How “real” is reality television? Marginalized group representativeness in competitive reality television programming.

The present study focuses on whether contestants of differing ethnicities, ages, and abilities in competitive reality TV programming in the United States are represented authentically in comparison with the U.S. population, and if marginalized status influences elimination order. This content analysis aims to address a gap in the literature, as a first step toward understanding the cultivation effects of race and ethnicity portrayals on reality TV programs. Competitive reality TV programs were chosen due to the perception that anyone can try-out or be chosen for most of these shows, leading to a larger pool of possible participants. Data from casts in shows airing from 2000 to 2013 were collected. Racial, ethnic, age, disability status, and elimination order data were collected from 653 contestants. These data were compared with U.S. Census data to answer key research questions. Analyses suggest no significant difference in the proportion of contestants who are female in comparison with the American population. Some racial and ethnic groups are overrepresented, and others significantly underrepresented, but minority status (gender, race, ethnicity, or age) does not affect performance in competitions, meaning marginalized groups do not fare any differently than majority group members. Additional research is necessary to understand representation in portrayal and narratives in reality programming. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)