I think at this point it has been pretty well documented that reality tv shows are not well, real. It’s so miraculous that all the contestants fit some sort of role (“nice guy”, “drama mama”, “posh princess”, etc.) and the cameras just HAPPEN to capture the most dramatic and juicy bits. So what goes on behind the scenes in order to ensure that a binge-able show is produced? Specifically, what are the contestants of these shows subjected to? After hours of research (which partially included watching the entire season of Too Hot to Handle), I present to you 5 devious tricks that reality show producers use to make “good TV”.
- Casting is key
Isn’t it extraordinary that all the contestants on reality shows seem ready to exhibit crazy behaviour and get involved in drama at the drop of a hat? Well, that’s not coincidental, contestants are specifically selected after rigorous auditions and psychological testing to determine what dramatic traits each reality star hopeful has. The contestants are essentially characters in a Broadway play, with many being cast to fill stereotypically roles such as ‘the jock’, ‘the princess’, and ‘the villain’. Certain qualities are sought out by casting directors. Dr. Stein, a psychologist who has worked on shows such as The Bachelor Canada, The Apprentice, and Survivor stated “I would say 90% of the people I see score high on narcissism. If you’re shy or introverted, you’re not going to be good on reality TV.”
- Drama is staged
How are the cameras always rolling when the juiciest fights break out? Is it a coincidence? Not really. Oftentimes key moments are recreated for the cameras, even going as far as re-shooting several times. Do you really think that producers just happened to be there when Khloe Kardashian found out she was pregnant? Or when Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries got engaged? Most likely the event happened, then the producers were called and it was recreated for viewers across the globe.
- Sometimes contestants are kept on even if they’re eliminated
We’ve all seen elimination style shows where a contestant is kept on wayyy longer than they should be. Somehow even though their dish looks terrible or they can’t sing to save their life they keep advancing from round to round. Behind the scenes, that contestant may have been eliminated by the public through call or text-in votes but the producers have decided to keep them on. Why, you ask? Well for ratings of course. If that person is drawing high ratings or appears to be a fan favorite they are kept on to keep people tuning in.
- They get into contestant’s heads
In order to hype up situations and lead them to more dramatic outcomes, it isn’t uncommon for reality show producers to help coax things along. They know what to say to contestants to lead them down a different path than they normally would go in order to amp up the drama. Former MasterChef contestant Jessie Glenn wrote an expose in Salon about her experience on the hit show, and this practice was something she highlighted. “Everything the wranglers said seemed a pretty obvious setup to me to add intensity and create plotlines. I could see it from the outside (I kept a notebook, of course) and the artifice was fascinating and well done. From the inside it felt…gross. They had asked me about religion; Atheist, I said. And food: all local and organic! So I was roomed with a devout Evangelical Christian woman who used sugar, Rice Krispies and food coloring to make statues of the judges’ heads, which she brought with her from Texas” (Jessie Glenn, salon.com).
- They cut and paste clips together to create a different narrative
This practice is so prevalent in the reality TV industry that it even has its own term, “frankenbiting”. Tana Mongeau recently called out MTV for using frankenbiting to manipulate footage of her drinking in front of her friend who is a recovering alcoholic. However, this is not the first time this kind of “creative editing” has taken place, and definitely won’t be the last. Reality show producers have discussed this process in the past, even revealing that they have gone as far as recording their own voice imitating the contestant’s to fill in gaps in dialogue.
The Bachelor 7 and The Real Gilligan’s Island 2 producer Todd Sharp was quoted saying, “We’ve actually had to go through dozens of tapes, looking for one specific word–like jump, for instance. You might have to go through 10 interviews in which a person says the word jump to find the right jump that sounds as if it matches.”
Some producers refer to this practice as an ‘art’, but at the end of the day it’s just another audience deception tactic.
Sources/Where to head to learn more:
I am a “MasterChef” survivor by Jessie Glenn on Salon
What Show Psychologists Look For When Casting ‘The Bachelor’-’90% of the People I See Score High on Narcissism’ by Kelsey Goeres on CheatSheet
Three Disturbing New Developments on ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” by Shauna H Springer, Ph.D on Psychology Today
Reality TV Can Be Unhealthy for Participants as Well as Viewers by Leah Campbell on Healthline
13 Secrets Reality TV Show Producers Won’t Tell You by Michelle Crouch on Reader’s Digest
The Sneaky Reason Reality Shows Aren’t Technically Scripted by Greg Brian on CheatSheet
Reality TV editors and producers discuss “frankenbiting” and other forms of audience deception by Andy Dehnart on Reality Blurred https://www.realityblurred.com/realitytv/2005/10/industry-news-radar_editors/