reality tv

Alisha Aitken-Radburn was given the 'villain edit'. She read the comments to 'punish herself'.

Content warning: This post includes discussion on the topic of suicide that may be distressing to some readers.

The reality TV formula always needs a villain.

From The Bachelor, to Married At First Sight, and even home renovation shows, there is at least one perceived villain every single season. It is a tried and tested reality TV formula that has worked to boost ratings for years. 

But what happens when it's you who is the villain? When you're the one who is portrayed as a one-dimensional person and quickly dubbed 'Australia's most hated TV star'. It's a label that has been bestowed upon countless contestants. 

Some of them have exhibited behaviour that is against the norm. Others have said things they now regret. And yet many of these people have done little to warrant the abuse that floods their social media - either while the show is airing or once the roses have shrivelled up and the ratings stop.

Alisha Aitken-Radburn was depicted as a villain on the Honey Badger's season of The Bachelor Australia in 2018.

As her season went to air, Alisha knew immediately she had a big problem on her hands. Herself and two other contestants on the show had been positioned as the three villains - the mean girls. 

"It felt like we were fighting for our lives," Alisha says to Mamamia's No Filter this week. 

"We were just bombarded and we were trying to claw back some sort of morsel of respect. We were trying to convince anybody who would listen that we weren't bad."


Watch: how to make great reality TV. Post continues below.

Video via ABC.

There's one moment in particular that felt like a kick to the stomach for Alisha. It was during a live radio interview, when a radio host described Alisha to her face as a bully and bad role model for young girls. It broke Alisha's heart.

It could be aptly described as a 'cancellation'.

It's when the person in the eye of the storm is seen as deserving banishment from the public eye. Sometimes the condemnation is warranted. Often though in the realm of reality TV, the impact isn't worth the so-called crime. 

"It's in the power of production, the power of the media - they have your life in their hands. They have an image of you projected to millions. And it's very hard to get the opportunity to win back hearts and minds," says Alisha.

It's for this reason why Alisha participated in Bachelor in Paradise Australia after her first TV stint - desperate for a chance at redemption with audiences. 


Interestingly, her edit on this spin-off show was objectively favourable, positioning her as relatable and warm in providing comedic commentary about the antics of her cast mates. It was this experience that made her realise how susceptible audiences are to editing and carefully crafted narrative arcs. 

Listen: How Alisha Aitken-Radburn Got The Villain Edit. Post continues after audio...

As for how exactly producers manage to get what they want from contestants? It's certainly clever.

One former reality TV producer told The Quicky that a lot of it comes down to frankenbiting, asking leading questions and only showing one side of a contestant's personality, rather than the multifaceted human they likely are. 

For Alisha, she said producers likely took advantage of her self insecurities. Then during one-on-one interviews, she would only be asked about the top contending girls of the season. 

The questions were pointed. And if Alisha garnered a laugh from the producer after saying something, she took that as a sign she was liked and would be thought of as funny. 

"There is a very fine line in The Bachelor world of being the funny commentator versus the villain. It was so validating to get those laughs from the producers. There are heightened emotions as well," she says to No Filter

"I knew I didn't think I was a bad person. But on reflection I could see the mistakes I had made and what my regrets were. I consumed the comments [online] as a form of punishement, like I deserved to hear those things."


Alisha Aitken-Radburn on The Bachelor Australia and Bachelor in Paradise Australia. Image: Channel 10.

The power of editing is something Abbie Chatfield knows firsthand as well.


In 2019, she appeared on Matt Agnew's season of The Bachelor Australia, and she was quickly villainised for simply knowing what she wanted. 

"I was the stupid, bitchy villain. It was like, 'She's manipulative and young'," she reflected on Mamamia's No Filter

"All my friends watched every week with me because they knew how bad it was. So we'd sit there and then after watching they'd go, 'Oh, you were just horny!' And then we'd look online and it was death threats and backlash."

Married At First Sight's Olivia Frazer understands what it feels like when an entire country turns against you. 

As the show aired, and even for some time afterwards, Frazer experienced "many awful" public encounters with complete strangers hurling abuse at her. It wasn't simply constructive criticism or feedback over comments she had made during her season - it was personal. 

"Every time somebody messages one of my loved ones something awful, it feels like I'm being kicked back down," she said to No Filter last year.

"It's been very detrimental to moving on. I don't know how I go about the rest of my professional career. My dream was always to be a teacher and stand in front of a classroom full of kids and be a helpful mentor to them. I feel like now I can't. The unregulated and unethical filming, editing and nonexistent aftercare should be heavily highlighted."

For some former contestants, it's impacted their mental health for years after.


Former Bachelorette Australia contestant David Witko said he had such bad anxiety following on from his villain edit that he couldn't be in crowds, and isolated himself from the world.

Lauren Finelli was a finalist on My Kitchen Rules in 2016. It still cuts her up when she reflects on the moment she read a headline that said: 'Lauren is the most hated person in Australia'. 

"It was devastating," she said. "You try getting a job when you are plastered all over the TV and magazines in a negative light: it doesn't happen."

It's also hard to forget what happened to MAFS' Clare Verrall.

As someone who has a history of PTSD after experiencing a violent attack, Clare says it was incredibly irresponsible for producers to match her with someone "who had known anger management issues".

As the show aired, Clare received death threats from online trolls. Clare says she tried to reach out to the broadcaster for support, "begging the network for help", but instead she felt abandoned. 

It left her in a place so dark, she tried to end her own life. 

