Reality TV secrets are hard to keep in the age of social media

Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi
Reality television star Nicole 'Snooki' Polizzi from "Jersey Shore" smiles during the parade of eaters at "Wingbowl 18", the annual chicken wing eating contest in Philadelphia last February. (Tim Shaffer - Reuters)
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By Derrik J. Lang
Sunday, May 16, 2010

LOS ANGELES -- It became one of the most talked about "Jersey Shore" moments.

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi and an unidentified male partygoer sloshed drinks at each other in a berserk bar brawl. The slap-happy altercation, however, hasn't aired on MTV. That's because the boozy battle was hastily captured on a low-grade camera and posted online months before the cultural phenomenon's second chapter is scheduled to debut.

The just-push-upload incident is the latest example of how instantaneous media is simultaneously building buzz and spoiling reality TV. The intentionally raw medium relies heavily on spontaneity, or at least something resembling spontaneity, and doesn't pack the same punch without Never Before Seen Footage or The Most Shocking Elimination Ever.

"It's a blessing and a curse," said "Jersey Shore" executive producer Sally Ann Salsano. "You're always grateful when people want to talk about your show, but in the end, those same people are the ones that take things, like what happened with Snooki, out of context. I know I'll have a chance to tell my story, but more people are going for the cheap shot."

The slapping and soaking delivered and received by Snooki, who was infamously punched in the face by a stranger at a bar during the show's first season, went viral after it was posted on, popping up on multiple blogs and debated about on HLN.

When it comes to secrets, reality TV producers don't typically have the same luxuries as their scripted TV counterparts. When there's no soundstage in which to hide or script to keep under wraps, it's not easy to protect made-for-TV drama from playing out online.

Reality TV spoilers have been around since CBS first stranded a group of 16 strangers in Borneo for the inaugural season of "Survivor." Restrictive nondisclosure agreements that threaten legal action, signed by anyone exposed to a reality-TV production, are usually enough to keep the most important plotlines from leaking out.

Newer tactics include forbidding the use of social media during filming. The "Jersey Shore" ensemble said ciao to Twitter before they moved down to Miami for the show's second season. Even if contestants are allowed to post online during production, such as the Season 9 "American Idol" finalists sporadically do, the updates are usually overseen by the show's producers.

Curiosity remains high, though, especially when cracks emerge in the barrier between a show still in production and the rest of the world. Just ask manufacturing sales representative Steve Carbone, who has been dishing dirt about ABC's sudsy dating franchises "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" for nearly seven years on his site

"I'm not doing anything wrong," said Carbone, who lives in Dallas. "I'm just relaying information that's told to me. People can choose to believe it or not. It's just my track record has proven that I know what's going on."

Last season, Carbone correctly revealed that hunky pilot Jake Pavelka would choose feisty marketing representative Vienna Girardi during the final rose ceremony. He also accurately predicted that Facebook advertising account manager Ali Fedotowsky would ditch Pavelka to keep her job, then become the leading lady on the next season of "The Bachelorette."

Carbone, who said he's never been told to stop spoiling the show by the producers or the network, insisted he has sources close to the production who provide him with his info. However, many amateur sleuths are able to stitch together what's happening on a reality-TV series simply by searching online, scouring for clues in status updates and photos.

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