Reality TV casting director Jazzy Collins, CSA, has worked on everything from Rachel Lindsay’s season of The Bachelorette to Peacock’s first season of The Traitors, plus Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrls, Love Island, and The Circle.
Her work casting The Traitors US earned her a second Emmy nomination, making her the first Black two-time Emmy nominee in the category. (The Emmys will now be presented in early 2024 because of the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.)
After years of working on The Bachelor and Bachelorette, Jazzy Collins did something few people in Hollywood do: she called out the show she’d been working for, describing her own experience on the crew (“I felt alone”) and critiquing the production itself (“Your show has white-washed for decades, inside and out”).
When I interviewed Jazzy a few weeks ago, I had questions about The Traitors—of course!—but we began our conversation about the reality TV industry with that moment. (This interview has been condensed and edited to clean up human speech.)
Andy Dehnart: If you don’t mind me starting [with The Bachelor], I’m curious if there was any sort of reaction, on any level—people really grateful that you were talking about this, or any kind of blowback?
Jazzy Collins: I think I was expecting to get a lot more blacklisting, and I’m not going to hire you because you spoke out about such a large company and such a large franchise. But actually, I was met with the complete opposite. Everyone was really, really supportive.
Other people came forward with their experiences as well. A collective of people that were at The Bachelor at one point and experienced—whether it be racism, or prejudices—and we got to talk a little bit more about it.
It almost felt therapeutic to discuss it, but it also really opened up [a conversation]: Hey, we have a problem here when it comes to casting and production, and making sure things are done in a great manner and making sure everyone is represented properly—on screen and behind the camera.
Andy Dehnart: Does the problem primarily lie with audiences—like the racist reaction to Rachel’s season of The Bachelorette? Or is it just structural racism and institutional problems at companies who are producing shows?
What do you think kept reality TV from really being reflective of the world?
Jazzy Collins: I think it’s a mixture of both. When reality TV first came to market and was big, if you look back on some old shows, even America’s Next Top Model, you see some of the scenes and it’s so cringy. We just accepted it, right? Because we thought it was okay.
Now at this point, after the Black Lives Matter movement, I think people were like: Listen, we need to do something and actually start representing the people that are watching TV shows.
From there, then we have that discussion, especially with casting—because it all starts with us.
What can we do to make sure more minorities are represented properly on TV? What we really did was start reaching out to people that we normally wouldn’t cast. We started opening ourselves up to communities, like the deaf community, and really trying to find ways to get them on TV.
More recognition is there, but [we also had to be] making sure we weren’t having any implicit bias when we started casting. I think a lot of people want to cast people they know, or what they think Black people look like on TV. Now we’re realizing: No, we need to start casting responsibly, and go from there.
Executives also are the ones greenlighting these series. So we’ve got to make sure executives are also doing all of this responsibly, and I’m starting to see a shift, a lot more representation. And I’m excited to see where we’re going to go in the next five to 10 years.
Andy Dehnart: In your experience, are executives still as active in casting as they were in those early days, or are they giving more trust to production companies?
Jazzy Collins: Yes, it’s a mixture of both. We still have a lot of conversations with networks, and we have a lot with production companies, and also the casting company. It’s a very collective discussion every time we cast something. Even if the network may not agree with the production company, casting can jump in. It’s all a collective discussion, and then we come to an agreement who we think would be best for the show.
Andy Dehnart: In terms of reaching out to people who wouldn’t be cast on TV, I think there’s this stigma that maybe still remains—and I know I contributed to it by talking about people who were recruited as, like, we’re just casting models.
Can you talk about the process of finding people? They’re still going through the same process as everyone else, right? It’s not just you just pluck someone from Instagram and pop them into a house.
Jazzy Collins: No, no—it’s a mixture of different scenarios, depending on what show. When I worked on Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrls, we were casting a full-figured woman cast, and that hasn’t been seen—ever—on TV.
It’s easy to plug bigger women into the eating category—you know, they were struggling with their weight. That’s not the story [here]. The story is who are they individually, and we really go in and dive in. We got to highlight people like Ashley, who was a part of an HBCU and a majorette, and were able to explore stories like that rather than just talking about who they are and their weight.
Bringing Raven on to The Circle—the first time we had a deaf contestant on The Circle—we wanted to make sure that she was represented properly. We first brainstormed: Who have we not seen on this show yet? My associates and I spent time and found a couple of people that we all auditioned, and Raven ended up being the one chosen. That was so eye-opening, to see a person of a different community just do the show like everyone else.
A lot of people think that, if you are part of another community, you have to tell that story. No. You can just show: Hey, I’m Raven, I can do this. I can do the same thing as everyone else. And that’s something that we really make sure [about] when we move forward.
Andy Dehnart: Something I think has been a problem since The Real World is the idea that if there’s one of a person of a certain type, such as a gay man, someone who’s gay like me might look at that person and be like, That’s not all gay men!
Casting the Lizzo show, you had many people who are plus-sized women of color, and [viewers] can see they’re not all identical in personality, whereas when you have one deaf person, some people might project onto them. Maybe that’s way beyond what casting actually does! But I’m curious if that comes into your conversations.
