Is anyone really happy how they’re portrayed on reality TV? Producers edit the footage for maximum drama and outrage, which is what makes it so addictive for viewers. But a ruling in federal court last week may limit how non-cast members can be depicted on camera.
Last summer, Golzar Amirmotazedi sued MTV for $5 million last summer for invasion of privacy and emotional distress after appearing briefly on an episode of “Real World: Washington D.C.” The makeup consultant, 23, claims she was too drunk to understand the terms of the four-page waiver that she signed shortly before entering the Real World house late one night in 2009. MTV disagreed and wanted the case to go to arbitration, but U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that it’s crucial first to determine how drunk the plaintiff was — D.C. law states a highly intoxicated person cannot legally enter a contract — and that the lawsuit can go forward.
“The issue is: Did you volunteer to look like an idiot?” said Jason Ehrenberg, Amirmotazedi’s lawyer. His mortified client spent the evening in question downing Jagermeister bombs, tequila, and Red Bull-and-vodka with cast members Andrew Woods and Josh Colon at a local bar, then returned to the group house at about 1:30 a.m., when she was asked by producers to sign the release. On camera, she was called a “lost dog,” “weird,” and “crazy;” Amirmotazedi said she was humiliated and has had trouble finding work since the show aired.
Ehrenberg argues that most people on reality shows want to be there: either cast members filmed over several weeks or people hoping for five minutes on TV. Some get embarrassed by the televised results, including many of the “Girls Gone Wild” participants, and try unsuccessfully to sue. “These cases have been brought, usually by young women, who have actually signed a release when they were perfectly sober,” he said. “If you think there’s some benefit to be on TV and you voluntarily sign a release: I’m sorry — that’s the bargain you entered into.”
But ending up before cameras after a night of drinking is different, he said. The issue is likely to come up more often: the number of reality shows continues to grow and so too the chances young people might find themselves at an event with alcohol, cameras and production staffers chasing them with waiver forms.
Michael Sullivan, the lawyer representing MTV, Viacom and Bunim/Murry Production, told us he could not comment while the case was in litigation. The next hearing is scheduled for March 31.