These reality TV shows aren’t actually ‘real’
Reality TV is a lot like dessert — you know it’s bad for you, but you can’t help but to consume it. At some point, we’ve all wondered whether our favorite reality show is as “real” as the producers make it seem. Here’s a list of popular reality TV shows that are more scripted than spontaneous.
Following in the footsteps of American Idol, The Voice is a popular competitive reality TV show where singers compete against one another for the American public’s vote. Famous coaches like Alicia Keys, Adam Levine, and Christina Aguilera argue over which contestant they want to take under their wing.
According to Adam Weiner, singer of the rock group Low Cut Connie, show producers contacted him to be on the show but he declined due to the heavy restrictions they put on contestants in terms of song choice, style, etc. He also spilled the beans about the show being “pre-cast” (no need to audition).
Reportedly, contestants have to sign “de-humanizing” 32-page contracts that allow the network to eliminate them for any reason, and even “portray (the contestant) in a false light.” Contestants are also prohibited from sharing any behind-the-scenes details about the show.
‘Dancing with the Stars’
This show about dancing has more to do with personality than actual dancing. According to Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), comments are sometimes edited and taken out of context to create a narrative and fabricate animosity between contestants.
Wendy Williams says she was dropped from the show for refusing to stick to the script producers had written for her.
Soccer star Hope Solo took it one step further, recalling that her dancing partner decided to stir up drama after glancing at a memo from producers calling for the pair to be cut from the competition. This, she says, allowed them to remain in the running for a few more weeks. Could the whole thing be rigged?
‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette’
Put 30 suitors in a house together and make them compete for the affection of an attractive young bachelor or bachelorette, and you’ve got a recipe for some entertaining television … Or do you? According to former contestants, clever editing is really what makes the show.
Reportedly, editors will splice together lines with footage of unrelated facial reactions to make things seem dramatic. Season 13 contestant Megan Parris alleges that there’s little show producers won’t do to get the shot. “They basically will call you names, berate you, curse at you until they get you to say what they want you to say,” she said.
In 2012, a private conversation between a producer and contestant Courtney Robertson was accidentally recorded and subsequently released. It included the producer “coaching” Robertson to fake certain emotions for the cameras.
‘The Real Housewives’
The Real Housewives centers around a cast of catty socialites as they throw parties, go shopping, and fight with one another in various regions around the United States. While the drama can be engrossing and hilarious, a lot of it is scripted.
The meetups between women are set up by producers beforehand, and the women are fed lines to make the arguments more dramatic and entertaining. If you doubt us, maybe you’ll believe Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice. “The image is little more than a carefully crafted fiction, engineered by Bravo TV through scripted lines and clever editing,” she said under oath during her husband’s fraud trial.
According to at least one former contestant, the Gordon Ramsay-led cooking competition is far from real. “MasterChef is entertainment. First and foremost. It is not real. It is not a competition. It is highly engineered fiction,” said Ben Starr, a competitor who made it to the final five on the show’s second season.
According to him, editors splice together sound bites from separate interviews to create new sentences the contestants never said. He also accused the producers of intentionally stressing out competitors by frequently waking them up in the middle of the night to move hotels — all to “trigger a high emotional response to situations.”
Conversely, MasterChef Australia is reportedly much less “produced,” focusing more on the cooking itself than the interpersonal melodrama.
Watching the infamous waitstaff at SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant) definitely makes for some entertaining television. The models-turned-servers and bartenders constantly bicker, betray, and sleep with one another under the watchful eye of their employer, restaurant tycoon Lisa Vanderpump. As many have suspected, much more of the show is scripted than producers let on.
Stassi Schroeder confirmed as much on her podcast, Straight Up with Stasdsi, when she told audiences that producers forced her to fake a breakup on the show. She also claims that certain scenes are scripted for the sake of the narrative. For example, reconciliations between cast members that happen during the offseason have to be acted out on camera.
WE tv promises that Bridezillas features “the most over-the-top, crazy brides wreaking wedding hell,” and man, do they deliver. But are the brides really as awful as the show makes them out to be, or is it just standard scripted drama? The answer seems to be a bit of both, but mostly leaning on the scripted side.
