by Gina Fernandez


Reality TV is often referred to as ‘brain dead’ entertainment by society, ridiculed for it’s ridiculous premises, scripted drama and unnecessary close up shots followed by overplayed sound effects. However, certain shows, despite its superficial surface value, actually have deep underlying messages of self-growth. To keep it interesting, this article won’t delve into the obvious self-improvement based reality shows like “The Amazing Race” or “Survivor”, instead it will focus more on the odd reality TV shows that we might have just watched for laughs

So, here are three unconventional reality TV shows with underlying themes of self-growth!

1)    90 Day Fiancé – TLC


Where do I even begin with this absolute gem of a show. 90 Day Fiancé is the prime form of entertainment; I am so invested in this show that it is borderline unhealthy. The show’s premise is based on the K-1 visa or less formally referred to as the fiancé visa which is used to bring foreign fiancés to the United States. Once in the United States the couples have 90 days to get married. Now this show explores the complexities of international romances such as language and cultural barriers, catfishing, gold diggers and the added pressure of the 90 days to decide if they are compatible enough for marriage. All in all, these stakes can make for some pretty hilarious moments.

The show is known for its iconic fights with the inlaws, awkward moments and oddly desperate Americans looking for love. But there’s more than meets the eye, the show actually has some complexities to it. Couples are forced to analyse their personalities and discover if they are truly compatible in those 90 days or try to improve themselves and their partners in order to reach the end goal of marriage. 

A perfect example of this is the couple Angela, a 54 year old American (pictured in the gif above) and Michael, a 32 year old Nigerian. The 90 days this pair spent was a rollercoaster ride to say the least, from scenes of Angela forcing Michael into a pair of Trump-themed boxers to Michael encountering problems with his visa and most memorably Michael resolving one of their many fights with a clock (yes, it was a peculiar show). Despite their many cultural differences and huge age gap, Angela and Micheal learned to tolerate each other and adapt themselves to all the new situations . 

Their relationship progressed from Angela’s physical attraction to Micheal and Micheal only wanting a green card to something more genuine. Angela and her ‘Nigerian boo’ are still married  which shows us that self-growth and willingness to adapt to new situations really does bring good results. The great philosopher Max Sheller put it immaculately, “love is a bridge from poorer to richer knowledge”. 90 Day Fiancé also plays on Sheller’s philosophy in the context of love between individuals, as through genuine love, couples can grow to understand and gain knowledge about one another whether it be their different cultures and beliefs. In the end, they can succeed and prosper together.


2)    Beyond Scared Straight – CI


This show holds a special place in my heart. I fondly recall the days when my brothers and I would run into the living room the moment the show started playing on television. 

At that time, we only watched it because we found it hilarious but after binge watching the episodes again, I came to realize that the whole premise of the show had underlying tones of self-growth and self-improvement (plus it was still entertaining to watch).

This show is based on a juvenile crime prevention program which brings rebellious children and teenagers involved in criminal behaviours (e.g. joining gangs, physically abusing their parents, distributing drugs, committing armed robberies etc.) to real prisons for a day. The purpose of this is to allow these troubled children to experience the gruesome life behind bars in hopes of swaying them away from their delinquent lifestyles.

Some iconic quotes from this show includes:

“I speak proper slangnology.”

“Swing, Swing! I’ll fold you like a piece of paper.”

Humorously, the show often begins with these children acting out or acting tough for their first few hours in prison. However, their attitudes slowly shift when they meet fiercer inmates or prison guards who treat them harshly (though not in a dangerous unwarranted manner) and soon these children begin to change their ways after realizing that a life in prison is not what they want. Most of the participants in this program actually become better people in the end but unfortunately, there are still a handful of stubborn children who refuse to change their ways.

All in all, the show proves that self-growth in certain circumstances is vital in order to progress in society and without it you might end up sharing a cell with ‘Big Dragon’ – a ruthless murderer responsible for taking the lives of two people.

3)    Kitchen Nightmares – Fox


I adored watching the character development of Walter White in Breaking bad just as much as I adored watching Gordon Ramsey screaming the words “IT’S RAW!” at the top of his lungs. The show follows cooking royalty, chef Gordon Ramsey across America as he tries to help resuscitate failing restaurants. Throughout the show, Gordon examines the conditions of the restaurants, the taste of the food, the attitudes of the business owners, their staff and the overall operating procedures of the business. Gordon’s harsh yet truthful critiques often leave an unsavory taste (almost as unsavory as the food some of these restaurants serve) in these restaurant owners’ mouths and can often lead to some equally intense and equally hilarious arguments.

In a classic show of haughty denial, these restaurant owners prefer to take offence at Gordon Ramsay’s commentary instead of accepting it as constructive criticism to save their businesses from collapsing. This goes to show how crucial it is for us to accept that as humans, we are susceptible to errors and failures and that failing to do so can result in the halt of our self-growth.

As the great philosopher Siddharta Gautama (aka the Buddha) famously put it, “Happy is he who overcomes his ego.” This wise statement applies in the case of Kitchen Nightmares and in life. The restaurant owners who do eventually realise their mistakes and take Gordon Ramsay’s advice often profit in the long run as their once failing restaurants begin to prosper and they also find themselves experiencing huge amounts of self-growth. They progress from stubborn individuals to rational and understanding ones. Those who don’t however, are trapped with their failing businesses and the never ending cycle of dissatisfaction.

In conclusion, despite how odd and nonsensical some of these reality TV shows mentioned can be, they can sometimes indirectly stress the importance of values such as self-growth in order to overcome hurdles and problems. I guess reality TV in a way is  quite realistic (I know it is a bit punny) and can often parallel famous philosophical theories. Who knew the Buddha and Gordon Ramsay almost getting salmonella from raw chicken could correlate.

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