For 12 years, reality TV stars have helped raise money for Give Kids the World with an event called Hearts of Reality. Fans buy tickets to see their favorite reality stars, and the proceeds benefit the organization. A Give Kids the World publicist told me that, “Last year, Hearts of Reality raised more than $271,000 for critically ill children, and this year has surpassed the $250,000 mark thus far.”
That’s impressive, and Give Kids the World is a wonderful organization: They bring kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families to a whimsical resort in Orlando, where, for a full week, the families stay in their own villas; socialize, play, and eat; and go to theme parks. And families don’t pay for anything. Here’s how the organization describes its work:
“Give Kids The World Village is an 84-acre, nonprofit ‘storybook’ resort located near Central Florida’s most beloved attractions. Critically ill children and their families are treated to weeklong, cost-free vacations, complete with accommodations in whimsical villas, transportation, donated attraction tickets, meals and much more. Since 1986, Give Kids The World Village has welcomed more than 156,000 families from all 50 states and over 75 countries.”
(Full disclosure: My grandmother was friends with Henri Landwirth, the founder of Give Kids the World, and I’ve also performed a few times for families at the Give Kids the World Village alongside other improvisers.)
Because of the pandemᎥc, the actual village has been closed since March. But it continues to fundraise in order to stay in operation and safely reopen as soon as it can.
Hearts of Reality is typically held in the late summer, but this year has become a “Special Edition” event that’s occurring this weekend, when 53 reality stars (and some WWE stars) scheduled to appear.
Those cast members have been on shows including The Amazing Race, Big Brother, Survivor, The Challenge, The Real World, and The Circle. (There are also 48 reality show stars on the cancellations list. Big Brother 3’s Danielle Reyes posted that she “respectfully declined participating” because “It is too risky” and is “going to send a donation” instead.)
But why is Hearts of Reality being held in person at all? Can’t fundraising happen without travel and in-person social gatherings? And why are so many reality stars breaking the event’s rules that are supposed to keep other people safe?
Big Brother and Survivor cast members, without masks, partying
Naturally, a gathering of dozens of alumni of reality shows becomes a social event. But inexplicably, they’re still socializing this weekend, in the middle of a raging pandemᎥc that’s killing thousands of people a day. Some have posted photos and videos to social media showing themselves and others without masks, in public and in private, photos that include winners of both Survivor and Big Brother.
I reached out to Give Kids the World and Hearts of Reality’s organizers for comment, and Give Kids the World’s spokesperson told me via e-mail that “Hearts of Reality 2020 is being held with a comprehensive safety plan in place,” including shifting to “a larger venue this year to accommodate social distancing and enable many of the events to take place outdoors” and “half capacity with a limited number of reality stars and fans in attendance (50 reality stars, 35 fans.).”
Give Kids the World told me that “ALL Hearts of Reality events require masks to be worn by both reality stars and fans unless actively eating or drinking,” and that “Only 10 of the 50 reality stars flew in for the event, and each of them took all safety precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing prior to, during and after their flights. The rest of the participants drove to the event while maintaining social distancing from other participants.”
Yet images posted to social media show the opposite. Big Brother 21 cast member Sam Smith posted several photos in an Instagram story:
- Sam with his mask off and arm around Survivor Island of the Idols player Elaine Stott (who was not wearing a mask), who reposted the image in her Instagram story
- Sam with his mask off and arm around Survivor David vs. Goliath winner Nick Wilson (who was not wearing a mask), who reposted the image in his Instagram story
- Sam with Big Brother 20 player Rachel Swindler, both without masks
- Sam with Big Brother 6 player Beau Beasley and Big Brother 21 player Tommy Bracco, who have their heads pressed together and are not wearing masks
There is negative physical distance between people in those photos.
Meanwhile, Big Brother 20 winner and Challenge cast member Kaycee Clark posted a video to her Instagram story of her with Rachel Swindler in a room together, maskless.
Survivor contestant Jonny Fairplay posted a photo of himself with Big Brother 22 cast members (and now dating couple) Memphis Garrett and Christmas Abbott:
Sam also posted a video of an indoor gathering with many people, including Memphis, Christmas, and Big Brother 21 cast member Christie Murphy, none of whom are wearing masks:
While the video’s caption references “immuno-compromised children,” it’s important to note that Give Kids the World is currently closed to kids and their families, so Hearts of Reality won’t be exposing reality stars to the people Give Kids the World helps.
Of course, reality stars who can’t wear a piece of cloth on their face to protect other people may be exposing everyone they interact with to the virus. For those that still don’t understand why wearing a piece of cloth on your face is actually helpful, I recommend sending them Bill Nye’s latest Tik Tok video.
And some of the Hearts of Reality participants have worn masks when they’re around other people, even if they’re not also physically distancing from others.
Other photos in Kaycee’s story shows her with other reality stars, wearing masks, at the Give Kids the World Village, which has been decorated with Christmas lights as a fundraiser. One photo includes Rachel, Mark Long, Big Brother 14’s Danielle Murphree, and Big Brother 13’s Porche Briggs clumped together for a photo but all wearing masks.
They were all at Give Kids the World’s Night of a Million Lights event last night. Its website is explicitly clear that “Mask wearing will be required for all guests.”
Yet in his Instagram story, Sam Smith included a photo of him and Survivor Ghost Island player Libby Vincek with their arms around each other, without masks, at the event. Big Brother’s Beau posted a photo of himself without a mask in front of a Christmas tree. The WWE’s Scarlett Bordeaux posted a mask-free photo.
Maybe they took off their masks for a quick photo. But that wasn’t allowed. Give Kids the World’s publicist did not respond to my initial or follow-up questions about these images and videos from social media, but did say this in a written response (the bold is mine):
“All staff members, volunteers, and guests attending the Village’s Night of a Million Lights fundraiser must wear masks on the property at all times, as well as follow stringent health and safety protocols which have been developed and implemented in collaboration with infectious disease specialists at Nemours Children’s Hospital. Entry times to this event, which benefits the fulfillment of future wishes, are staggered to promote social distancing; temperatures are taken before anyone is allowed on the property; hand sanitizing stations are located throughout the property; and all touch points are constantly cleaned throughout every event. Dedicated team members are assigned to enforce mask wearing and social distancing at all times during the event.”
Hearts of Reality continues today with “Socially Distant Meet and Greet/Photo Ops” this morning and afternoon, a “Decades Mask-arade Party” tonight, and a “Sunday Wind Down Pool Party” tomorrow afternoon. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up in long-term illness and death for any of the people who participated, or those they interacted with.
Update, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2 p.m.: Hearts of Reality’s website says that, at its events, “All in attendance will be required to wear a face covering in all indoor areas, as well as anywhere a six foot distance cannot be maintained. Social distancing will be encouraged and monitored.”
While some people were wearing masks during public events—including a dance party held in a hotel lobby—some of the same people also were photographed doing the exact opposite.
Reality stars continued to post photos to social media showing that they and others were not physically distancing from themselves or fans, and/or not wearing masks in public. For example:
- Amazing Race 7 team member Ray Housteau posted a photo with 12 people, two of whom were wearing masks, all with their heads pressed together in a circle.
- Sam Smith posted more photos of himself with other participants, none of whom are wearing masks, including Mark Long dressed as Bret Michaels
- Christie Murphy and Beau Beasley were photographed without masks
- Jonny Fairplay posted a mask-free photo in front of a backdrop with Give Kids the World Village’s logo on it
- Video of the dance party shows many people without masks