People on the show are encouraged to up the drama by making more outlandish demands, and certain scenes are repeated to get the right shot. Some former ’zillas were very unhappy with the way they were portrayed on TV, suing the network for misleading them into thinking they were shooting a documentary on weddings. However, not all brides were disappointed with the dramatized portrayal in their episodes. “I liked mine,” said Season 7 Bridezilla Melissa Adams Moore.
Watching larger-than-life personalities bid on abandoned storage containers is surprisingly entertaining. It’s always a gamble — sometimes the unit is full of expensive treasures, other times it’s practically empty. So what can be faked on a show like this? Evidently, quite a lot.
According to Dave Hester, the former star who was fired from the show in 2012, producers stage many of the items in the units before the cast gets to bidding on them. The public auctions are actually staged, and A&E allegedly helps some of the “less-experienced” bidders out with finances, giving them an unfair advantage. Hester sued A&E for wrongful termination and brought many of these grievances to light. They settled for an undisclosed amount.
Everyone’s favorite group of hard-partying Italian-Americans isn’t quite as dramatic as the show would lead you to believe. In fact, a couple of them aren’t Italian, either (Snooki is Chilean, and JWoww is of Irish and Spanish descent). Heritage and complaints of cultural appropriation and negative representation aside, a few aspects of the “reality” show were contrived by producers.
Producers came up with some of the dramatic situations and editors worked their magic to make them as shocking as possible. Reportedly, the network encouraged the cast to drink excessively to up the intensity. This may have contributed to some unsafe situations — regrettably, a lot of the physical fights were real.
When customers walk into the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop with their prized possessions ready to strike a deal, unless they’ve been invited by the show’s producers, they’re not about to see any familiar faces. That’s because people must submit forms outlining their items and demands before they’re even considered to appear on the show.
Nevada’s privacy laws make it illegal for people to film others without their consent. Since so many people show up to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop purely to try and catch sight of Chumlee, Rick, Richard, and Corey, the cast is actually prohibited from showing up during business hours.
Another Gordon Ramsay cooking show makes the list. This time, the competitors are divided into two teams. At the end of each episode, the losing team nominates two teammates for elimination, but it’s Ramsay who has the final say on who gets the boot.
The competitions purport to take place in restaurants with real diners, but these guests are actually paid to be there, and the restaurant isn’t even real. According to former contestants, producers would deliberately trick the cooks into messing up dishes by switching ingredients and playing pranks on them.
If you’ve ever wondered why no one’s thrown a punch at Ramsay for his vicious insults yet, it’s likely because the set is teeming with bodyguards, just outside the camera’s eye.
According to several people who’ve appeared on the popular History Channel show, negotiations aren’t as spontaneous as they seem. A lot of the time, prices on antique items are agreed upon beforehand, and much of the haggling is just acting.
Also, the show’s producers do a fair amount of the picking off camera, though the show makes it seem like it’s all Mike, Frank, and Danielle. If nothing else, they’ll want to screen some of the submissions before bringing in the whole crew to make sure the finds will be entertaining enough for TV audiences.
Before the show, the Robertson family looked drastically different than they do now. In fact, you’d hardly be able to recognize them. Duck Dynasty differs from many other reality shows in that the stars freely admit that much of it is staged.
Rather than have cameras follow the family around in their daily lives, producers come up with a funny situation and have the family act it out, in something the Robertsons like to call “guided reality.” Also, a lot of the censoring bleeps are unnecessary — they don’t curse at one another that much.
Basketball Wives is another show that centers around the lives of the incredibly rich as they bicker among one another over trivial slights and affronts. As the name implies, this particular iteration revolves around the wives of famous professional basketball players.
When the bread and butter of the show involves dramatic interactions between the main characters, it stands to reason that the show producers would be tempted to fabricate and exaggerate these conflicts. Basketball player Matt Barnes, who appeared on the show, says the show is completely fake, a sentiment echoed by “Basketball Wife” Tanya Young, who says the producers intentionally fabricated drama between the women.
The “open auditions” for American Idol aren’t nearly as “open” as they appear. In fact, producers screen potential contestants way before they’re invited to perform in front of the cameras and judges. Also, the competitors who’ll be performing on the show are chosen well ahead of time.
Most, if not all, of the contestants are scouted and invited to the competition by producers. The audition scenes where they first win over the judges are completely fabricated.
