The dystopian world of Greek reality television – part 1

Needs no introduction

If you asked me in 2019 how much TV I watched, I would have smugly told you ‘Not that much’. Greek news is impossible to watch, emanating a heady miasma of terror, fear, racism and political jiggery-pokery disguised as topical current affairs. 

One of the most profound side effects of the pandemic has been how much television we have all been watching lately, especially in the deepest depths of last year’s multiple lockdowns. 

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a stranger to Greek reality TV. As a reality TV fan, I know the format well. I’m also no stranger to trash TV, having spent my formative years watching Jerry Springer and Eurotrash. In later years, one of the best TV shows for me to get a better grasp on Greek turned out to be a show called ‘I Look Ahead’ (Κοιτάω Μπροστά), a Greek daytime phone-in show where the callers were so unhinged and the problems so outlandish that I used to make visiting friends and family sit with me while I translated live for them. 

If trash TV were a pebble-littered landscape, this show was an unpolished gem. The trashiest of trash, I actively pushed myself to understand more Greek so that I could stare in slack-jawed wonder at the specimens rolling onto the show. 

Reality TV is one genre, and trash TV is another. What Greece channels have achieved is the crossover genre of reality trash TV, which I will henceforth refer to as RTT. Lockdown brought with it a glut of these RTT shows. It’s easy to understand why. RTT is cheap to make. People are bored and everyone wants their shot at fame. At one point I was so desperate to just spend time eating, drinking and talking with other people that I told my husband that I was going to apply as a participant in any one of the RTTs running last winter, pregnancy or no pregnancy. 

There was just so much of it: Survivor, Masterchef, Farm, Greece’s Next Top Model, Big Brother and my personal favourite last year, The Bachelor. And none of them were safe from getting the trash treatment. You want to see how to make perfect risotto? You can, after we’ve made these three contestants fight with each other, with sharp knives within easy reach.

I’ll state outright that I watched very little of Survivor, none of the Farm or Big Brother, and went off GNTM in a big way (we’ll get into that in another post). 

What I did become hooked on last year was the Greek version of the Bachelor, a show so terrible, so offensive, with contestants who were so determined to undo decades of feminist progress, that I could not tear my eyes away. Many was the lockdown evening when I yelled at my kids “Go to bed it’s 9 o’clock, my show’s about to start!”

Last year was the maiden airing of the format in Greece, and it was RTT that was so bad it was good. The Bachelor was one Panagiotis Vasilakos, whose occupation seems to be football player/model/reality TV regular. 

Admit it, girls and guys. You would.

Until he starts talking. This genetically blessed individual managed at an impressive speed to demonstrate that you can be technically gorgeous but have such a crap personality that your hotness immediately cancels out. 

In true patriarchal piggery, the Bachelor Greece pitted 20 absolutely horrible, banshee-like women against each other to win the affections of our prince Panagiotis, screamed at each other but spoke to the bachelor like they were 5 year olds. And guys, it was as awful as you’re imagining. 

These women stopped at nothing to take each other down, bully, backstab and pick each other apart for a prize that seemed pretty hollow in the end. All the episodes concentrated on the girls indulging in things Panagiotis liked, to prove their compatability, because who the hell cares what the women are interested in when it comes to relationships, ammaright, friends?? 

Our wonderful Panagiotis also stated repeatedly and emphatically in the year of our Lord 2020 that he wanted a woman who could cook, non-negotiable, because he could not cook. It boggles the mind that there are still men who reach adulthood unable to cook, because they expect their mothers, girlfriends and wives to do it for them. Who are you? Why aren’t you at least TRYING to learn? Do you have a physical disability preventing you from doing so, such as having no arms? Do you live in a Hong Kong coffin apartment with no access to cooking supplies? No? Then what business do you have not knowing how to cook?

It also cycled through all kinds of toxic relationship tropes which no young person should even be entertaining. That to win someone’s affection you have to play games like pretending to be in a mood, playing hard to get, being aloof, but also being fiery tempered. Panagiotis let girls go who he considered too cool-headed, he wanted the slammed doors, kicked over dustbins, fights with him, the works! 

He also unashamedly kissed his way through all of them, which okay, I’m no prude. But at least wipe the lipstick off from Contestant number 1 before Contestant number 2 dives in. Also, there’s a pandemic going on. Life was hard for Panagiotis because he repeatedly had to stare off into the distance, frowning, for filler shots where he declared that he had developed feelings for one of the girls, two, five or eight of them, that lamp over there, the ramen noodles in my cupboard, the lighting crew, a cloud that reminded him of his aunt, this burger, the last book he read and Tom Cruise. 

Packaged in such a brash and jarring way, The Bachelor Greece 1 was a total train wreck, so bad it was good. 

This year’s edition is so bad it’s bad. There was nothing redeeming about last year’s run, and redeeming features in this year’s show run into minus numbers. For a start, the bachelors aren’t even real. They’re just recycled faces from other shows. This year’s bachelor is Alexis Pappas, washed ashore from his appearance on The Survivor. 

And guys, it’s not going well. Panagiotis at least gave half an attempt at pretending he was in love with himself the girls during his totally non rehearsed and non scripted spontaneous deliveries to camera. Alexis delivers his lines like he’s reading a menu. I tried, for the sake of journalistic research, but three episodes in I couldn’t even pretend any more and gave up. And the women. My God. They make me feel like Emily Davison got trampled to death by a horse for nothing. Jokes aside, it’s truly depressing to see grown women treat each other this way and act so infantile for a man, all for what? Their fifteen minutes of fame, a free stay at a villa with bottomless champagne from Lidl (no offence, Lidl, I love you) and a male mannequin who constantly looks terrified that his life choices have led him to this point in his existence.

Seemingly egged on by last year’s numbers and forgetting that we all watched all that TV because we LITERALLY HAD NOWHERE TO GO, Greek channels have gone into overdrive this year, pouring RTT shows into the schedule like a thick, burning layer of completely unentertaining and cookie-cutter lava that destroys your hope in humanity, leaving a smouldering trail of rage in its path that you tricked yourself into wasting hours from your one ride on this rock we call home watching this rubbish. 

So what have we so far this year? Here’s a sample:

The Bachelor 2

GNTM (separate blog post coming on that one, I have much to complain about)

Game of Chefs

Top Chef

Masterchef 

Big Brother

The Voice

There’s more that I probably forgot. The bottom line is this – Greece has a habit of taking reality TV formats from other countries and butchering them into Jocelyn Wildenstein levels of irrecognisability. You want your brief flash of fame? Tweet about a finance minister, or go on a reality TV show where all you’ll get out of it is to be endlessly bounced around one show to the next, while you wail “I used to be somebody” the way I do when I make my kids watch the clip of that time I was interviewed by the BBC.

I have recently heard on good authority that a Greek channel has bought the rights to RuPaul’s Drag Race. There is a buzz in the LGBTQ+ community, but also worries that if this comes to fruition, the Greek version will be an insensitive and dehumanising showcase dressing up this entertainment form as freakshowery for the straight-laced to clutch at their pearls over. I could not believe my myopic little eyes when I saw that Pose was running on a Greek TV channel, until I saw that, of course, it was buried in the schedule at 1 a.m..

But hey, I guess if the total dismantling of all other reality formats is good enough for everyone else, it’s good enough for Drag Race. Just come at it with very low expectations and you’ll be fine.

2 comments

    • Hatewatching is exactly the right term here! I hope you’re right, the person who told me said the community is being pretty guarded, and that no one will touch it with a bargepole if they feel it’s exploitative. Let’s see.

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