Reality TV Stars Who Quit Influencing for a ‘Regular’ Job

Getting cast on a hit TV show isn't a golden ticket anymore – just ask these guys.
​Former ​Love Island ​contestant Paige Thorne on the red carpet, and in her paramedic uniform
Former Love Island contestant Paige Thorne on the red carpet, and in her paramedic uniform. Photo: Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images and via Instagram

When former Love Island contestant Paige Thorne first left the show in 2022, she found herself navigating an unfamiliar world of endless events, lucrative brand deals and with thousands of followers scrutinising her every move. “It was a very daunting time,” she recalls. “I just felt under this enormous pressure all of a sudden to ‘become’ an influencer… I was literally a deer in the headlights.”


She says it left her “constantly filled with anxiety” and drinking “all the time” while attending event after event. “It's only up until recently that I realised like, no, I'm actually not an influencer.”

Thorne stepped away from full-time influencing last year after going back to work as a paramedic – a job she’d always planned to return to – and more recently, she’s quit drinking. Last year, Thorne joined her colleagues on the picket lines to fight for better pay and working conditions for paramedics. It’s been a “grounding” experience, she says. 

Despite picking up 1.4 million followers, Thorne doesn’t see influencing as a career path she’d ever rely solely on – and not just because of the lifestyle it entails. “This whole influencer world isn’t forever,” she says. “It’s such a volatile situation, so it’s important to have a backup.”

The struggle to stay relevant is a challenge all former reality stars have to contend with, but more recently, it’s become even harder as the TV show to influencer pipeline dries up. The latest series of Love Island continues to ban contestants from having active social media accounts during the show, which means they might only able to earn a tiny fraction of what previous breakout stars typically command – the kind of money Molly Mae wouldn’t dream of getting out of bed for


Even before this, follower counts for reality TV stars have been dwindling – and not just for Love Islanders. Suzana Somers, who runs @bachelordata – an Instagram account analysing data from The Bachelor and similar shows – notes that year on year, the follower counts for contestants of The Bachelor and Love Is Blind have been falling at a faster rate than ratings for the show.

“It truly shows the problem isn't viewership or ratings – it's Instagram,” Somers says, pointing to the fact that Instagram is also being used less and less each year. There’s also the growing anti-influencer sentiment, as people tire of fame-hungry contestants using reality TV as a launching pad to secure brand deals.

It’s unsurprising, then, that faced with the precarity of influencing, many former reality TV stars like Thorne are choosing to pursue normal career paths. Wilfred Webster, a finalist from the inaugural BBC series The Traitors, is now looking to return to part-time charity or teaching work alongside influencing. Webster left his job in the charity sector last January – he’d taken annual leave to appear on the show – after the media demands became too much to balance with his day job. 


He agrees that it’s not as easy to gain a following coming off a reality TV show as it once was. “I know some people from The Traitors were probably disappointed,” he says. “[They] thought we'd get more followers on Instagram.” (Webster went into the show with 600 followers and left with 28,000. He currently has over 32,000 followers.)

After finding it virtually impossible to secure a mortgage with a good lender while working as a full-time influencer, Webster is now looking for something more stable. “The thing with social media is it's always fluctuating,” he says. “So it's never guaranteed income all the time. That’s hard, especially with a family.” 

Anna Cromie, the talent and community director at The Digital Fairy, says that with the seemingly endless churn of reality TV shows, it can be harder for influencers to lock in longer-term deals with brands who want the flexibility of partnering up with the latest breakout star (Love Island, for example, has now moved to two seasons a year). “The industry has evolved,” she says. “Expectations are higher and directly measurable.” 

This puts influencers in an uncertain position: “In the saturated market, influencers fear being left behind, stagnating, living on an increasingly unstable freelance wage, and pine for the security that comes only with A-list levels of influencer fame,” says Crombie. For many influencers, the only way to achieve this security is through a regular nine-to-five. 