We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but you can’t eat these cakes. To make the extravagant cakes stand up like that, they have to be reinforced with cladding. What you see people eating on the show are sheet cakes that are served in place of what is shown on TV.
Don’t expect to run into Buddy and the rest of the Valastros when you visit the Hoboken shop — they’re only there while filming the show.
Also, the surprise reveal of the cake is completely staged; customers know exactly what they’re getting the moment they agree to a design.
‘The Biggest Loser’
The weight loss of the contestants is real, but much of the narratives about them being lazy and gluttonous is contrived. As we’ve seen with many of the other shows on this list, portraying people in a positive light doesn’t always make for entertaining television.
Also, the fancy technology that weighs each contestant in front of the studio audience is fake: The competitors were actually weighed and the total weight loss was calculated days prior.
Based on accounts of some former contestants, which include physical injuries and being malnourished to the point of urinating blood, it might have been better if more of the show was faked.
‘The Jerry Springer Show’
Here’s another one that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Real people approach the producers with stories and ask to appear on the show. When someone tells a good (or at least juicy) story, why let the truth get in the way?
Before people appear on camera and in front of the audience, they’re encouraged to be as over-the-top and dramatic as possible. Even the fights are planned in advance to ensure the safety of the guests and Jerry himself.
Despite the show’s title, actual survival wasn’t as big a concern as viewers were led to believe. Off camera, producers would give contestants food and even help them start a fire. The network obviously doesn’t want the public relations nightmare of someone getting badly hurt or sick on the show.
In addition, body doubles are sometimes used to get good aerial shots of the competitions, and producers coach contestants on survival tactics and decide what they should wear. Hey, at least the prize money is real.
Like many home renovation shows, ‘Property Brothers’ too suffered the scrutiny that it appeared too staged. Despite the fact that the network clearly has an entertaining formula, it comes as no surprise that the first house they show their homebuyers is always over budget so they can get their expectations lowered to a realistic range.
The worst part about the show is that the house hunting part is completely fake. While filming the section of the show where they’re touring various real estate, the homebuyers have already started the buying process with one of the homes to speed up the production.
You ever wonder how come the “catfish” is already mic’ed up when they’re surprised by Nev, Max, and their long-distance love interest? It’s because they’re not really surprised. People have to agree to be on the show before they film the episode.
This also means the “detective work” done by Nev Schulman and Max Joseph is a performance — the real digging is done by producers behind the scenes. Even so, you have to admit that the cast and crew do a fantastic job making the show seem real.
‘Long Island Medium’
Hopefully this one doesn’t come as a shock to you. Yes, a show about a self-described “medium” that facilitates contact between people and their deceased family members is completely contrived. Big surprise. But how do they make it so convincing?
Show producers are masters at finding out information through questionnaires and social media, and when Theresa Caputo is on stage, they simply feed her the information. While Caputo has never admitted to being no more than a performer, she’s been the subject of exposés by Inside Edition, Wired Magazine, and several other publications.
If you ever watched Cribs on MTV and turned green with jealousy when the hottest stars invited cameras into their swanky homes, we have some good news: It seems that even celebrities can be insecure about their wealth. Why else would they rent houses just to show them off on TV?
One woman was furious when she came home after renting her house to a famous rapper and found the place trashed. A few months later, while watching MTV, she realized why: The rapper had thrown a party for 600 guests at her mansion. Naturally, she sued for breach of the rental contract, which explicitly stated “no parties.” We won’t name the rapper, but here’s a hint: If he invites you to an exclusive luxury music festival in the Bahamas, don’t go.
For many of us, going to the dentist sounds more appealing than going to court, and hearing a couple bicker at each other is like hearing nails on a chalkboard. But somehow, Divorce Court works. So well, in fact, that it is one of the longest-running syndicated television shows in history.
In the beginning, the show was completely scripted, with actors appearing in the court instead of real married couples. Now, the show purports to feature real couples going through a divorce, though there are rumors that some people who appeared on the show recently were actors given a backstory.
Of course, a television program doesn’t have the ability to grant you a divorce in any case — only the state can. As for any property and monetary claims, those can be challenged in a real court, but usually any damages are paid by the studio anyway.
