Have they got nudes for you: the unstoppable rise of naked reality TV

Reader, it is important that you remember where you are, today. Because it is a certainty that, in decades to come, your adorable grandchildren will gingerly approach you, tug on your cardigan and, in voices pure enough to break your heart into a million pieces, ask if you can remember the first full season of E4’s reality show Naked, Alone and Racing to Get Home.

At this point, you will lean back in your rocking chair and, misty-eyed with nostalgia, exclaim: “Ah, yes, the documentary series in which two strangers are stripped and forced to traverse the wildest extremes of the American wilderness together.” And they will tell you that you are wrong, because that was Naked and Afraid, not Naked, Alone and Racing to Get Home. You will ask them if it was a dating show, and they will say you are thinking of Naked Attraction. You will ask if it was that show where an Australian woman made someone strip naked, artificially augment a holograph of their body and then get a panel to vote on how much they liked it, and they will tell you that you are thinking of Send Nudes: Body SOS. And then they will wander off, disappointed that you got all the naked shows mixed up.

Which is to say that there are an awful lot of them about now. And Naked, Alone and Racing to Get Home isn’t even the most original show from its peer group. It first aired in 2021, as part of a series that included pilots for programmes called The One Stop Wedding Shop, Kinky Daters and The Love Triangle, a dating show where couples auditioned potential partners for threesomes. The final two of these were, if not good, then at least featured relatively new ideas. But their biggest downfall, it seems, was the fact that they didn’t contain the word “Naked” in their titles. Naked, Alone and Racing to Get Home did, though, so that is the one that locked down the series.

‘Isn’t even particularly novel’ … Naked, Alone and Racing To Get Home. Photograph: Channel 4

For what it is worth, Naked, Alone and Racing to Get Home isn’t even particularly novel. It steals its biggest ideas from Naked and Afraid, in that people are stripped, dropped into the middle of nowhere and tasked with returning to a set point. In fact, the only real differences are how cheap it is, how drab the locations are and how unforgiving the British countryside is to the average naked body.

But even if Naked, Alone and Racing to Get Home fails – and, let’s be honest, it might – then a thousand new naked shows (mainly commissioned by Channel 4) will rush in to take its spot. The problem is, nobody seems to know exactly what purpose these shows serve.

It can’t be for pure titillation, because this is 2023 and the internet exists. If you want to see a penis on a screen, there are a trillion websites to do that instantly, without being punished with a lazy smear of bad social commentary as justification. Indeed, if smartphones exist for a reason, it is surely to liberate people who want to look at genitals from the punishing extremes of watching a full hour of annoyingly formatted commercial television to get there.

It can’t be as a form of smash-and-grab ratings clickbait either. Because, sure, while you might choose a show called Send Nudes over whatever Nazi documentaries and gardening shows are on the other terrestrial channels, you probably won’t when the alternative is every amazing television programme ever made, which is basically the case in the age of streaming.

Could the reason, then, be personal betterment? A couple of days ago we saw the launch of Naked Education, which describes itself as a “body-positive, educational series aiming to normalise all body types, champion people’s differences and break down stereotypes” where “a group of naked body-positivity activists will travel the length and breadth of the country to spread their message and encourage people to join the ‘every body is beautiful’ brigade”. In other words, it is Embarrassing Bodies drowning in a sea of empty buzzwords.

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It might be that this is all just a fad, that putting willies and boobs in TV shows is just the 2023 equivalent of prefacing every new show title with “The Great British” as we did a decade ago. But either way, when your grandchildren approach you, be sure to answer truthfully. You didn’t watch Naked, Alone and Racing to Get Home, because you were too busy looking at genitals on your phone.

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