"Martine, 24, blonde, is an employee in a bankrupt multinational. She will be alone on a heavenly island in the middle of nowhere. Facing her, 8 rapists, divided in two teams, coming out straight from jail specially for the show. Will Martine manage to outwit team A and take refuge on team B's side? To survive, she will have a compass, one can of tuna, and one condom. Will she survive? Rape Island, coming soon, on M6."A trope that became popular during the 2000 decade but dates back as far as the 1950s: A given story will feature or take place in an extreme reality TV show where candidates (sometimes convicted criminals) are forced to do degrading or violent things, sometime even kill each other, just for the pleasure of fans all over the country or the world. If the show is "soft", they will just live constantly under the eye of the camera. The show will often include some participation of the audience like choosing which candidate to "eliminate". The host may Eject the Loser into a shark tank. The viewers will enjoy the participants' sadness, breakdowns and betrayals, as if they were watching a movie. Such shows almost always have insane audience ratings, leading to the obvious implication that Humans Are Bastards and love to see others suffer. However, Stylistic Suck may intervene as the obvious immorality of the show can be used to contrast the normal morality of the universe in which the show is broadcast. It may or may not be a Blood Sport, but expect to see a Corrupt Corporate Executive counting his banknotes and grinning with delight while contemplating audience numbers. Deadly Game would be a Sub-Trope, though not all deadly games are reality shows. It can obviously overlap with Sadist Show. It has been Truth in Television, but Bile Fascination has its limits. For that matter, see Point-and-Laugh Show. That said, No Real Life Examples, Please!
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Anime & Manga
- The Firesign Theatre's 1968 comedy album, Waiting for the Electrician (or Someone Like Him), has a segment with a game show called "Beat the Reaper", where participants are injected with deadly diseases, and must guess the disease from the symptoms before it kills them.
- National Lampoon's "Catch It and You Keep It" is this (as well as parodying many Game Show Tropes). The hosts, on the tenth floor, are tossing merchandise to the contestants in the parking lot below. The merchandise varies from a wristwatch (caught) to an oven (not), and even, in the Bonus Round, a complete house.
Films — Live-Action
- The 1966 French movie The 10th Victim (with Ursula Andress as the lead role) is set 20 Minutes into the Future where the government has the Big Hunt, an incredibly popular show with purposes similar to the one in Rollerball, to keep the public from being bored. The game is a type of legalized murder where one contestant has to hunt down and kill the other; if you're the designated killer, you're given the victim's full profile, but the victim contestant is only told he's being hunted. Either way, once a round is started, it only ends when one contestant is dead, usually killed by the other; almost anything goes to achieve this goal, but deception and seduction between hunter and victim is encouraged, and many contestants actually gain sponsors if they're good enough at it. A participant who wins five rounds and hunter and five as victim gains paid retirement and near-unlimited government privileges.
- The Truman Show is probably the Trope Codifier for the modern version, and ironically gave the idea to some real-life producers in the first place...
- In The Condemned, a bunch of prisoners condemned to death are dropped on an island to battle for the pleasure of the viewers.
- Series 7: The Contenders is a particularly unsubtle version of this with random people drafted into a reality show where they simply have to hunt down and kill each other until a single survivor is left.
- Slashers, where contestants choose to appear on a Japanese Game Show based around colorful serial killers chasing them through various zones. The contestants are also allowed to kill, rape, etc. each other.
- The German movie Das Millionenspiel features a show where a contestant has to survive a manhunt for seven days to win the million deutsch mark prize. Similar to The Running Man, but as early as 1970!
- Death Watch 1980 is about a woman with a terminal illness in a world where such diseases are rare. She is surreptitiously filmed and broadcast without her consent.
- Halloween: Resurrection features an in-universe reality show where the protagonists spend time inside the house of serial killer Michael Myers - which is rigged with all sorts of traps. Though the immoral part comes in when it still broadcasts as Michael Myers shows up to murder everyone...
- The Running Man, The Film of the Book of Stephen King's novel. In addition to the title game (which includes convicted criminals this time), there was a commercial for another game called Climbing for Dollars (Watch the clip here). It featured a contestant climbing a rope over a pit filled with angry Dobermans while pulling money off the rope. Partway up a pipe would blast the contestant with gas to try and make them fall. If they did fall, the dogs were waiting.