This fish-out-of-water premise, where two wives would swap places with each other and attempt to survive two weeks with a radically different family, made for some hilarious and cringe-inducing content. How did the producers find families with such exaggerated personalities?
Well, it seems they didn’t. The people that appeared on the show were encouraged to play up their differences — especially the children, who relished playing the roles producers outlined for them. Also, the “manuals” written by the wives to guide their replacements were completely fabricated by producers.
‘The Simple Life’
Watching spoiled socialites Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton travel across America working menial jobs was a laugh riot. But how real was the show? Brad Johnson, 20th Century Fox Television’s comedy development executive, spilled the beans on this hilarious, but scripted, show. “It’s a way of storytelling that isn’t just a random slice of life. We worked with our editors and producers to impose a little bit of comedic editing and structure,” he told Television Week. But that’s not all.
Admittedly, even skeptics like us were surprised to learn that most of Paris Hilton’s “ditzy” persona is contrived. “It’s the character that I developed for The Simple Life. They wanted a character that was an airhead with a baby voice, and so that’s a character that I do, and I had to do it for five seasons,” she said in an interview.
‘Naked and Afraid’
On TV, this show seems real and, to a degree, it is: People really do spend weeks naked out in the wilderness. However, a lot of the storylines and drama that you see in each episode is contrived. A show where people get along fine with one another just doesn’t make for compelling viewing, apparently.
According to former participants, the remote locations the nude survivalists are sent to aren’t as remote as the show makes it seem — it’s common for the participants to interact with locals, though this is never shown on TV.
Occasionally, producers will intervene to help the participants by giving them small rations of food, water, and medical attention off camera.
This show about female professional wrestlers and the drama behind the scenes is about as real as professional wrestling itself — which is to say, not real at all. Pro wrestlers are master entertainers and actors, so this gives the scripted show a more realistic feel. However, several sources have confirmed that the show is almost completely fake.
PJ Black, former WWE Tag Team Champion, admitted the show was “about 90% scripted” on an episode of Pancakes and Powerslams. “If it’s a reality show, let me do and say whatever I want,” he complained.
Wrestling announcer Jim Ross also confirmed that the show is fake on his podcast, J.R.’s Place. “You know that the presentation is fictional, right?” J.R. asked a fan. Well, we do now.
‘Beauty and the Geek’
There are quite a few ways the producers of this popular MTV show bent the truth behind the scenes. Like practically every show on this list, clever editors upped the melodrama and made the show much juicier. According to “geek” Nate Dern, editors essentially created a season-long romance between him and UFC ring girl, Jennylee Berns, after the pair drunkenly kissed once.
Also, both the “geeks” and “beauties” weren’t as socially inept or vapid as they let on. In fact, one contestant on Beauty and the Geek Australia was later exposed as a professional actor.
On the other hand, many of the “beauties” also admitted to dumbing it down for the cameras. For example, season three “beauty” Jennifer Carter played the “dumb blonde” on the show, though she’s a graduate of Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Here’s another show that follows fabulously rich socialites about their charmed lives — but this time, there’s a sudden twist: The show incorporates the southern cultural and political history of Charleston, South Carolina. Show producer Whitney Sudler-Smith would like you to believe it’s 100% authentic. “People always ask … ‘How much is real?’ And all of it is real,” he said in an interview with Urban Daddy. But is he being truthful?
In a word, no. In that same interview, he seems to contradict himself, stating that the people on the show are very different from how they are portrayed.
But it goes deeper than some clever editing. A local real estate agent spilled the beans about Jenna King’s mansion. According to her, no one lived there — it was just rented out to shoot the series. “They used it for some interior and exterior shots and Jenna had absolutely nothing else to do with the property. She never lived there or owned it.”
Reportedly, the relationship between Thomas Ravenel and Landon Clements was completely fabricated by the show as well.
Get a group of beautiful people together, set up some cameras, and hope the sparks fly — it’s a recipe for some entertaining low-brow television. If you can get celebrities in the mix, even better. Famously Single, a show that gets celebrity singles together to try to find love, ticks all these boxes.
However, even without a “smoking gun” that proves the show is fake, the scripted situations are obvious even to the most gullible fan of trashy TV. Perhaps the producers should consider bringing some actors on the show to make it more convincing.
This article was originally published on Living 101: These reality TV shows aren’t actually ‘real’