I just finished watching La Vie Rurale. This is the Québec version of The Simple Life, the "reality" show with Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie, two stupid socialites going to live in middle america. La Vie Rurale is basically the same show, except the two women are from Montréal and they go work on a farm in rural Québec. Québec has a large and succesful entertainment industry. They have tv shows, movies, music and books all produced by French-Canadians for French Canada (though the more succesful artists also do well in France and I assume other francophone countries). Their shows tend to be original. You don't usually see a copy of an existing American show, as is the case with La Vie Rurale.
[Please note that the following analysis is based on my viewing of exactly one episode of each La Vie Rurale and The Simple Life.] The first thing about La Vie Rurale is that the two chicks are way hotter. People argue about Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie is so unattractive that wealth can't even help her. Anne-Marie Losique is a local celebrity (and the producer of the show; I think she's a lot smarter than she acts). Her father is the director of one of the bigger film festivals here and I get the sense that the entire family is in and out of the gossip collumns. I don't know who Jacynthe is, but since she seems to have only one name, I have to assume that she is some kind of star. Both are fine examples of the kind of beauty one can see on the streets of Montréal all too often: that deadly combination of physical assets, style and openness with some dash of something unique that I'm still trying to figure out. You can just tell when a woman is French-Canadian and it's usually a good thing.
The second thing I noticed is how good-natured the show is. The family that they are staying with seem really happy and well-adjusted. The mother and father are actually fairly attractive themselves and their daughter is, well, the classic farmer's daughter. They all seem to get along with the two stars. They help the mother prepare her wardrobe for a wedding. The locals all have a relaxed, bemused air about the whole thing. When the two girls spent a day milking the cows, another farmer remarked on how they seem to figure it out pretty quickly and ended up doing a good job. It was impossible to tell whether they did or didn't, but the sense was that they pitched in in the end.
Even the blurb for the show's publicity has a positive tone. The final sentence reads, "Grâce à cette expérience, elles feront un retour aux sources et aux vraies valeurs, si souvent oubliées dans les grandes villes." [Thanks to this experience, they return to basics and true values, so often forgotten in the cities.] The show has none of the meanness in The Simple Life, where the two girls make fun of their hosts and the hosts seem to be a bit resentful. There, there is an air of hostility. I'm stretching a bit here, but I'd argue that this difference is a reflection of the greater respect between the classes in Québec as compared to the States.
The show is on TVA, which, along with TQS, are the two commercial french television stations here. Both definitely work hard to keep the people entertained, to the point of showing (relatively) soft-core porn after eleven on the weeknights. So La Vie Rurale is not in any way intellectually superior to The Simple Life. As a matter of fact, I was met with much scorn by my french teacher when I said I was interested in watching it. There was a long segment where the two vedettes [stars] did nothing but lay on a blanket in their bikinis playing with their little dog. I'll be continuing my research for the near future...