show that was the original Love Island
Pauline Bock recalls the impact this villa-based hit, featuring pool sex and a Champs-Élysées parade, had on French audiences.
Aesthetically grim and aggressively budget, Changing Rooms is a British morality tale
Everything Eleanor Margolis learned from history’s most human makeover show.
Holiday Showdown brought out the worst of British classism
Sarah Manavis recalls the holiday-swap show that was a front for snobbery.
The feminist conundrum of Wife Swap
Glosswitch re-watches the series she enjoyed before she had children, and sees sexism from all sides.
What a 2002 reality TV show about Edwardians reveals about Silicon Valley
Julia Rampen on how the upstairs downstairs format lives on today in the gig economy.
Ghosthunting With Girls Aloud turned celebrity hysteria into an art form
If the idea of contacting the dead with an early-2000s girl band doesn’t excite the hell out of you, Eleanor Margolis is afraid you can’t be helped.
Forget Love Island, How Clean is Your House was the ultimate feel-good reality TV
Indra Warnes harks back to a time when it was filth, rather than beauty and wealth, which drew us to how the other half live.
How “triggering” noughties show Supersize vs Superskinny is troubling a new audience
Exploring its effect on viewers with eating disorders, Amelia Tait speaks to online fans of a show based on fat-shaming and idealising thinness.
Trinny and Susannah’s cruel parade What Not to Wear reveals how far makeover TV has come
Myfanwy Craigie recalls “chicken wing arms”, “thunder thighs” and “tits like fried eggs” – a world away from Fab Five sensitivity.
Date My Mom was a truly terrible show for which I’ll always be grateful
Stephen Bush remembers tuning into MTV with his schoolfriend in hospital, and cringing over mothers miming their daughters’ curves.
How my mother’s rules for parenting can be found in Dog Whisperer
For a comprehensive guide to bringing up children, just watch César Millán’s tips for rehabilitating dogs, says Sarah Manavis (and her mum).
The philosophy of Space Cadets: Why living in the moment rescues us from oblivion
Television’s most spectacular hoax was more of a life lesson for Anoosh Chakelian than a practical joke.
The economic conservatism of Queer Eye
For Sophie McBain, the reboot is less progressive than its predecessor on injustice.
“You felt your life was ending”: Inside the televised sleep deprivation experiment Shattered
While experts opposed 2004’s challenge to stay awake for seven nights for £100,000, Josh Salisbury finds its participants think reality shows today are crueller.
Essex and me: on growing up on the set of TOWIE
Jonn Elledge doesn’t recognise the Brentwood of his youth we now see on our screens.
“David’s dead!”: how the 2016 Celebrity Big Brother fiasco predicted the terrible year to come
In January last year, Anna Leszkiewicz looked back on the case of mistaken identity that led to the most dramatic reality TV moment of all time.
Why I still love The Apprentice
When it reached its twelfth series in 2016, long-time fan Anoosh Chakelian argued that the bonkers entrepreneurship contest still hadn’t lost its magic.
The disputed legacy of There’s Something About Miriam: how the “trans trick” lives on
Last summer, Thomas Hobbs reported on how the offensive TV dating show with a “twist” sowed the seeds for how trans people are depicted today.
What have we learned from the emotional circus of Benefits Street?
Back in 2014, Rachel Cooke assessed the trend of welfare TV.
When “social experiment” immigration TV goes wrong
Looking back to Make Bradford British, Anoosh Chakelian analysed the ethics of “life swap” style formats to contrast cultures.