Ever watched a reality TV marathon? Watching one right now? Me too.
Have you ever reached the end of an episode (or 5 episodes, or maybe even 10) and felt like your own life isn’t that awesome? Part of the reason is because reality TV makes it seem like other peoples’ “real” lives are more interesting than our own. But, a lot of reality TV isn’t real.
In many ways reality TV shows are a lot like the glossy, highly-produced, fictional TV shows and movies we’re used to seeing during primetime. And importantly, they are business ventures designed to grab your attention so that advertisers can reach you with their products.
How do we know? We know Hollywood insiders, and some of us on the ShimmerTeam have worked on sets. Here are just some of the production secrets of reality TV that stars and producers usually keep under wraps. These don’t always apply all the time or to every show. But next time you’re find yourself in the midst of a Netflix binge, pay attention and see if you can spot any “unreal” moments.
1. They have dream teams of stylists. Yes, world-famous reality stars have closets full of clothes and shoes, but they also have people helping them with their looks. Stars don’t even have to buy all of their clothes because designers will send them for free. One photo of a celebrity wearing a designer piece can send sales skyrocketing as fans rush to look like their favorite stars.
2. They contain advertisements you may not even realize. There’s a term in the media world, “product placement” (AKA: embedded advertising), which is when certain items or brands are subtly (sneakily) or not so subtly mentioned or visible during programming. Advertisers pay to get their products noticed in this way because they know that if you see your favorite stars drinking a certain drink, vacationing at a certain resort, driving a specific car, or gushing about their new favorite fashion brand in “real life” scenarios, you may be inspired to follow their lead. Many times you hear a brand name or see a logo, it is because the product placement team is making sure you do. So, next time you see your favorite star driving a car or staying at a resort, look out for the logos or any ways in which stars are complementing a given product. How does it change your view of the product? Do you want one for yourself?
3. They can’t film just anywhere. In real life, you can go where you want for lunch or to shop. Reality shows have permits to tape in certain public and private areas. Some venues will refuse film crews because they don’t want to be on camera or they don’t want to disturb their customers. Other places LOVE it because it means they get extra press (similar to product placement), and that can be REALLY good for business. How many times have you thought you would love to shop or eat where your favorite stars do?
4. Reality stars go through a casting process just like actors. Producers and network heads audition people, paying attention to their appearance and personalities to determine whether they could capture viewers’ interest. On talent competition shows (like American Idol), scouts don’t let people through on their artistic abilities alone. In order to appear in front of the judges table, contestants must have star-quality looks and a great back story. Think about your favorite reality stars. Do you know what they do for a living? Where they are from and who their family is? The answer is probably yes.
5. Scenes are staged and scripted for maximum drama. Reality stars are real people, and most plot lines are based in reality (like when someone falls in love, gets married, or wins a contest). But producers know they have a set amount of time to tell a story, keeping you glued to the screen and coming back for more. So, scenes are set up for maximum impact. Sometimes, stars will know in advance what is going to happen in a certain scene. Maybe they are about to run into their ex with his new girlfriend or maybe they are going to realize their friends went on vacation without them.
6. That includes wakeup scenes. Ever noticed how beautiful some people look waking up on camera? Often, stars will have already had their hair and makeup done before they get out of bed – or maybe they get out of bed for hair and makeup and then get back in. The wakeup scene that reaches your screen is rarely au natural.
7. “Boring” scenes of everyday life hit the cutting room floor. Single reality episode can be the result of hundreds of hours of filming. Think about what would happen if you had a production crew following you around? What would they capture? Would every moment be exciting and dramatic? Producers and editors show you the most exciting and dramatic moments to keep your attention, but that also means you’re only getting part of the story.
Watching the constant shopping sprees, private jet journeys, and start treatment reality stars enjoy can send us all into fantasy or full FOMO mode. But, if it starts to get you down, making you feel like your own “real life” isn’t interesting or cool enough, remember that your favorite stars have their share of “ordinary” moments, too, even if you aren’t seeing them.