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The stars making reality TV more intelligent

From BBC - November 9, 2017

Reality TV - it's got a reputation for being full of talentless, fame-hungry young people who want to make a quick buck rather than build a career.

But 2017 may be seen as the year that changed all that, thanks to the unexpected stars of shows like Love Island and The Only Way is Essex.

Feminism, mental health and positive body image are some of the big talking points that dominated this year's reality shows and got the nation talking.

So as we slip on our sparkly dresses and head to ITV's Gala in London, we take with us the question - did reality TV just become more intelligent?

The moment when bomb disposal expert Camilla Thurlow turned to business director Jonny Mitchell and asked the question "Should not we all be feminists? Surely you believe in equality?" may sound like an excerpt from a particularly heated debated on Woman's Hour, but no, it happened in a villa in Ibiza, televised live on ITV2.

Thurlow, who has worked in Cambodia and Zimbabwe, ended a long stint in Afghanistan to take part in the show as a way of overcoming her "social barriers".

She became an instant hit with viewers because of the way she handled herself on screen, using it as a platform to express her views on the Mediterranean refugee crisis and feminism, after she decided to stop dating Mitchell on the show after he told her he felt emasculated by women who wanted to pay their share on dates.

"I hope I have done justice to what is a very important topic," Thurlow tells the BBC.

"Equality, fairness and justice are the things that are most important to me, so I wanted to know I'd respected the feminist movement. I hope I have helped people have that discussion."

Thurlow and her now-boyfriend Jamie Jewitt were the runners up on this year's Love Island. Calvin Klein model Jewitt also used his public profile for good by hosting a TED Talk on social media and how it affects the self esteem of young people.

"You get a good following going on a show like that, it gave me the opportunity to do the things I have always wanted. That was not a post-Love Island decision, it's just the way I wanted to do things in the first place. My TED talk came from spending years in the advertising industry," he tells us.

Fellow star of the show Chris Hughes shares similar sentiments to Jewitt and uses his profile, which includes nearly two million Instagram followers, to talk about male mental health.

He carefully orchestrated a stunt online, which saw him pretend that water infused with his tears was going on sale in Topman.

It turned out to be part of a campaign for World Mental Health Day, in which he encouraged men to talk about their feelings at a time when male suicide is such a prevalent issue in the UK.

"I suffer from anxiety myself and the stunt was portraying the message that men should not bottle up their emotions and should speak out.

"So many do not speak up and I want to encourage people to get the help they need and bring down the suicide rate in men across the UK, Hughes tells the BBC.

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