Adrianne Curry has no regrets, save for the boob job. That’s it. That’s the one thing she’d take back. They get in the way of her pull-ups, and they’re a bitch to strap a seatbelt around. She’s 35 now, and was barely out of her teenage years when a few producers convinced her to go under the knife. A symptom of the industry, she says. For 10 years, she was a full-time reality TV star. Her life, her marriage and her annoying cat—all beamed out to a bemused audience. This was the job; overexposure, immaturity and transparency, live and uncut on lonely weekday nights, bouncing between dozens of shows eager to mine her fears, fights and fucks. Curry was made for it. After all, the only reason she even made it onto the first season of America’s Next Top Model is because a casting director, in no uncertain terms, dubbed her “reality-TV gold.”
Ostensibly, romantic reality television is supposed to capture humanity at its most candid. The rare chance to take an inside look at the thrilling, incandescent sparks that slowly billow into true love. And maybe, once upon a time in the early 2000s, that was true. Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, The Bachelorette’s first winners, are still together—they found a lasting relationship in the primordial soup of dating shows, long before production companies upped the ante with ghoulish curveballs.
You know what I’m talking about. Millionaire Matchmaker, in which mild one-percenters are set up with an infinite supply of commercial actresses. Joe Millionaire, in which a semi-good-looking construction worker was propped up as an uber-rich heir, only for the rug to be pulled out from under the lucky lady in that classically perverse finale. My Fair Brady was one of several VH1 celebsploitation properties—right alongside Brigitte Nielsen and Flavor Flav’s Strange Love, Flav’s subsequent barge fire Flavor of Love and, of course, the infamous Bret Michaels resurrection tour Rock of Love. Between the glut of programming options, and the very real possibility to morph a modicum of cable infamy into a real TV career (hello, Omarosa, Jonny Fairplay, The Miz), any semblance of romance, flirtation,and honest-to-god vulnerability has been thrown into doubt. Nothing is real, and maybe that’s what makes this industry so easy to digest.
"Addiction to the process, as well as the experience and attention, is powerful," says Troy DeVolld, a reality TV executive and the author of Reality TV: An Insider's Guide to TV's Hottest Market. "Look at Megan Hauserman, who did Rock of Love, I Love Money and Megan Wants a Millionaire, for example.”
Of course, not everyone ends up having a breakdown on cable TV. Sometimes, reality-show pastiche can be fun. Nobody knows this better than Mindy Robinson, a small-time actress who most recently has made her name as a Trump supporter on Instagram. Her IMDb page is ridiculous. Eight episodes of the short-lived, George Lopez-hosted Take Me Out, one episode of CelebriDate (she was paired with Larry Birkhead, most famous for dating Anna Nicole Smith), two appearances on the somehow-actually-real Who Wants To Date a Comedian? and, of course, a segment on Millionaire Matchmaker. “It was fun, it was easy, there was no lines to memorize—I played the bimbo that said smart shit,” she says.
“They don’t like to see one person on a bunch of shows, so I just filmed everything at once. I almost felt bad,” continues Robinson. “I said, ‘Look, guys—I’m an actress,’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, sure, nobody is going to recognize you.’ They gave me a fake name, they said I was getting married, it was a totally fake story. And I warned them! The episode premiered, and their Facebook blows up, like, ‘That’s an actress! That’s Mindy Robinson! Your show sucks!’ The producer calls me, bitching me out, and I’m just like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me!’”
Would he have stayed with me if we hadn’t been on TV? I don’t know—I truly question that.
In case you harbored any lingering, unwarranted faith in the purity of this business, Robinson tells me that she sourced all of her auditions through acting sites. The girls she was working with? Mostly aspiring models or actresses, looking for a big break in the saddest corners of Hollywood. This is echoed by Laurie Ouellette, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, and the author of Lifestyle TV. “The mindset is actually strategic—on the shows, ‘finding’ romance becomes a calculated goal that involves strategic self-performance, so the idea of true love is both perpetuated and undermined," she says. "Keep in mind that most people who appear on reality TV shows, including dating shows, are not really there for romance, but for the exposure, fame and potential commercial rewards that being on television can bring.”All that's true, and Mindy made it out no worse for war. Today, she's thriving. She put in her time and left with a respectable career. It’s been five years since her dating-show heyday, and today she’s in a committed relationship with the rugged and large Randy Couture—former MMA champion, current Expendables star. Robinson is still hustling, of course, but by the looks of her Instagram, there are a number of midnight drinks in romantic European bars to make the misery of the B-tier junket far more palatable. Funnily enough, she tells me she can never get back on the dating show circuit. As fake as they are, they still have the word “dating” in the name.
