So you want to be on a reality TV show? Be prepared. If you actually make it, you’re probably going to lose.
There’s only one “Survivor,” one “Apprentice,” one “Top Model” every season. Odds are you’ll be eliminated, voted off, fired or just plain told to leave. The painful process — which doesn’t involve any cameras following your every move — will go something like this:
CAPTIVITYAfter you get the inevitable boot, you won’t skulk off-camera back to your home in Anytown, U.S.A. First, you’ll be banished to a hotel or some such place where you’ll be forbidden from leaving and your every move will be supervised by a casting staff, tasked with keeping the show’s secrets confidential.
That doesn’t mean you won’t have fun. During a past season of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” fired candidates and their chaperones populated half a hotel floor for the duration of the two-month shoot, which included a communal suite filled with food, beer, video games, DVDs and books. The firees were frequently escorted to dinners, concerts and shows while waiting to go home.
“We basically just kept them entertained to keep them from getting bored,” one “Apprentice” casting staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the show’s lengthy nondisclosure agreement, tells The Associated Press.
Before they’re booked a room at Hotel Reject, eliminated contestants usually undergo a chat with a staff psychologist, who’s on-call 24/7, to assess their mental state and smooth their transition from potential millionaire to inferior flop.
“Sometimes a couple of the people were upset when they first got kicked off,” says the former “Apprentice” staffer. “When they first come over, (the psychologist) would talk to them about the rules and discuss their stay and make them feel comfortable.”
Although NBC refused to comment on behind-the-scenes “Apprentice” issues, the staffer said many of the show’s sequester rules were broken. One of candidates invited people from a bar back to the hotel one night. Other firees kept in contact with surviving candidates via e-mail, a no-no which prompted a step-up in security.
“Usually, (fired candidates) would be in the same room or in hearing distance of somebody on the staff to make sure they didn’t discuss that they had actually lost,” the “Apprentice” staffer says of the candidates’ phone calls.
Before being sent home, you’ll be debriefed on what you can or cannot do. Most shows put a gag order on contestants, requiring they stay far away from any media and don’t reveal even the slightest detail about the show to friends and family.
After production has wrapped, you’ll finally be sent home with your newfound reality TV knowledge. Because there’s usually a few months between the end of shooting and when the first episode airs on TV, you won’t be able to reveal where you’ve been for the past few months. Nobody will know you’ve just had the experience of a lifetime.
“You come back and you’re really excited, and you have to go back to your regular life that you’ve left for two months,” explains Lynn Warren, who was eliminated with his teammate and boyfriend Alex Ali during the latest “Amazing Race.” “We would do so much in 12 hours on the race. Then, you come home and sit around for 12 hours. In 12 hours on the race, you’ve already visited three countries.”
“It’s hard to keep the secret,” adds Ali. “We don’t get to see it. We don’t know what they’re going to put on.”
Most reality show rejects find it difficult to discover normality again after having cameras in their faces 24/7. Janu Tornell, who quit “Survivor: Palau,” found it more difficult than most. After being sequestered as a member of the jury, Tornell did the unimaginable when she came back to the United States: she sequestered herself in her home.
“Coming back from ‘Survivor,’ it was really traumatic,” says Tornell. “I didn’t think it would be. I hid in my house for about a month. I didn’t drive. I was just kind of freaked out by the whole thing.”
Before Tornell could explain to the AP why exactly she was “freaked out,” a CBS spokeswoman pulled her off the phone — Tornell wasn’t allowed to answer due to her nondisclosure agreement.
As a reality show reject, you’ll become very familiar with network spokespeople. Usually, they’ll be your last and only link between your ho-hum life and reality show glamour, as the casting staff have already moved on to other jobs on other shows.
STARDOMOnce your show starts airing, one thing is certain: You will be more famous than you ever were before. People will notice you on the street. Some will ask for autographs. Bartenders will smile and tell you, “It’s on the house.” It’ll be awesome.
“We love people stopping us on the street,” says Warren, adding that his favorite part about being a reality TV star is the free booze.
Don’t drink too much, though. You still have to keep all your show’s plots and secrets from your friends and family, who will no doubt hound you each week to figure out the reality behind your reality show. According to Bill Rancic, the toothy winner of the first “Apprentice,” it’ll be much easier if you know you have a one-in-two shot at winning.
“For me, it wasn’t difficult,” says Rancic, who was crowned during a live finale. “I wanted everyone to enjoy the experience. I wanted them to watch it as it unfolded. I gave my word. And my word is my word.”
Word. But you should probably try your hardest not to get divorced, arrested or cause a scene until your show has gone off the air and everyone has forgotten about you. Just ask those “American Idol” kids with criminal records or “Apprentice” hothead Chris Shelton. Before he was fired by Donald Trump, his mug shot and disorderly conduct arrest made headlines. It was a seemingly mundane crime, newsworthy only because he was on a reality show.
“After we were done, I tried to forget about ‘The Apprentice,”’ says Shelton, “but then when the show started airing and the press became interested, you can’t really escape it.”