The first way reality shows are lying to you is by their names: they certainly don’t portray the reality of the contestants’ lives. In fact, those who remember their Latin class would know that “tele” means “far-off.” In this case, Tele-reality would refer to as something that is far from reality. Classified as an undefined genre researchers can’t agree on the limit of, it is considered by Professor François Jost to be a show that stands between the real world, the fictional world, and the world of games. The problem is if everyone knows that Friends, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones or The Office is not real because it is clearly identified as fiction, reality TV claims to be what it is not, and most viewers don’t know about it. Here are the 10 most important lies Tele-reality has been telling you, which will make you see your favorite shows in a totally different way:
10. Casting the Participants
To be part of a reality show, you usually first need to fill a form or a film a video, as you can see on many websites that are looking for participants as America’s Next Top Model, The Bachelor, Big Brother or Survivor. If you want to be on ANTM, you will be asked many questions that have nothing to do with modeling as “Regardless of your marital status, describe your ideal romantic partner” and “Describe your relationship with your father.” Producers will also ask you things that will make it so they know how to create drama: “What would irritate you about living in a house with 12-13 other people (or more)?”, “What are you most ashamed of, either now or in your past?” or “How do you deal with someone who intimidates you?” as you can read in the application form. Then, you will have to go through many other steps before meeting the real judges. As Monique Bowley, a contestant of The Great Australian Bakeoff, wrote on Mamamia: “You will do endless interviews and psychological examinations until these strangers know more about you than your BFF.” However, as an anonymous writer for reality TV said in Reality Check: a woman was on medication after attempting to kill herself, but she wasn’t sure it was working. They cast her because of that.
9. Faking Surprise Events
Don’t think people are selected randomly in a crowd or in the street, most of them have already talked to the producers to make sure they agree to be on camera and will be a good contestant. Then, they give them a time to sign the contract to make sure they have the rights on what they shoot and they will then accidentally meet that person on the street. A similar thing happened to Anna Klassen, as she wrote on Bustle after participating in a reality show: she already met the crew before they pretended to surprise her by knocking at the door while the producer was telling her not to answer too fast. Harmon Leon, who tried to lie his way onto The Jerry Springer Show, wrote on Vice that he fabricated a story about his boyfriend cheating on him on Grindr to confront him on the show. However, the guest booker also talked to his “boyfriend” to make things clear before the show so it would certainly not have been a surprise. Moreover, as reported in the Daily Mail, Kim Kardashian’s proposal was reshot for her reality show because producer Russell Jay didn’t like her first reaction.
8. Signing for the Worst
You’d better read your contracts really well before signing it because reality TV is certainly not promising you what it publicly pretends to be. This clearly reveals how reality TV simply uses the contestants for their own profit. You will maybe become famous, but not necessarily in a good way. As it is written in the Eligibility Requirements of The Bachelor: “Applicants acknowledge, understand, and agree that Companies (as defined below) use or revelation of Personal Information and Recordings as defined in these Eligibility Requirements may be embarrassing, unfavorable, humiliating, and/or derogatory and/or may portray him or her in a false light” and participants MUST agree to sign additional releases and authorization. You might reveal more than you wanted to on ANTM: “You understand and agree that you may be required to pose and be photographed or videotaped while clothed, partially clothed or naked” and you are not even sure you will get the money you are competing for in Big Brother “One participant will receive the grand-prize of $500,000 (subject to change in Producers’ and/or the network’s discretion).” This is how producers get away with anything they do to you, since you accepted it. In Survivor’s contract, contestants would have to pay $5 million each time they violate the confidentiality agreement according to Reality Blurred, even if the show appears to be dangerous as they also have to agree that they can be injured and catch HIV. Don’t think you are watching a real person, you are watching a product stuck in a vicious industry.
7. Encouraging Drama
Producers have learned the best ingredients to create situations that would never have happened in real life, making producing reality TV psychologically challenging. They make the contestants tired by shooting 12 hours a day so they will be more upset and less concentrated, which will lead them to make mistakes and get into fights. As Jillian Harris from The Bachelor told Allure, producers make the contestant starve for a connection with anyone so it is easier for them to desperately fall in love: “It was like Stockholm syndrome, but it’s a TV show.” Many producers also encourage contestants to drink. As addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky told Entertainment Tonight: “If you want a recipe for trouble, get people to drink and you will see extreme behavior.” As Dave Kerpen, a cast member of Paradise Hotel, told The New York Times, alcohol is made very available and contestants are encouraged to drink before emotional scenes.
6. Acting versus Being
You have a role to fit in, and the producers will make it so you stay the character they wanted you to be. As Anna Klassen reported: “I was playing a version of myself — a character — and with a nudge here and a shove there, it was clear what character the producers wanted me to play.” If it isn’t enough, some participants can act a totally different way than they do in real life to have an important role in the TV show as Michelle Crouch wrote for the Reader’s Digest after interviewing producers and participants. In fact, it has already been proven that actors manage to go on reality shows and make everyone believe their story is real. If you watch the documentary When Jerry Springer Ruled the World made about The Jerry Springer Show, you will learn all about three comedians who pretended a husband was cheating on his wife with the babysitter before telling the world that their story was totally fake. As Kristin Cavallari from The Hills said on Bethenny: “It was fun, ’cause you’re acting. And that was more fun for me.”
