Wondering about how a certain reality show pulled something off? Have a question about a certain contestant?
Whether it's "Survivor," "American Idol," "The Apprentice," "Real World" or another show, send in your questions. Andy Dehnart, msnbc.com's Television Editor and creator of Reality Blurred, will try to answer them.
Q: Are the so-called contestants on the preview of "American Idol," like that guy dressed as a flower, hired to boost interest, or are they just people looking for attention? — Randy Moss, New York, N.Y.
A: If only the guy dressed like a flower was hired by the producers, then we could all sleep a little easier. But alas, as we saw during the first two audition episodes, the mere presence of cameras is enough to draw both delusional people (who think they can sing well and are in for a reality check) and attention-seeking nitwits (who know they can't sing but realize they can still get on TV despite that). The people we see are all too real, even if they are just playing to the cameras.
After two audition episodes this season, we haven't seen as many costumed or off-the-wall characters as before. There has been some weird behavior (like the guy who collected his own fingernail clippings and then brought them with him to the audition), but as we've seen, some of those people can actually sing.
However, many are just there to be on television, nothing more.
Simon Cowell even addressed this on the seventh season's first episode. Before Ben Haar, the hairy man dressed in a Princess Leia costume, returned with a freshly waxed chest, Simon asked him, "Benjamin, why should I bother listening to this?" The man replied, "'cause it might have been entertaining?" After he finally sang a few notes and was dismissed for having a terrible voice, Simon turned to the other judges and said, "All because that fat lump wants to be on TV."
While contestants like Ben are not paid to show up, they are planted by producers in a way. That's because producers screen the tens of thousands of people who show up to audition days before the three judges show up, and the producers choose who continues on and who goes home.
They could easily dismiss the wacky, crazy, costumed freaks, but they don't. Instead, they let them return to do their shtick in front of the judges — and in front of us. (This isn't anything new. During season four, for example, comedian Chris Wylde showed up in a costume, identified by his birth name, Christopher Noll.)
That this is happening has become even more obvious this season, as a number of the more freaky contestants — like the Paula Abdul-obsessed man who sang a made-up song about stalking her ("I broke into her house when she wasn't there/took off my clothes and tried on her underwear") and Renaldo Lapuz, who sang a song about being Simon Cowell's brother — were both well above age 28, the oldest one can be to audition. Lapuz, for example, was 44.
In other words, the producers advanced people in the competition who had no chance of winning just to ensure that the audition episodes would be entertaining. With that sort of guarantee of camera time and attention, it's no wonder that so many people do their best to dress and act crazily. For many of them, it pays off, if being laughed at by 30 million people is what they were looking for.
Q: How long is the program for "The Biggest Loser"? I often wonder, since its program is similar to military basic training (as far as fitness is concerned). — Christopher, Honolulu
A: The production of "The Biggest Loser" lasts about four months.
With 11 episodes in season three and 14 episodes in season four, that means the weeks we see on TV are pretty close to real-life weeks.
Other shows usually tape a "week" in about three days. On "The Apprentice," for example, Donald Trump refers to a "13-week job interview," but in reality, each episode takes three days to film, so they're only there for a couple weeks.
However, by the time we see the contestants during the live finale, it's been about eight or nine months total since the contestants started their weight-loss programs. That's because there's time between the conclusion of taping and the broadcast debut, never mind the time it takes to air all of the episodes.
Q: What is the name of the opening theme music on "The Amazing Race"? — Carl S., Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
A: There doesn't seem to be an official title for it, other than "The Amazing Race theme song" or some variant of that.
However, it was composed by John M. Keane, who also composes for "CSI," among other series and movies. He, like everyone else in the known universe, has a MySpace page, on which he says he "[wrote] the theme and thematic material" for the CBS reality series.
is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.