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.

Reality TV is actually not, well … real.

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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.

We're cheap.

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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.

We're masters of manipulation.

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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.

We're all-powerful.

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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.”

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We lie about how long a job takes us.

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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.

We prefer flawed people.

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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.

Celebrities scheme more than anyone.

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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.

We look deep into your past and perosnal life.

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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.

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Some shows are more "real" than others.

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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.

Contestants will alter their entire personalities for us.

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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.

We love getting into contestants' heads on camera.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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

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