Reality TV turns into 'Survival of the Fittest'

The phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ evokes for many Darwin’s theory of evolution; yet, recently in England, “Survival of the Fittest” (SOTF) has become a highly watched TV show that just concluded its first season.

SOTF was created to grab the young audience of popular TV channel ITV2, aiming to do so by taking on the role of the winter version of the TV series, “Love Island.” “Love Island”, another English favorite, racked up to 2.43 million viewers for its final, which is the highest ever viewing figures for ITV2. On-screen, it forces single girls and boys to couple up and form genuine relationships in the audience’s eyes over three weeks in summer. SOTF has the same producers who wanted to equally captivate “Love Island”’s viewers. The face of SOTF was Irish Tv presenter, Laura Whitmore, who is most known for previously being the host of another reality TV show, “I’m a Celebrity; Get Me Out of Here.”

The aim of SOTF was to put a team of single girls and a team of single boys together in a lodge in South Africa while simultaneously pitting these two teams against each other, head to head, for 3 weeks. The opposite sex was seen as the “enemy.” Yet, the dynamic was more complicated than that: throughout the series the contestants also had the opportunity to romance the opposite sex. Furthermore, challenges were provided daily, both mental and physical, that focused on the physicality of the contestants and tested their personal fitness.

Some challenges allowed the team to win as a whole, while others were seen as reward challenges, where the individual winners could choose to either split the prize with mates (same sex) or dates (opposite sex) - making these challenges a test of loyalties. Romancing the opposite sex became a threat to the team’s chances in the competition, and therefore to the collectivist mindset created by the original gender division.

The losing team of the team challenges were liable to elimination through public vote which allowed the audience to get involved in the drama of the show. Yet, whilst the public narrowed the vote, it was up to the opposing team to have the last say in who stays in the lodge for another week, and who goes home. Although both teams started out being tactical with their eliminations, as time passed, many eliminations were based on feelings towards others in the opposing team. Overall, contestants left at a rapid rate to keep the drama heightened, with 6 girls being eliminated, 4 boys being forced home and one girl dropping out due to injury in less than 24 hours on the show. Despite a better continuous male success rate in challenges, but female team won.

There could only be one winner and this was chosen by the public. It was awarded to Mettisse Campbell, who took the title as the Fittest Girl in The Lodge.  Mettisse won a 40-grand cash prize, but then had the hard choice of splitting it with her team, or sharing it with her boyfriend, a relationship that blossomed out of the show, Tristan Jones. Mettisse decided to share her winnings with the girls, as she stated that the win wouldn’t have been possible without them.

Despite all the planning and carefully selected targeting of an already-established target audience, there were very low ratings for the debut season of SOTF; it gain much less popularity than the hype surrounding it. SOTF debuted with ratings of 0.59 million viewers and by its last episode had less than 0.30 million viewers. It was a significantly smaller success than “Love Island” - in fact, not a success at all.

These low ratings might be linked to the harsh criticism it consistently received; viewers argued that SOTF and similar viewing programs push back against progress made in achieving equality between men and women through its harsh separation of the sexes. Furthermore, many arguments were made that it unfortunately reinforced negative stereotypes. For example, one of the girls on the show openly admitted to using one of the boys and playing with his feelings for her just to stay in the game (although her plan did not ultimately work). Along the same vein but even more shockingly, Laura Whitmore pushed the girls to have sex on screen to increase views but was not successful, as the girls complained that they were too tired from all the challenges to have sex. It appears that trends and popularity have their limits when they interfere with social consciousness and modern day movements.