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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.

Paula. Her starting weight was 18st 91b and Paula now weighs 14st 7lbITV/Shutterstock

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.

The Bachelorette - 2003Adam Larkey/Shutterstock

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.

Kim KardashianREX/Shutterstock

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. Don’t miss the most popular TV and movie quotes of all time.

Zac Posen, Jessica Alba, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia. Zac Posen, from left, Jessica Alba, Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia attend the NYFW Spring/Summer 2018 Project Runway fashion show at 550 Washington Street, in New YorkInvision/Shutterstock

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.”

GORDER MINASIAN Designer Genevieve Gorder, center, shows home-owner participants Amy Minasian, left, and husband Phil the color of the paint she plans to use as a cameraman tapes TLC's "Trading Spaces" in Katonah, N.Y., . A mix of a reality and game show, the series takes neighbors who agree, with a professional designer's help, to make over a room in the other's homeSTEPHEN CHERNIN/Shutterstock

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.

Alana Honey Boo Boo Thompson, June Shannon Seven-year-old beauty pageant regular and reality show star Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson speaks during an interview as her mother June Shannon looks on in her home in McIntyre, Ga. The round-cheeked second-grader, who previously appeared on the TLC show "Toddlers & Tiaras," has a penchant for outrageous catchphrases as seen on her reality TV show, "Here Comes Honey Boo BooJohn Bazemore/Shutterstock

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. Here’s exactly how unhealthy binge-watching really is.

The Celebrity Apprentice - 2005Douglas Gorenstein/Shutterstock

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.

'The Bachelor' on set filming, Los Angeles, USA - 28 Sep 2017REX/Shutterstock

We look deep into your past and personal 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.

Small two story brick home with porch and a garage on the side containing plenty of copy space,Lindasj22/Shutterstock

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.

Corinne OlympiosJohn Salangsang/Shutterstock

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.

MODEL RELEASED, Young male and female college students practicing in TV studio with green screenCultura/Shutterstock

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. These are some of the most addictive TV shows on Netflix.

Members of MTV reality show "Jersey Shore" Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, right, and Nicole "Deena" Cortese walk along Via dei Calzaiuoli in Florence, Italy Francesco Bellini/Shutterstock

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.

Contestants in the GymITV/Shutterstock

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. Don’t miss these secrets reality TV chefs won’t tell you.

Sources: Pascual Romero, a former reality-TV producer; Rob Cesternino, a two-time Survivor contestant who runs; 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

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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