IS it just me, or have the 20-something casting agents behind Australian reality TV completely missed the memo?
Unfortunately, given the presently accepted statistics on the number of openly gay Australians (around 1.9 per cent of the population) it’s tricky to outright accuse these shows of under-representing the queer community. I mean, variables aside, it doesn’t take much to fulfill a diversity quota when the bar is set so depressingly low. If anything, TV-execs are probably guilty of reverse discrimination.
Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing — but it could be.
Being the proud Wikipedia fiend that I am, I’ve taken it upon myself to research some statistics on the subject, and the results are predictably vanilla. In all 11 series of renovation favourite The Block, 47 dysfunctional teams of two have been cast nationwide. From these teams, we’ve had 36 heterosexual couples, three teams of heterosexual sisters, two teams of heterosexual brothers, five teams of heterosexual friends, and only one same-sex couple (who were, funnily enough, cast in the show’s first series before it became a ratings hit).
That’s a barely acceptable 2.18 per cent of the show’s contestants.
Similarly, Channel 7’s culinary go-to My Kitchen Rules (which is already camper than Christmas) has seen 100 contestants try their hand in the televised kitchen, with only at least three openly gay contestants among them. For the mathematically challenged, that’s a super lonesome one per cent of the show’s total cast.
In other unsurprising news, The Amazing Race Australia managed to avoid any distasteful queer typecasting in their three low-rating series by not selecting a single same-sex couple to compete on the award-winning show. Phew.
So yes, it might be hard to accuse these shows of downright discrimination. But I’m going to do it anyway. Why? Because you only have to compare these statistics to the reality TV being produced in other countries, and Australia is once again proven to be dawdling behind the progressive herd. The US version of The Amazing Race has seen 510 contestants race around the world since the show’s 2001 debut. Included in the overall cast have been eight same-sex couples and 15 teams with one queer member — totalling a respectful 6.08 per cent of the show’s contestants.
The US version of Survivor has recruited a massive 478 castaways to date, with 28 openly identifying as LGBTI — making up 5.86 per cent of the show’s total cast. With the highly-anticipated Australian version of the reality TV classic due for release this year, it will be interesting to see whether or not Channel 9 will follow suit.
More than anything, it seems like a tragic missed opportunity for quality (or as close as you’ll get to it) reality TV. Who wouldn’t want to watch a team of interior-designing queens attempt to renovate an entire house while managing a throng of sweaty, swollen-chested tradesmen? Two saucy lesbians trying their hand at the delicate art of French cuisine? A trans couple racing through third-world countries for a mega cash prize?
Furthermore, these shows are a direct link to middle-class Australians. They’re influential to those who might not naturally respond to political mumbo-jumbo or the logic behind equality. They’re people who respond to tearful confessionals and redemptive character arcs; who are willing to overlook preexisting prejudices in the name of enter- tainment.
It’s a real shame that Australian production companies aren’t using these powerful platforms to showcase the diversity of our culture and the innate humanness of our many fabulous people.
Samuel Leighton-Dore is the editor of Heaps Gay. He’s a writer interested in sex, dating and mental health, particularly within the LGBTI community. His children’s book I Think I’m A Poof was released in 2015.