reality tv

How to Become a Reality Star, According to Someone Who Creates Them

"If they would just play along and go down the avenues we direct them, they're gonna get screen time."
Abbie Chatfield on The Bachelor
The Bachelor / Nine Network

So you want to be a reality star? You don’t really care what show it is and you don’t really care about finding love. You just want your 15 minutes of fame, that endorsement deal and those Instagram followers. Why else are you going on TV? Are you really looking for the love of your life?

It’s the way of reality TV these days, or maybe it’s the way it has always been. Regardless, we have the answers from the source itself.


VICE asked a producer working on some of the biggest reality shows in Australia just what they look for when they’re scouting the next big thing, how a contestant can get more screen time and what makes a reality star great. 

Basically, it comes down to one thing: Be nice to the producers and they’ll be nice to you.

VICE: So what do you look for when you're casting a show like The Bachelor / The Bachelorette?

So typically, I wouldn't be super involved in casting. I actually think it is a big issue with Australian television.

Story producers, like myself, normally come on to a project and there's been months and months of casting done beforehand by casting producers who will never actually set foot on set.

Then the problem is that they're looking for a story. They're looking for an angle. They're looking for a narrative that they can attach to anyone who's going to be on the show, whether they be a villain, whether they be a hero, or are whether they’re someone we see making it to the end?

They're looking for anything that they can hang a hook on. So before you've even started talking to a story producer like myself, you would have gone through a massive, massive process.

You've been pitched at multiple levels at that point. So the casting producers have done pre-interviews with you, probably just on a Zoom call, or maybe in an open casting call down in a hotel room somewhere. And then they will pitch that to the executive producer at whatever production company and they will start breaking down. “Okay, so this person came off like a bit of a douche. So we're gonna make them a villain”, or “This guy actually has a really great story, his wife died of brain cancer, and he's now ready to move on and is looking for love”. So then, immediately, you know, with that backstory, he's a hero. And then the production company will go and pitch it to the network. 


So it goes through all these stages of approvals to basically pick who all these people are going to be on the show. Before a single frame has been shot. And before we actually see what they're really like on camera.

So if you're going to go on a reality show, there's about a 90% chance that your narrative, and how you're going to be portrayed, has been picked before you've even gone on set. Obviously, that can sometimes change because once you put someone in front of a camera, they can freeze up, especially with male contestants, they can get very competitive and toxic. So that someone that you thought was going to be a hero starts acting like a villain on set, and then that's a goddamn nightmare because networks already approved them as a hero. Then, in the field, it is your job to try and make them look like a good guy.

When you're casting, can you tell the difference between someone that’s made up a backstory compared to being genuine?

Oh, I can. But I'm sure I've been duped. I once had a guy who just seemed off when I interviewed him, and he talked about all these charities that he ran and how he'd been in these abusive relationships where they stole his money and abused him. 

And then I was like, ‘I'm not getting a good vibe from this guy’. And then I did some research and I found articles about him on how he was the abuser and how he had been stealing money from charities and stuff. So I kicked him off. I also don't want to have someone who potentially could be a threat to someone on camera. We all do get mental health training. That's a recent thing. In reality TV, I don't think it's frankly enough, especially for dealing with contestants who don't really know what this is going to be like. 


We are constantly pulling the strings. And we are constantly manipulating you and pushing you in a certain direction.

When it comes to people that go on these shows and that become really successful after, say like Abbie Chatfield. What do you think differentiates them?

I think Abbie is unique. Abbie was giving something – an honesty – that I don't think is seen in Australian media that often. She was very open about her sexuality and is a strong empowered woman. She did get the Villanelle role, though. And she turned it to her advantage. 

But also, I will say this, I've worked with Abby twice now. She's so easy to work with. And she's genuinely nice. And she's good on camera. If you can get the producers on your side, even if you've originally been cast as a villain, they will make sure that there's some good stuff that gets in there that can redeem you a bit. 

And Abby is one of those people where it's like,  she just wasn't scum. So people wanted to work with her again, and she got opportunities. You’ve got to remember us producers, we’re normally on three month contracts. And we go from job to job. So when another job comes up, and there's a role for someone like Abbie, we go, ‘I've worked with Abby, it is great’. The industry is incredibly small. You're looking at like four to six producers per show. So we're always going to be like, ‘oh, yeah, this person is an asshole. Let's never work with them again or ‘this person's right. Yeah, let's bring them on. Yeah, I think they can do the job’.”


So Abbie's an example of the perfect reality star in Australia.