- In the remake of The Stepford Wives (2004), Joanna's background is updated to being the president of a TV network, Whose programming is geared towards showing the superiority of women. One of her pet projects, I Can Do Better, was one of these, specifically parodying Temptation Island, with a Happily Married couple being sent to a tropical resort for one week and surrounded with escorts and porn stars in order to see how long their marriage lasts. The events that transpired on the show caused one contestant, Hank, to snap and shoot his now ex-wife Barbara and her new lovers, and he later tries to kill Joanna for creating the show and ruining his marriage. Joanna's response is to plan a reunion show centered around the carnage, only to find that her irresponsible programming decisions, and the ensuing lawsuits, got her fired from the network and blacklisted from television. This is why she and her family head to Stepford.
- The host for the eponymous competition in Death Race even introduces it by saying that this show is the most successful television program ever.
- Cube 2: Hypercube: Max theorizes that they're all in the Hypercube as part of a reality show where the goal is for one of them to survive. He turns out to be wrong, though.
- Nerve is about a game of dares which is a Blood Sport.
- Stephen King wrote two novellas under the Pen Name Richard Bachman addressing this concept:
- The Running Man - The protagonist Richards is hunted down for sport on a TV game show. He volunteered for the show to try and get money to save his sick daughter. The book also has a couple of other gameshows - there's one where people with heart problems are wired up to a heart monitor, put on a treadmill, and asked questions. Every time they get it wrong, the treadmill speeds up.
- The Long Walk: One hundred teens compete to see who could walk the longest—those who go too slow get shot.
- Acide Sulfurique, from Amélie Nothomb, features a woman named Pannonique who is abducted and forcefully thrown into a TV show named "Concentration". She and the other "candidates" are horribly ill-treated and two of them are publicly executed everyday (first randomly, then chosen by the public). The heroine tries to resist by being emotionless and not giving viewers what they want, but that makes her their favorite instead. Needless to say, the book raised quite a scandal when it came out.
- The Hunger Games: A group of people ranging in age from twelve to eighteen (one boy and one girl from each district) must be "reaped" every year from the twelve districts of the totalitarian nation of Panem. They are then taken to be "tributes" in a live game show of murder, mayhem, and madness. While the Hunger Games started out as punishment for the Districts after a failed rebellion (which is still their official stated purpose), in time they turned into an annual entertainment event for the wealthy, decadent citizens of the Capitol, surrounded by a great deal of pageantry, sponsorship, and drama.
- Robert Sheckley provides two examples:
- His 1953 short story, "The Seventh Victim", which was made into a film called The Tenth Victim in 1965, and a full novel the next year, featured contestants taking turns being hunter and hunted in a fully televised deadly game.
- His 1958 story "The Prize of Peril" was similar, but with a more traditional game show format, and is the basis for the German film Das Millionenspiel and considered a probable inspiration for Stephen King's The Running Man.
- "Going to Series", a short story by Kim Newman, is about a Reality TV Show Mansion show called It's a Madhouse!, in which the housemates have been deliberately selected to be psychologically unstable and to have traits that will rub each other the wrong way, and the mansion has been carefully designed to get on its occupants' nerves in a variety of subtle ways, and furnished with objects chosen for their potential as Improvised Weapons. Unsurprisingly, a creation of Derek Leech, with his regular Psycho Psychologist Dr Myra Lark and Alien Geometries architect Constant Drache on hand to ensure things go as planned. An author's note in a later story casually mentions that they're now on Season 5 of Celebrity Madhouse.
- In the short story Bet Your Life by Anthony Horowitz, a young boy take part in the titular game show in which any contestant getting an answer wrong is instantly dispatched in one of various gruesome ways (such as being machine-gunned in the face.) The winner, of course, is the last contestant left alive ... and the show allows children to compete against adults, ostensibly with the approval of the child's parents. The ending introduces a second example of the trope: the "winner" is killed by contestants on another show, whose task was to steal a million pounds. They achieve this by shooting him and taking his prize money.
- Dead Famous by Ben Elton is based around detectives investigating a murder on a reality show called House Arrest, an obvious Big Brother parody. The murder takes place when a contestant goes to the bathroom during a task to build a Native American "sweat box" and sit in it - designed by the producer to not only provide cover for the murder (since the box is dark and noisy and has no camera in it) but to encourage the contestants to get drunk and have sex in the supposedly "anonymous" environment. The whole layout of the house, as well as its "rules", are also designed to encourage the contestants to get drunk and have sex; and most of the tasks are engineered around the idea of causing as much conflict between the "housemates" as possible.
