By Gen Terblanche4 January 2024
Reunion episode drama rules!
Welcome back. Did you enjoy all those festive family reunions? Was there drama?
Well, while the most dramatic people you know are out there loudly proclaiming “New Year, New Me,” we’re going to hit the rewind button. We know many an “old me” who got up to some shady nonsense in 2023, and we’re gonna talk about it because when it comes to reality shows, some drama is just too juicy to leave in the past.
We’re already picking our outfits and hitting replay on the season in hopes of juicy reunion episodes for This Body Works For Me S2, Bae Beyond Borders S1, and The Real Housewives of Lagos S2. We have so many questions! So while we wait and hope for those VIP invitations to mayhem, let’s go through the five rules that every good reunion show follows…
1. The host had better know
A reunion show host is our audience stand-in for the episode. So not only do they need to ask the most provocative questions about the most sensitive scenes, they need to do it without beating around the bush, and without offending or alienating the cast. Tricky. And then they need to check the cast’s answers against both the events of the show and the chatter on social media, even when they make everyone squirm. The host is not the judge, but they do need to hold the cast accountable.
The perfect host is a super-fan with the wit and quickness of a comedian, the warmth of a talk show host, and the determination of an investigative reporter.
When Mthokozisi “MaBlerh” Cele got to host The Real Housewives of Durban S3 reunion episodes in 2023, he not only understood the assignment, he went for extra credit. His superfan credentials were immaculate, and as someone from Durban himself, he was keenly aware of all the social undercurrents sweeping through the season. He let one Housewife tie herself in knots over her on-screen claims that another woman had slept her way to the top (deny all you like, but you can’t avoid the replay), and he zoomed in on all those post-show infidelity rumours on social media, too.
2. The cast needs to lean in
Ego is a tricky thing to manage. A person in a reality show is both someone who exists in the real world, and a magnified reflection of who they are, as seen on screen. This hyper-real on-screen character is created by not only the original cast member’s authentic reactions to events, but story producers manipulating those events behind the scenes, the directors who capture the shots that support certain stories, and the editors behind the scenes who bring us the most exciting version of events and people.
For reunions to work, the cast need to play this larger than life version of themselves during the reunion episode, too, to match the energy. A smart cast member will walk into the reunion episode with a fair idea of how they are perceived, and an agenda for either playing up to that, or popping that bubble – like Beauty did in the BBNaija 2023 reunion show when her answers showed a growth and maturity that had viewers crowning the queen of hearts. Understanding this makes long-time cast members super-valuable, as they can lean into wherever they see on screen during the season, even if it means entering their villain era – like a certain socialite who, at the reunion show, cheerfully backed up her choice to tell other cast members to “voetsek”, with a quip that turned the knife and had the audience cheering. It pays to be shameless.
3. Everyone’s receipts must be ready
You said what you said, and you did what you did. Everything hidden will be brought to light and made known to all. Nowhere is that biblical truth delivered more apocalyptically than in reality TV. If you’ve ditched a loyal friend of seven years to play TikTok tok tokkie with a new bestie, the cameras will find you. If you spoke up in confessionals, you might have been in your feelings, but you were also in your sayings.
Great reunion episodes concentrate on those moments that expose the greatest difference between who cast members say they are, and how they really act. And they’ll do it with an almost comic sense of timing. They also ferret out what the cast members are sensitive about, from failed love affairs to financial meltdowns and fakery.
But since reality TV distils what really happened over days or even weeks down into an hour of on-screen action, the cast will see themselves doing things out of context, or saying something wild in response to a question, prompt or situation that isn’t shown on screen. So there’s always explaining to do. And a prepared cast member won’t sit there with a mouth full of teeth when their worst moment comes up on screen.
To rule the reunion show, a cast member needs a long and accurate memory, like Nunurai from The Mommy Club S1, who was able to pin down fellow cast members with the exact things they said, word for word, and have her claims backed up with recorded footage. There’s no such thing as too extra! Fans will never forget the moment in The Real Housewives of Potomac S5 reunion when Monique whipped out her real, physical “Binder of Shade”, complete with tabs and bookmarks!
4. The look needs to be right
There are a few silent partners in making sure that a reunion show episode gives full glamour. Reunion wardrobe, like on-screen character, is a heightened version of cast members’ brands across the series. Tiaras are not, in fact, optional (unless it’s a Survivor reunion episode, although we’d dare you to try), and if there’s a dress code colour, that’s not a restriction; it’s an invitation to outshine.
All this visual razzle dazzle creates a portrait in need of a backdrop. Like the setting for a jewel, the reunion set needs to showcase the glamour, not overwhelm it or clash with what’s being worn. Curtains, glitter, frills, flowers and fuss are probably going to be giving too much. Office furniture is giving too little. But truly, if the set needs to look expensive, that’s mostly going to come down to careful lighting that makes everyone look like a movie star.
PS: Fans of The Real Housewives will know how the reunion sets for the different franchises capture their unique vibe and sense of glamour. Using the international series as examples, one glitzy New Jersey reunion set was all white, with white tufted leather couches and bright white tiled floors with black trim (very Mafia mansion), while the Beverly Hills set mimicked a beige mansion with cream plaster accents and columns.
5. Give. Us. The. Drama.
Sometimes we don’t get a reunion episode because the behind-the-scenes drama is too volatile, and not in a fun way. Sometimes the behind-the-scenes egos aren’t worth the headache and demands. But in TV land, the capital crime is to have a spicy season and a bland reunion episode. Hooray, everyone is just the best of friends while sitting there grinding their teeth. And how nice of the host to stop the cast from going into detail about that one moment (sarcasm).
A reunion doesn’t even have to be toxic to thrill fans. Fans of Married to Medicine S5 were 100% swept up and cheering during the reunion when the whole cast rallied to help Cecil and Simone to work through their issues and literally saved them from divorce right on TV.
Reunion shows just need to commit to the bit and give drama room to breathe and grow.
One absolute no!
Fights are fun, but nobody wants to see real physical violence. Assault is a crime, even on TV. So someone needs to brief security about how you break up a stripper fight on TV (starting with stepping in the moment that the earrings come off) while still treating the fighters like guests, and not like maximum security prisoners. If they can master that, they’ll be ready for anything a reality show cast can throw at their way, from wine glasses to prosthetic limbs.
And now we need to know
Here are just a few things we’re dying to know, because productions have the cast’s social media on lockdown…
This Body Works For Me S2: Which of the girls has had to hire protection after those confessional/diary moments aired? What really happened between Bubbly, Wandi and Lebo? What is the deal between Gina and Diamond? Is Primadonna still friends with Dione? Are any of the ladies still in contact with Inno Morolong? And can we get some apologies for all the shaming and misgendering?
Bae Beyond Borders S1: Which of the couples are still together (please say Daniel C and Nande have set a date!)? And now that she’s seen the season for herself, what’s Zezethu’s take on people who throw glasses and fans’ claims that Peter is a red flag factory?
The Real Housewives of Lagos S2: Can we get a reaction from all the ladies about a certain Doctor’s instigating this season? And with the sheer cheek of him calling Faith the pathological liar, can we award him an honorary doctorate in Drama? Will Chioma and Iyabo’s relationship survive all the tea that will be spilled at the reunion? And how does Iyabo feel about how her and Faith’s relationship came across on screen?
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