4 Lies Reality Shows Rely On (That Are Worse Than You Think)
We've peeked behind the dishonest, dangerous, and downright filthy curtain of reality TV before. But almost everything focuses on the star-victims of reality shows -- have you ever wondered what it's like behind that camera? Cracked sat down with a man responsible for filming numerous reality shows and, on the condition of anonymity, he put some of the "real" back in "reality television."
Shows May Not Be Totally Faked ... But They Are Manipulated
One of the people I shoot is an outdoorsy guy who will hunt and trap just about anything. The producers wanted to get a montage of all his wacky catches, naturally. But he did most of his trapping at night (so other animals wouldn't eat his catches), and filming at night is basically impossible without bringing a truckload of lighting and night vision equipment. Tramping out into the bush with all that gear would've scared off any potential prey.
So we compromised between outright fakery and authenticity by re-enacting the scenes during daylight hours. We ordered dozens of frozen woodland critters (he didn't want to waste his), and sent out whoever screwed up the director's latte that day to stick them in traps at the asscrack of dawn. Then we filmed him checking his traps in the morning like that's just how he did it.
"There's just a Beanie Baby in that one."
"We'll CG it in post!"
Most reality shows liberally mix the live stuff with re-enacted bits. The trouble is that there's a fine line between re-enactment and outright lying. Operation Repo peed all over that line when they filmed an episode in which one of their repo crews got chased by a shotgun-wielding psychopath ...
... only to have an eagle-eyed viewer spot that this apparently unhinged gun nut's property was actually just a set, also used for an episode of Jackass:
No death threats, even though this time it'd be absolutely deserved.
We also leave a lot of gold on the cutting room floor whenever it's at odds with how our producers want someone's "character" to develop. We had one cast member spend two straight nights in a vet's office, waiting to see if his dog was going to live through a terrible illness. That's gripping, personal stuff. But the show had built him up as this cold, emotionless person, so we couldn't show him crying after that. We wound up cutting that whole bit because it humanized a human too much.
"The director wants you to call him a bad dog and show him clips of Old Yeller."
The People In Charge Seem To Hate The Cast Members
There was one guy -- we'll call him Jed -- who wouldn't stand for any manipulation. He was critical of the show because, unlike most people who live off of beaver meat in woodland shacks, he's more photogenic than the Unabomber. At one point, the producers wanted him to have this dramatic arc where he was on the verge of losing his cabin and he just straight-up told them no. He wouldn't submit to having an "arc" about anything he hadn't experienced.
"How about now?"
Jed turned out to be the most popular person on the show because he was so genuine. Everyone else tried to act, to some extent, and he was just himself in front of a camera. There is usually one guy like that on every reality show, and they often turn out to be fan favorites for everyone but the producers.
One of the producers I worked with used to be with The Biggest Loser. A contestant's backstory that year was that her husband had been killed in an industrial accident. So the psychopaths in charge wanted to interview her next to the same type of garbage compactor that had killed the love of her life. The plan was to turn it on halfway through, so she'd start spontaneously crying. If you think that sounds like some straight-up serial killer shit, well, that's probably offensive to serial killers.
Honestly, that's just the tip of the dickberg.
Filming It Can Be Surprisingly Dangerous
A lot of work goes into keeping the cameras offscreen. That's easier said than done: The cameras we use weigh 30 pounds, with another 20 pounds of necessary gear. Even a show like Cops, which uses the bare minimum of equipment, requires a set-up like this:
Not to mention the danger of, you know, being fucking shot.
One of the first camera guys I worked with was a 35-year-old who'd been working for 10 years, and had the back of a 60-year-old professional wrestler because of it. And not one of the good ones that wins a lot.
One day, we were filming on a frozen pond to get a poignant shot of some guy walking away. Then we heard a stomach-dropping crack, and the ice beneath us started breaking up. We booked it, but our field producer didn't quite run fast enough. He wound up halfway into the freezing water. He lived, but he understands shrinkage better than Rick Moranis now.
It was weeks before he could handle his schwartz again.
One of the great ironies of filming reality television is that, as fake as the end product can be, some amazing real stuff happens to the crews trying to film it. One of our other field producers (we've gone through a few) was nearly assaulted by a moose. We had to scare it off mid-charge.
His squirrel friend killed three production assistants.
There's a running joke among the crew that the show should actually be about us, but the poor bastards filming the people filming the people would probably have their realities irrevocably fucked.
People Believe What They See On TV, And That Can Have Serious Real-World Effects
One time, we shot a scene where a survivalist bought his supplies from a grocery store in gold. Some prepper-types hoard gold for the apocalypse (apparently people will still want bling when the Earth is a scorched and radioactive hellscape?), and we wanted actual shots of someone using gold as currency. Here's the problem: That's really stupid. Stores don't generally accept gold handed to them on the spot.
It's the only way to trump that asshole who breaks a hundred with a pack of gum.
The cast member wasn't into the idea, but we pushed him to do it, and we bribed the grocery store owner with real cash to go along with it. Then we bought some gold -- he didn't actually have any on him. Even to the supposedly "fringe" people we were filming, no part of this made any sense outside of the mind of some delusional producer.
But all our viewers eventually saw was someone panning up a nugget of gold, then directly using it in lieu of cash. For weeks after the episode aired, we'd have complaints come in from people who tried to pay with gold themselves to no avail (seriously, you just can't do it). We also pissed off a lot of people who had wasted hours fruitlessly panning, when our show made it seem like you can't take a drink from a creek without choking on a gold bar.
"My daughter's birthday parties were probably boring, anyway."
In another episode, we showed a woman cooking beaver meat. She didn't actually have a recipe in mind -- it was all for show. She'd just dumped it in a pot and hoped for the best. But that episode had apparently unlocked a deep hunger for beaver meat, and people got pissed that the recipe she used on screen didn't bring out that tangy beaver flavor.
Turns out, people will try to emulate just about anything they see on TV: bartering gold for Hostess Fruit Pies, scary, rapid weight loss as portrayed on The Biggest Loser, crossing international borders without visas like on The Amazing Race.
"The other teams were shot by border patrol; you win by default! Congratulations!"
The one thing they have in common is that they usually end up in bad shape. So hey, maybe more folks going to town on some beaver isn't the worst legacy to leave the world.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Ways Prison Is More Horrifying Than Movies Make It Look and 5 Realities Of The Rehab Camp My Parents Paid To Kidnap Me .
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