Culture

From WAG Nation to The Shire: the 15 Australian reality shows we all forgot about – sorted

From the release of “docusoap” Sylvania Waters in 1992 to producing the most outrageous international edition of Married At First Sight, Australia has played a significant role in shaping reality television. But in between there have been some less successful attempts. From the making of a Neighbours soap star’s debut album to a competition inspired by Princess Mary’s love story, here are the most ridiculous Australian reality shows cancelled over the past 20 years.

15. Park Street, Arena, 2011

Remember Park Street, the reality television series based on the editors of the now defunct ACP Magazine titles Cosmopolitan, Cleo, Madison, Dolly and Shop Til You Drop? The show debuted in 2011 to an audience “so small that OzTam was unable to detect any viewing at all in Melbourne and Adelaide, while it estimated that it had 76 viewers in Perth and 856 in Sydney”, according to Mumbrella.

Scathing reviews followed (“It was about as exciting as waiting for the printer to get fixed – and we’re betting that will be the plot of next week’s episode”), and the show has almost been entirely scrubbed from the internet.

14. Australian Celebrity Survivor, Seven, 2006

Before the successful relaunch of Australian Survivor by Channel 10 in 2016, both Nine and Seven had a go at adapting the mega US franchise. Seven’s 2006 attempt gave us Celebrity Survivor: Vanuatu – a series featuring the lowest standard of celebrities ever committed to Australian television. Among them, the British model Gabrielle Richens who appeared in a singular episode of How I Met Your Mother as ‘Tramp Stamp Girl’ and singer Fiona Horne whose biggest hit peaked at No 48 on the Aria charts.

13. The Shire, Ten, 2012

“Dramality” series The Shire followed a cast of young locals in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, in what Channel 10 hoped was their answer to Jersey Shore and Geordie Shore. After rapidly declining ratings and two cast members being physically assaulted on the street while the show was airing, the series was cancelled after one season.

12. Runway to LA, Fox8, 2007

Australia’s Next Top Model was so popular at one point that it was given a spin-off series, Runway to LA, starring season three’s second runner-up, Jordan Loukas. The five-episode show followed Loukas, described as a “Marrickville ghetto chick”, being schooled on modelling basics by mentor Charlotte Dawson, in the hopes of eventually cracking the US market.

11. The Face Australia, Fox8, 2014

Another short-lived Australian modelling show (following the same format as previous US and UK editions) that didn’t reveal any new supermodels, but did give us this iconic confrontation between mentors Naomi Campbell and Australian model Nicole Trufino.

10. Fashion Bloggers, Style Network and E!, 2014-2015

It turns out the most interesting part of fashion bloggers’ (the original Instagram influencers) lives is the highlights reel they post online. Producers were so starved of usable content in the series – which followed five of the industry’s biggest fashion influencing names – that they resorted to 20-second scenes of catching up for lunch in the very first episode. Watch season one back for a 2014 nostalgia trip of early Instagram filters, flatlays and flower crowns.

9. The Last Resort, Nine, 2017

The Last Resort felt like a significant low in reality television, with incredibly vulnerable casts and revelations that were too personal and sordid for even the most gluttonous audiences. We met five couples attempting to salvage their long-term relationships: there was Carl, who never felt guilty for cheating on his wife Lucy; Dan and Lisa, who got together while Dan was still married; and Sharday, who lied about the father of her child while on a break from partner Josh, who wanted a paternity test. It was cancelled after one season.

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8. WAG Nation, Arena, 2012

Australian television producers in 2012 were trying everything to make a personality-based reality series ala The Hills and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, following the end of the talent show boom (mainly Australian Idol). One of the worst attempts was WAG Nation, which followed five wives and girlfriends of some of Australia’s most famous sporting stars for 10 very long episodes.

7. The Steph Show, Ten, 2006

The career of actress and singer Stephanie McIntosh was booming in the mid-2000s. The 21-year-old was in the middle of her initial four-year run on Neighbours, dating AFL player Nick Riewoldt, and releasing a pop album.

The Steph Show documented the album’s making in a style apparently modelled after The Ashlee Simpson Show. It was also somewhat of a marketing experiment – the first episode coincided with the release of debut single Mistake followed by the full album (McIntosh’s only to date) upon the show’s finale.

6. Aussie Ladette to Lady, Nine, 2009

A voiceover introduction of Aussie Ladette To Lady – based on a UK series – declares: “In Australia, there’s a new kind of woman emerging – loud, vulgar, drunken and dangerous.” The show’s premise was to reform eight of these “ladettes” by sending them to a British finishing school.

Aussie Ladette To Lady was a success for Nine, with reports the show’s first season alone made up to $3.6m in advertising revenue. The contestants, meanwhile, were portrayed terribly – Nine confirmed it had paid for the women to get drunk on camera, with one contestant saying she had “never been that drunk in my life” – and were in contention for no tangible prize. It lasted two seasons.

5. Undercover Angels, Seven, 2002

Before The Block there was the first wave of “before and after” renovating and makeover shows: Changing Rooms, Backyard Blitz and, shortly after, Undercover Angels. The latter was all these shows rolled into one led by a 19-year-old Ian Thorpe who sent his “angels” (radio host Jackie O, former Bardot band member Katie Underwood and actress Simone Kessell) to perform good deeds in the community.

Undercover Angels recorded decent ratings over its 11 episodes, but critics dubbed it “the worst show in the history of the world” and noted Thorpe’s “exquisitely awful impression of a plank throughout”.

4. Australia’s Next Top Model, Fox8, 2005-2016

After the original US franchise was a huge success, Australia’s Next Top Model launched, keeping the original show’s signature deranged challenges – like a photoshoot immediately after an army boot camp (see above), or holding a runway show on a conveyer belt, or even in a bubble – and potentially damaging messages about women’s bodies. I think about this man’s “horrible, horrible legs” comment almost daily, or this photographer calling a 17-year-old contestant “ugly”. During its 10 seasons we watched one contestant attack another in an incident known as “stranglegate” (she was disqualified) and the biggest blunder in Australian reality television history, when the wrong winner was announced in the sixth season’s finale.

3. Yasmin’s Getting Married, Ten, 2006

A 29-year-old woman is presented with a cast of eligible suitors, one of whom she will choose to marry in nine weeks. It’s an entirely stock standard premise by today’s reality television standards, but Australian viewers were not ready for Yasmin’s Getting Married in 2006.

After poor ratings production ceased just four episodes into airing, leaving Dale without a groom. Channel Ten promised it would foot the bill should she eventually wed; in a 2020 profile, Dale revealed she was in a happy relationship but had never married.

2. Playing It Straight, Seven, 2004

Playing It Straight originally started in the US but was cancelled after only three episodes. Australia was the first country to actually see a whole season through to the end, led by straight bachelorette (23-year-old Rebecca Olds) and 12 male suitors, half of whom were gay. If a gay contestant tricked Olds into choosing him at the end, he got $200,000. If she chose a straight man, the pair split the money.

The show once again failed to lure audiences and was moved to a later time slot, but Olds and straight guy Chad walked away with $100,000 each.

1. Australian Princess, Ten, 2005-2007

After Mary Donaldson met her future husband, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, in a Sydney pub, reality television creators were convinced it could happen to anyone. To prepare, they created a “princess boot camp” led by Paul Burrell, a former butler to Princess Diana, and called it Australian Princess. Contestants competed for prizes including a tiara and being escorted to a gala ball by a Polish prince. It lasted two whole seasons.

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