I mean, I'm trying to think of someone better. Abbie is kind of the perfect one. But also, Abbie doesn't just do one thing. She has a sex toy line. She has her podcast. She has a radio show. She went into this and went, ‘I'm going to build a career off it’. To be honest, that's most people who go on reality shows. They go, ‘I'm going to build my Instagram following.’ But my big note would be you're not going to be making money off the show. We make you sign contracts so you can't do endorsements until after the show's aired.

So what percentage of people do you think actually go on shows like The Bachelor to find love?

I’m trying to think about how many I've interacted with personally that I genuinely believe that they were looking for love. Show like First Dates. You're getting a few more. If it’s The Bachelorette, you're probably looking more along the lines of 10%.

Probably what you’d expect, then.

Yeah, most people don't go on the shows actually looking for love. I mean Bachelor has had success. There's Batch babies now.

Do you have many people that aren't white apply for the shows in Australia? How much does that play into casting?

No. You only get a small amount that aren’t white. But to be honest, the diversity casting in reality TV is always lip service, because the networks really don't care.  They just want good TV. I just think that Australian TV is about 10 years behind where it should be when it comes to diversity and representation. Maybe even more. And that's because the people who are in charge are 60 year old white men and women. It's the same people. It's an old white people's club.


Also, the problem is that they make that their whole narrative. The most recent season of My Kitchen Rules, they had someone with Indigenous heritage on the show, and they made that his whole thing. ‘Okay, so you're cooking indigenous food’. There’s multitudes to people, not just their ethnicity. It is tokenistic, and the people who are making the decisions to have these people on, they don't really think about it. They're like, ‘okay, cool. Asian person, queer person. Great. That's their personality’.

Do you get more screen time if you just do what the producer says, though?

Some people do, but most don't. I think most reality contestants come on and think they're going to be in a combative relationship with the producer. And that they need to outthink and outsmart us. If they would just play along and go down the avenues we direct them, they're gonna get screen time. 

So: rules of being a good reality star is to be nice to the crew and to be nice to producers.

Yeah, be nice. We'll have chaperones on set. And so they will look after the contestants when they're not filming. So they'll get the contestants food and they'll get them drinks. And they'll just make sure that they're okay. They often get treated like shit. A lot of reality contestants see them as servants. That will get back to me. And I am friends with all those people. And I'll be like, ‘Cool. You've been nice to me, but you've been a douchebag to the junior staff. I'm going to go out of my way to make you look bad now.’


Oh, and there was one thing that I wanted to say. If you're smart, if you're genuinely smart, you're going to be terrible on reality TV.

Why is that?

Because you're thinking when you're speaking. And so smart contestants self censor, and they freeze up on camera, they don't want to give too much away. They want to come off looking good. And they end up just being boring. So they're the people that don't get screen time.

If you're a bit weird, you're gonna get screen time. If you've got a weird laugh, you're gonna get screen time. But if you're playing it cool and you're playing everything to your chest, you've basically wasted your time coming on the show. I've had academics and doctors come on reality shows and they're great, they're great behind the scenes, but the moment they get on camera they're thinking about everything that they do. And it's boring.

Do they do psychological tests to make sure contestants can handle being on screen?

Not for everybody. They do… But only people that they flag in the casting phase. I think they should probably do it for everybody. Normally, they will send out a survey. And it's a psychological survey and you just fill that out in your own time and send it through. 

We do police checks on everybody. Because a few years ago, there was someone who had assault charges. And we found out after they started filming. If there's any red flags in that psych evaluation, they will be contacted by a psychologist who has been hired by the production, and then they will determine whether they are fit to be on the show or not.


Do you tell the contestants if they're not psychologically fit to be on the show?

No, we would just say, ‘Oh, I'm sorry. You haven't ended up making it to the next round.’ 

Is attractiveness a big thing when you decide to cast someone?

 Yeah, for reality dating shows you need a level of attractiveness at least. You don't necessarily see diversity of size which is unfortunate. On something like First Dates you're more likely to see someone who isn’t traditionally attractive.

But lastly, here's a big note that I would give if you want to be a reality star. Make the producers and the crew's lives easy. Be nice. Be respectful. Because I know that you're getting your moment in the sun. You're feeling like you’re a bit of a celebrity. You’re staying in this hotel or staying in this mansion, you’re getting my makeup done. You’re on TV. You’re thinking I’m going to be a star. My Instagram is going to blow up. People who aren't famous who get on TV tend to start to pretend like they are famous and then start to be assholes.

If someone is a good person, we will try to change the narrative that has been planned out for them. Because the producers have an incredible amount of power. We’re told what to do by the network. If someone is actually a good person and we’re personally rooting for them, we will try to make sure that they look good on camera. But if you're mean to my crew, and you're just being a dick on set and making everyone's life a living nightmare, I will go out of my way to make you look bad on camera. 

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