The insiders in question are Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, the witty team behind “UnREAL,” Lifetime’s addictive new scripted series that chronicles the scandalous behind-the-scenes world of a reality TV dating competition. Called “Everlasting,” it’s a not-so-subtle stand-in for ABC’s long-running “Bachelor” franchise, on which Shapiro worked for three years.
Though Shapiro says “UnREAL” is pure fiction, one of the biggest takeaways she shared from her real-life experience is how many people truly don’t realize what they’re getting themselves into when they sign a reality TV contract. Noxon said until she started working with Shapiro, she had little sympathy for these contestants. After all, don’t they know that reality TV will make you look terrible?
Short answer, according to Shapiro: No, they really don’t get it. The problem is that reality star hopefuls think they’re media-savvy now, given that reality TV is such a prominent part of the pop culture landscape, and are generally confident they can control their own narrative by acting a certain way. However, they often underestimate the manipulation that goes into making shows entertaining for viewers. Exhibit A: Last season of “The Bachelor,” when a young widow named Kelsey was a little too self-aware as she explained her tragic past to the cameras (“Isn’t my story amazing?”) and wound up being portrayed as a heartless villain.
“I think they go into situations feeling like they can beat the game,” Shapiro said. “What they don’t realize is there’s a team of really smart people dedicated 12 hours a day, seven days a week to making them lose their minds. The power of editing is so intense, that’s a really hard thing for anyone to grasp, let alone control.”
How do they cause them to act crazy? The atmosphere on a reality show can induce Stockholm Syndrome, Noxon and Shapiro said, especially because contestants are entirely cut off from the world during filming; there’s no TV, Internet, phones, normal routines or any kind of support system. So even if you meet the bachelor or bachelorette and have no real interest, if you’re confined for so long, you’ll eventually start to feel like you’re actually falling in love. Your world is very, very small, which explains why contestants are quick to get engaged after just a few weeks.
Another element: There’s generally not a normal eating schedule, and the sleep-deprived contestants drink plenty of alcohol. That’s why you’re more likely to see a meltdown on premiere night on “The Bachelor” or “Bachelorette,” just like this season featuring a drunken contestant named Ryan stripping down in the pool. The opening night party generally goes well into the night, with a steady stream of booze.
That’s the gist of why you see such epic behavior, Shapiro said, which is just what producers want. “No sleeping, no food – these are CIA torture techniques,” she joked. “People will go crazy.”
When asked to elaborate on the eating and sleeping conditions on the show, ABC declined to comment.