Why the late 90s and early 00s was NZ’s golden age of reality TV

From Flatmates to Popstars to Celebrity Treasure Island, New Zealand reality television was at its best when nobody really knew what they were doing. José Barbosa looks back wistfully and wonders: can we ever get that magic back?

I don’t know about you, but I remember the late 90s and early 2000s as a sort of hungus time where it seemed every home had at least one room with water-damaged carpet. It was also around this time that most of the newspaper industry decided to put all their news online for free. Sure, the 70s were daggy, but the 90s/00s were janky as hell.

Appropriately, the black mirror of locally produced reality TV did its job by producing shows that were almost always cheap versions of overseas shows with much bigger budgets. I’m pretty sure I watched a whole episode of New Zealand’s Next Top Model set at the Howick historical village.

And thus, we got the mainstream reality TV that served us best – by holding a mirror up to a South Pacific nation that was sometimes annoyingly and often happily just a little bit shit. Six out of 10. Too many of our modern shows are about pushing that out of view, acting as if there’s not a rough-as-guts side to all New Zealanders that just wants to smash a 12-pack of Flame beers on a Monday afternoon and hoof it to the Pak n’ Save barefoot for a pie. But I think anything that pretends otherwise is simply not doing its job.

New Zealand reality TV in the late 90s and early 00s might have been a bit shit, but that’s what made it ours.


In the latest episode of The Real Pod, Alex, Duncan and Jane struggle to find the words to describe the reboot of Popstars, and are left reeling by a week of truly revealing final dates on MAFS AU. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.




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