Reality TV shows can be really addictive.
After all, they’re specifically designed to grab our attention and keep us coming back for more. The format first exploded in the 90s and early 00s and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down since. But just how much artistic license have producers taken with the term “reality”? Let’s find out!
10. Keeping up with the Kardashians
When the series began in 2007, no one expected that it would turn the likes of Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner into global superstars; famous simply for being on television. The Kardashian children essentially grew up on camera, with every detail of their family life exploited for publicity and ratings.
But just how far does the show truly mirror the titular family’s daily life? For one thing, the house that the show is filmed in is not even Kris Jenner’s real house!
According to a 2017 article by The Cut, viewers have noticed more than enough inconsistencies and slip-ups over the years to believe that the show isn’t at least partly scripted. One notable instance is in season six, when Kris Humphries proposed to Kim.
Since that time Kim has gone on to marry – and have children with – Kanye West, and in his divorce proceedings, Humphries had no qualms about dishing the dirt on Kim’s tv show. When filming the proposal episode, he said Kim was “completely surprised […] and embarrassed”. Instead of sticking with a less than perfect moment, Kim reportedly asked the producers if she could enter the room again and have a do-over so that they could capture the exact reaction she wanted.
Interestingly, Humphries claim was later confirmed to be true by the show’s producer Russell Jay. In the same document, Jay also mentioned that other scenes were also “scripted, edited or reshot” in order to portray Kris Humphries as a bad guy.
9. America’s Got Talent
Starting out in the UK, the “Got Talent” show format has generated spin-offs in over 58 countries. But, the live auditions aren’t really that unscripted.
Take one example from Britain’s Got Talent, posted on a Reddit AMA thread in 2016. Here, the user explains that any musical acts which seem too professional are purposefully avoided, in the fear that they might land a record deal and drop out before the end of the show, throwing the schedule into chaos. The same post also details the experience of the user’s cousin, who was rejected by judges simply because they didn’t have the “right image”.
Obviously, appearances are more important than actual talent when filming this show.Things don’t get much better when we head over to America’s Got Talent, either. A YouTube video by CaptainDisillusion debunked the live audition of Will Tsai, a 2017 contestant who performed a dazzling coin matrix illusion.
It seems likely that clever editing may have been at work in his live audition because when you slow down the framerate on the audition video, you can see that one of Tsai’s coins doesn’t move along with the others when his prop table shakes.
It’s not difficult to imagine producers of the show making this post-production fix in order to boost ratings. After all, he has his own YouTube channel dedicated to showing off his ‘magic’ tricks which are clearly edited in post-production.
8. The Bachelor
Everybody’s looking for love, and that’s precisely what makes dating shows like the Bachelor so popular. First airing in 2002, it remains one of the highest rated shows of its genre to this day; as a single man looks for his soulmate from a group of 25 contestants. Along the way, there are tasks and eliminations for any woman who doesn’t make the cut. The series ends with the bachelor proposing marriage to his chosen contestant. But this is where the questions begin.
Many viewers noticed that the majority of couples who end up together on the show either get divorced, or never walk down the aisle in the first place. For a TV show that is claiming to unite soulmates, it seems a little odd. It’s also alleged that showrunners won’t allow any contestants who are fan-favorites to be eliminated, in efforts to keep viewer numbers high.
When asked about his show in 2012, creator Mike Fleiss admitted that some of it is indeed fake. Commenting that “most [reality tv] shows are fake”. More recently, a 2018 book lifted the lid on the show, including what is known as “frankenbiting” – or “creating a sound bite which has been edited to have a new meaning”.
7. Pawn Stars
Pawn Stars has enjoyed huge success since it first aired in 2009. The show follows the fortunes of a family-owned pawn business in Las Vegas and the customers who visit their shop to make a deal. But just how real is this pawn shop? Well, to give credit where it is due, the shop does exist. However, due to the popularity of the show, it’s become more of a novelty tourist attraction than a functioning business.
Visiting the shop is akin to being on a TV set since the location is overrun with camera-wielding fans and the shop is filled with the show’s merchandise. What’s more, the stars of the show won’t even be seen working the counter outside of their filming hours. There are more than 50 other staff who are employed to run the business day-to-day.
In fact, when it comes to cutting deals with customers on the show, the prices are all pre-arranged before filming even begins. This is because customers have to sign a release form so that the showrunners can legally use their image and voice on the show. During this time, any item that the customer wants to put forward for sale will have been extensively vetted too. It makes sense – the show only wants to film the most interesting and expensive items. And there isn’t much incentive to waste time on the rest.
6. American Pickers
On this show, viewers can live vicariously through Wolfe and Fritz as they hunt for hidden treasures in the unlikeliest of places, from abandoned warehouses to junkyards in the middle of nowhere.
However, there has been questions on the show’s authenticity has been questioned, even down to the presenters’ credentials. Apparently, Frank Fritz had no history of working as a picker prior to 2002. Despite his claim that he had a lifelong passion for collecting; he worked as a fire safety inspector for 25 years.
After quitting to set up his own business, Frank’s Finds, he met and joined forces with Wolfe who convinced him to start the show. The fakery doesn’t only extend to the pickers, either. There have also been allegations that the producers plant interesting items for Wolfe and Frank to find. Surprisingly, this is not the only show of its type to employ such a tactic.