Jazzy Collins: Oh, that’s actually a really great question. But that’s not something that really comes up too frequently. We want to make sure that we produce the perfect cast for that show in that timeframe. We have conversations talking a little bit about having these different types of groups and representation.
But really, once they get on set, we have story producers building these stories. We can give them as much as we possibly can, and make sure the stories are being told, but at the end of the day, they have full control of what ends up being on the screen.
It is their responsibility to make sure that these stories are told properly and in the correct light, making sure that we really get visibility into these communities.
Andy Dehnart. Once you’ve cast a show, do you keep contact with the people you’ve cast? Or is it kind of like a once-and-done situation?
Jazzy Collins: Most of my shows are a once-and-done, but for The Traitors and The Circle, I actually was also on set with the contestants. I was there with them during the toughest part of their lives—because being on a reality show is tough—and I still keep in contact with a lot of them.
Andy Dehnart: Speaking of The Traitors! How did you approach it, especially with a show that most people are not familiar with? [Only the original Dutch season had aired then.] And casting both reality and civilian people at the same time, how does that change what you do compared to a show like The Circle?
Jazzy Collins: When we first got approached about this show, they gave us a copy of the Dutch format. So we were able to watch it and have an idea. A lot of it was just explaining to people how the show works.
What type of people would work on this show? We just brainstormed different jobs and what we think would be good on a psychological show. Would we put on a teacher? A hairstylist? A political analyst? It was just like: Who’s really smart but also really gullible? Who’s gonna fall for things?
Balancing with celebrities that are rock stars, and you know they’re going to compete—like Cody and Rachel—you want to make sure that they also can line up and still stand out.
Quentin is a little bit gullible, but you still like him, and you fall for him. Andie was a great game player; I think they played a game that was very inconspicuous. You didn’t really see them play, but they were playing, especially when I was on set. A lot of stuff obviously just doesn’t make the final cut.
But it’s really interesting to see these two types of people perform, and really take the game so seriously, and we got such a great result. Having both for celebrity cast and a civilian cast—hats off to that decision. I thought it was great.
Andy Dehnart: I would love to see [Andie] on a show by themselves without Cirie—that betrayal was so heartbreaking and perfect for TV, but also on a human level, I felt terrible for them.
Jazzy Collins: Watching it all happen live—because I was sitting there at the finale—and Cirie was still standing there, and I was just gripping my chair, like, Oh no! It’s gonna be heartbreaking to watch but a great, great reality TV moment.
Andy Dehnart: For its second season, The Traitors decided it’s only doing reality cast members. Does that make your job easier or harder? Are people coming to you now that they see what the game is—they’re eager to do it?
Jazzy Collins: A lot of people are really interested in doing season two—I’ve gotten a lot of celebs that have reached out to me via text and Instagram, like, Hey, can I go on season two?
I’m actually not a part of [casting] season two. Whoever they do select for the cast, I’m sure it’s going to be amazing.
Andy Dehnart: Do you like casting competition versus shows that more personality-driven? I guess Lizzo’s is one that landed in the middle—it’s obviously a competition, but also more documentary-style.
Jazzy Collins: Yeah, I love competition, and I think it’s because I grew up as a competitive dancer for 15 years of my life. There’s always a little spark inside of me that loves to compete and has that game-show mentality.
A lot of these competitions shows are really story-driven. I’m getting the best of both worlds, being able to explore these really great stories but also watching people outside their comfort zone, competing to win money. I love it.
Andy Dehnart: Your title is CSA, which I think refers to the casting Society of America, right?
Jazzy Collins: Yeah.
Andy Dehnart: What does that mean when we see that attached to a casting director’s name?
Jazzy Collins: CSA was created, basically, to establish a standard of professionalism in the casting field. You have to apply to be a part of it, and the peers that are in CSA then accept you. You have to have enough credits and show that you have worked as a casting director professionally for a certain amount of time to be accepted into CSA.
If you see a “comma CSA” next to someone’s name, you know they are a legitimate casting director, and they’ve been working in the industry for many, many years. You feel like you’ve kind of made it in the casting world.
Andy Dehnart: It’s not a union, correct? Or are you as a casting director covered under [another union]?
Jazzy Collins: So, that’s different. Casting directors in scripted are actually wrapped in a union under Teamsters. Reality casting directors do not currently have a union. Obviously, we would love to push forward to have that one day and be represented, hopefully by Teamsters. We all need protection these days.
Andy Dehnart: As an Emmy nominee—congratulations!—I’m curious what it feels like for you being voted on by an industry that sometimes doesn’t always respect, or even watch the reality TV shows that are being voted on.
Is that something you can even think about? Or is it just totally out of your control and therefore not a concern?
Jazzy Collins: It’s funny, because I think when people think of reality TV, we’re definitely the stepchildren of TV. Especially casting overall is the stepchildren. Casting can’t even get an Oscar yet.
But we’re thankful that the Emmys make sure to include reality casting, and I’m very, very thankful to be not only nominated once, but this is my second nomination for reality casting, and it’s been a whirlwind.
Especially as someone who grew up watching a lot of TV, I always dreamed about working behind the scenes. It’s such an honor to be able to experience something like this and share this moment with all of my colleagues who have also worked really hard on this show. And I’m really, really proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve produced for The Traitors this year.