Survivor, Amazing Race casting director says there are only “slim pickings” despite high number of applications

Casting popular reality shows is increasingly difficult. Lynne Spillman, who has cast every season of both Survivor and The Amazing Race, says that there really aren’t that many options any more, even though applications have increased over time. (Only 1,500 people applied for the first season of Survivor, while 70,000 applied for Survivor Australia.)

“With all the reality shows out there, you’ve got slim pickings. Even 20,000 isn’t enough for us to choose from because at least a third who apply have already either applied to or been on every other show,” Spillman tells RealScreen magazine. “With Survivor you really want to stay on top, so why would you pick another show’s rejects, or someone who’s already had the reality TV experience?”

That’s why she recruits people; the magazine reports that, “Over the past three or four Survivors, at least two people in each season have been recruited.” The most notorious example, of course, is Jonny Fairplay. So what is she looking for? “I’ve said this from day one: it’s sex, conflict and humor, and if you can find the people who give you all three, that’s the show. No matter what age — 70 or 21 — you need people who have all of those qualities,” Spillman says.

For Big Brother 2, “2,000 to 2,500 tapes were sent in,” but more than 10,000 applied for Big Brother 6. To find contestants for that show, Robyn “Kass lives with 50 Brother finalists sequestered in a hotel for up to 10 days before they make it onto the show,” the magazine reports. Kass says, “What they don’t realize is that all the extra time I spend going to the pool and having drinks with them, those are the times I’m really sniffing out of they’re giving me the goods. Because when they see me at dinner they let their guard down and think, ‘Oh, there’s no camera here, I can really tell her what’s going on.'”

Casting Complications (page 25) [RealScreen]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.