Australia has always shared an unusual relationship with reality television: stained by Big Brother, redeemed by Survivor, and now settling happily for The Block.
But I’ve just rediscovered a reality TV classic that paved the way for each and every one of them — and still puts them to shame almost a decade later.
I came across The Simple Life — the US series spearheaded by heiresses Paris Hilton and socialite Nicole Richie, which ran between 2003 and 2007 — by accident, and lost the next five hours bingeing one YouTube episode after another.
I messaged my friends, I wiped away tears of laughter, and I wondered how I’d discovered this so late.
The idea behind the show is to watch two wealthy socialites face the reality of “real life”. Their money was taken from them, along with their phones, but their incredible naivety remained.
Paris and Nicole – perhaps accidentally – created two caricatures of wealth that soothed middle America with walking, talking proof that all the money in the world couldn’t buy common sense.
Viewers watched as Paris stumbled to comprehend how people have jobs, complete housework and live in rural areas.
Now, it would be easy to just enjoy the show for her apparent stupidity — “What is WalMart? Do they sell wall stuff?” Paris asks in one memorable episode.
But it’s even better to watch it with the idea these two girls trolled every person, workplace and situation that came into their path.
When told to re-arrange the letters on a restaurant sign, they did this:
When they were instructed to spend time with the elderly, the conversation went like this:
Janet: "I had a professional career."
Nicole: "... as a dancer?"