FOR the first time in my life, I am in love with reality TV. It's been a long time coming, as the idea of watching real people basically being themselves on the small screen, has been around a while.
I clearly remember the first time Big Brother aired (a group of random, publicity-seeking strangers thrown into a house together, encouraged to bitch about each other and be as obnoxous as they liked, before voting out the least popular person every week, until Last Person Standing.)
All this, while sleeping in communal bedrooms and being constantly watched in real time, by millions of viewers. I knew people who would watch for hours as the contestants ate, slept, watched TV (in the Big Brother House), painted their toenails or picked their noses. I thought it was the laziest TV EVER.
But I am a convert to certain reality TV shows for one simple reason. Almost all reality TV being aired right now, was actually made pre-Covid. Remember that world? The world of meeting people in pubs and restaurants, cinema on a Friday night, theatre and music festivals, busy shops where you didn't have to wear a mask, crowds gathered around buskers on the street. The ordinary stuff we took for granted, but now seems like another lifetime, can be enjoyed in some small way on the small screen, where for an hour at a time, I can pretend that the world is still like that.
These days, I can't get enough of shows like First Dates Ireland, Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake-Off. I know people have been watching all this for years - I regularly see Strictly trending on Twitter when it's on - but in my pre-Covid life, I'd trawl the channels for a good movie. The last thing I wanted was a reality show, I reckoned I had enough of my own reality. What I wanted was escapism.
Now, when I'm watching a couple of strangers meet for their blind date meal, I feel like Will Smith in I Am Legend, where every evening he watches recorded news shows, from before the rest of the world was wiped out by a virus, leaving him all alone. It sounds a tad melodramatic, but you get the idea.
At a time when our country is in Lockdown, I watch in envy as couples - dressed up for an evening out - meet at the bar for their pre-dinner drink and actually kiss or hug in greeting. I hang on their every word as they're served beautiful plates of sculpted food: little heart-shaped molds of potato, morsels of meat and wonderful vignettes of vegetables, all decorated with drizzles of sauces. Yes, I know, the food looks AMAZING. Why the hell wouldn't it look amazing, when I haven't been to a restaurant since I-can't-rmember-when?
But what's even more amazing is that they're doing stuff we long took for granted. These complete strangers don't just share face to face conversation in beautiful surroundings, they share food! From one plate to another! I am green with jealousy, and at the same time I'm DELIGHTED for them. I laugh at their jokes, I silently will them to like each other, so that there'll be a second date. By the end of the meal, I am so invested in these lovely people, that when they speak to the interviewer, I am DEVESTATED if they confess there was no spark.
Strictly Come Dancing is a whole other delight. I get why it's so popular. Viewers love the dancing and the music, the fabulous costumes and the chance to vote for their favourite couple. It's fun and vibrant and bursting with energy. Mainly, it's the complete opposite to most people's lives right now.
During the week I found myself watching The Great British Bake-Off. I don't know what year it was made, but it was in the middle of a heatwave and in the Bake-Off tent, they were having a back-to-the-80s theme. I watched in awe as six talented amateur bakers, made 80s-themed icecream cakes - from scratch - while wearing cold-water-soaked cloths around their necks in a bid to stay cool.
The crazy thing is, I don't particularly like baking. I tend to leave it to my very capable kids. If - again, pre-Covid, pre-Lockdown days - we were having a dinner party, friends knew I'd far rather an offer of dessert, than flowers or wine.
But I find I can't tear myself away from programmes where people come together, in a big white tent during the Summer, to do something as uplifitng as making a gorgeous cake. That's why I'm so drawn to it. During these awful, weird, worrying times, it's uplifting. It's hopeful. It's a promise that one day, soonish, things will be normal again.
Hello there. I hope you're keeping well and managing to stay relatively sane at this time. Thanks so much for reading today's column, I appreciate it MASSIVELY. I'd love if you shared it (the sharing buttons are just below!!)
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