5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

It turns out, the truth behind most of these shows is more depressing than the Nirvana 'reunion.'
5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

Television is full of reality shows starring real people just like us that are designed to make us feel better about our own shitty lives and inspire us to believe that we can accomplish anything. If some random jackass can lose 200 pounds on The Biggest Loser or turn his restaurant around thanks to Gordon Ramsay, there may be some hope for us yet. Well, maybe not, because as it turns out, the truth behind most of those shows is more depressing than the Nirvana "reunion."

No One from The Biggest Loser Can Keep the Weight Off

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The Biggest Loser puts extremely overweight people through an intense diet and exercise regimen to see who can shed the most pounds by the end of the show's run. The first few episodes look like a bunch of circus bears doing jumping jacks, but gradually the contestants lose extra weight like car keys on a roller coaster. For instance, first season winner Ryan Benson lost a total of 130 pounds, which is roughly the equivalent of two Goonies (excluding Sloth and Chunk). Who wouldn't be motivated by that?

Why It's Depressing

We'll tell you who wouldn't be motivated -- anyone who has met Ryan Benson in real life. Benson's current weight is around 300 pounds, which is just 30 pounds less than what he weighed at the start of The Biggest Loser.

Benson after The Biggest Benson as Bob in Disfigured Loser in 2005

Benson isn't an anomaly -- almost every Biggest Loser winner has gained back a chunk of the weight he or she lost on the show. The worst example is Season 3 winner Eric Chopin. Chopin began the show clocking in at 400 pounds, and won after successfully dropping 200. Once the show was over, however, Chopin bounced (ahem) right back up to 370 pounds like he got stung by Earth's mightiest bee. It's like some kind of mummy curse the contestants can't escape.

The unfortunate truth is that people on The Biggest Loser don't do anything but train for the entirety of the season -- the show's producers cover all their expenses during filming. It's not like they're going to work and then driving over to the gym to film some sit-ups. They aren't doing anything except training, under constant supervision, for however many weeks production lasts.

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

"Come on! You can do it! Don't giv- and we're done, peace!"

Once the show is over, they go back to their normal 9-to-5 lives, which typically do not include controlled diet and exercise. They cannot possibly continue a weight loss program as intense as the one on the show, and in all fairness, if you'd spent the past two months sweating through a purple T-shirt with the word "LOSER" written across it while punishingly in-shape people scream into your face about taking responsibility for your love handles, you'd probably drive straight home and order all of the pizza in the world, too, and not just because there's no longer anyone there to keep you from doing it.

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"You mean to tell me that perfectly toned professional trainers don't yell at you every day? Stop making excuses."

Wait, it gets better. People who watch the show are more likely to have a negative view of physical activity. A recent study showed that the grueling way exercise is portrayed on The Biggest Loser actively discourages viewers from wanting to participate. Basically, overweight people watching the show see other overweight people crying, throwing up, and passing out during their exercise sessions while all of the thin personal trainers just yell and berate them. The end result may be inspirational, but The Biggest Loser seems to go out of its way to make the actual process of weight loss seem like thankless fucking misery.

Almost Every Restaurant on Kitchen Nightmares Goes Out of Business


Kitchen Nightmares is a show where angry celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay goes to failing restaurants to scream at the owners for two weeks straight until their food stops tasting like farts.

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

"If I don't scream, how will you know how bad you suck?"

Ramsay's technique of bellowing profanity like a Nazi born from a Vidal Sassoon explosion magically rescues the restaurant from the brink of financial collapse and restores its profitability. His work complete, he floats away on the breeze like Mary Poppins to find another ailing eatery in need.

Why It's Depressing

Oddly enough, restaurateurs who are terrible at running a business don't suddenly become J.D. Rockefeller just because a Scottish man shouts at them and gives them a new menu their cooks can't even read. In actuality, only about a third of the restaurants Ramsay "rescues" actually manage to stay open once he leaves them in a haze of scowls and belittlement, and the number drops as time goes on. For instance, in the first two seasons of the show (2007 to 2009), Ramsay rescued 21 restaurants. Only two are still open.

