Cookie-cutter casts: Relationship shows need more Diversity

Seven Year Switch

While Reality TV may have more diversity than other genres on TV, it still has ground to make up when it comes to relationship shows this year.

MasterChef, The Voice and My Kitchen Rules are doing their bit for reflecting the face of Australia, but shows such as Seven Year SwitchThe Last Resort and Married at First Sight are dominated by ‘cookie-cutter casts’ ripped from the 1950s.

Thankfully there are a handful of others, including First Dates and Undressed, that are unafraid to mix up ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, (dis)ability and ages.

This year The Voice has included singers with backgrounds from NZ (Maori), Ethiopia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, The Philippines and Bangladesh. One singer was openly gay (along with coach Boy George), another was a young Muslim and another singer was blind or visually impaired.  Kelly Rowland is African-American while UK born Seal has Nigerian-Brazilian heritage.

MasterChef has featured contestants this year with family backgrounds from Malaysia, Indonesia, Netherlands, Italy, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka while My Kitchen Rules had contestants with Vietnam, Lao, and Chinese heritage. I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! included diversity in religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. And there is an argument for seniority given both Steve Price & Tom Arnold appeared.

Married at First Sight

So why do the casts of Married at First Sight, Seven Year Switch, The Last Resort and House Rules leave things so terribly caucasian? Networks aren’t really saying….

Nine advised one Married at First Sight contestant Alene Khatcherian had a Lebanese background, while another, Nadia Stamp, didn’t know who her father is, leaving ethnicity unanswered. Despite boosting its cast to 20 participants, none of them were same-sex attracted (which the show managed to do in 2016).

If Seven Year Switch & House Rules adhere to Seven’s “roast chook” television, tonight it returns First Dates which has ticked many boxes including ethnicity and same-sex attracted singles. By nature of its very title, Bride and Prejudice was the most diverse relationship show on commercial TV so far this year. That didn’t stop its participants of Indian, Russian descent or with gay partners being at the centre of its conflict.

The Last Resort

The 16 cast members of TEN’s Biggest Loser: Transformed were also dominated by anglo casting, but did include 2 contestants of Italian, Greek & Filipino heritage, while its eldest was aged 60.

2017’s Undressed on SBS may not have won over audiences but it included couples with varied ethnicity, sexual orientation and even disabilities. The eldest participant was 41. The Chef’s Line celebrates cuisines of the world. Its dishes are judged by Dan Hong who draws inspiration from his Vietnamese heritage, alongside proud Bundjalung man Mark Olive, and food writer Melissa Leong, a first generation Singaporean-Australian.

NITV’s Family Rules obviously turned its spotlight to a family of Indigenous Australians, the Rule family of Perth, earlier this year.

Foxtel’s Real Housewives of Sydney has women with UAE, Persian and Austrian heritage, who all manage to feud with the best of them.

House Rules

Meanwhile Nine’s The Block has already come in for criticism as being “too white” this year, but is yet to formally announce its cast. The Bachelor franchise has, in the past, been dominated by caucasian cast members while the US Bachelorette is belatedly winning praise for its first African-American single.

Lately, Australian reality shows have a poor track record in the area of Indigenous Australians, disability, and casting remains overwhelmingly youthful.

Last year Steve Cook from online casting service CastaSugar told TV Tonight, “Casting for Reality is easy if you simply advertise the show, and invite anyone to apply. This is the service that is traditionally offered by online casting businesses.

“It’s a funnel approach – cast wide and filter, then audition to finally determine the actual cast.

“Adding complexity, like Diversity, adds an additional layer, which means the casting team needs more time, or better strategies and methods to complete the process.”

The Biggest Loser: Transformed

Encouragingly shows such as The Voice prove that talent isn’t restricted to being white, heterosexual, able-bodied and under the age of 25 – just like the audiences that watch them.

Seven, TEN & Foxtel did not respond.


    • As I noted it’s about balance. Diversity is also about more than ethnicity, there are multiple boxes that can be ticked.. Some shows are doing this well, some are not ticking any and continue to stick to representation that I would suggest is pretty outdated.

    • I also agree with Kushaa.

      Pushing for diversity creates the danger of making a person’s diversity the only reason they are chosen for the show, not their talent. We are moving towards having “token” contestants. For example, last year’s Australian Survivor began with an indigenous man, who later revealed that he didn’t really want to be on the show, and didn’t want to play the game, and was happy to be voted out. Was he only chosen for his racial profile? It seems so.

      • I suspect his comments were more post-experience that he didn’t enjoy it. I doubt he was forced to put in an application. I think when you have 15,000 applicants and one person who isn’t caucasian amongst a cast of 20 or so then you need to ask questions.

  1. I’m disappointed House Rules has yet to feature a same-sex couple. Thought Fiona & Nicole were going to be the first during the pre-season adverts, but they’re friends. Their ratio of white to non-white teams is also very poor.

  2. Maybe there aren’t strong interests from the minority groups to participate in certain shows? Maybe it’s a cultural thing. That’s why you see more diversity in singing or talent shows. I would be more interested to know about the number of applications from these groups. Personally, I don’t think it is a deliberate exclusion. I am considered a minority and I don’t feel sensitive about it nor would I make a big deal out of it. At the end of the day, it’s about the characters that would drive up the ratings. In Asia, you would be lucky to see some minority representation (eg Caucasians) in the locally produced shows and you don’t hear people make a big deal out of it. Just my two cents.

    • It’s a fair question and in the past I have noted Renovation producers admit they don’t get as broad a range as Talent & Cooking shows. But you also can’t boast record numbers of applicants and then stump up with a cookie-cutter cast. Diversity ticks multiple boxes and we still have ground to make up.

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