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Guilty Pleasures

In the battle between high-drama reality TV and realer-than-life drama, when push comes to shove, which does the British public prefer?


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In the battle between high-drama reality TV and
realer-than-life drama, when push comes to shove,
which does the British public prefer?

In a world of doom-scrolling and 24-hour news, TV can provide
a welcome relief from the real-world.

We wanted to find Britain’s ultimate escapism TV. Is it the guilty pleasure of watching reality
TV stars bicker over bread, boyfriends, and “back rolls”? Or the dramatic indulgence of
watching our favourite actors deliver sizzling dialogue, slow-blink their way through close-
ups, and duke it out over love, money, and power?

Pitting the highest rated British reality and drama series against each other, we put it to the
public. In the battle between watching Matt Hancock stay, or Daenerys slay – which would
you rather watch?

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In our first round we saw juggernauts of every genre knocked out.

From Game of Thrones trouncing Top Gear, to the surprise victory of Escape to the Chateau
over Black Mirror, in the face-off between reality TV and drama, things are neck and neck.

As social creatures, most of us will have a natural curiosity about the inner workings of other people’s lives. There is also a relatability factor – through reality TV we get the opportunity to watch people who are “just like us” or see the more human side of celebrities. For some, it is comforting to see familiar issues or conflicts (like rejection or a social faux pas) play out on screen – it can remind us that we are not the only ones, or even that other people perhaps struggle more than we do! It is also worth noting that many people do not consider Reality TV to be intellectually challenging, so it can be an ideal wind-down activity after a busy day.

Dr Miranda Justo-Núñez Clinical Psychologist
Scroll to Quarter Final
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Reality takes a backseat.

Losing some of the less well-known dramas in the last round meant the surviving reality TV
shows had fierce competition come the semi-finals. But with the surprise knock out of The
Great British Bake Off by Peaky Blinders, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here is the only
reality TV to progress to the next round.

The drama in “serious” TV often represents more extreme experiences which most of us do not have direct experience with. This can be fascinating as it gives us insight into situations that we have not lived through ourselves, and can evoke powerful feelings of awe, shock, and fear.

Dr Miranda Justo-Núñez Clinical Psychologist
Scroll to Semi Final
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Violence and fantasy overcome familiar formats.

Highly stylised drama featured heavily in our semi-finals, with the last-standing reality TV
show – I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – knocked out by fantasy classic, Game of
Thrones. With Russell T Davies’ modern-day Sherlock also exiting the tournament this round,
we see fantastical dramas winning out against anything set in the real world.

Fantasy TV is uniquely placed to evoke a sense of wonder – the realities depicted are designed to spark the imagination of the audience and can provide a true sense of escapism. However, part of the genius of these programmes is that they continue to grapple with very “human” issues – such as love, power, and loss – despite their fantastical backdrop.

Dr Miranda Justo-Núñez Clinical Psychologist
Scroll to Final
guilty pleasures round16 guilty pleasures round16 Tables

Long running series take the lead.

With every reality show knocked out, our final came down to two hyper-violent dramas
which are about as far from most people’s lived experiences as you can get. But is it really
the sex, blood and magic which keep viewers hooked? Or could it be the characters
developed throughout the six seasons of both series that make us want to tune in?

Parasocial relationships refer to the one-sided, enduring relationship that a viewer can form with a performer, whether that be a TV character, reality star, influencer, or celebrity. In terms of reality and drama television, parasocial relationships are similar in the sense that viewers can develop strong feelings and/or connections with performers that extend beyond a viewing episode. However, the sense of familiarity and “knowing” someone is usually more intense with reality performers, given that they are “real” people and we often can gain far more insight into their experiences, relationships, and struggles.

Dr Miranda Justo-Núñez Clinical Psychologist

Period crime drama Peaky Blinders came out swinging and, in a skin-of-the-teeth final
(winning just 50.04% of the vote versus Game of Thrones’s 49.96%), emerged victorious.

Bloody, stylish, and with a cast of heavyweights, not even the dodgy regional accents could
stop this visceral drama from making its way to the top of our tournament. And maybe that’s
no surprise. When we asked the British public what they valued most in a TV show, 1 in 5 said
‘powerful acting’ and nearly a third chose ‘mystery’ – both qualities Peaky Blinders has in

Though you can now watch all six seasons in one go (perfect for the 11% of the population
who prefer to watch as many shows as they can in one sitting), this BBC classic was
originally released weekly. So, the 1 in 5 of us who would always choose to watch live TV
over a boxset will have loved tuning in every Sunday night for more of Tommy Shelby’s
Machiavellian plotting.

Whether it’s on a 40-inch TV or a 70-inch TV, a Samsung smart TV or an LG OLED TV,
unwinding in front of your favourite shows is one of the nation’s favourite pastimes. So make
sure you’re watching on the best possible device – browse our TV offers today.

Dr Miranda Justo-Núñez

is a Clinical Psychologist, currently working full- time in the NHS. Her clinical experience spans a variety of settings – from residential care homes for children, to intensive care units. At the moment, she is providing specialist care to individuals who are at high risk of suicide.


Our competitors were sourced from IMDB, from 2000-2022, filtered by popularity with a
minimum of 1500 votes for reality TV and 10000 for drama, categorised as from the UK,
with only the Top ranked ‘version’ of each show included. The top eight from each resultant
categorywere selected for participation.

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