Are Emma and Kassandra really in a fight? Is the Dog Whisperer really that good at training dogs? Is Guy Fieri a real human person or is he a social experiment where people behind the scenes are laughing at us for giving him a career? These are the questions we all have about reality TV. How much is real and how much is fake? Reddit put this question to its members who have been involved in reality shows and here are some of their answers.
1. Complaining is a huge part of reality
My parents’ friends were on a reality show where they had to live like pioneer settlers. It was so real that it was incredibly dull. They spent most of their time complaining about how bored they were and asking the producers for more luxuries. The producers honestly spent as much time on camera as the contestants did, just because the only thing interesting enough to get on TV was them explaining why they couldn’t give them a washing machine. As the show went, the producers caved on more and more things, and toward the end it was basically just a reality show about normal people living in a normal house inexplicably dressed like early settlers.
2. This one got a little too real
I was helping my then-girlfriend move into a new apartment. At the end of the day, we had the apartment door propped open and were cracking the first set of beers, when a total stranger wanders in. He was pretty drunk but seemed nice, so we handed him a beer. He tells us that his girlfriend just dumped him on the Maury Povich how–literally that afternoon. She somehow got them an offer to go on the show, and she wanted to break up, so she suggested they do it on the show. He refused and dumped her, so she went on the show anyways and they gave her an actor to break up with. He sat and watched from home, and he said that she was brutal and that most of what she said was true but really exaggerated. The actor portrayed him as a total loser.
3. Sounds like the worst summer camp ever
I was on the reality TV show Kid Nation when I was twelve. They put 40 kids, ages 8-15, in a New Mexico ghost town for forty days. We were divided into four teams led by a town council and had to complete challenges each week to determine our jobs. Nothing said or acted was faked, although they did put us in situations that would lead to spectacular reactions. For example, there were elections for the town council, with requisite campaigning and rivalries. The challenges were also pretty physically strenuous and we had to award $20,000 to a kid every episode, which caused a whole other level of craziness.
4. A Pro weighs in
Former reality TV producer here. So, as far as scripting goes, this is actually a bit more complicated of a question than you’d think. Very few shows feed lines directly to the cast, though it does happen occasionally (see: The Kardashians). However, the situations in the shows are definitely constructed by the production staff, with the direct idea of creating a certain plot for an episode. For example, the producers might encourage two characters to act like they hate each other, and then send them on a one-on-one activity together. Now, we wouldn’t tell them whether they should fight or make up, but either of the plots would work well for us. The interviews are frequently totally scripted. So when you see talking heads, or hear voice over, that’s almost always constructed.
5. Want to look ridiculous on television?
That show Hardcore Pawn is awfully fake. My uncle and I went to the pawn store last year and we were asked right when we walked in the door if we wanted to be on the show. We were told that we would have to try pawn our item for a ridiculous price and argue and look stupid. We rejected the offer because we didn’t want to look like idiots on TV.
6. Everyone’s looking for a role
The bigger issue that I think most people notice in the shows actually has nothing to do with the producers, but a lot to do with the cast. As people who watch reality TV, we all know what’s expected of us. If you’re one of the girls on The Bachelor, you know you’re supposed to be gaga over the guy and catty with the other girls. Most cast members will even decide which kind of character they want to be, with little prodding from the production staff. I worked on a big dating show, and within a few days of shooting, we already had one girl who wanted to be the villain, one girl who wanted to be the friendly, but not attracted to, girl, one girl who wanted to be the sex pot, etc. I think this is why these shows get progressively worse as they go on.
7. Complete exaggerations
I was on TLC’s My Strange Addiction and, yes, to a degree it is fake. At least from my experience, they took a person with a certain type of lifestyle and turned it into something so much more. They saw that I had something they needed and I was naive and took the bait. I was fed lines, told where to go and what to do, told to do things that I expressed my disinterest or concern towards, etc. So while it is true that I am a furry, the “me” interpreted on the show is nothing like the person you would come to know upon meeting me. To be honest, it’s still really embarrassing to hear about my episode airing or people bringing it up, even after all these years.
8. It’s hard to fake losing weight
I was a contestant on The Biggest Loser Season 7. There were times when we had to do the little in-show commercials and those were scripted, but they didn’t make us say or do anything that wasn’t our choice. There WAS however some editing trickery that was done on the show to make some things more dramatic.
9. So…Gordon Ramsay isn’t a dick?
I work BTS in reality TV. It really varies based on the show. I worked on a house show (where the actors live together for an allotted time and aren’t allowed to leave) and that was much more on the reality end– as close as you can be while making anything for entertainment. Filming 24/7, hidden cameras everywhere. The producers legitimately tried to hide information from the cast, like what the challenges would be, so the surprise would be genuine and they wouldn’t be able to plan ahead. That said, a lot of the cast would actively try to plan how they would react and what they would say to make it interesting. I also worked on a food-based reality show that was on the other end of the spectrum– extremely scripted. While we didn’t follow a script in terms of dialogue (most of that was ad-libbed by the cast), we did have a very specific shooting schedule for the day, shot scenes out of order, and had one or more story arcs to follow for each episode. We would film multiple takes of the same scene if we needed to, similar to a feature or scripted show.