What’s it like to pretend to eat, whisper to strangers, and drink apple juice in wine glasses while two cable reality show stars have a fight nearby, complete with a table flip? A reality TV show extra has told the story on YouTube, and it’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at this infrequently-discussed part of the industry.
Tyler Rochwerg responded to an ad on an app, and was chosen as an extra, though at first he had no idea for what. Watch below as Tyler tells his story somewhat in real-time, talking to the camera right before and after his experience (not during, of course).
For his two hours, he was paid $10. He also didn’t get to eat. Instead, the production provided fake alcohol for background extras to drink.
Why does a reality show need extras? A good question. As background, in a restaurant or a party scene, they can be directed and controlled in a way real people can’t. Imagine asking dozens of paying customers in a restaurant to talk without making noise—something that happened to Tyler and his fellow extras—or trying to get releases for everyone at a party, or blurring the faces of people who didn’t agree to appear on camera.
That happens sometimes, just as some shows film restaurant scenes during off-peak hours, when no one else is around and they’re not interrupting actual business. It seems easier and cheaper to just hire extras, who turn a space into a more controlled environment.
Of course, they also make a show less authentic.
The video below doesn’t mention the show, but it’s the Sept. 25 episode of VH1’s Love and Hip Hop: Hollywood, when Brooke and Hazel meet to talk but fight instead. Twitter noticed the extras in that particular fight scene, with many people commenting on the absurdity of people not reacting to the commotion. Is a show’s efforts at constructing reality successful if viewers are paying attention to the behavior of those in the background?
Tyler, who’s also been an Emmy seat-filler, discusses these layers of reality, and how the conflict between the women appeared real, but everything else—including servers being directed to walk through the shot on cue—around them was not. Watch: