While the term “reality television” has only been around for about 2 decades, the genre is as old as television broadcasting itself.
Within the last 2 decades, entertainment betting and these shows have become popular events to wager on. Especially the ones that are broadcast live.
One of the original “reality shows” was Allen Funt’s Candid Camera, which debuted in 1948.
Reality television encompasses several sub-genres including:
- Special living environment
- Court shows
- Outdoor survival
- Game shows
- Talent competitions
- Business improvement
- Social experiment
- Hidden cameras
- Supernatural and paranormal
- Dating-based competition
- Job search
Not all of these shows are fodder for betting.
Court shows such as Judge Judy or The People’s Court are taped months in advance in front of a live audience. Since the verdict of the cases are known to the public before they’re broadcast, a bookmaker wouldn’t take any action on these types of shows.
The same would go for a renovation show. A show such as Extreme Makeover completes the renovations months before the show airs and many members of the community are involved in the process, so the outcome is well known. Also, there’s really not a lot to bet on regarding a renovation show except the possibility of the show determining the building is beyond repair and needs to be razed and rebuilt.
Talent competitions were among the first shows on television. The first major televised talent show was The Original Amateur Hour, which premiered in 1948 on the DuMont Television Network, then moved to NBC a year later.
The show had a very familiar model.
Competitors would compete against each other each week until the final face-off, which was held at Madison Square Garden each year. The winner would take home $1,500 (about $15,000 adjusted for inflation).
Among those who appeared on the show in its 22 year run were Gladys Knight, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra (who appeared on the radio version before it was on network TV).
Another show that was part comedy and part talent show was Chuck Barris’s The Gong Show. The show originally ran from 1976 to 1980 and has had several revivals since, including a recent revival featuring Mike Myers as the host.
The show had 3 celebrity judges vote on the 4 or 5 acts that appeared during the show. Most of the acts chosen were legitimately horrible, which provided the premise of the show, allowing the judges to “gong” a contestant and eliminate them from the show without having to score the act.
The act with the highest scoring act won a check for $516.32 (the minimum pay scale of the actor’s union).
The talent show that dominated the 1980s was Star Search. The host of the show was the sidekick for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon.
Star Search added a new twist to the talent show sub-genre by adding categories. Among the categories that were on the show were:
- Female singer
- Male singer
- Junior singer
- Teen singer
- Group vocal
- Junior dance
- Teen dance
It should be noted that some categories were ½ season categories, such as ones that involved children. Also, extra categories were added and removed throughout the 12 year run of the show.
The show was noted for discovering the following talents:
- Adam Sandler
- Alanis Morissette
- Backstreet Boys
- Brad Garrett
- Britney Spears
- Carlos Mencia
- Christina Aguilera
- Dave Chappelle
- Drew Carey
- Jackie “the Joke Man” Martling
- Justin Timberlake
- Kevin James
- LeAnn Rimes
- Marc Summers
- Martin Lawrence
- Norm Macdonald
- Ray Romano
- Rosie O’Donnell
- Sam Harris
- Sawyer Brown
- Sharon Stone
- Ty Herndon
The winners of each category for each season won $100,000.
The Modern Era
One of the first shows reality competition shows to take America by storm was American Idol.
Idol debuted at an opportune time. The internet was starting to get popular. MySpace was still a year away from launching, and Facebook was 2 years away. Cell phones were all the rage but had limits of voice and text for the most part.
But American Idol would capitalize on new tech as the show progressed.
From its debut in 2002, it was one of the first shows to make text message voting available. This was made possible by a partnership with AT&T in the second season.
The first season saw 7.5 million voted in season 2 (the fee was eliminated in later seasons) and by the time they switched to online voting in season 10, they received 178 million text message votes in season 8.
Another technology that saw growth in this era was online gambling. And because American Idol was a live show and the voting taking place over a 24 hour period, it allowed for bookmakers to cash in.
Online sites, as well as physical casinos, would bet on eliminations, as well as who’d move on to different stages of the competition. Sometimes bets were taken weeks in advance as to who’d be semi-finalists, finalists, and winners. By wagering earlier in the season, bettors would get better odds.
After American Idol, other singing competitions hit the airwaves. Such shows as The Voice and The X-Factor. These shows follow essentially the same format where they’re either passed on to the next round of competition or eliminated by either judge or vote of the viewers. These shows also have become quite popular to bet on.
Another show that’s quite popular is America’s Got Talent. This show is a true variety show where contestants of different genres compete to win the grand prize. The format is similar to American Idol where the contestants are judged by a panel of 3 or 4 judges (depending on the season). Judges and even the host has the option of pressing the “Golden Buzzer” which automatically passes the contestant on to the next round without a vote. This is usually given for an exceptional performance.