5. Manipulating Reality
Gossip isn’t something that happens only between the participants, the filming crew also takes part of it. If no drama is happening, the producers will ask a member of the crew to tell them something off camera that will change the way a contestant thinks about someone, or will simply make a bad comment affecting the way they will behave on camera. As Bowley said: “Now there’s a bit fat old file with your name on it and a list of buttons to push.” Seth Grossman wrote on Defamer that they can remind them that being on TV is a privilege so you try your best to listen to them, act bored so you try to get their attention, open up so you want to open up too, and much more. The (fictional) television show Unreal (2015) created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who previously worked as a producer on The Bachelor, is a great example of that. She presents a young television producer who is pushed by her boss to do anything to drum up salacious show content. Shapiro wanted to show the behind-the-scenes of a reality dating series, inspired by her own experience in real-life reality show. As she said in The New York Times: “Contestants come in and think they can beat the game, but it’s truly an unbeatable game … You’re ritually manipulated and charmed and edited beyond your control.”
4. Talking in Frankenbiting
The word Frankenbite is a combination of the word “soundbite” and “Frankenstein” meaning that many words a contestant said in different conversations are put together to create a new sentence that has never truly been said. For example, if someone says, “Sarah doesn’t interest me. I have a girlfriend at home and she is the most wonderful woman I have ever met,” audio editing can easily change it to make them say: “Sarah interests me. She is the most wonderful woman I have ever met.” It mostly happens when the viewers hear the contestant talking, but other images than those of the interviews are shown. Otherwise, the editing would be easily seen with the jump-cuts in the video. As Jeff Bartsch wrote in Edit Better: Hollywood-Tested Strategies for Powerful Video Editing: “Rule #39: Exercise your authority to change and alter words. Just because they’re there doesn’t mean they should stay as they are.”
3. Faking Drama
If the contestant’s story isn’t interesting enough, producers will make it more dramatic by themselves. As Klassen wrote: they waxed a dark-haired male member of the crew to make it look like they were waxing her legs, even if she was blonde. Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty also said in an interview with The Christian Post that fake beeps were inserted even though no one had used profanity. These staged moments are sometimes revealed when editors make mistakes. It became obvious in the fourth season, episode 11, of Jersey Shore that a woman wearing an ear piece throwing ice at Snooki, pretending the bartender did it. This scene was clearly made up by the filming crew. Bill Burman, a reality TV writer who is also writing for AOL, knows about that. He claimed that he made a girl break up and come back with her boyfriend at least four times in the show because she was boring. Some shows even revolve only around that. Harmon Leon fabricated a story to be on The Jerry Springer Show and received a call from a guest booker. She asks them to bring a friend to the show and tell him to pretend he hooked up with his boyfriend: “We can fabricate for the show (…) Basically, we would have to add another person to your story because it’s The Jerry Springer Show—it’s like drama.”
2. Writing the “Unscripted” Show
If there is one thing that is not scripted, it is the dialogs. As Anna wrote, she was handed a narrative that had nothing to do with the real situation before shooting the show. Then, when she went on a date, the guy was an actor hired for the show. Seth Grossman who talks about his experience in Reality TV also shares: “In reality TV, field producers are the equivalent of directors in movies and scripted TV, running the crew while directing the cast.” Most of what contestants say has already been written by a producer or writers. They are feeding them the lines or using frankenbite to turn it into what they wanted them to say. Catherine Giudici-Lowe, a Bachelor contestant who was interviewed for Allure, said that interviews were often done days after an event if the contestant didn’t say certain specific phrases. As a Reality TV producer said to Esquire: “My job is to pop the mice in and watch the reaction. But the mice are manipulated. We’ve written everything.” As an anonymous writer for Reality TV said during the fundraising portion of Reality Check: “Before the first episode was even done shooting, we already know who the winner was going to be.”
1. Destroying Contestants
Participants are not prepared to want is going to happen to them and how they are going to be used and manipulated for TV. Million people recognize them on the street and judge them, they have trouble finding a job. As Jesse Csincsak from The Bachelorette told the New York Post: “They didn’t sign up to be portrayed as the bully or the slut or the drunk or whatever, but they were, because that creates ratings, and ratings equal dollars.” As Harris said after participating in The Bachelor: “It also destroys you in a lot of ways. I lost hair, got down to 92 pounds, and formed an anxiety disorder.” Unfortunately, many contestants meet a fate that is even worse. As it was reported in the New York Post, at least 21 reality contestants killed themselves since 2004, including three of them that were part of The Bachelor franchise. A murder is also suspected of being linked to The Jerry Springer Show as the contestant’s ex-wife was killed after the program was screened, as reported on Telegraph. Reality TV can destroy their reputation or their lives but contestants can’t do anything about it because they signed a form that let the producers do anything they want with them and they could get sued if they talked about it.