Miriam: Death of a Reality Star (2024) Docuseries Review – A sad indictment of reality TV

A sad indictment of reality TV

Miriam: Death of a Reality Star is a 3-part docuseries that sheds a spotlight on Miriam Rivera, a trans woman who, in 2004, became the star of a British reality show called There’s Something About Miriam.

6 young guys were chosen to go on the show with the ultimate goal of winning £10,000 and spending a few days on a yacht with Miriam. A great prize, right? Well, yes, except for one shocking truth: The men didn’t know Miriam was a trans woman.

At the show’s end, there was the “big reveal” – the moment audiences had been looking forward to. This was the moment when Miriam revealed she was trans. The lads’ reaction was one of shock, followed by laughter, and then extreme anger. 

This scene is shown in the documentary and it’s very uncomfortable to watch. The guys understandably felt duped, so it’s easy to sympathise with their shocked reaction. But our sympathies should also go to Miriam who felt humiliated when she didn’t get the acceptance she hoped for from the men who had previously been kind to her. 

The guys later tried to sue Sky, the show’s broadcaster, as their masculinity had been threatened. They didn’t want scenes of themselves being intimate with Miriam shown on TV. Eventually, Sky compensated them for their grievances but still aired the show, which was a big hit for the broadcaster but hard to stomach for Miriam and the men. 

The documentary features extracts from the show with interviews with two of the contestants and some of those who made the programme. While some of the crew take responsibility for the traumatising effects of the show, we hear from one producer who is callous in her opinion. For her, the show was all about ratings and to this day, she has little regret that it was made. Shameful!

Miriam’s life went downhill when the show ended. She turned to drugs and became a sex worker. She also was the victim of a kidnapping where terrible things happened to her.

On 5 February 2019, Miriam Rivera died at the age of 38. Her cause of death was suicide according to authorities. However, her mother believed she may have been murdered. 

We don’t know the truth about Miriam’s death but there’s a chance her life wouldn’t have ended so tragically if she hadn’t been on the show. The humiliation she suffered cannot have been conducive to her mental health, so it’s possible her life spiralled because of the damaging effect the programme had on her. 

Of course, it’s not only Miriam’s life that was ruined. We also hear from her family and her close friends in the documentary. The hole Miriam left in their lives is a big one and it will likely never be filled.

The TV broadcasters used Miriam to get TV ratings with little consideration of her life, her feelings, or what it meant to be a trans woman. Her death had a ripple effect, creating heartache for her loved ones and fear in other trans people who were afraid to ‘come out’ as a consequence of the negative reaction Miriam received after the broadcast. 

Miriam: Death of a Reality Star is hard to watch – a shocking indictment of reality TV and the harm it can do to those who take part in reality programmes. Sadly, lessons haven’t been learned. Talent shows comparable to The X Factor still humiliate their contestants on live TV and programmes such as Big Brother still grab ratings by putting participants in conflict situations. 

Miriam Rivera died a tragic death. She will be missed by those who loved her. How many more people will have their lives ruined by reality TV programming? Only time will tell.

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