13 Secrets Reality TV Show Producers Wont Tell You | Reader's Digest

13 Secrets Reality TV Show Producers Won’t Tell You

Want to know how to get on a reality TV show, and what to expect if you make it? Get ready to be disillusioned.

By Michelle Crouch
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine September 2013
  • Loading
    Eddie Guy for Reader's Digest

    Reality TV is actually not, well … real.

    True, there’s no script, but we have writers who craft plot lines, twisting and tweaking footage to create conflict and shape a story. Oh, and we redo things all the time. On Biggest Loser, the contestants have to walk up to the scale about five times so the producer can capture all the angles on camera.

    Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment

    We're cheap.

    We’re always trying to get as much talent as possible while spending as little money as possible. Ninety-nine percent of the people on reality TV get their expenses covered and maybe a daily stipend of $20 or $30, but that’s it.

    Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

    We're masters of manipulation.

    We often take different clips and edit them together to sound like one conversation, sometimes drastically changing the meaning. We can even create complete sentences from scratch. It’s so common, we have a name for it: frankenbiting. If you see someone talking and 
then the camera cuts away to a shot of something else but you still hear their voice, that’s likely frankenbiting.

    Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    We're all-powerful.

    In most competition shows, a clause in the contract says the producer—not the judges—has 
the final say in who’s eliminated. The judges usually make the picks, but producers do step in occasionally and say, “This person is really good for the show; I don’t want him kicked off just yet.”

    Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

    We lie about how long a job takes us.

    Compelled to redo your bathroom in a day after watching a DIYer do it on a reality show? Not so fast. Maybe we made it look like it took only 24 hours, but we actually had a professional crew working on it for two weeks. And the budget we gave was completely unrealistic.

    Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images

    We prefer flawed people.

    Here’s a tip for applying to be on a reality show: Talk about your weakness—whether you’re terrified of snakes or you can’t stand lawyers and salesmen. The producers love that stuff.

    Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

    Celebrities scheme more than anyone.

    Anytime you have an “all-stars” version of a show, the players are almost always on the phone with each other beforehand making deals. But most of the stars are so shady, they break their alliances before the game even starts, so it’s still interesting.

    Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

    We look deep into your past and perosnal life.

    The big shows do an extensive background check on all prospective stars. We call friends and family members, conduct drug and STD tests, make you sit through endless interviews, and do psychological and physical examinations.

    Wathig Khuzale/Getty Images

    Some shows are more "real" than others.

    Not all reality shows are the same, and some are heavily staged. On House Hunters, some of the houses toured on camera were reportedly friends’ homes that weren’t even on the market. And for day-in-the-life shows about different occupations, many producers fake scenarios (like a tree falling on a logger) to add drama.

    Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

    Contestants will alter their entire personalities for us.

    I once had a woman cast as a villain who turned out to be the nicest lady ever. As producer, I sat her down and said, “Listen, you were cast in this role. If you want to make good TV, if you want the series to come back and make more money next year, then you need to play along. If you don’t, you’re going to be cut out entirely.” It worked.

    Vince Bucci/Getty Images

    We love getting into contestants' heads on camera.

    The on-camera interviews are especially produced. You can nudge a cast member to think a certain way or tell them something that will change their tune.

    Phil Mislinski/Getty Images

    The quickest way to judge the budget of a show? Location.

    If they’re shooting outside in parks and on the street, they pretty much have no budget. To save money, I’ve shot things at my own house before.

    David McNew/Getty Images

    You’re seeing only a sliver of the action on that 42-minute episode you just watched.

    The 
Biggest Loser, for example, has 11 cameras running eight hours a day. That’s 88 hours of footage a day, seven days a week. So we end up with 616 hours of video for just one week’s episode, which allows us to create the story line we want.     

    Sources: Pascual Romero, a former reality-TV producer; Rob Cesternino, a two-time Survivor contestant who runs robhasawebsite.com; Chantal Devane, an interior designer in the Minneapolis area who worked on a reality TV episode; a reality-show assistant director; and a reality show producer

    POPULAR RIGHT NOW

    Your Comments

    • abbie

      im doing a report on this and i need some help. this website is a little confusing should i go to a different one? would there be better info?

    • Megan

      I could’ve predicted this list and I didn’t even have to read it! Reality TV is just a way for TV producers to humiliate people!

    • Tessa Pechal

      OHHHH brother. This list isn’t true for every show and if you say you don’t watch any reality tv you are probably over exaggerating. Calm down. Every show is like a pearl. Some are beautiful, some are ugly but they were all ripped out from an oyster. -tessa

    • jayarby

      This is why I don’t watch “reality” TV.

    • Tbonerz

      I’ve never cared for any “reality” tv shows! They’re just too phony and predictable, and have an outcome that I simply could NOT care any less about…when the participants try to act like they are unaware of the presence of camera’s, it’s just BS! I occasionally watch a talent show and see something I actually like, but not regularly, and American Idol isn’t one of them

    • Peter Makker

      #4. I knew that. Why do you think Idol winners suck compared to the non-winners?