In the past year, the United Kingdom has thrown up two shows that have given us a good sense of where things are at with reality television and, by extension, probably with the world as a whole.

The first show, Eden, was an idealistic exercise in hope - an attempt to gather a bunch of people with all the collective skills and tools needed to create a self-sufficient community in a remote, resource-rich location, to see if they could create a blooming utopia in the face of a world riddled with leaders of ignorance and incompetence.

The second, Love Island, was an idealistic exercise in sexy times - an attempt to have as many spectacularly in-shape, near-nude people get it on with each other as as possible, while plotting to also get it on with people who are not the ones they're currently getting it on with.

Eden, a heavily marketed show on Britain's C4 channel with a rumoured budget of 15 million, was scheduled to run for four mini-seasons, spread across the year that the show's inhabitants were supposed to spend in their new society. Its first mini season opened with nearly two million viewers: within four nights that number had nearly halved.


Most of the show's participants left before the year was up, and the remaining scheduled mini-seasons never aired. There was eventually a final five-show series called Eden: Paradise Lost documenting the absolute societal disintegration that went on. That series started with just 900,000 viewers, and got worse from there.

Love Island's third season hit screens this year, after its previous had two seasons disappeared largely without trace - the first season had ended with just under half a million viewers and though its second series rated better, it lost viewers at the end, when it should have been hitting its peak. The third season, by contrast, started with nearly two million viewers, ended with nearly three million, and captured the attention of the UK in a way no reality series has done for a long time.

Here, TVNZ picked the show up for its on demand platform, where it went ballistic, watched, probably, by every millennial in the country, became the platform's second most-watched show, behind only Shortland Street, and was rushed on to broadcast TV for nightly screenings. It was an instant, unanticipated hit.

Nobody in New Zealand will ever have the opportunity to watch Eden.

The first big reality shows of the modern era were Big Brother and Survivor, which were not sexy shows. They were followed by the similarly non-sexy talent shows Idol, X Factor, Got Talent, The Voice and Dancing With the Stars.

Most of those shows are still around and mostly still dominant in the ratings, but bubbling up beneath them is this steady creep of shows with sex and nudity and putting couples under pressure to find on-screen love and sex, or to dramatically and telegenically blow apart in the quest.

We have always had a taste for naughty TV, but we have mostly dressed it up in a veil of moral decency - The Bachelor trades on its sexy bits but at least tries to look like it's about love and happy long-term relationships while routinely sending hot singles to remote, over-water bures laden with opulent bedding and cameras, where the only viable leisure activity is intercourse.

University of Auckland associate professor Misha Kavka has written multiple books on reality television and describes the current wave of love and dating and sexy island reality television as the second wave, following the first wave of 2002-03, predominantly from the US, which spawned The Bachelor, and a series of other "strangers get married", which mostly disappeared without trace.

This new wave began with the 2013 show Sex Box, a show in which couples were told to have sex in a sealed box on stage, and were then brought out to talk about their sex lives on camera. "This was to do with how transgressive can we be in terms of bringing the sex on television, getting sex on air," Kavka says.

It turns out we can be very transgressive. Sky has screened one reality show called Dating Naked, in which people go on dates fully naked and another called Naked and Afraid, where two strangers, a man and a woman, are sent naked into the jungle.

"And that's just the stuff that's on your basic subscription package," Kavka says. "Then there's the stuff that's behind paywalls. Most of that is American, and it's more than softcore pornographic."

Let's not get carried away and think that this sexy stuff is taking over though. The old favourites are mostly also the new favourites. We still adore The Block more than almost any other reality show, or at least we did until the just-finished sixth series when we seemed to finally agree with what we'd been saying to ourselves for at least the past five years that our property prices are complete bullshit.

But there's definitely been a shift in the extent and intensity of naughty things we're happy to watch, or at least willing to tolerate.

The reason is not really a mystery - it's almost certainly the increased prevalence and availability of internet porn, nude selfies, dick pics on social media and so on. But just cause that's where we're at now, doesn't mean it's where we'll always be.

"It's possible," Kavka says, "that five years from now people will look back and go oh my God, everybody lost their moral compass, it's a good thing we put some clothes on."

Could the triumph of Love Island over Eden suggest we are in the televisual end times?

Yes, possibly, but then again, haven't we always been more interested in sudden, impulsive sex with attractive strangers than difficult, long-term attempts at creating harmonious, self-sustaining communities?