After ruling over the internet, social media influencers and content creators have now taken the reality show space. They have been brought on board as contestants on several talent-based shows. The latest season of Indian Idol has the viral policeman Rajat Rathore as a contestant, while MasterChef India has many influencers onboard. Even dance-based shows like Dance Plus, Dance Deewane and even India’s Best Dancer have seen several social media stars competing.
But is it a fair practice? Do they have an upper hand in the competition? How do show creators pick these contestants? And does their presence give the show a boost? Armed with these contestants, we decided to reach out to industry experts to decode the trend of content creators on reality shows.
Michelin Star awarded-chef Vikas Khanna, who is also a judge on MasterChef India shared that the show has always been a way for home cooks to extend their craft and business. He shared that social media has become an important part of the food business and it was pertinent that they also have social media creators on board. “Also, no one is critiquing their food. When they are on this show, they get refined. That also helps them start their restaurant or food businesses. They get the attention of investors and publishing houses for their future books. I always say that MasterChef India is like a boot camp or university, and these degrees always have a benefit,” the celebrity chef told indianexpress.com.
Producer Ranjeet Thakur also shared that while people are noticing this because of social media, they have always hunted and picked good dancers across India through networking. “Earlier, these dancers would send us their videos or someone in the team would suggest having watched someone perform somewhere. This is not a new practice. It’s just become easier as social media has given us unlimited access to talent across the country.”
For these creators, being on a national platform immediately gives them an instant boost. Talking about the same, Harish Closepet, better known by his Instagram page ‘Harry’s Lunchbox’, shared with us that there are ‘pluses and minuses’ for him on the show. “For me, I am not camera shy and can give content, which helps in reality shows. However, personally, since I make lunchboxes, it’s tough for me to unlearn and start plating as per the show’s requirements. I must also add that even though I have cooked for many years, my page is relatively new. So I was taken on the show for my talent rather than my social media content.”
Rukhsaar Sayeed, one of the top contestants on MasterChef India, shared how she received a call from the team for an audition. She shared that they had seen her page and even followed her entrepreneur journey, and invited her to be on the show. Initially reluctant, she decided to give it a try and now feels she made the right choice. Chef Vikas Khanna had also picked Nayanjyoti Saikia last year for the show after seeing his Instagram page. Nayanjyoti went on to win MasterChef India.
“Honestly, I do not have many followers and am not too active on social media. However, because I have done my PhD in food technology, the team may have felt that I should be on the show. After my research, rather than taking up a job, I decided to start my own business and give employment to women in the valley, and make them financially independent. I feel that a platform like this is very important as one gets to put across their talent and even beliefs out there,” she shared.
Khanna said that while a few contestants may get invited for the audition, they do need to cross the gruelling ‘test of taste’ before they are finalised. “Just like everyone else, they too give an audition. They only have a slight upper hand as they are more comfortable with cameras and also understand presentation. But that’s their doing, not ours,” he smiled to share.
Connect with the audience
Vikas Khanna said that reality shows are always about these contestants, and as they grow stronger in competition, they also find a connection with the audience. He shared that given they already have a fan following on social media, it helps the show as more people stand up for them, cheer for them, and also tune in because of them.
Thakur, on the other hand, shared that while their being on the show helps them get a platform, the show hardly benefits from it. He mentioned that content creators’ fandom is majorly virtual and they do not care to watch a TV show, even if it’s about their favourite star. He reasoned how Bigg Boss may get YouTubers and social media stars but the show is usually won by a TV face. “We need to understand that they are on this show only for their talent and popularity. There can be more famous people but if they are not talented, they will not survive. Look at these social media stars, do people go and buy their film tickets? There is a clear demarcation there.”
Ranjeet Thakur mentioned how virality would always be a phase and cannot become a sustainable career. He said that while a video of a dancer or singer may get them many followers and instant fame, it doesn’t guarantee work. Referring to the ‘Just looking like a wow’ trend, the producer said that today anything and everything can blow up but a new viral trend would be lurking close. “Everyone is using this woman’s ‘so beautiful’ line but are they buying salwar suits from her? No. Her going viral will not have any positive effect on her business. Yes, she would get short-term fame but what’s next? We don’t think about that,” he said.
For Vikas Khanna, however, social media has become an important part of the food ecosystem. He added how the medium has opened up so much and one cannot disregard their importance. “They do help in diverting traffic or changing the direction and opinions. So one has to honour them. Today, young kids have gotten into blogging and critiquing and they do have a hand in driving the economy.”
The youngest contestant on the show, Kenny G from Bengaluru, said that while many creators enter reality shows to give their talent a platform, it’s the other way round for him. All of 18, he shared that while he has been toying with the idea of creating content, now that he is a known face among food fans, it would make his journey easier. He also mentioned how his parents, who were skeptical about his career choice, have finally given him the go-ahead. “They always felt it was a hobby but now they want me to start creating content and take cooking seriously.”