6 Reality Shows That Are Completely Fake
Reality is a relative term. Most reality TV is “real” compared to standard scripted television series, which use actors to act out comedic or dramatic situations that were conceived of and rehearsed beforehand. Reality television features real people using their real names, but from there, the reality gets a little shaky. After all, how can you faithfully condense a whole week of someone’s life into a half-hour or hour-long episode?
Scripted television is dominated by the writer, but reality TV is the editor’s medium. The editors are the ones who decide what to trim out and what to leave in to create a satisfying conflict. They couple mundane exchanges with dramatic music and well-placed talking heads to give them narrative context that probably didn’t really exist. Plenty of shows do stay as true to reality as they possibly can, but TV is a subjective medium and it’s only too easy to use editing to fudge the truth. Let’s look at a few reality shows that go beyond fudging the truth, and are just outright fake.
1. Breaking Amish
It’s a pretty great concept for reality TV: A group of Amish and Mennonite young people leave their sheltered lives and struggle to adapt to the modern hustle of New York City before deciding if they should return to the simple life. TLC’s reality series Breaking Amish premiered in 2012 and was quickly plagued by media reports that the cast members weren’t as Amish as they were portrayed. Two cast members who supposedly just met already had a child together and another had reportedly left his Amish faith behind more than a decade before filming. The production was forthcoming about the inaccuracies and even revealed a few in later episodes, which hasn’t been enough to sink the series.
2. The Hills
MTV’s six-season reality series The Hills, follows a familiar reality TV template: Undeservedly rich people living in a glamorous locale scream and bicker with each other because they have nothing else to worry about. But even among similar shows, The Hills seemed to follow a narrative structure more akin to a soap opera than real life. Sure enough, several of the show’s stars have revealed how much of the show was fabricated — Kristin Cavallari admitted to Bethenny Frankel on Bethenny, “I faked relationships, faked fights.” Costar Audrina Partridge said much the same to E! News, “In the beginning, a lot of it was real. As it went on, it was very manipulated and guided.” She also said she wasn’t allowed to leave the set on one occasion until her and Kristin got into a fight.
3. Restaurant Stakeout
Restaurateur and New York stereotype Willie Degel installs cameras in an eatery that isn’t doing so well to see where the problem is. This setup relies almost entirely on catching an employee slacking off or being rude to a customer, so Degel can confront and possibly fire them in some dramatic fashion. Of course it’s almost entirely fake.
The owner of a restaurant featured in the first season of the show admitted that the Food Network contacted them and screen-tested employees before the episode filmed, and that most of the customers were extras told to be as annoying as possible. Another featured owner said a member of his waitstaff was hired only for the show, to be the lying obnoxious waiter who gets fired at the end of the episode. “They wanted a lot of drama, and unfortunately we don’t have drama here. So therefore they made some of their own drama.”
A landmark in reality television, Survivor has always been at least a little fake, though it’s difficult to suss out just how much. Producers have admitted to using body doubles for contestants during certain intense challenges and contestants allege they’ve been ousted from the series based on the producer’s recommendations rather than an actual tribal council vote. Contestants also reportedly have to repeat dramatic exits to make sure the cameras got the shot perfectly and some segments feature painfully obvious product placement. Despite these inaccuracies, most testimonies from crew members paint the show as surprisingly authentic, despite the necessity of using editing to turn some contestants into heroes and others into villains.
5. The Real World
For a taste of how reality TV series turn rich, multifaceted people into obnoxious walking divas, check out this article from former reality TV show contestant Anna Klassen. [Update, 8/2/16: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Anna Klassen was a contestant on ‘The Real World’. She was a contestant on another reality show.]
In the piece she reveals how she was systematically pushed into developing a false onscreen persona of a shallow blond Hollywood-girl simply because she looked the part. While Klassen was not on The Real World, it’s easy to imagine that similar tactics are used across many different reality TV shows.
“The situations that I was put in and the things I was asked to say were so far beyond my own reality that anyone I cared about who saw the show would be in on the joke,” wrote Klassen. Despite the in-authenticity, the experience was still a positive one for Klassen who simply enjoyed the opportunity to act.
6. South Beach Tow
South Beach Tow is so fake it can’t really be branded as a reality series, though that’s clearly what it’s aiming for. It has one of those hilariously mundane premises — following around tow-truck drivers in sunny Miami. And where does the drama come from? As it turns out, it comes from obviously fabricated storylines or “dramatized reenactments,” as the show’s credits claim, a fact truTV consistently tried to downplay during the show’s four season run. It’s painfully obvious however, considering the use of a wireless microphone by everyone with a speaking role, including supposedly random people encountered on the streets of South Beach. A gossip blog even showed the stars of the series politely waiting for a violent scene to start.
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