Reality TV in Asia

Indonesia, Malaysia & Taiwan.

Tukar Nasib vs Wife Swap

In Indonesia, the two type of genre that has the most ratings on television are the soap operas and reality TV shows. According to, one of Indonesia’s top entertainment website, reality TV is in high demand and it attracts more audience in comparison to soap operas.

One of the most popular reality TV show in Indonesia is called “Tukar Nasib”. It is broadcasted in SCTV and is still currently airing.

“Tukar Nasib” or “Fate Swap” is a reality TV show based around the swapping of lives between two families from very different backgrounds – a rich background and a poor background. The poor family lives in the rich family’s house for 3 days and vice versa. Apart from swapping houses, the families also need to change their profession, daily habits and even the clothes they wear. The show aims to show the difficult lives of the less fortunate people living in the rural parts of the country. It wants to gain attention in the hopes that the more people will do their part by helping the less fortunate people in the country.

One of the few concerns I have with the show is that, to what extend does it help to raise awareness for the less fortunate people in the country? When the show is all over, the rich family will go back to their good life, whereas the poor family will go back to their not well-to-do life. There seem to be no benefit for the poor family. It is almost as though they are given a taste of what they might not achieve in their life. Producers felt that the show encourages the less wealthy people to work harder for their goal. Regardless of the issues behind the morality of the show, “Tukar Nasib” still garners high ratings.

According to Budi Darmawan, Human Resources Manager of SCTV, ever since the shows appearance on the 14 March 2008, the audience ratings keeps increasing with every week. It reached 27.2% with a 4.4 rating, which means that approximately 3.5million people watched the show. The ratings are quite high, considering the fact that there are similar reality TV formats to compete with.

Aside from that, Norimitsu Onishi, the New York Times journalist,have state that the Indonesians have adopted an American-style in their reality TV shows. However, from the research we did, they are not specifically adopting the American-style but more so in a wider context, which is the West as a whole. Tania Lewis who is a senior research academic in the RMIT’s School of Media and Communication, agrees that Indonesian shows are adopting from the Western culture and then merged with Indonesian values to create a successful show.

To further prove our point, we compare the show with British reality TV show called “Wife Swap”. The similarities between the formats of these two shows are obvious.

“Wife Swap” is a reality TV based around the swapping of wives. Two families from vastly different social classes and lifestyles, swap wives (and sometimes husbands) for 2 weeks. In the first week, the swapped wife has to adhere to the same house rules and lifestyle of the replaced wife. In the second week, the swapped wife is allowed to establish her own rules for the new family. Even though the format of the show is almost identical, there are big cultural differences.

One of the episodes that make a good example of the big cultural differences is the episode where a strict Pakistani Muslim family exchanges family with an Atheist family. The Muslim wife, Nuzhat, wears a hijab, a head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women to show modesty, and she prays five times a day. The family’s philosophy is based on Islamic principles and their three teenage children are very polite, hardworking and obedient to their parents. The Atheist family’s wife, Deborah, is the sole breadwinner of her liberal family. Her husband takes care of their two daughters, three year old and 16-year-old. Her 16-year-old daughter is from a previous relationship and she has recently come out as a lesbian. In the episode, Deborah brings Nuzhat’s two teenage daughters to a live gig that involves alcohol. Nuzhat, on the other hand, tries to understand Becky’s decision to be lesbian, which is a direct violation of her religious beliefs.

This episode alone has already violated broadcasting laws in regards to homosexuality, vulgarity, promoting alcohol and cigarettes, underage children drinking alcohol and cigarettes and comparing religions of screen.

Wife Swap is a show that puts people in difficult situations, encouraging them to face their social fears by making them adapt to very different backgrounds. That is exactly what Indonesia media does not want the people of country to do. In my opinion, the producers of “Tukar Nasib” knew the potential and success of the Wife Swap format. Instead of importing the show as a whole, which would immediately be controversial, the producers mould the show and fine-tune it to the cultural aspects of Indonesia’s audiences.


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