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And one of those might be a strip club with a buffet.

For comparison, about 40 percent of new restaurants are able to stay in business after three years, so starting a new place from scratch would give you better odds than a Kitchen Nightmares visit.

Now, we do have to be fair here -- Ramsay doesn't visit a restaurant unless it's teetering on the brink of disaster. So it could be argued that without him and his very expensive intervention (often buying them all new equipment and decor, and even lending them staff), 0 percent of them would have survived. Still, each episode ends with inspirational music, owners who have seen the light, and a restaurant that has undergone a complete renovation with a brand new menu and a dining room full of customers. There's no hint that all Ramsay has done is delay the inevitable.

The People on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Can't Afford to Keep Their New Homes


Extreme Makeover: Home Edition features the world's most excitable man and his impossibly attractive crew building awesome new houses for people who have been shit on by life. The family gets sent on a complimentary vacation while the crew either does extensive repairs and renovations or replaces the entire goddamn thing. Truly, there is no aspect of this that anyone could be upset about.

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

Although whoever Photoshopped this picture was clearly feeling vengeful about something.

Why It's Depressing

For starters, you can't throw downtrodden waste management employees into a five-bedroom mansion when they aren't even able to make the payments on their leaky two-bedroom sadness bungalow. Sure, the show's producers may cover all the construction costs, but the lucky homeowners are left on their own to figure out how in the name of Warren Buffett's gilded butt hairs they're going to cover the utility bills and property taxes that have skyrocketed as a result of their extreme home makeover.

One family, which had a new home specifically designed to help their developmentally challenged son, was forced to put the house on the market after just a little over a year because they simply couldn't afford what it cost in both time and money to maintain a palatial four-bedroom estate while trying to raise three children, one of whom has special needs. That's like Santa Claus bringing a lonely kid an awesome robot friend who, by the way, must be fueled by human blood.


"Whoops, looks like you're low on fuel. Come on, let's get down to the homeless shelter."

Another couple fell behind on the $405,000 loan they had to take out just to keep their utilities connected in the million-dollar mansion built for them by the show (which inexplicably included a carousel and a movie theater, because those are things that a young husband and wife need to turn their luck around) and were forced to sell the house and auction off most of its contents.

Arguably worse is the fact that your eligibility for an Extreme Makeover visit is really only limited by the number of children's tears you're willing to sacrifice. The Leomiti family took in five orphans burdened with the debt of their dead parents, making them irresistible candidates for the show's producers. However, as soon as Ty Pennington swooped in to turn their shitty house into Xanadu, they immediately booted those smelly orphans the hell out.

Oprah Makes People Pay for Their Free Cars

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Oprah is famous for giving out free stuff to her audience (which is a big switch for older readers, who may remember when she was famous for being fat and losing a bunch of weight). She started small, slinging gift cards and promotional material from her various guests, until she finally decided that all of that nonsense could kiss her billion-dollar ass and gave away 276 brand new cars to members of her studio audience.

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows


This was followed by images of hysterical people crying tears of joy over Oprah's saintly generosity.

Why It's Depressing

Unfortunately, receiving a luxury item as a prize on a television show doesn't exempt you from having to pay the accompanying taxes (see Extreme Makeover, above). Which is the precise situation faced by everyone who has ever been given a car by Oprah Winfrey.

You see, for the purposes of her own tax records, Oprah declared all of her giveaway cars "prizes" instead of gifts. This may seem like a trivial distinction, but as far as the IRS is concerned, anything that's designated a gift is non-taxable, but a prize is basically just like any other income. This is why you never had to pay taxes on that Super Nintendo your grandmother gave you.

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

"For tax reasons, I can't give you Donkey Kong Country in the continental U.S."

But Grandma wasn't able to deduct the purchase of the Nintendo from her taxes, either, which is why Oprah didn't want to go that route. So, Oprah listed the value of each car at its full MSRP of $28,500, and that money counts as income whether you received it in the form of a car or a paycheck. And like any income, the audience owes taxes on it -- this meant that each lucky audience member who received a car from Oprah had to immediately pay as much as $7,000 out of their own pocket for a car they neither asked for nor were expecting.

