Heavy editing and stretches of the truth are common practice on reality television. Very few viewers would believe that the Kardashians or Real Housewives are entirely unscripted, and nobody really ever fell for the idea that The Hills was a real documentary. But even the most discerning viewing public can fall into a trap of credulity when it comes to televised competitions and talk shows.
With so many real-life issues at stake and such an emphasis on the journey of the people involved, it doesn’t occur to us that there may be a laissez-faire attitude to the truth. When it comes to traditional game shows, good old American values mean viewers are reluctant to believe the producers would help contestants cheat to make for good TV. And as for talk shows, the presenters are such well-loved public icons that very few fans consider how carefully staged and constructed these personalities are.
Thanks to the infinite pool of wisdom that is Reddit, the truth is coming out. Under the veil of anonymity, former contestants or guests on some of the world’s favourite televised competitions and talk shows have recently spoken out about how things are really done when the cameras aren’t rolling. What shocking secrets are left on the cutting room floor of these legendary television shows? These are ten of the best, most eye-opening truths from behind the scenes of reality TV.
10. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: Call Google
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has been a favourite of game show aficionados since its inception in 1998. A winning formula exported from the UK to a US audience, the show puts contestants in the hotseat with a series of increasingly tricky questions and only three lifelines to help them out.
These lifelines, however, are the biggest source of controversy on the show. Particularly interesting revelations came from contestants and the friends on the other end of a phone call for the ‘phone a friend’ lifeline. The phone a friend option was removed in 2010 after smartphones made it impossible to avoid cheating on the other end of the phone. Before this, despite the prevalence of smartphones even prior to 2010, it has emerged that Googling wasn’t actually against the rules. Says one previous ‘friend’:
“I was a lifeline on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. We were prepped […- and in this prepping there was no mention about googling. In other words, it was understood that using the 30 second window to Google the question would be acceptable.”
It’s also been revealed that contestants are strongly advised to use the ‘Ask the Audience’ lifeline early, with producers indicating that the audience aren’t really smart enough to answer any of the trickier questions.
9. MTV Reality Shows: Dayclubs
MTV is not known for its authenticity. Churning out some of the world’s tackiest reality shows, the entertainment value far outweighs any real-world intrigue. But one particularly odd truth has recently been revealed by redditors, perhaps all the stranger because it seems such an unnecessary lie.
It turns out that those scenes filmed in night clubs – of which there are many – are entirely staged, and are filmed in broad daylight. This only serves to highlight how entirely fake these MTV reality shows are; they’re filmed in much the same way as a TV drama or movie. As one redditor reports:
“All of the party and bar scenes were actually filmed during the day […] They covered the windows in black plastic to keep it dark inside and filmed several days of partying and girls making out with “strangers” at 10:00 in the morning […] Even the music was fake and added in later.”
8. Australia’s Got Talent: Acting Audiences
One shocking truth revealed by an Australia’s Got Talent member has prompted plenty of other audience members from around the world to weigh in. The truth behind those high drama auditions is that the audience reactions are almost entirely filmed before the audience sees any particular auditionee.
The audience are called on to show their acting chops, being asked to display shock, excitement, awkwardness… Basically, whatever reaction the producers want to elicit from the at-home viewers at a particularly moment. The reactions viewers see from the audience at choice moments are staged, and aren’t linked to the performance in question.
As one Australia’s Got Talent audience member explained, “They pre record samples of audience reactions in order to use it as extra footage, so before any auditions they got us all to give fake standing ovations/moderate clapping/awkward clapping/screaming/WTFing.”
7. Jerry Springer: Audience Plants
Most fans watch the Jerry Springer show for the high drama, the wild audience participation and the hilarity of the host’s engagement with guests and audience members. Nobody would believe the truth: That the real audience members are only permitted to respond to producers’ queues. All those loud, overzealous audience members? They are, in fact, members of the crew planted in the crowd.
