In the past decade reality television has taken over our homes, becoming the cheapest thrill for both the studios and the viewers. Flipping through the channels you are more likely to come across reruns of The Kardashians, The Biggest Loser or The Real Housewives, instead of the classic episodes of Friends or Seinfeld. Snookie and the other cast members of The Jersey shore can be spotted internationally, while nobody can name that amazing, talented actress recognized only by face from appearing in various nighttime dramas. It is taking over our entertainment, which is not the problem.

If you are anything like me, you enjoy the occasional reality show because it doesn’t involve a lot of thinking and can even be background noise while you are trying to do other things. But it is important that everyone understand that much of “reality” TV is not real. Sure it varies from show to show and network to network, but don’t believe everything you see. We often hear reality stars say not to believe everything you watch in interviews off the show and off camera but I am here to say, as someone who experienced it firsthand, it’s really true; not only is much of it false, but also abusive.

In sharing some of my story with you of when I joined the cast of a reality tv show two years ago (to this day!), I am not encouraging you to stop watching it (though there are so many great stories being told right now on scripted tv shows that are worth giving a shot!) I am simply giving you a little glimmer of what the unhealthy reality was for me. In doing so, I am hoping your perspective on these shows changes, that you think twice before judging the people on them, especially because they probably thought the exact same thing I did: “I am going to use this opportunity to get exposure to help me fulfill my many dreams and will NOT let the show makers manipulate me. I will not be made a fool”. It was naive and I went into it with the best of intentions, believing I was stronger than any other person who had ventured to the dark side of the reality world before, and that I was going to be a positive influence on the show. But like everyone else, I was one small pawn in the very complicated, well thought out game that is this new genre of entertainment.

When I decided to do the show, it wasn’t without many doubts. I was wary of what would appear behind the “fancy” walls of the reality “mansion” in an unknown location.  But in the back of my mind, I didn’t want to be the girl who said no when I was picked over thousands all over the country; especially because this show was supposed to be perfect for me – it was an acting competition and a platform for me to perform my craft. I was reminded on numerous occasions just how many girls they were interviewing for one of ten spots and that these girls would “die” for the same opportunity-how could I say no? Would you? Sadly, the editing, manipulation and extreme calculation that goes on behind the curtains, is a well-kept secret, which is the reason that I cannot elaborate.

The fact that there is much cutting and editing that goes in may not be such a secret, but the real surprise for me was the way they were able to break us down emotionally. From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem as though we were breaking down from the pressure, the stress and the stakes presented by the show. But the reality is that we had so many additional things working against us from the get go: no communication with the outside world (this I fully expected and was prepared for, though they did say we’d be able to email but that was not true at all), being forced to stay up to do interviews until the wee hours of the night (two to four hours of sleep would be your best bet after the interview and before the next day’s work), and extended periods of time without food and a lack of healthy options when we did finally get to eat  were just some of their ways to torture us. Though torture may seem like a strong word to use, it is indeed torture when someone is sleep deprived. If you look up torture on Wikipedia, under the paragraph of  “Torture Methods and Devices” sleep deprivation is among the first listed.

The producers or you might argue that we chose to stay up until 5 am and could have slept between our activity of the night and the interviews if we needed the sleep. When was the last time you were able to fall asleep with a microphone up the back of your shirt, cameras taping your every move, and all of the lights on not to mention the people awake and chit chatting in the room you are supposed to get rest in? I would hardly call it a choice to sleep or not in an environment like the one I was living in.

As for the food we ate, they made it seem like we would be able to request whatever we wanted to eat when we got to the location. Yes, this was true. A request is one thing – what was brought to our kitchen was quite another. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t about to eat pasta and chips for dinner knowing I’d have to be on camera half-naked for the world to see the next day! So again, lack of nutrition made it very difficult to maintain a clear head and emotionally stable existence.

Every question we were asked, every story we told and comment we made had been so carefully strung together to create exactly the story the producers were looking for; a story that made us look bad so you, the viewer, can feel better about your own life. We love to watch tragedy, right? It gives us a chance to be glad we aren’t the one experiencing what we are watching. It’s no different from driving by a car accident and wanting nothing more than to see how bad the accident was. It gives us a chance to feel good about our selves and our own lives. This isn’t such a terrible thing and the contrast to our own lives can definitely put things in perspective.  I just hope that hearing even just a little something that you didn’t know about the world of reality TV will change your perspective on the people who are portrayed. It certainly changed mine.

Yes, they chose to participate. Yes, they wanted the exposure, but I don’t believe anyone can possibly go into it knowing exactly what their experience will be and how they will be portrayed. Sure, network to network, show to show, the contestants will have varying experiences; I highly doubt Heidi Klum or Tyra Banks treat their contestants poorly as they have major reputations to uphold. Some shows really do allow its “cast” to show their true colors and be portrayed respectfully and honestly. Others couldn’t be farther from the truth. But the bottom line is, you just never know what really happened in the “reality” of reality TV, so please watch with an open heart if you choose to watch it at all.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Lana House

Click here to read an interesting article about a British show where contestants chose to be sleep deprived (and ultimately tortured) for the chance to win one hundred thousand pounds.

Studio Owner, House Pilates

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