"We argue that consumers blend fantastic elements of programming with indexical elements connected to their lived experiences to create a form of self-referential hyperauthenticity," explain Rose and Wood. "In contrast to news programs, however, the majority of reality fare depicts common people engaging in uncommon (wilderness survival, international travel) and common (dating, home-redecorating) tasks, giving viewers the chance to compare and contrast their own lives with those of the show's 'protagonist.'"
The research also indicates that the continued favorable response by viewers to reality television is directly tied to the fact that the viewing experience is inherently different than that of other television programs. Viewers are stimulated when watching these shows due to the fact that the actors are seen as peers and their actions are compared to the viewer's own.
"The success of reality-based entertainment may be a reflection of the modernists' nostalgia for authenticity among the class of consumers to whom it is most rigorously denied. The exaltation of the commonplace in programming that replaces celebrities with average citizens (e.g., Cops or Big Brother) could be viewed as an echo of modernist angst," argue Rose and Wood. "(Study participants) wondered why the cast members acted or spoke as they did, they wondered what they would do if in the cast member's place, they wondered what the producers were 'up to', they wondered about what actually happened and what might have been."
Paradox and the Consumption of Authenticity through Reality Television. Randall L. Rose and Stacy L. Wood. Journal of Consumer Research. September 2005.