- Goosebumps: In the book "One Day at Horrorland", the Morris family are captured by the monsters who run the Amusement Park of Doom and forced to participate in a game show where they will be killed if they get any of the questions wrong.
- The Comeback is about a washed-up sitcom actress desperate to get back into the spotlight, so she agrees to be in a reality show that involves being humiliated at every opportunity. What makes this astonishing is that the show predates many actual such shows done by real celebrities. Lisa Kudrow, who played the lead, claims many friends and acquaintences thought it was a show about her own life.
- Doctor Who:
- "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy": Visitors to the circus are killed for the amusement of the Gods of Ragnarok.
- "Bad Wolf": The Doctor, Rose and Jack visit a TV broadcast space station where the whole population can get drafted into reality TV shows where loss equals vaporization. Well, it turns out the vaporization ray is actually a transmat beam, but the fate they're being transmatted to is no less unpleasant.
- In Sliders, criminal trials are conducted via evil game show in "Dead Man Sliding".
- The Outer Limits (1995): "Judgment Day" (season 6, episode 1) involves a TV show where crime victims' families hunt down and kill the apparent killers. The guy the episode focuses on didn't do it, was framed by the show's producer, and uses the show to clear himself.
- In The Outer Limits (1963) episode "Fun and Games", an alien transports a man and women to another planet, where they are forced to fight a pair of aliens from another race to the death. The battle is broadcast on the homeworld of the alien who brought them there. Once the battle is over, the homeworld of the losers is to be destroyed, which will also be broadcast to the alien's for their amusement.
- In one episode of Judge John Deed, a contestant in a reality show where contestants are divided into "slaves" and "masters" is murdered during a live broadcast.
- Le Jeu de la Mort was a French documentary special that purported to be one of these. Contestants on a game show called La Zone Xtrême would receive electric shocks of increasing intensity as punishment for giving incorrect answers. The contestants and host were actors, but the people administering the shocks weren't, and they thought it was real. It was a recreation of the Milgram experiment updated for the reality TV era.
- 30 Rock:
- A mild example on Jack's deliberately terrible game show Homonym. In it, you have to guess which meaning of a homonym the questioner is using. Whatever you guess, you always get the wrong answer, you're never allowed to see the answer card, and the game appears to keep going until you get one right or crack. The one we see ends with the contestant running off in distress after being told that what he thought was au pair, "a sort of foreign babysitter", was in fact oh pear, "an exclamation about a pear".
- There's also "MILF Island", which put eighth-graders on an island with MILFs who competed in extremely sexualised Survivor-style challenges. And for extra points; one of the MILFs died.
- The Twilight Zone (2002) had the episode "How Much Do You Love Your Kid?" where a game show kidnaps your child and gives you an hour to follow clues to find them or else you'll never see them again. Anything goes, up to and including murder — which awards higher prize money!
- The Belgian TV series Willy's en Marjetten showed a tv station experimenting with several such formats, including one where contestants bought the right to hit someone they didn't like in the face in return for a donation to charity, and a show here a bunch of couples with different STD's were put in a cheating-encouraging environment, their cheating tracked by STD transmission. (which was in fact presented as a ripoff of a real-life show that did the same thing, but without the STD's).
- "Fifteen Million Merits", an episode of Black Mirror, was a critique of reality-competition shows and their audiences. At one point, the heroine is told that she isn't good enough to be a professional singer … and offered a contract in porn.
- The Jonathan Creek episode "Gorgon's Wood" has a subplot in which Adam Klaus agrees to appear on a show called Animal Farm ("Orwellian names are in, apparently") in which he is literally treated like a pig.
- "Witch Wars" in the Charmed episode of the same name. Run by demons for a demonic audience (who of course gather at a Bad-Guy Bar to watch it), the show involved demons hunting down and killing witches so they can take their powers. Since Survivor was beating Charmed in the ratings during the episode was aired, there were a few take thats aimed at reality shows in general. One of the demonic co-hosts says "You'd think demons would've invented reality television. Somehow humans beat us to it."
- UnREAL portrays its Show Within a Show as this. The main characters are producers and assistants on Everlasting, a sleazy parody of The Bachelor (which, notably, Show Runner Sarah Gertrude Shapiro had previously worked for), cruelly manipulating the contestants for the sake of drama. Working behind-the-scenes on such a soul-crushing, morally bankrupt show is portrayed as a Money, Dear Boy job for the protagonist Rachel, who openly hates Everlasting and only came back to her job (after snapping and flipping out at the end of the last season) because of the steady paycheck and the numbing effects of alcohol.
