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Reality show horror stories from behind the scenes of your favorite shows

Reality show horror stories from behind the scenes of your favorite shows

There’s one thing Top Chef, The Amazing Race, Beat Bobby Flay, and 90 Day Fiance have in common: some of the people who make those shows have gone public with horror stories from behind the scenes of those shows.

I’ve gathered some of those below. First, some background about what’s happening in Hollywood, which could have led to production on The Bachelor and other shows being shut down for days, weeks, or months: a potential strike of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

IATSE represents “more than 150,000 workers strong in virtually all arts, media, and entertainment crafts,” according to its website, and those workers include many people who produce reality TV.

A strike could have started today, Oct. 18, but was averted over the weekend, so production will continue for now. IATSE says says a deal it reached with the studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) “addresses core issues, including reasonable rest periods; meal breaks; a living wage for those on the bottom of the pay scale; and significant increases in compensation to be paid by new-media companies.”

But whether IATSE’s members will agree is a different question. While they won’t strike today, they may not vote in favor of this new contract. Variety reported that “many workers have expressed frustration with the terms and said they expect it will be rejected.” For example, the deal includes “Daily rest periods of 10 hours without exclusions,” which means 14-hour days.

Earlier this month, more than 90 percent of IATSE members voted, and 98 percent of them voted to authorize a strike. That’s incredibly high, and reflects the frustration with their working conditions, including on reality TV shows.

Horror stories from reality TV crew members

A graphic provided by IATSE to its members to argue for better contracts with streaming services.
A graphic provided by IATSE to its members to argue for better contracts with streaming services.

Last month, on Sept. 21, the Instagram account @nonfictionunite launched and began posting reality TV-specific stories from those who would have gone on strike. It’s similar to the broader @ia_stories account.

The account said in a caption on Friday, “Our problems stem from the very top at the network and production company levels. In nonfiction production PMs, LPs, and Producers are some of the most abused and most underpaid roles.” (The acronyms refer to production managers and line producers.)

That’s been illustrated by anonymous stories that are often very specific, calling out shows and production companies, and general working conditions across all shows. This is very clearly a systemic, industry-wide problem.

In the caption for an image about the gaslighting producers experience, the account wrote:

We get a lot of messages like this and really wanted to make a note of the emotional and mental toll these jobs take on people. Working 60-100 hour weeks is unhealthy (there’s a reason the standard is 40 in every other industry). On top of that, most producers and production are expected to be on call at all times. Raise your hands if you’ve been asked to jump on a call at midnight after you already worked a 14 hour day that started at 6am?

One recent post pointed out that PAs and other low-level employees are asked “to pay for additional gear baggage [fees], COVID testing, meals, gas.” While they’re promised reimbursement, the person notes, “We are hired on to a multimillion dollar production, we’re not ATM machines who should use our own money to cover the cost of a production.”

That, to me, is the central point: Reality productions are making millions of dollars in profit for networks and streaming services, in part because of how relatively cheap they are to produce. But the people who actually make the show possible are suffering.

Of course, workers suffering while others benefit is something our society is sadly quite comfortable with. I’m absolutely guilty of that: I regularly order from Amazon even though I know about the horrific conditions for the people who make it possible for me to have instant gratification.

And watching a TV show, it’s easy to forget about all the people behind the camera, which is one reason I appreciated that Survivor 41’s premiere briefly showed us the crew.

Some of the stories posted to @nonfictionunite include:

Among those production companies called out by name, though not always with specific show titles mentioned, are:

While there may be good reason to be skeptical of anonymously reported complaints, many have a chorus of people commenting with similar stories or confirming the same thing happened to them.

And there is a clear pattern across the stories posted to the account, and a sense that the people who literally do the work on reality TV aren’t being treated well, fairly compensated, or even acknowledged for their work. As one person wrote:

“So l openly do not complain about work because I don’t wanna get fired or black balled by some of the weirder LPs [line producers] out there, but in the past I’ve worked 18 hour days, skipped lunches to stay on top of work, stayed late in the office til midnight to get things done, taken on five or six jobs to make sure everything was running, all for many, MANY, EPs [executive producers] to barely acknowledge how I’ve worked til my fingers bled for their stupid shows.”

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About the author

  • 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. Learn more about Andy.

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