In light of the current explosive series of Celebrity Big Brother, which has had millions of viewers tuning in to the daily drama, OnePoll polled 2000 UK adults to discover what makes us so engrossed in reality TV.

So who watches reality TV?

Nearly 4 in 10 (39%) people watch some form of reality TV, whether it’s watching celebrities eat bugs in the jungle, watching socialites wine and dine in Chelsea, or watching twenty-somethings party in Magaluf.  We are inundated with a range of reality TV options. Unsurprisingly the genre is more popular among the 25-34s (50%) compared to the over 55s (27%). The survey also found a preference for the genre amongst women with 48% admitting to tuning in compared to just 30% of men.

Strictly Come Dancing was named the most watched reality TV show, with 36% tuning in to the Saturday night talent show. This was closely followed by I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here with 35% enjoying watching celebrities suffer in the jungle. The Apprentice and X Factor came in close behind with 33%, with Come Dine With Me finishing up the top 5.

Although strictly topped the pile, its popularity was mainly amongst the over 55s. When it came to younger generations The Apprentice and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here were more popular. Over the years, reality TV has created some truly unforgettable moments which have kept viewers coming back for more year after year, whether they’re funny, awkward or just sheer disgusting.

The Top 10 Greatest Reality TV moments of all time were revealed as:

  1. The wrong winner is announced on Miss Universe – 2015
  2. Gillian McKeith ‘fainting’ on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – 2010
  3. Lady Colin Campbell’s rows with Tony Hadley and Duncan Bannatyne on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – 2015
  4. Nasty Nick getting caught out in Big Brother 1 – 2000
  5. Ferne McCann and the snake trial on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – 2015
  6. Angie Bowie told of David Bowie death and her housemates thinking fellow housemate David Gest had died during Celebrity Big Brother – 2016
  7. Olly Murs announcing Monica Michael was going home, then she wasn’t, then she was on X Factor – 2015
  8. Nikki Grahame’s tantrums in Big Brother 7 – 2006
  9. Will Young beats favourite Gareth Gates on Pop Idol – 2002
  10. Darius singing Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time on Popstars – 2001

Is it real?

In the past couple of years we have seen the spawning of a whole new genre of reality TV.  ‘Scripted reality’ which includes shows like Towie, Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea and the various other regional variations, follows a group of people in scripted situations but with no scripted dialogue. Although it is well documented that events in these shows are not genuine, doubt is often thrown on the validity of other reality shows.

25-34 year olds appear to believe more of the TV dramas than the over 55s, with 42% believing most or all of reality TV to be true, compared with 30%.

The over 55s were also a little more skeptical when it comes to on screen reality romances, with 4 in 10 believing at least some of them to be genuine, compared to over 6 in 10 of 25-34 year olds. It appears some people may think Celebrity Big Brother’s Jeremy and Stephanie are more showmance than romance!

Why do we watch reality TV?

With a huge rise in the quantity and range of reality TV shows on offer within the last decade, and the ever increasing fame of some of its bigger characters – (how could we forget when Kim Kardashian broke the internet??) – What exactly is it that makes us so fascinated with watching people, doing everyday things?

Psychology Today refers to Social Comparison Theory as an explanation for this. The theory suggests that we enjoy watching reality TV stars in confrontations, making fools of themselves and generally doing anything for our entertainment, because it makes us feel better about ourselves and our own lives. Our statistics appear to corroborate this, as more than a quarter of respondents choose to watch reality TV shows as a form of escapism from their everyday lives. Although 17% admitted to watching reality TV as they enjoy the drama and arguments, and 2 in 10 (19%) are purely interested in how other people live their lives.

Some respondents appear to enjoy the voyeuristic nature of reality TV, with one person stating they are “fascinated by people watching” whilst others enjoy watching the stars learn a new skill stating “Apprentice is more for me as they learn things and there’s more to it” and “I LOVE seeing celebs learn a new skill in Strictly”. Others, like myself, appear more interested in the social interactions and behaviour with more than one respondent saying they like “the psychology” of reality TV.

Our results show that those who watch reality TV spend an average of 4 hours a week doing so, with almost a quarter admitting to binge watching reality TV.  Younger respondents proved more likely to binge watch, with 47% revealing they have watched several hours in one sitting.

Almost 1 in 5 of those surveyed have revealed they have grown attached to a reality star or character, with 1 in 10 admitting to becoming obsessed with a reality show. Furthermore, 57% of 18-24 year olds surveyed revealed they feel sad when their favourite reality TV shows come to an end.

This attachment to reality shows and their stars illustrates just how invested we can become in knowing what’s going on in other people’s personal lives. This need for constant updates could draw some parallels with the way we live our lives on social media. The lives of our friends and family, and even those of people we don’t know, have become so accessible through the lens of social media profiles such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The public nature of some profiles means we can secretly spy on others’ lives without them being aware. These voyeuristic tendencies which are becoming part of our society, are perhaps what makes us so attracted to reality TV.

More than 7 in 10 of those surveyed who use social media admit to spending time looking through their friends and family’s profiles. Those who do this, spend an average of 23 minutes a week looking through their photos and posts.  Furthermore, 46% admit to looking through the profiles of people they hardly know or are no longer in contact with. Whilst over a quarter (26%) reveal that they spend time looking at profiles of celebrities or people they’ve never even met. Those who do this, spend an average of 20 minutes a week snooping through their posts.

So why do we spend our time scanning through photos of celebrities’ pets and their latest fad diets? Over half (56%) reveal that they are interested in their day to day lives whilst almost 5 in 10 (48%) admit that they are just plain nosey! Nearly 1 in 10 report spending their time on celebrities’ profiles as it makes them feel better about themselves.

Whilst to some, it may seem a bizarre concept that we enjoy spending time watching other people’s lives, the reality is, reality TV has become an important part of the entertainment industry, and in a wider context, a part of our culture.