The aspect of the Golden Buzzer gives bettors even more options to wager on as they can bet on a contestant to get it or if a judge will use it during a particular episode.
To add to the betting options, most of these shows are internationally franchised, so people can bet on shows like The X-Factor UK or Britain’s Got Talent or Australian Idol.
When I mention game show as a reality show, some may dismiss it. But it is true, and game shows are part of the reality sub-genre.
Is there a lot of betting on game shows? Yes, but not the shows you would normally think of.
A show like Wheel of Fortune or The Price is Right isn’t going to be a show that people can bet on because in all likelihood the winners are known far in advance of the broadcast.
A show like Jeopardy does have some betting as they tend to keep tight-lipped on winners before broadcast. So betting on a champion having multi-day runs or betting of tournaments of former champions or college students do have some action available online and in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
The real game show action is usually for primetime game shows, and the bets are made online in real time.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was one of the first shows of the sub-genre. While other networks attempted primetime game shows previously, none had the excitement of Millionaire. Original host Regis Philbin made the show a rating juggernaut from 1999 to 2002 when he hosted on ABC. The show had an erratic schedule, sometimes broadcasting 3 nights in a single week, then on hiatus for a few months only to reappear with another slate of shows.
But others were attracted by the trivia, which started out as seemingly easy to questions that were hard and obscure.
Millionaire provided the opportunity for gamblers to bet on how far a person would go. Also, the show would carry contestants over from one show to the next if they didn’t miss a question and hadn’t reached the $1 million.
Overexposure and erratic scheduling led to the primetime version being canceled in favor of a daily syndicated version.
But the success led to other popular primetime game shows. Shows like Twenty-One, Greed, The Weakest Link, and Deal or No Deal all were popular primetime game shows and all were shows that bookmakers would take bets on.
Reality Sports Shows
Betting on sports is commonplace. That’s why they call it sportsbook. But networks over the last 2 decades have come up with reality competitions that involve sports.
One of the original shows in this sub-genre was Sylvester Stallone’s The Contender. The concept of this show was to have several boxers in a competition to determine the best.
The show takes all of the contestants and divides them into 2 teams. The teams live together during the competition. During the week, both teams compete in competitions to determine who’ll fight that week. The loser of the fight is eliminated.
Another reality sports show or more specifically a reality sports entertainment show was WWE Tough Enough.
The show solicited videos from potential contestants from around the world. WWE received thousands of audition tapes and based on the tape selected about 250 to appear at a live audition. From there 13-25 contestants were chosen (depending on the season).
The potential wrestlers were battling for a contract with the WWE. In the last season of the show, the contract was worth $1 million.
The contestants would live in the same house and train together, mentored by superstar wrestlers like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Booker T, Ivory, Lita, Tazz, and Al Snow.
The show allowed bookmakers to take bets on people eliminated each week, who would be in the bottom 3, who’d quit, and much more.
One of the more popular shows in the sub-genre actually helped propel the actual sport into prominence is The Ultimate Fighter.
The concept was similar to The Contender. Contestants were split into teams. Each team had a mentor, and each week, a match would be held where the loser was eliminated.
The winner was offered a 6-figure 3-year contract to compete in the UFC.
Sportsbooks took bets on who’d win the matches and move on to the next round as well as who would win the TUF Championship and which team would win.
Another show sub-genre that’s popular to bet on is self-improvement shows. While some shows aren’t shows that bookmakers would take bets on such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or What Not to Wear, other shows in the sub-genre, specifically fitness related are very popular.
The most popular of the sub-genre is The Biggest Loser. This particular show featured obese contestants competing to lose the most weight.
This show allowed bookmakers to take bets on such things as:
- The amount of weight each person lost each week
- The amount of weight each team lost
- Which team would lose the most weight
- Who would win immunity challenges
- Who met their weight loss goal for the week
- Who would win the entire competition
The show even allowed for bets after the show was completed. Some of the bet included
- Who’d keep the weight off
- Who’d gain the most weight back
Another show in the fitness/self-improvement sub-genre was Celebrity Fit Club. The VH1 show featured celebrities who wanted to lose weight.
The show had the celebrities broken up into 2 teams. The celebrities were given different physical challenges, and their members weighed to see if they reached their target goal weights.
During the series, a team voted a member off the team to go to the other team.
The bets for this show were similar to The Biggest Loser but has the added bet of which team member would be voted off and sent to the other team.
