There is some debate as to which reality show was the very first. I’ve heard MTV say that The Real World was first and I’ve heard Fox say that Cops was first and I’ve heard proponents arguing both sides. But in 1985, a few years before either The Real World or Cops, a little reality-esque show aired on NBC. It was called Oceanquest, and it could lay claim to that title of first reality show ever.
Oceanquest (not to be confused with Seaquest which aired on NBC several years later) had a fairly unique premise. Undwerwater photographer Al Giddings put out an ad for an inexperienced person whom he would train to scuba dive and then film. The inexperience person he got was former Miss Universe Shawn Weatherly. The five-episode series followed Weatherly as she learned to scuba and snorkel and frolic among the creatures of the sea.
Undoubtedly, the beautiful Miss Weatherly was the big draw of the show. She didn’t draw me, though. I wasn’t interested in seeing a pretty girl. But I was interested in seeing a pretty girl get chomped on by sharks. And that happened. Well, almost. Weatherly did dive with sharks at one point during the show, entering a shark cage suspended in chum-filled waters. And she panicked at that point, panicked so bad that she surfaced and refused to finish the dive.
And that wasn’t all the drama you could find on Oceanquest. There was a little more. Besides the drama that came from Weatherly’s fear of sharks, there was also drama as Weatherly’s father got sick (or maybe died, I can’t remember). That drama was so bad it almost ended the show. Weatherly had to decide whether or not she would continue. Fortunately, she did. Then there was a dramatic scene in which Weatherly came to peace with her father’s condition. How did she come to that peace? By snorkeling. With sea otters. The the tune of “Crazy For You”. Yeah. That’s how I’d do it, too.
Now Oceanquest was not termed a “reality show” in 1985, probably because the term didn’t exist yet. It was termed a “docudrama”. And there was some question at the time as to how real the show was. In the opening credits, viewers were told that, “‘For purposes of dramatic clarity, some scenes were re-created and the order of events rearranged.” That raised the suspicions of many back then. I don’t think it would raise our suspicions today, though. I think we’d all agree that Oceanquest was reality, at least as much reality as other “reality shows” are. And I’d say it was a lot better than most reality shows of today. After all, it did have a girl who was much better looking that most reality show girls. And it had more sharks than most reality shows of today, too.