Blurred lines: The sad NRL reality show consumed at first sight

As a sporting code, #MAFS already has the scalp of the Big Bash League on its belt. The BBL final was played out last Sunday, if you missed it, which you might have done because it was held during the afternoon, its broadcasters not daring to put it up against #MAFSNRL. A shame for cricket, because the last half-hour provided more entertainment than the rest of the season put together.


Weaknesses were exposed, emotions were frayed, loyalties were tested, there were stars, there were renegades, there was a dramatic breakdown YOU WON’T BELIEVE UNTIL YOU SEE, and … oh, you thought I was talking about the cricket.

#MAFSNRL is already the blood sport of choice for most Australians. As with the NRL, it is essentially a spectacle played by vulnerable and mostly-out-of-their-depth young adults for the amusement of everyone else who’s not on TV. Like rugby league, it is family entertainment, until it’s not. It dramatises our generational divides. Children watch it to see what adults are like and adults watch it to see what children are like: much like rugby league. Parents use it as a source of cautionary tales for their children. Here is not how to conduct your life. But don’t stop watching, or you might miss something else you’re not meant to do.

Much like rugby league.

Among the synergies, it’s been asked what would be the role of the Integrity Unit once #MAFSNRL is fully merged. The hardest-working unit in the NRL, Integrity knows no sleep. The potential problem here is that what the NRL might call serious breaches of integrity and bringing the game into disrepute are known, in #MAFS, as ratings gold.

The worst of human nature – lying, cheating, using someone for sexual purposes, having sex with people who are not your partner, having sex with people who are not even the person who is not your partner – is on equal display in both entertainment formats, but post-merger, the Integrity Unit might struggle with the workload. Our suggestion from the highest levels of the #MAFSNRLLOLOLROFL publicity department is to cut costs, find synergies and replace the Integrity Unit with the Experts from MAFS: that guy and those two women.

One is a New Zealander, so she must be smart. The man is called John. Under the Experts Unit, when a league player is caught committing an atrocity, surely what he needs to hear is some take-away wisdom for life, such as: «In a relationship, it’s very important for a couple to talk. Preferably, to camera.»

And there’s another plus for both codes. Where Integrity is infringed while the cameras are not running, players are contractually required to infringe again with the film crew all set up. If it hasn’t happened on video, it hasn’t happened. And if it can all be re-enacted a second time for clarity – hey, NRL, when it comes to adjudications, here are your prayers answered.

A key value the #MAFSNRL share, via their enormous Twitter followings, is the elimination of the presumption of innocence. In the NRL, the ‘presumption of innocence’ is something people like to hear themselves say. As in, ‘Of course there must be a presumption of innocence, but…’

And then, having said those magic words of absolution, they go ahead with the infinitely more popular principle, the presumption of guilt. Especially but not exclusively if there is videotape. It’s all very embarrassing and a strain on the body, this cant about presuming innocence in words but presuming guilt in actions. #MAFS gets around these contortions by establishing the principle of the presumption of guilt from the outset. Once established, guilt is inescapable. It is advertised and used in promotions and teasers. Presumed guilt is more gold, ratings-wise. The NRL has a lot to learn.

The NRL's off-field dramas are akin to their own reality show.

The NRL’s off-field dramas are akin to their own reality show.Credit:AAP

One issue that needs to be dealt with, integrity-wise, is match fixing. #MAFSNRL has got to stop rigging outcomes and manipulating storylines. This kind of nonsense is just not on in sports. It doesn’t happen. So stop it.

Tipping comps generally work better with rugby league. Hint: the #MAFS tipping comp on which couples will stay together after the show is over? Try zero, and don’t stray too far from there.

Once these minor teething problems are sorted out, there’s so much more to leverage. #MAFS excretes news and commentary like the odour left behind by a dead animal. Post-match interviews with the players are not only widely covered by mainstream, social and anti-social media, but provide the meat and drink of further revelations. Mostly, therefore, they are better than rugby league interviews. This is why rugby league players like Beau Ryan now earn a dollar interviewing #MAFSNRL players. The merger is already there, if we will only see it. Once you get your head around it, it’s a beautiful thing.

What are we missing? Well, maybe the reality part. It’s true that these players in #MAFSNRLWTF are on show for us to watch them try to fail, but mainly to fail, and by the next morning for us to swap like trading cards at the water cooler and toss them in the bin before we get on with real life.

What we might forget is that our reality TV is their reality. Somewhere beneath the plot lines, the manipulation, the conflict and the drama are real people whose hunger for prominence leaves them vulnerable to any means of exploitation.

Whether they are #MAFS or NRL players, we exploit them. The price of their display is their audience’s judgement. In our hearts lies some unspeakable rotten hypocrisy, some nasty Schadenfreude. And that’s probably not a great thing for their integrity, or for ours.

Malcolm Knox is a sports columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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