Reality Television is the Universal Language


We got a DSTV hookup this past weekend, an extravagance we went back and forth on a lot, because we had lived quite happily without cable back in the States for years. But in the states we had all sorts of streaming video over the net that is unavailable here, and, perhaps much more significantly, a lot more social interaction with other humans to fill our evening hours.

Five days in, I’m so glad we chose to buy a tv package. The television is now functioning as both a window into South African culture and as something of a portal back home.

We’ve enjoyed Comedy Central Africa, which mainly airs forgotten US sitcoms from the 1990s, including the very sitcom that fulfilled my “I just want to hear an American voice!” desperation when I vacationed in France ten years ago, Spin City. They also air a Reader’s Digest version of yesterday’s Daily Show/Colbert Report block called “Breaking News”, but we’ve yet to catch it. (We do not have a DVR, or as they call it here, a PVR).

But the main highlight of our South African TV experience so far has been watching the ZA versions of reality competition shows we had loved back home.

First, we caught the Cape Town auditions episode of Idols, which was eerily similar to the auditions episodes of American Idol. That formula is TIGHT, yo. How tight? The South African judge in the Randy chair is a black music exec named Randall who wears rectangular glasses. There’s exactly the same ratio of awkward weirdos to awkward weirdos who turn out to be sort of musical geniuses to people who aren’t that great but have a good enough story that of course they are going at least to Hollywood week Sun City(SERIOUSLY).

And tonight, we’re absolutely LOVING watching the South African Master Chef, the American version of which was one of our favorite shows in existence. [I maintain the elimination cookoff between Season 1 winner Whitney and Douchey Villain Sharone was THE ABSOLUTE PINNACLE of the reality competition genre. I mean, the moment when Sharone wasted precious souffle-falling seconds to grind sea salt on his dish just so? It's why God allows reality television to exist.] Much like Idols, it’s incredibly similar to what we’re used to at home, but with just enough whiffs of “oh this is how they do things here” to make me feel like I’m not just scratching my itch for the comforts of home, but in some small way experiencing the culture here. Tonight’s main challenge was for the chefs to create their own boerewors, a South African sausage that takes up a remarkable amount of shelf space in all the nearby grocery stores. After watching this episode, I might actually buy some and attempt to prepare it!

Oh, television. Teacher, mother, secret lover.


  1. Oh boerewors, that must come from dutch, boer means farmer and woers must be from worst, you guessed it, sausage. They quite love it here, I wonder if it’s similar.
    When I first lived abroad songs in spanish -any- song would give me that oh home home feeling.

  2. You are quit right amanda most ppl speak a mix of dutch and nedelands hence the similarity in peoples surnames-So its a mix of both which is called Afrikaans,Quit nice if we meet ppl frm there becuase some are quit suprized we understand them…..well it is our second language after all well to some it is the first,of which we have 14! Official languages mind you LOL,gota love South Africa and its diversity

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