“That random guy yelling from the audience? That’s one of the producers. They make it clear your [sic] only supposed to respond to the producers cues” That same audience member explained that fight scenes are frozen at the moment of incitement, and staged to get the perfect shot. That last tidbit, though, is less surprising for anyone who’s ever watched the melodramatic talk show.
6. Ellen: Careful With The Hugs
Ellen has that adorable, huggable look about her. Most of America feel as though she’s a close personal friend, and her talk show is all about approachability. But in reality, health concerns mean guests on Ellen’s show can’t actually get too close to her.
She’s known for calling on random guests to come to the stage, in order to participate in competitions. But all audience members are warned prior to recording that they can’t let themselves get carried away if they’re called to the stage: Ellen’s back problems means she can’t tolerate bear hugs or being lifted:
“If you get called up for a game on the Ellen Show, do not pick her up out of excitement or give her a bone-crushing hug. We were told she has a bad back.”
5. Food Eating Contests: Cut To…
If you ever wondered how it was possible to consume the vast amounts seen at food eating contests, then wonder no more: Televised food eating contests have been known to be rigged. When this revelation about food eating contests came out, fans of the TV sensation Man Vs. Food were horrified, but the whistle blower in this case was quick to reassure viewers that their experience didn’t happen on the set of that popular show. Rather, they had the following experience at the filming of a Country Music TV network food eating contest:
“They brought out this big burger and the guy acted like he started chowing down on it. About 4 bites in they turn the cameras off and throw half the food out and start filming again and getting us to chant 1 more bite.”
4. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart: Don’t Laugh
Comedian and talk show host Jon Stewart is hilarious, and audience members couldn’t be blamed for cracking up during one of his shows. But when it comes down to it, the audience aren’t actually permitted to laugh out loud during filming for fear of upsetting the flow of the show. This revelation is in stark contrast to other comedy shows, where audience members report being asked to practice their laugh beforehand; most comedians, it seems, rely on a loud audience reaction to gauge their humour.
But one Stewart fan reports that; “On the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, before we went into the seating area, they told us to laugh out loud at the jokes. It was upsetting…”
3. Judge Judy Pays
The authenticity of Judge Judy’s courtroom has frequently been called into question. It has emerged that in the small print of the shows credits, producers specify that any monetary damages awarded in the course of the trial are in fact paid out by the TV show rather than the defendant.
This leaves the door wide open for chancers or actors who want to make a quick buck and have an amusing story to tell. One guest on the show reports their experience of playing the system:
“One time some friends of mine and I were on Judge Judy… [We faked] a case to try to get a free trip to LA and make a little cash while we were at it. Well.. it worked! We got flown out for free and got put in hotels for free.”
2. David Letterman Is Always Right
On the Letterman show, David Letterman knows best. It’s been reported that guests on the show are warned in advance by producers not to correct the veteran host. Guests just have to sit back and let it all happen; wrong pronunciations, inaccuracies or any other bloopers have to go by unchecked. David Letterman has been known to throw his weight around quite a bit – with some high profile controversies including affairs with women who worked for him – so this tidbit is particularly revealing, if not shocking.
1. Fake Cupcake Wars
Bakery is undeniably in vogue right now, and Cupcake Wars has become a very successful product of this craze. With hopeful bakers putting together mouth-watering, stunning creations under high-pressure circumstances, this Food Network show became addictive watching for many during its 3 year run.
But all the high drama was in fact the result of heavy editing and a liberal approach to the ‘reality’ aspect of reality TV. Some apparent restrictions placed on contestants were faked, while other restrictions which went unmentioned could negatively affect their chances of winning; like the fact that bakers were left out of pocket for some aspects of the creative process.
A source close to one contestant reported that “a lot of time limits are fake. Most of the time they will tack on an extra 5-10 minutes and if you aren’t done by then it goes on like normal […] Competitors have to pay for the construction of their display out of pocket. So when you see really crummy looking displays? That means the baker had a low low budget.”
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