Reality TV – Toeing a fine line?

Paige Bradshaw delves into the psychological problems at the heart of reality TV

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Having enjoyed fourteen years of being the nation’s most talked about programme, ITV have announced that The Jeremy Kyle Show has been permanently cancelled following the death of a participant.

It was announced this week that the popular daytime show has officially ended transmission after ITV bosses revealed that participant, Steven Dymond (63), took his own life one week after filming the episode he had appeared in. He was found dead on May 9. It is understood that Mr Dymond failed a lie detector test on the show, having been urged to take one by his fiancée, amid claims that he was being unfaithful towards her.

The Jeremy Kyle Show first aired in 2005, designed to resolve feuds and fix turbulent relationships amongst families, friends, neighbours and even colleagues. Fast forward fourteen years and the show has seen over 20,000 members of the public adorn it’s stage, accompanied by mediator and presenter, Jeremy Kyle. Participants willingly contact the show in a bid to solve issues typically relating to family issues, money problems, DNA testing and getting all-important results from the show’s infamous lie detector.

It begs the question – should programmes like this still be on air? The Jeremy Kyle Show has accrued somewhat of a British cult status, attracting millions of viewers everyday; all in the name of having ordinary members of the public seek help from the ITV show in a bid to fix fractured areas of their lives. In addition, the show is famed for its array of participants, many coming from underprivileged backgrounds and areas of the UK, sparking numerous debates into the ‘criteria’ desired to appear on the show. 

But is this good TV?  Is it healthy? 

“With an increasing demand for this type of programming, we’ll be examining broadcasting regulation in this area – is it fit for purpose?” – Damian Collins, MP

It also draws focus to another ITV show, famed for its prying approach into the lives of contestants.

Bursting onto ITV’s sister channel, ITV2 in 2015 (following a reboot in which contestants were chosen from members of the public, not celebrities as seen in previous years), Love Island has provided viewers with an insight into what it’s like to participate in a reality television show dominated by constant surveillance and public scrutiny.

Once more, the programme follows the real-life goings-on of a group of young men and women, termed as ‘hot singles’ who make their way into the villa, aiming to ‘couple up’ with new contestants and be crowned winners at the end of the series. With a £50,000 prize at stake, contestants do whatever they can to ensure they remain the competition for as long as possible, routinely aiming to win over the general public whose voting is responsible for keeping them in the show.

However, following the death of Dymond, it can now be said that both The Jeremy Kyle Show and Love Island have experienced participants taking their own lives after appearing on the programmes. The subject of mental health has long played a part in the reality television industry, with participants having to endure fierce public backlash, faltering opinions and constant surveillance in the act of building a profitable career.

While the shows themselves may not be entirely to blame, such tragic events have called the after-care of participants into question. 

Let’s not forget – these contestants are being constantly watched, propelled into the public eye for all to view, form opinions of, and be scrutinised at every opportunity. Love Island-er’s are frequently judged for their body shapes, behaviours, emotional capacities or personalities, while Jeremy Kyle contestants are judged for their reasons for appearing on the show. While these participants willingly contact the ITV programmes to be featured, the psychological damage that can be caused is unpredictable – every contestant is different, not all are as resistant as others; which has been proved in the deaths of two Love Island stars who both gradually became enveloped in the strains of the public eye – on display, their every move considered and talked about.

In 2018, former model and series two contestant, Sophie Gradon committed suicide, having been a victim of cyber-bullying and trolling since appearing on the show. It was later revealed in March 2019 that another Love Island contestant, Mike Thalassitis, also took his own life, with friends claiming that the pro-footballer turned reality star had been struggling with the recent loss of his grandmother.

MPs and health professionals have slammed the ITV shows, suggesting that the after-care offered to contestants has not been of a high enough standard to be deemed worthwhile and helpful to those who participate in such programmes. In light of the deaths of Gradon and Thalassitis, a host of Love Island stars blasted the show, shunning its entry and after-care process with regard to the mental health and esteem issues of contestants.

While show producers and experts may mean well in their offering of appropriate after-care, MPs and experts have drawn attention to a rather obvious point – they are not appropriately or extensively trained health professionals. 

Now, Love Island bosses have vowed to intensify the psychological and emotional examinations in which participants must satisfy once they have been selected to take part in the show. However this decision has not been taken lightly by health professionals and viewers, with many advising that the weeknight programme joins Kyle in being cancelled.

With The Jeremy Kyle Show cancelled indefinitely, the future of Love Island is hanging in the balance despite a new series of the show being due to air next month.

The harsh truths of reality television are slowly becoming a matter of life and death. With the subject of mental health a more prominent topic than ever before, this once popular genre of viewing is now toeing a fine line.

Words by Paige Bradshaw

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