Among the celebrities that appeared on the show were:
- J. Benza
- Biz Markie
- Bobby Brown
- Brian Dunkleman
- Bruce Vilanch
- Carnie Wilson
- Chaz Bono
- Cledus T. Judd
- Daniel Baldwin
- Dustin Diamond
- Erika Eleniak
- Erin Moran
- Gary Busey
- Gunnar Nelson
- Jackée Harry
- Jeff Conaway
- Kelly Le Brock
- Kevin Federline
- Kim Coles
- Maureen McCormick
- Nicholas Turturro
- Nicole Eggert
- Phil Margera
- Ralphie May
- Sebastian Bach
- Ted Lange
- Tempestt Bledsoe
- Tina Yothers
- Victoria Jackson
- Vincent Pastore
- Warren G
- Wendy “the Snapple lady” Kaufman
- Willie Aames
- Young MC
This sub-genre is one that can cross over to other sub-genres. But a few shows squarely fit into this category.
Survivor takes 16 strangers and places them in an exotic location far away from civilization, most of the time on an island, where the contestants use survival skills to provide for themselves. They must hunt, fish, forage, and build shelter. During the show, the participants compete in challenges to win immunity from being eliminated. Each week 1 or 2 contestants are eliminated through a vote of the other contestants. Sometimes, a contestant is brought back to mix things up a bit for the remaining participants. The winner is the last person remaining and takes home $1,000,000.
The show debuted in 2000 and as of 2019, will be starting its 38th season on the CBS network.
Some bookmakers will take bets on Survivor. The drawback to bookmakers is that the show is recorded, but the secrecy surrounding the show is well maintained.
In 2003, one bookmaker stated they’d no longer take bets on the show due to the belief that some of the show workers may have been betting on the results. While this was never proven, it’s a consideration that bookmakers take into account when offering odds on the show.
Bets offered on the show include:
- Who goes to which team
- Who’ll be voted off the island/show
- Who’ll receive immunity
- Who’ll be brought back to the show
- Who’ll win and become the “sole survivor”
Another popular way to wager is a Survivor Fantasy League. These leagues work similar to a fantasy sports league. In the case of Survivor, a person will pay an entry fee, and draft 2 contestants that will continue to accumulate points as long as they’re not eliminated.
Of the 2 contestants you choose, you’ll choose which one will win.
Along with your fantasy team, you get points for correctly identifying who’ll be voted out and who wins immunity challenges. You compete head-to-head against others in your league. The winner will win a designated pot if they get the most points in the league.
The Amazing Race is another show in this sub-genre that’s a long-running program. The show started in 2001 and is starting its 31st season in 2019.
The show pits 11 2-person teams in a race around the world. They’re given challenges that allow them to win various types of transportation to win the race.
Betting on The Amazing Race is similar to Survivor where you can choose who gets eliminated each week and who’ll win the show among other options.
Big Brother is a vastly popular show to bet on. Each season features between 10 and 17 “house guests” who are cut off from the outside world. The group vies for a $500,000 prize. The show, like the other CBS brethren Survivor and The Amazing Race, features weekly eliminations (called “evictions”) to determine who will win.
The show has similar betting options to the other 2 shows. It also allows for some prop bets as to who’ll get into arguments/fights.
The show has a spin-off that airs on Pop TV called Big Brother: After Dark. It is shown live and shows the “uncensored” happenings between 9 pm and midnight. The live aspect allows for more betting with bookmakers, although no eliminations are done, betting on activities of the house guests like who’ll have romantic involvement on a particular night is possible.
Dating shows have been on TV for decades. Shows like The Dating Game and Love Connection have partnered singles up for years.
The shows that really brought gambling into the mix were the ABC broadcasts of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. These shows have a man or woman who chooses from a group of potential romantic interests. The person selected from the pool is expected to become the spouse of the bachelor or bachelorette.
The show features the contestants’ traveling to exotic and romantic places. The contestants are eliminated each week during a rose ceremony where the ones that make it to the next week get a rose.
The show has a feature similar to survivor where they bring back an eliminated contestant in some seasons.
Betting on the show is quite popular and can be a difficult bet as sometimes more than one person is eliminated per show and is sometimes eliminated before the rose ceremony after a date.
Bets on the show include who gets eliminated, the winner of the show, if there are any “hook-ups” during the show, and who gets to go on dates to name just a few options.
Reality shows may not be the first option that you choose to place a bet on. And quite frankly, they’re pretty hard to predict. But they can provide added excitement to a show that you’re really into.
Much like sports betting, it gives the viewer more of a reason to focus on the show and use deductive reasoning to predict what’ll happen.
It may be hard to find a bookmaker to take the bet on a reality show, but they’re out there, and you can find some on the internet that will if you do the research. If you can’t find one, go to your favorite online bookmaker and ask, they may just not be advertising it.