In their critical-historical genre analysis of reality television, Heidi Penzhorn and Magriet Pitout identify four conventions of the genre. In order to be considered reality television, the show must maintain a focus on ordinary people, play into voyeurism, establish audience participation and attempt to simulate real life.
While UnREAL is not a reality television show — nor is the fictionalized Everlasting — both programs fall into these genre conventions in order to legitimize their performance both as a reality television show and a production of a reality television show.
UnREAL’s focus on ordinary people lies in Rachel, who acts as an audience surrogate and a symbol of normality in a highly fabricated and fanciful environment. In “Truth,” Rachel is the most human she’s been so far. She struggles with her role as a producer when Faith comes out to her in her hometown. Rachel teeters between wanting to show Faith’s story to a large, young audience who might want the representation and not wanting to force her out when she’s not ready or safe to be out.
Also in this episode, Rachel continues confusing relationships with Jeremy and Adam. What’s refreshing and relatable about Rachel is that she is deeply human — almost to a fault. She makes bad choices and does things she regrets — often motivated by her declining mental health and problems with alcohol and human intimacy. She tries to sleep with Jeremy during the hometown date — even though he’s engaged and their previous relationship exploded — to no avail. She chooses not to sleep with Adam, even though she wants to, as she becomes cognizant of her profound ability to make mistakes. The last scene of the episode shows Rachel in her trailer masturbating to a video of her and Jeremy in Mexico.
Voyeurism plays a large role in UnREAL and the production of Everlasting. There are cameras stationed in every contestants room and producers — as well as the audience at home — looks upon these people through various screens. In this episode, the audience watching UnREAL sees snippets of Rachel and Quinn’s personal lives — which is arguably just as voyeuristic as the fictional audience watching the intimate lives of the cast of Everlasting.
Audience participation is revealed for the first time this episode when a conflict with an entertainment magazine arises. Before this episode, the production of Everlasting rarely regards the world outside of their manufactured bubble. But as the show is filmed week to week, press coverage can make or break the narrative the producers are trying to weave together in real time. This relationship with the press becomes more tense over time when much more dark situations happen on and off screen.
Lastly, both the production of Everlasting and UnREAL try to simulate reality and make the audience forget what they’re watching is scripted. In Everlasting, they try to establish reality by taking away the fancy sets and costumes and bringing Adam to Faith’s hometown. In UnREAL, we see beats from characters when they’re not “on-camera,” like Graham’s relief moment with a recently eliminated contestant, to make it seem like they exist in a state of reality outside of Everlasting.