This isn't like getting $28,500 cash, where you expect to get less after Uncle Sam takes a bite. This is a car -- you can't just lop off a quarter of it and keep the rest. So if the winners didn't happen to have that kind of cash sitting around, their only options were to either sell the car to pay for the property tax (hooray) or forfeit the car and get nothing (hooray).

Oprah's official comment? "And why should I have paid for them ...?"

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

"Just because I'm a billionaire and the giveaway generated millions in free publicity?"

She's got a point -- this would be an awfully expensive giveaway if she weren't able to write off the loss ... oh, wait. Oprah never paid a cent for the cars in the first place. They were all donated by the manufacturer.

Storage Wars Capitalizes on People's Misfortune (and Is Probably Staged)

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows
Karim Mansouri/Getty

Storage Wars documents the adventures of a group of uninsurable heart disease risks who buy storage lockers at auction to (hopefully) sell the contents for a tidy profit. These are lockers full of what were once people's prized possessions that have since been abandoned.

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

They don't find nearly as much feces as you'd think.

The risk/reward aspect of the program has proven to be a huge draw, resulting in two spinoffs and a handful of copycat shows, because evidently the thrill of watching a bunch of slouching millionaires pay hundreds of dollars for garages full of porn and old mattresses is simply too compelling to be confined to a single television series.

Why It's Depressing

If you've ever watched Storage Wars, you may wonder why a person would leave a $6,000 coin collection in a storage unit and then default on the rent. The answer is really sad, no matter how you look at it.


Yes, even if you hold a puppy in front of your face.

You see, originally the show's producers intended to delve into the background of each locker featured on Storage Wars, but unsurprisingly, all the information they uncovered was pure, unmitigated misery. The reason these abandoned treasures are abandoned is that the original owners of the units failed to make their rent payments. This is because they could no longer afford them due to unemployment, homelessness (hence putting all their belongings in a storage locker), divorce, or illness, or because they had freaking died and were therefore no longer able to pay.

But don't worry, because according to former Storage Warrior Dave Hester, the show is all rigged anyway. Hester claims that all of the valuable items found inside the lockers are actually planted there by the show's producers, which would explain how the bidders could inexplicably find something like a Rembrandt stashed in a 6-by-12 unit alongside a box full of GamePro magazines. He also insists that all of the auctions are staged, meaning every "bidding war" you witness on the show is actually entirely scripted.


We should point out that he was totally fine with the deception until being fired from the show after three seasons.

Furthermore, the producers apparently give the "weaker" cast members an allowance, more or less, so they can actually afford to make bids (you know, on the show about people who supposedly bid on storage lockers for a living).

Big deal, so it probably isn't real. It's just entertainment, right? Well, according to this article, people in dire financial straits via debt, unemployment, or a vicious combination of both have been completely taken in by the show's "hidden treasure" aspect and have begun showing up to storage locker auctions ready to bid every penny they have left in the hopes of scoring a valuable haul. If the show is fixed, those (literally) poor bastards have zero chance of finding anything more than some old gas cans and a mummified rat, which you may notice are items that have very little resale value. They've been tragically misled into dumping what little remains of their personal assets into a fictionalized enterprise. They'd have been better off trading their money for magic fucking beans.

So in summation, Storage Wars is either staged and dupes desperate people into financial ruin, or it is real and capitalizes on painful misfortune. Either way, you're watching a bunch of assholes laugh and joke as they make money off of the tattered remains of people's lives.

Karl Smallwood recently wrote a book containing dozens of email exchanges with people who hate him, read about it here. He also has Twitter. Mohammed Shariff's cousin is on a quest to discover the coolest cafes in London.

For more on ridiculous reality television, check out 5 Secrets of Making Reality TV They Don't Want You to Know and 21 Reality Shows We'd Actually Watch.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Works of Propaganda That Prove Dictators Suck at Photoshop.

And stop by LinkSTORM to see what happens when Cody and Brockway sit and compare beards.

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