This post by Greta van der Rol originally appeared on her site on 3/4/14 (Australia local time/date). Note that it contains strong language
Reality TV shows seem to be endlessly popular with the TV viewing audience. They pop up constantly, perhaps with a different name, different skills, but always they’re contests. Big Brother, Survivor, Master Chef, the Block, the Biggest Loser – and my all-time favourite, My Kitchen Rules.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I no longer watch these shows. I watched a couple of seasons of Master Chef because I love cooking shows and Master Chef actually had a few episodes a week where they went into the details of cooking. The rest of it, however, is a cooking contest. Which brings me to My Kitchen Rules. I imagine a similar show exists all over the world. In Australia, one pair of contestants, both amateur cooks, is chosen from each state in Australia. The couples can be married, gay, sisters or brothers, friends or whatever turns you on. The season starts with each couple hosting all the other contestants and the judges, for a dinner party in their own home. The contestants and the judges all score the meal. After all the ‘at home’ meals have been done, there’s an elimination process where some people drop out. Sorry if I’m hazy. You see, I loathe this show. Sure, I was sadly disillusioned to discover it wasn’t a cooking show. I hankered for Nigella, or the Cook and the Chef, Two Fat Ladies, the Naked Chef. What I got was a contrived game show.
In one of my biennial visits to the doctor I came across an article in a women’s magazine (I hate them, too – a doctors’ visit is the only time I ever look at them), a My Kitchen Rules tell-all. Well, gosh, Mouseketeers. Oh you thought the people cooked in their own homes? No. An awful lot of houses in Australia don’t have a separate dining room. We tend to prefer open living. But the home used for the set had to have a separate dining room so the couple cooking could be sequestered in the kitchen while the others talked about them. That, of course, but more pressure on the cooking couple. Unfamiliar kitchen, unfamiliar stove. And you know all that bitchiness and trash talk? The contestants are told what to say! Yes, it’s true. And, I have no doubt the fuck-ups are orchestrated, too.
So what does all this have to do with writing?
Everything, my friends.
I’ve already alluded to the importance of setting. Make sure your setting supports what will happen. Think about how the setting can aid some characters or put others on the back foot.