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Reality stars, unsurprisingly, face “a miserable experience” from isolation, long hours

Reality stars are abused for our entertainment, according to a report in the New York Times, which says that “with no union representation, participants on reality series are not covered by Hollywood workplace rules governing meal breaks, minimum time off between shoots or even minimum wages,” which “can make for a miserable experience but compelling entertainment, creating a sort of televised psychological experiment that keeps contestants off-balance and vulnerable.”

Of course, they often start with off-balance contestants to start with, so it’s kind of a chicken and egg situation. And it’s not like they’re human beings or anything.

Anyway, none of the revelations–there are long hours, the producers ply cast members with alcohol, they are kept in isolation before and during the production– are surprising, yet they come via “interviews with two dozen former contestants,” who talked about their experiences because their nondisclosure “agreements expired after three years.”

University of Iowa professor Mark Andrejevic told the paper that “The bread and butter of reality television is to get people into a state where they are tired, stressed and emotionally vulnerable. That helps make them more amenable to the goals of the producers and more easily manipulated.” He also said, “Reality TV cast members are subject to totally unequal terms of negotiations. They are essentially a disposable commodity, and if they don’t sign the contract there are hundreds of other people lining up for their spot.”

Again, no surprises there. The piece does have some interesting details, however. Project Runway‘s Diana Eng “was sometimes awoken by the camera crew standing over her,” the paper reports, and she says, “One morning they scared me so bad I jumped and screamed. They said that wasn’t good, so I had to pretend to wake up again.” Season two winner Chloe Dao says contestants “would get to sleep at 1 to 3 a.m., and wake up again at 6 or 7,” since confessional interviews were taped after midnight deadlines.

The only producers who would talk and/or are quoted in the story were Magical Elves’ Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, who say the pre-show isolation “to ensure fairness and prevent cheating,” and said, “We always give contestants the best conditions we can. Our budgets are less than half what a similar network show would have, and that means very long days for cast and crew, but our contestants are fed at least every six hours, and there are always snacks and water available.”

TV Contestants: Tired, Tipsy and Pushed to Brink [New York Times]

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.


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