“It’d be weird, it’d be disrespectful—it’s not like [me and Randy] are in the closet,” says Robinson. “If I’m on a dating show, people would be like, ‘What the fuck?’ And also, their show [would look] fake, so it wouldn’t help the show. The contestant days are done. … I’m an actor, I can improv, and I love doing those shows, but I’m not a fake person in real life.”
Ideally, this is the preferred trajectory for the reality-show star. Get in and get out, with minimal embarrassment, a boatload of cash and maybe end up falling in love with a chokehold artist along the way. Josie Goldberg was not as lucky. She ended up in the industry shortly after failing out of graduate school (she tells me her big break was when a casting director noticed her on the Jewish dating app JDate), and quickly found herself as a fixture on the fabulously dadaistic Farmer Wants a Wife—in which clueless city girls compete for the love of a hunky farm boy. From there, it was Millionaire Matchmaker, the immediately forgotten Battle of the Bods, something called American Nudist—you know the drill.
Her real star-making moment came on a 2010 episode of Dr. Phil, where she graciously and intentionally dehumanizes herself for everyone to see. The episode was called “Spoiled and Entitled,” focusing on women who supposedly exceed in those two traits, and Josie Goldberg was more than happy to be a terrible person for 22 minutes. She was racist, borderline anti-Semitic and tailor-fucking-made for daytime-TV scolding from a pop-psychologist. She knew the game, and got herself invited back two more times.
This is the part of reality TV most of us can’t stomach. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to happily indulge the ugliest parts of yourself, to out-petty everyone else in the room, to settle on a persona and put in the work to make sure everyone in America hates you. “I’m Josie, I’m spoiled and entitled, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” she says at the top of her Dr. Phil segment. True words spoken by someone who was willing to do whatever it took to sit on that couch.
“The only time it was really hard for me was when I wasn’t producing shows or moving forward,” says Goldberg, when I ask her how she found it within herself to be hated. “When I was moving forward … I didn’t care what people thought of me because I was in magazines, and my IMDb was always top of the line.”
They say, ‘Get rich, or die trying.’ I’m not trying to get rich, but I’m trying to find my niche.
“At the end of the day, you say, ‘Well, maybe people [are saying these hurtful things] because where’s the end result?’” says Goldberg. “But I’m a closer. I own race horses, and my race horses close at the last second. God seems to bless me when I’m really down. I’m a tough competitor, and I’m going to keep fighting until I die. They say, ‘Get rich, or die trying.’ I’m not trying to get rich, but I’m trying to find my niche. … The best is yet to come.”Perhaps someday, Josie Goldberg will find her niche. Hopefully, somewhere more glamorous; hopefully, somewhere with less shame. An actress or a model, or someplace in between.
But perhaps, the one way you truly win in reality television is when you turn the other cheek and embrace a merciful life as a civilian. Adrianne Curry proudly tells me that she’s living in what she describes as a “retirement community,” baked somewhere deep in the Arizona desert. “I ran the fuck away from Hollywood two years ago,” she says. “I wasn’t finding any happiness in it … the whole game, I was just tired.”
Believe it or not, right now she’s selling Avon. Yeah, you know, the beauty-product line. It was a comedy of errors. Curry needed surgery to remove a benign tumor, and her doctor prescribed her a dosage of Percocet for her recovery. While she was blasted out her mind, she turned on Edward Scissorhands, and signed up to be an Avon sales rep. After four months on the job, Curry says she’s was already No. 28 in the country. The former Ms. Brady, the former Queen of VH1, living in the middle of nowhere and selling makeup on the internet. Finally, a real chance of happiness. On her own terms, with no cameras in the room. Maybe that kind of mundanity sounds maddening, but remember, you didn’t spend the entirety of your 20s on a reality show.
“People ask me, ‘Do you miss this, do you miss that?’ I’ve done so many interviews, I’ve done so many red carpets—I feel like I’ve done it all,” she says. “I’m so stoked to live a normal life.”