#2. Keeping the Reality You Like
Once a show has wrapped and Bret Michaels has injected another lucky winner with the tentacled spawn of all the '80s hepatitis combined, producers now have to take that raw footage and make it into a "story." Have you ever noticed that every single reality program has a "villain"? The producers picked him or her to be that. Yes, it was easy, since the person was almost certainly a piece of shit to begin with, but so was everyone they hired. That's how they all got the job! Anyone is a piece of shit if you film him for six weeks and only look at the 40 minutes where he was crankiest. Hell, last week I called Netflix the N-word because Big Trouble in Little China was kind of choppy and I was too drunk to switch to video games.
So how do they decide on who gets to be the bad guy? Well, sometimes it's as simple as picking the person who was the douchiest the most often. Other times you have to build a villain around an incredible event. For example, did a previously calm contestant throw a violent temper tantrum? Of course he did, so there's the show's bad guy. But wait ... you can't have his villainy come out of nowhere. If he was polite up until then, you have to go back and alter earlier footage so his dickishness builds to this. One of the main reasons reality shows seem fake is because writers went in and added an elegant narrative structure to them. We don't have those in the regular world, and if you find that you do, grab the nearest person by the neck until their human disguise fades and tell its lizard body you won't be fooled by this psychic Matrix bullshit.
I mentioned earlier how you can use audio cues and reaction shots to make someone look like a jerk. You can also splice in interview footage of someone talking trash about them. It's amazing how much your perception of a person can change when their life is being narrated by someone who hates them. Editors can take more drastic action, too -- they can and do change the words people say. Most reality show audio is made up of "Frankenbites," sound bites that have been patched together from the corpses of other sentences. Basically, any time the camera cuts away from a person's lips, there's a solid chance they're speaking ground English. The editors can even do it right in front of your face with a "waiter wipe," where a shadowy figure crosses the foreground to hide a jump cut. Here, I'll give you a for instance:
#1. Straight Up Cheating
There's no such thing as Bigfoot and ghosts, and yet there are 200 shows about finding them. Think about this: Could you personally make a show like that and not fuck with the stars? I couldn't. I don't even watch Finding Bigfoot, and if I die before I put on a gorilla suit and pull a shrieking Finding Bigfoot cast member into the woods, my unfulfilled spirit will stay here as the world's first actual ghost.
It's rare, but some reality shows are lying to viewers from beginning to end. Some of those "unexplainable" sounds that terrify ghost hunters really are interns hitting a wall with a pipe. Some of those sassy hairdressers really are actors. Even a lot of the music you hear in the background is fake. There's an entire industry of musicians and lawyers whose job is to make songs that sound as close to famous songs as copyright law allows. Speaking of music, I seriously cannot stop thinking about how great it would be if Hulk Hogan and chimpanzees got together.
For more of his articles about reality TV, see 6 Ways to Improve Reality Dating Shows (With Cruelty) & Glorious Failures in TV Talent Show Auditions Part One and Part Two.