According to a Reddit thread, showrunners on UK TV show Cash in the Attic have been known to retrieve fake items from their own van, if a search of the contestant’s house proves fruitless. It makes sense really; not everyone is lucky enough to have a priceless antique buried in their attic.
5. The Apprentice
Before Donald Trump became the President, he was just a businessman with a reality tv show of his own. The Apprentice gave up to 18 contestants the chance to win a $250,000 starting contract to run one of Trump’s companies.
But though an impressive grand prize was offered by the show, all was not as it seemed. After winning the contest, contestants were supposed to be named Vice-Presidents of one of Trump’s companies. As it turned out, the role actually involved being a glorified spokesperson for the Trump Organisation.
Not only that, but the evictions aren’t even real. The contestants would hop into a cab with their suitcases, only to be transported to a hotel which they shared with the other fired candidates until the six-week film schedule was complete. Of course, this was done to conceal who was still in the running to the outside world.
It’s also highly likely producers manipulate contestants for desired emotional responses. A contestant from the British version revealed how producers held up signs with messages during parts of the show to incite arguments between fellow contestants.
This show followed Lauren Conrad and her friends as young adults attempting to forge their own careers, with Lauren entering the fashion industry. Alleged to be extremely scripted, the show had no small supply of drama, gossip, and backstabbing. One of the show’s stars, Spencer Pratt, revealed that he and Heidi Montag were told by producers to film a scene in which they thought Heidi was pregnant no less than fifteen times, to get the desired reaction.
The show’s creators Adam DiVello, Tony DiSanto and Sean Travis even did a tell-all interview with Seventeen magazine in 2016 in which they revealed which parts of the show were fake.
This included some of the casting; most notably Whitney, Lauren’s fellow intern at Teen Vogue. As well as Audrina, who went on to become one of Lauren’s closest friends before another drama-fuelled bust-up. Audrina was a model; producers approached when they discovered she lived in the same apartment complex as Lauren, but Whitney Port was discovered via a casting call.
That’s right. The show had the Teen Vogue intern role written so that Lauren would have a friend at work. The creators also admitted that reshooting did take place. This was done so that every part of a storyline could be recorded on camera. “If stuff happens off camera, or stuff happens on weekends […] we would go back and get it on camera”, DiVello said.
3. Jersey Shore
Jersey Shore first hit screens in 2009; the original entry in a format which has now been extended abroad. Although in real life, the stars of the show are friends, it doesn’t necessarily mean that its free from accusations of fakery. In fact, most of the regular cast aren’t even from New Jersey; with the exception of Cortese and Sammi Giancola. The now-famous Shore house isn’t a rental property, either. Even the nickname “Snooki” is fake. Snooki made it up just for the MTV application form and had never gone by the nickname in real life prior to the show.
Furthermore, according to several extras and locals who spoke to media outlets about the casts’ trip to Italy, much of what happens on the show is planned in advance. Even an attorney whose studio is across the street from the Jersey Shore digs said he’s seen rehearsals of their walkabouts and that they frequently reshoot scenes from different angles, repeating dialogue and rehearsing facial expressions. Not only that, their seemingly spontaneous nights out weren’t all they were made out to be. For instance, the fight between Pauly D and Vinny just so happened to occur right under a well-lit streetlight. Meanwhile, prior to their ‘spontaneous’ tussle, bodyguards had cornered off the area to keen drunk fans and paparazzi at bay.
2. Storage Wars
This whole show works because we’re excited to find out whether lockers will reveal a treasure trove or a mountain of junk. It’s a gamble that might just pay off. And in each episode, there’s no knowing whether you’ll witness someone make their fortune.
But, according to an article by The Hollywood Reporter, Dave Hester filed a lawsuit against the show; alleging that the show was not only scripted but that the storage lockers were “salted” with valuable items by producers. So, if the producers needed good items at short notice, they would turn to the cast to supply them. This was done all in an effort to make the show more entertaining. Of course, the rightful owners got the items back later; but bidding on something you already own is more than a little strange! Hester later settled the lawsuit out of court and returned to the show. Interestingly, the lawsuit had been based on Storage Wars being essentially a game show, with elements of luck and skill required.
1. Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares
With Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen among his repertoire, Gordon Ramsay is one of the staples of reality tv. He’s well known for berating contestants and brutally telling them how it is. But is this always the case?
In 2007, an article by the Guardian detailed allegations that Ramsay faked sequences to make a restaurant in Manhattan look worse than it really was. The lawsuit brought by Martin Hyde; the former manager of the restaurant. Hyde got sacked on camera after Ramsay falsely blamed him for all of the eatery’s failings. Ramsay claimed rotten hamburger meat and rat droppings were found in the restaurant’s kitchen, which Hyde claimed were fabricated lies.
In fact, he claimed they brought in an unstable chair; created by Ramsay’s staff to give the impression that the furniture was defective; and paid for extras to react to the food. Indeed, in scenes which showed Hyde supposedly preoccupied with his mobile phone. The manager was actually booking shows for his other business; a theatre.
The court eventually threw out the lawsuit, and since then Hyde has to face the repercussions of Ramsay’s wrath ever since. Even so, controversy in Gordon’s kitchen goes all the way back to 2005; a UK newspaper accused him of falsifying a restaurant’s performance on Kitchen Nightmares. Ramsay eventually won the case plus, he won a further libel case against the newspaper. But this likely isn’t the last controversy we’ll hear about this show.
Shocked by any of these revelations? And can you think of other examples of fakery in reality tv? Let me know in the comments section down below