I Conned My Way onto Two Reality Shows and Totally Got What I Deserved
If you want to use reality TV to gain fame, be prepared for the consequences.
The author on the set of 'When Women Rule the World'
If you know what producers are looking for in auditions, you can tailor your responses to jive with their vision. Here's a hint: they're looking for sociopaths. Think about it: sociopaths are known to display a lack of empathy, a lack of remorse, and tend to have violent outbursts. Sounds like every contestant on reality television ever, right?
In my auditions, I misrepresented myself completely as a man-eating, bravado-bitching, shit-talking, feminist powerhouse. It was an extreme character culled from one corner of my personality. In reality, I'm just trying to figure things out like the rest of the world. However, along with not wanting fatties, producers don't want complexity. They want drama, and the essence of drama is conflict. Everyday life is devoid of the habitual conflict that wouldn't make for interesting television, but creation myths need a devil. Become the devil, truth be damned.
Unlike North American reality TV shows, British reality TV is an institution held in the highest regard and treated like a religion. Reality TV stars in the UK can easily parlay their fleeting fame into perfume deals, fitness DVDs, tell-alls, glamour modelling, or the holiest of holies, a marriage to a footballer. There's a lot of money and fame to be had for those who are willing to have their bowel movements broadcast to millions. What's more, they are regarded with a colossal respect that North Americans might find odd. Big Brother, Geordie Shore, and The Only Way Is Essex are huge cash-cows that have made celebrities out of sociopathic nobodies like Jade Goody. Jade Goody entered the UK Big Brother house in 2002 and became a sensation when her mentally deranged question, "Am I mingin'?" became a catchphrase. When she returned to the show in 2007, she racially bullied Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, calling her "Shilpa Poppadom" and telling her to "go back to the slums." It was an international incident that even made its way to question time in British parliament. When she was removed from the Big Brother house, Goody's sociopathic non-apologies landed on the wrong side of genuine, and she eventually died as she had lived: surrounded by cameras and people who hated her.
But, as the saying goes, if you can't be famous, be infamous.
The two reality TV shows in my case were When Women Rule The World (2008) and First Dates (2014). Both were produced by the British network Channel 4 (also home to Black Mirror) and broadcast to millions of viewers across the UK and Ireland. The former was looking for strong, opinionated, feminist-minded hotheads who would govern an island with only one law: women rule, men obey. I immediately filled out an application. I answered every section with as much forced swagger I could muster. One of the questions asked why I wanted to be on television. I figured "revenge" would be a poorly-received answer, so I instead wrote "because I'm awesome and people love me." Attaching my most intimidatingly-sexy photos I could find, I sent it off into the gauze of cyberspace.
I received a reply from the show's researchers within a week, inviting me in for an on-camera audition. I wasn't surprised or excited. I knew they would contact me. I knew exactly what I was doing. At the audition, they trained a camera on me and asked questions like, "What's the one thing you think men can learn from women?"
"Cunnilingus," I replied. I mean, who fucking says something like that? But they ate that shit up. After several more meetings, where I glad-handed the series producers, went through costume fittings, and had a police-background check, they brought in a psychologist to assess the mental soundness of each cast member. This is where the real hustle took effect. There is a con called Blind Man's Bluff. Usually in this con, a hustler fakes blindness to misdirect attention as a card-game is stacked or a casino is knocked over. I simply removed the blind aspect and focussed on the bluff. In my defence, the psychologist was extremely inept.
"Have you ever experienced domestic violence?"
"No," I cheerfully replied with a gregarious smile.
"How would you rate your level of happiness?" she asked.
I'm intermittently depressed.
"I'm a very happy person," I batted my lashes, and she stupidly ticked the boxes on the boilerplate form.
The next week, I was on a plane from London to the Dominican Republic. Upon arriving at the lavish set that had been built on a secluded beach by a crew of over 200, I realized that millions had been spent by the network: salaries, travel, accommodation, writers, props, electricians, camera operators, booms, the director, and the fees each of us were paid. And here I was, sporting a shit-eating grin with an all-expense paid holiday to the Caribbean with the bonus of television exposure.
My fellow female castmates were loud and posturing Bacchanalians who ranged from a glamour model to a porn star who specialized in anal. Hard butts and fake breasts abounded. The male cast included misogynistic footballers and an alpha male gangsta rapper. Think of the rebellion! Our show was hosted by Steve Jones, who would later find fame in America as the host of X Factor and Entertainment Tonight.
For First Dates, once again, I was bored, and I already knew that Channel 4 employs fucktards, so when I heard they were casting for their second season, I immediately filled out their questionnaire and sent in a pouty selfie. First Dates is a popular fly-on-the-wall series that pairs two strangers on a dinner date in the hopes that sparks will fly or heads will roll. I bluffed my way through two on-camera auditions, spoon-feeding them Velveeta one-liners. Unlike WWRTW where I was cast in the entire eight-episode season, I knew I would only be cast in one FD episode, so I had to bring my A game.
Turns out, I underestimated the FD producers. They're not complete morons after all. As I was mic'd up and sent into the restaurant to film my episode, I met the man who was to be my dinner companion: a delightfully sweet chap who had an unfortunate and rather nagging stammer. I wasn't prepared for that. I was used to my castmates being obnoxious and undignified sociopaths. He was charming and smiley, but couldn't talk very much without trailing off into a painful episode. So I did all the nervous talking. I blathered verbal diarrhea until my throat tightened like a sphincter. When the episode aired, they edited it in such a manner that I appeared to be bullying him for his speech impediment. They spliced up shots and jammed them out of sequence to make it look like I was rolling my eyes at him or shutting him down when he tried to speak. They totally frankensound-bited me on national television.
Social media blew up and Twitter users were threatening to stab me in the face with a fork or rape me in on the street. I couldn't go anywhere in London without being recognized as "that Canadian bitch." Once, I was at a pub in Covent Garden when a crowd gathered around me. "I just saw you on television, why did you do that to that poor lad?" I shrugged my shoulders and apologized to them for letting them down. It was so brutal after a while that I actually began to sport a disguise in public. I was the most hated woman in the UK for a time. I became an insomniac and a depressive.
And I deserved it.
I met with the producers to discuss with them the death threats I was receiving, and how unfair I felt my portrayal was. They nodded their heads, bought me lunch, and told me they took my concerns very seriously. They assured me they would come to my defence on the official Twitter and Facebook accounts, and broadcast unseen footage that would prove I wasn't a bully.
Naturally, none of that ever happened. Nor did I expect it to. Their show continued, to great fanfare, and I eventually had to leave London to get away from the scandal.
That's the biggest con: when it turns out the hustler is actually the mark. I learned the hard way that, one day, someone other than you is going to have the last laugh, and what are you going to do then?
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