'Rewatching 'The Simple Life' made me realise reality TV just isn't what it used to be.'

Australia has always shared an unusual relationship with reality television: stained by Big Brother, redeemed by The Block, and now settling happily for The Bachelors.

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 two decades 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.

Watch Paris and Nicole mess with a sign on The Simple Life. Post continues below.

Video via 20th Century Fox.

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:

(Source: 20th Century Fox.)

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?"

(Source: 20th Century Fox)

One of the most memorable moments of the series was arguably when Paris and Nicole convinced two all-American frat boys to kiss each other.

The girls wryly promised the kiss would be rewarded with one from the girls themselves — but keep in mind, the girls had no qualms with kissing anyone up until this point.

They just made the boys do it because they could.

(Source: 20th Century Fox.)

It's too easy to write off shows like The Simple Life under the misconception they have nothing to offer the 2023 audience — but shows like The Simple Life were what created this audience.

Cameras following people of privilege performing mundane tasks? The Kardashians.

Cameras following people performing unusual challenges? Survivor.

Cameras following people day and night? Big Brother.

Sound familiar?

The Simple Life combined almost all our favourite aspects of television – and we never even said thank you.

Feature image: 20th Century Fox.

This article was originally published in 2016 and has since been updated.

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