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Public voting in reality TV shows: Rigged or real?

Yet another actor couple on 'Nach Baliye' uses unfair means to desperately garner votes. We launch a debate on the transparency of public voting system that is integral to television reality shows...

Reality television thrives on viewer participation to guide the outcome of their competitions. And that is achieved through fervent appeals to the audience that has to send a flood of SMS votes to help a contestant survive on a particular show. The survival of a participant, more often than not, isn't guided by sense or match the judges' opinions, which raises questions on the credibility of the voting system.

Himanshoo Malhotra and Amruta Khanvilkar appealed for votes on social media in violation of rules of couple dance reality show Nach Baliye
Himanshoo Malhotra and Amruta Khanvilkar appealed for votes on social media in violation of rules of couple dance reality show 'Nach Baliye'

Television actor-couple Himanshoo Malhotra and Amruta Khanwilkar, who are part of 'Nach Baliye', have stoked the "unreal reality show" fire by putting up their voting details online a day before their appeal was to be telecast. 

Sana Saeed, who is  part of Nach Baliye
Sana Saeed, who is  part of 'Nach Baliye'

A source says, "The episode featuring elimination results was supposed to be aired on Sunday and normally, voting begins on the same night after the contestants' performances get over. However, Himanshoo and Amruta have violated rules and appealed to their fans for votes on social media 24 hours earlier. They, however, deleted the post on getting negative reactions from some fans."

In March, Rashami Desai was accused of faking an ankle injury on the show to do a live show abroad. Later, the makers had asked her to tender a public apology
In March, Rashami Desai was accused of faking an ankle injury on the show to do a live show abroad. Later, the makers had asked her to tender a public apology

This incident has not gone down well with the other contestants on the show. In March, Rashami Desai was accused of faking an ankle injury on the show to do a live show abroad.

Ashmit Patel
Ashmit Patel

Later, the makers had asked her to tender a public apology. Even Upen Patel and Karishma Tanna were accused of resorting to foul play in the compatibility test. Upen had apparently stored answers to the questions in his cellphone before appearing for the test and left it for Karishma to figure out the clues.

Abhijit Sawant
Abhijeet Sawant

Remarks an industry source, "The SMS voting system has always drawn criticism as there's hardly any transparency to it. In most of the talent hunt shows, deserving contestants do not win due to the voting system as the audience is guided by emotions or craze for a particular participant. So, this system is undoubtedly defective."

VJ Andy
VJ Andy

The format of the reality shows may vary but the SMS voting has been a huge money spinner for both the channels as well as the mobile operators allegedly since there's a profit sharing deal between them. "Apart from this, many reality shows are always surrounded with some controversy or the other. The audience expects transparency which is one of the biggest reasons why they don't vote as much as shows would like them to," remarks an industry source.

Gautam Gulati,
Gautam Gulati

Gautam Gulati, who won the last edition of 'Bigg Boss' by a huge margin, says, "In case of Bigg Boss, transparency is maintained as the inmates decide on a few people who should be kicked out of the house and from that bunch, the audience can vote for whoever they like. In case of shows like 'Dance India Dance' and 'India's Got Talent', the voting cannot be tampered with as the judges' opinions make a difference."

From judges' comments to reality moments, everything can be played with, but one can ask for a count audit if one doesn't find the audience poll genuine, says Sana Saeed, who is participating in 'Nach Baliye' currently. "In fact, I have seen people  substantially famous knocking down popular celebs when it comes to voting lines. I really get a feeling something like this would happen on 'Nach finale' this time as well," she adds.

Ashmit Patel minces no words to expose the truth behind reality show voting. "The voting system on reality shows, from what I have heard, are meant to be monitored by autonomous agencies. To what extent does this actually happen and who really delves deep enough to investigate the procedure? I most certainly haven't even though I have been a part of reality shows. I would like to believe in the honesty and integrity of channels and networks, but that would be extremely naive. Their world is governed by ratings and the ones who get them the TRPs are usually retained. This is done by either finding loopholes or, maybe, even at times, bending the rules. Anyone's guess is as good as mine."

TV viewers are on some level aware that reality shows are scripted, but competition programmes which call for viewer participation through voting are particularly vulnerable to appearances of indiscretion. Of late, it has become easier for participants to manipulate voting, feels Abhijeet Sawant, the first winner of singing reality show Indian Idol. "I don't think any channel can manipulate voting. In today's time, we don't see many people sending out SMSes to help you survive on a show and so, participants themselves indulge in foul play to garner votes," he adds.

VJ Andy, who has been part of quite a few reality shows, also has his doubts on the credibility of public voting when he says, "I have been in so many reality shows and I should know how it functions, but I really don't. We think that a lot of these shows have a governing body that actually counts the votes. We choose to believe that, but there is no hard and fast rule about how it happens. Quite frankly, a reality show is not about votes, it's about the reality content."

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