- The 1968 BBC TV movie The Year of the Sex Olympics has a family sent to live on a remote island for a reality TV show. Unknown to them, an insane murderer is sent there too to add drama.
- In The Muppets, there is mention of (and we see a little bit of) Punch Teacher. It's highly rated but is shut down by the teacher's union, opening up a timeslot for the Muppets' telethon.
- In the mid-2000s, the French show Les Guignols de l'info parodied this with Patrick Lelay and Étienne Mougeotte, the leaders of the biggest French channel TF1. They showed them in competition with M6 to find the most overt-the-top reality show possible, one being called Rape Island.
- In Shadowrun the major Mega Corps compete in an annual televised event in the irradiated wasteland that used to be Libya known as the Desert Wars.
- In the Torg cosm of Tharkold, a wacky game show host assigns kidnap victims a plausible-sounding task for a reality show, but doesn't inform them of the "complicatoring factoids" that make it a death sentence.
- Ratchet: Deadlocked sends the hero in the survival show produced by Gleeman Vox, Dreadzone, where kidnapped heroes fight in "events" that are more like military actions or face the consequences. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando and Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal also had arenas called the Mega Corp. Games and Annihilation Nation, respectively, though there the contestants were at least volunteers.
- Smash TV was about a TV show in which the participants had to survive an onslaught of many enemies to get cash prizes... including the infinite ammo thing, but it included a lot of killing other human beings for "entertainment".
- The incredibly controversial Manhunt features a Snuff Film version distributed by an insane former Hollywood director. The protagonist's goal is, quite simply, to hunt down and murder rival gang members as violently as possible, before they do him in the same way (Never mind the in-story reality show, the game was pretty controversial.)
- Grand Theft Auto III had advertisements on the radio for "Liberty City Survivor". It's not a season of Survivor set in Liberty City. It's actually a show where they've armed a bunch of recently paroled felons and let them kill each other. (On a side note, the player never encounters the contestants.)
- Saints Row: The Third has "Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax", a Running Man-style game show in which the player must fight through a gauntlet of furries and mascots while surviving death traps and gaining enough points to continue.
- Last Res0rt supposedly centers on a reality show where condemned criminals fight for survival.
- Schlock Mercenary offers a treatise on the link between social upheaval and depraved entertainment, though the reality show the Toughs were hired to take down was a fairly normal fashion show.
- Hero Oh Hero: Tobi enlists herself in The Gauntlet, a reality show about 25 kaizo deathtraps long. Since megacorporations rule the city and corruption is a way of life, the Gauntlet is designed to be unwinnable and nobody watching cares. Until Tobi and her partner use their dungeon crawling cybernetics to deconstruct the game into level 1-1.
- Parodied and deconstructed in The Onion's Sex House series.
- The Survival of the Fittest spin-off SOTF-TV. It's a reality television show, complete with gimmicks for each season, invoked Fanservice (mostly in giving contestants alternate outfits for them to wear), and characters acting for the camera. However, it's still pretty much SOTF.
- As revealed on South Park, the entirety of planet Earth is this. Some aliens dumped a bunch of humans and other animals on the planet and just watch the outcome.
- In one episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius Jimmy and his friends are forced to compete in an intergalactic game show where the losers' home planets are blown up and the winner gets a fancy car. After winning they get the other contestants to gang up on the host and cancel it.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers had the Planeteers face off against the eco-villains on "You Bet Your Planet", in order to prove that humanity could be trusted with the Earth's care.
- Johnny Bravo got himself into one these. He accidentally teleported himself into an alien game show, where the losers get their home planet destroyed. Johnny wins the final round which is "Suck my brain out!" his opponent couldn't suck his brain because he didn't have much to speak of, and the host has to destroy their planet.
- The Simpsons had the simplistic Touch the Stove.
- And then there's the episode where Homer and Marge are framed for murder, arrested and even sentenced to death before the reveal that they've been unwilling participants in a reality show.
- Total Drama embodies this trope. The very first event has the players dive off an absurdly high cliff into shark-infested waters, with only a very small "safe zone". It doesn't help that the host Chris McLean is an apathetic sadist.
- Celebrity Deathmatch, a show all about celebrities engaging in gladiatorial combat.