Was Denpa Shōnen Truly the First Reality Show?

If there’s only one thing nobody can deny, it’s that Hulu’s ‘The Contestant’ takes us back to 90s reality television, the culture of Japan at the time, and the way a single show broke all bounds. After all, it delves deep into the way Tomoaki “Nasubi” Hamatsu was essentially trapped naked and in isolation for Nippon’s ‘Susunu! Denpa Shōnen: A Life in Prizes’ for nearly 15 long months.

This particular challenge of the controversial reality show ‘Denpa Shōnen’ actually had Nasubi reside in a bare apartment, surviving only on winnings from sweepstakes until he won ¥1 million. We actually specifically state “controversial” because many of this production’s situations and challenges were considered sadistic yet original due to the way they tested its participants.

Denpa Shōnen Was Not the First Reality Show

If we’re being honest, although ‘Candid Camera’ was the first reality television show to ever hit our screens in 1948, ‘Denpa Shōnen’ is arguably the first modern show of the genre. That’s because it was the first production to bring the idea of challenging ordinary individuals in new ways to light, all the while also being the first to broadcast its feed to prove its reality 24/7.

There’s also the fact it unprecedentedly used an animated eggplant to cover Nasubi’s genitalia for broadcast, practically being the origin point for why the emoji of that vegetable is now synonymous with male genitalia. Moreover, despite the fact that it had no real winning prize fund in the end, there was a sense of monetary gain in it by having contestants play for trips or goods or some other materialistic thing.

As if that’s not enough, it has been alleged that Denpa Shōnen was arguably the first ever lighthearted reality show that managed to capture the attention of millions in one go. In fact, per records, it was broadcast to nearly 17 million people, essentially being the first viral reality television series ever. Therefore, even though this 1998 original is not the first of its genre, it is a pioneer in its own way and has arguably indirectly had an influence on all the modern reality shows of today.

Read More: Nasubi: Where is the Denpa Shōnen Contestant Now?