Beyond providing stability, Thorne and Webster have both sought out people-facing jobs as an antidote to the often isolating work of influencing. “I think one of the aspects of getting a job is just to be around people – like actual human beings and not just screen,” says Webster. But this also comes with its downsides: He worries that his public profile could prevent him from finding a job. 

Meanwhile, Thorne says she’ll often attract unwanted attention on the job. “[Patients’ families] stare and ask me, ‘Are you so and so?’ But like in this moment in time, on a 999 call, I’m not her,” she says. “I think the people I meet on the job find it really strange to see me in that perspective.” 

Working as an influencer is often portrayed as an easy route to fame, or not real work. But this overlooks the constant strain and pressures influencers must contend with. “Social media is a catalyst for comparison, even in the brains of the everyday user; but for influencers, that comparison is tenfold,” says Cromie. “Whether it’s watching a peer become an overnight success, videos identical to their own go viral or meticulously planning content like your salary depends on it, only for it to underperform – it’s easy to see how influencers can ascend into a spiral of self-doubt, fuelled by competition and comparison.”

Love Island contestant Abigail Louise Rawlings tattooing a woman

Abigail Louise Rawlings appeared on "Love Island" in 2021 but now works as a tattooist.

Abigail Louise Rawlings, who appeared on Love Island in 2021 and currently works as a tattoo artist, says she had to take a step back from social media after she found she was comparing herself to others too heavily. “[After the show] I felt like I’d been given this platform as an influencer, I didn’t really know how to do it,” she recalls. “So I started following other influencers, to see what they were doing… And I kind of lost myself for a bit, because I felt like I needed to act a certain way. It was quite soul-destroying, to be honest… I was trying to be someone I wasn’t.”

She struggled with the pressure of needing to post consistently and daily battles with the Instagram algorithm. “It knocked my confidence,” she recalls. After finding it increasingly hard to maintain a facade online, she decided to post less, stop “mimicking” other influencers and focus on her long-time passion: tattooing. “If [brands] don’t want to work with me, I’m just going to tattoo,” she says. “It’s so important to have another stream of income.”

Rawlings suspects that Love Island fatigue is making it harder for contestants to reach the same dizzying heights of fame compared to previous series. “Because there's just been so many [series], I think people aren't as bothered by it anymore,” she says. 


Sarah Goodhart, who appeared on Geordie Shore in 2017 and runs a beauty salon, agrees that people are growing bored of reality TV, noting that it’s fuelled an influencer backlash. “There's only so much you can shove down people's throats before for it becomes just like glorified ads all the time,” she says. “People are a bit more wise to that now.”

Financial privilege also determines who gets to be a successful influencer after appearing on reality TV, Goodhart says. “When I came out of Geordie Shore, I’m a working class person, so I needed to return to work,” she explains, “whereas if I was able to take more time off, I probably could have tried to become an influencer – but you have to wait a few months for the money [from the show] to come in.”

So is this the end of the reality TV star to influencer pipeline? Cromie doesn’t think so, but she adds that it needs to be “resuscitated”. “If brand deals are the end goal, cast members behave akin to PR-trained robots,” she says, pointing out that this is at odds with the unfiltered, chaotic personalities that TV bosses want. “I do believe TV shows will push back, and find new ways of ensuring casting attracts real people wanting an experience, rather than the fame that may come afterwards.” 

This could mean producers purposefully choosing contestants with everyday jobs, as opposed to scouting people who already work as influencers and are looking to boost their follower count. When it comes to people wanting to maintain their audiences after appearing on reality TV, Somers stresses that “all contestants will need to put more effort into making quality content on social media”, particularly on platforms like TikTok, which pushes content with higher engagement and not necessarily videos from those you follow. 

Many may look to adapt, but it’s also likely that former reality TV stars will begin to seek professional and personal fulfilment outside of social media – especially  as influencing becomes a tougher pursuit. “Will it make you happy being that person who is constantly having to keep up with trends, constantly having to prove yourself and why you should stay relevant?” Thorne asks. “That’s a hard life to chase for a long time.”