couples

The secret behind the women who rule reality TV.

Gina Liano from The Real Housewives Of Melbourne. Dee Jolly from The Block. Michelle Ball from House Rules and Reno Rumble.

Have you noticed how many of the biggest reality TV stars at the moment are women over 40?

It’s taken a while. Reality TV started out as a young person’s game. Think Big Brother and Popstars and Temptation Island. But then older women began muscling their way in.

Remember Big Brother breaking with tradition and putting 52-year-old grandmother Terri Munro into the house in 2008? She ended up winning the show, even though she thought she was an “ugly old lady” who shouldn’t have made it to air.

Remember Julie Goodwin, a 38-year-old mum of three, taking out the first season of MasterChef with her homestyle cooking? Millions tuned in to see her victory and she’s been on our screens ever since.

Julie Goodwin. Image via @_juliegoodwin.

Remember the fun-loving middle-aged Big W ladies, Tracy Read and Anne-Marie Brown, on The Amazing Race in 2011? Viewers were devastated when they were sent home early.

Kirsty de Vallance, from casting agency A Cast Of Thousands, has helped select contestants for reality shows like MasterChef, The Biggest Loser and Project Runway. From the 7500 applications for the first season of MasterChef, Julie Goodwin stood out to her.

“Julie wore her heart on her sleeve and what you see is what you get,” Kirsty tells Debrief Daily. “She is a mum like me and I could relate to her and, luckily enough, plenty of Australia could as well.”

Kirsty says she looks for “interesting” people when she’s casting. She thinks it’s important for reality shows to have some older cast members.

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“They know what they want and they’re not as self-conscious as someone younger.”

Meanwhile, Lucky Gorka, casting director for The Block and Reno Rumble, says the first thing that struck him about Dee and Darren Jolly was “how much they loved each other”. He says Dee, now 43, blossomed on the show.

Dee Jolly (L) was on The Block.

“Out of it came this really wonderful strong female personality. I remember being at the last open day and seeing lots of little girls flocking to Dee. They just love her because she stands up for herself.”

He thinks older people often come across as more confident on reality shows because they’ve made more mistakes in life. “People are willing to speak their mind because they’re not so scared of falling on their face anymore.”

But the one show that’s proven, without a doubt, that older women are reality TV superstars is The Real Housewives Of Melbourne.

Before the Housewives came along, Australia didn’t have a great record with dramality shows. People talked about the bikini babes on The Shire, but not many people watched and the series flopped. Same with Being Lara Bingle.

The Real Housewives Of Melbourne has a much older cast, with Jackie Gillies the only one under 40. Although that’s obviously not the only reason it’s been a hit, it certainly hasn’t hurt.

Real Housewives of Melbourne cast.

“Age was definitely a factor when we cast the show,” co-executive producer Lisa Potasz explains. “We wanted a cast with life experience.

“We thought women over 40 would make more compelling viewing, and they also have layered and interesting back stories that the audience can relate to.”

Well, it worked.

In the future, we can expect to see more 40-plus women on reality TV... if they want to be there. Kirsty says for some shows, she’s found it hard to encourage enough older people to apply. Lucky has had a similar problem with The Block.

“I am always looking for a great older couple for the show. Always. And I’m absolutely limited by what I have in front of me.

“People say, ‘You always put young people on those shows.’ What you’re seeing on the show is representative of the kinds of people that apply.”

Lucky thinks an older couple – or older couples – could give the “young kids” a run for their money.

“I reckon if more people put their hand up with that kind of experience they’d wipe the floor with them.”

Women used to worry about becoming invisible as they got older. Not anymore. Reality TV stardom lies ahead.

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