Lauren Conrad [formerly] of The Hills: $75,000 per episode
Jon & Kate [currently] of Jon Minus Kate Still Have 8: $75,000 per episode
Dancing with the Stars contestants: $200,000 for the entire season
The average reality star: $0
I’ve been on the reality TV wave for awhile now, and although it can hardly be considered quality programming, I love me some “real” fake drama. VH1’s Daisy of Love, Bravo’s Top Chef & Real Housewive franchise, Fox’s American Idol, MTV’s The Real World, E!’s Kendra; my Sundays are spent watching marathons of the aforementioned programs (awkward). Although I realize that being on the show probably isn’t as enjoyable as watching the weekly carnage, I had no idea of the conditions endured by the vast majority of reality TV contestants until reading Edward Wyatt of the New York Times piece “For TV Contestants, A Harsh Reality.”
Unscripted reality series make up a quarter of television programming, and it’s not hard to ascertain why; they are wildly popular, cheap to produce, and relatively easy to recruit for. Although participants are warned of the stress of production in their contracts, many have no idea of what they are actually signing up for. Days typically start at 6/7 am, and last through to 1/2 in the morning so that each participant can film their confessionals. They have no access to television or their cell phones or laptops, and become little more than lifeforms subsisting in the fishbowl…if that fishbowl was filled with vodka. Contestants on shows from The Bachelor to Hell’s Kitchen to Project Runway all attest to the limited food but unlimited booze present on set. On VH1’s dating shows the drinking is always out in the open, but former contestants want it to be known that this was the rule on other shows too. I’m a college student; I’m all for free flowing liquor and good times, but even I know that Spring Break doesn’t last forever for a reason, and the conditions endured by these contestants could quickly devolve into hell.
People are willing to do a lot for a little (re: every season of The Real World ever made), but reality show producers are not making it clear enough just what you’re going to be up against as soon as you sign on the dotted line. For many of them, the conditions are worth the risk, but it does beg the question, how far are we willing to go for our 15 minutes of fame.