I've never watched Bad Girls Club, a reality TV series on Oxygen, but I assume by the name of the show that its premise revolves around girls being not nice. The description for this season, in which they've invited disparate sets of twins to live together in the Bad Girls house, confirms as much: "These fierce alpha females are eager to improve their relationships with each other and confront their issues head on. The girls will not only face tension with family, but will also have to tackle the clashing personalities of their other housemates." In other words, there are going to be some fights. When I asked the patron saint of reality rabble-rousing TV to fill me in on the details, Spencer Pratt, a fan of the series, said the same thing. "I only tune in Bad Girls Club knowing that fighting is guaranteed to crack off on that show," he said.
That fights crack off is perhaps the raison d'etre of reality TV. But no one told that to two sisters who appeared on the third episode of the show's current season and were subsequently the victims of a prank gone wrong. In lawsuit filed last week, Amanda and Victoria Hepperle allege that, "Within less than ten minutes of filming, they were attacked and beaten by six cast members," and that the executives of the show orchestrated the attack "for television ratings and advertising dollars." The Hepperle sisters are suing the production company, Bunim/Murray Productions, which is misspelled throughout the lawsuit, Atrium Entertainment, NBC Universal Media, and the Bad Girls Club cast members. They are also suing 50 unnamed defendants of whom they are "ignorant of the true names and capacities."
The Hepperles were talked into coming on the show after another set of twins dropped out in September 2015, the 18-page lawsuit claims. They moved from their home to live with the Bad Girls in Los Angeles, California. Before their first appearance, the twins claim that they were told by producers that "fighting inside or outside of the premises" will get you kicked off the show. "No fighting, no touching, no slapping, no grabbing, no biting, and no violence of any sort will be permitted," it was said. At this time, they also had their cell phones and wallets taken away from them, the lawsuit claims.
According to the lawsuit, they were then driven to the Bad Girls house handcuffed in a police car, for some reason. (Perhaps to underscore that they were bad girls? I don't know.) As they entered the house, under the expectation that they were arriving for a photoshoot, "a flour/powder sack fell from above the the door and covered the plaintiffs with flour/powder." Then, you guessed it, a big ol' fight broke out. This all appears on the episode.
"Once outside, the plaintiffs were bleeding, bruised, dazed, confounded, scared, in shock, terrorized and completely blindsided by what just occurred," the lawsuit claims. The Hepperles subsequently demanded to be taken to urgent care, which they were, it appears, reluctantly. The twins also needed their glasses replaced. Afterwards, the lawsuit describes a prison-like scenario in which the twins were held in a hotel room and told by the producers that they couldn't go home yet. But the crafty twins grabbed one of the producer's cell phones and locked themselves in the bathroom "for what seemed like an eternity." From the bathroom, they called their father, "screaming and crying," and he called 911. The twins are now suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, conspiracy to commit battery, false imprisonment, and negligence. This would make a really great reality TV show!
According to Pratt, it's true that reality TV producers sometimes set up ratings stunts that can put their cast members in danger. "I definitely had a producer on [The Hills] tell me I should punch my sister in the face," Pratt told me over Twitter DM. "[It's] def [a] grey area. Not every producer is evil (just most lol)."
The lawsuit claims that after the alleged incident producers on the show "acknowledged that they were aware of and orchestrated everything that happened to the plaintiffs upon their arrival into the [Bad Girls] house."
But Troy DeVolld, a writer and producer of reality TV who has worked on shows like Basketball Wives, paints the industry in a kinder light. "It's not unusual, when you're on a reality TV show, that your phones and ID are taken away from you. [Producers] don't want you to have any distractions while you're there and they want everything to be worked out on location," DeVolld said over the phone.
"Part of the creative process on a reality show is putting people in situations that might seem abnormal to move the action forward. But a producer telling someone to start punching and kicking someone? That hasn't happened in the history of my career. When people get agitated, there's usually someone there to break it up," he said. "The [flour] prank, as described [in this lawsuit], doesn't seem malicious."