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Playing It Straight
Based on a US series, this bonkers reality contest landed on E4 back in 2005. Inexplicably set in Mexico, it followed 12 guys – six gay, six straight – as they battled it out for the affections of one (heterosexual) woman. If she picked a straight suitor they would split the cash, but choosing a suitor who was merely “playing it straight” would mean he walked away with the entire £100,000 prize fund. It was briefly resurrected in 2012, although by then reinforcing the idea that queer sexualities should be hidden was starting to look a little sketchy indeed... even if Alan Carr’s innuendo-filled voiceover was delightful.
Problematic rating: 6/10
Beauty and the Geek
Low rent models and science buffs were paired up in this 2006 series which, as before, was based on an American format. The girls' job was to teach the guys the names of the salacious dance moves and celebrity offspring, while the scientists were supposed to imbue them with knowledge on the periodic table and GCSE spelling. Although there were some nice bonding moments along the way and David Mitchell provided a pithy commentary, the problem with the whole thing was that it propped up everyday sexist stereotypes and labelling whilst claiming to be subversive.
Problem rating: 6/10
Back in the glory days of T4, Alexa Chung fronted this contest which saw ten self-proclaimed “beautiful” people aim to win £10,000. Week by week, they picked off the contestants who they deemed least attractive. One of the contestants threw up when a scientific test voted him the least handsome, another reckoned she’d rather lose her legs than her hair and any mention of the words “fat” or “ugly” had the contestants on edge. Despite being billed as a groundbreaking social experiment, this was ultimately just another vapid reality contest that made anyone over a size 12 feel about as welcome as herpes.
Problem rating: 7/10
What Not To Wear
Plummy pals Trinny and Susannah bodyshamed to the max in this BBC series, which ran from 2001 to 2007. Curly hair made them reach for the straighteners, unwaxed bikini lines were jeered at and they even had a bizarre ritual of cutting up people’s clothes before replacing them with what they described as “contemporary fashion”, like sequin boleros and wide-leg trousers. Prying into their subjects' sex lives, jobs and insecurities before lobbing them into a room covered in mirrors and giggling at their wobbly bits, they often seemed more like playground bullies than stylists. Thankfully Gok Wan took a less superior approach when he launched a similar format in 2008.
Problem rating: 7.5/10
Date My Mom UK
This MTV classic arrived on British shores back in 2006, with British mums trying to bag dates for their daughters by stepping out with the potential suitors themselves (we know, it makes entirely no sense.) Has there ever been a more cringe-making sight than a mother declaring that her daughter is “bootilicious”? Worryingly, the mums seemed pretty fixated on just describing their (mostly teenage) daughters’ physical appearances rather than their personalities, cos if you're gonna pimp your daughter out on national TV you simply must mention her bra size over her IQ.
Problem rating: 6.5/10