"That show may just be a show for everyone else and a distant memory, but I'll always wear the scars on my wrist from that show. Always," she tells Mamamia

Interestingly, there are some contestants who have managed to fight back against the cards they've been dealt.


In 2017, Nicole Prince was the undisputed villain of House Rules.

Two years later, Nicole won a workers' compensation case against the show's broadcaster. In the landmark case, Nicole claimed she was "harassed and bullied throughout filming" and struggled to find work after she was "portrayed as a bully" on the show.  

There have since been other cases where various networks have had to pay their former talent due to claims of exploitation and impactful portrayal.

For Alisha, she feared her stint on reality TV would "completely decimate" her future career prospects, after having worked as a political staffer prior for years. 

Now working in government relations at a community services organisation and happily married after finding her now-husband Glenn Smith via Bachelor in Paradise Australia, Alisha doesn't regret going on reality TV.

But she wants the cold, hard truth to be known - the villain edit can be detrimental and not always deserving. 


This is an extract from The Villain Edit. A memoir about reality TV and taking control of the narrative by Alisha Aitken-Radburn. Allen & Unwin, RRP $34.99, available now.

Alisha Aitken-Radburn was trolled online after The Bachelor. There was one comment she couldn't forget.

"It's going to be okay," the psychologist said. She said that my memories of filming the show would always be valid and always remain mine, no matter what made it to air. She was responding to yet another anxious phone call as the premiere date of season six of The Bachelor crept closer and closer.

This time, I'd called her from a Canberra hair salon. I was getting a fresh full head of foils. I had timed my salon visit perfectly: about two weeks out from airing, just enough time for it to fade a little if the blonde was too bright. I'd be ready for the masses of press interviews I thought awaited me. 


I would soon drive up to Sydney to stay with my best friend Hannah for six weeks so we could watch the episodes together at seven-thirty p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday night.

As the bleach developed, my conversation with Alex, the show's psychologist, weaved in and out of my insecurities.

I hadn't struggled with opening up to a psychologist; in fact, I'd later learn that I was one of the participants who took most advantage of the free counselling, with Warner Brothers picking up the tab. 

Alex gave me all the reassurance you would hope to receive from a psychologist. She assured me that all the other girls would be feeling similar trepidation - after all, a very intense window of our lives was about to be broadcast to over half a million Australians. We had all gone through a very specific set of experiences together and those experiences would bond us, regardless of any TV narrative laid on top.

She told me that I would be fine. I had a strong support network of friends and family around me, and at the end of the day their opinions were the only ones that really mattered.

With the wave of calm I'd been seeking washing over me, our conversation meandered to less loaded topics, like how f**king freezing Canberra was in July and how it was totally fine I'd resigned from my respected staffing job in Parliament House to do The Bachelor because who could spend another winter sitting in front of a tiny Kmart heater anyway.


But it wasn't going to be okay. A fortnight later, as the show began to air, the backlash began too.

It started benignly enough. I had developed a ritual of voraciously reading every little bit of commentary on The Bachelor after each episode aired. My dance began with Bachelor Unpacked, a comedic recap posted on The Bachelor's Facebook page. 

The ten-minute recaps were pre-recorded by comedians Tanya Hennessy, Brianna Williams and Mat Whitehead. They would watch screener copies of the episodes - early drafts of the final edit that are ninety per cent of the way there. Because the recaps were pre-recorded, they were uploaded immediately after the episode.

Next I’d head to #TheBachelorAU hashtag on Twitter, then The Bachelor Instagram and then a collection of fan pages I was following from a throwaway Facebook account I'd set up specifically to lurk the groups.

The final and most important stop on my journey was an online forum for Bachelor superfans. These fans didn't just follow the Australian show. They dissected every iteration of the franchise they could get their hands on - from the flagship US version to The Bachelor Ukraine

And they didn't just watch it, they sleuthed each series. They'd hunt down paparazzi pictures to discover who the next set of Bachelor contestants might be, stalk their social media and hypothesise about when they'd be eliminated and why. 


There was regular speculation about the casting of the leads - who would be crowned the next Bachelor and Bachelorette - and when the seasons went to air there were designated threads for members to share their thoughts live as the episodes were broadcast.

I checked the forum so often that I came to recognise the forum regulars - such as GuardianAngel, Butterflylove, DirtyStreetPie and Bobette - and even to know their unique personalities, what characters they clicked with the most, what behaviour from contestants they despised, and their big-picture perspectives on the producers and the future of the show.

This strict ritual took about two hours and afterwards, finally satisfied that I'd consumed every piece of content available, I would drift off to sleep, knowing there was another episode to come.

By the time my elimination episode aired, this ritual had soured.

Ten-thirty p.m. Alone in my bedroom, I began scouring the internet's reactions for the final time. The room filled with the soft glow from my phone as I scrolled through that night's verdict.

Comments about my wit and charm had been replaced with hundreds of comments calling me ugly, a dog and quite consistently instructing me to get a nose job. Someone tagged their friend, writing "She's not pretty enough to be that bitchy." One called me a putrid rat. Another said, "See ya later LAP DOG TURD." Eloquently put.

Midnight. I left Instagram, hoping for a reprieve on the forums. What did Bobette think of my elimination?


"The Axis of Evil is no longer."

"The wicked witches are dead!!!"

No relief there.

I stared up at the intricate patterns in the plaster of my ceiling, taking stock of the damage. One comment was fixed in my mind. I would try to lead my thoughts to something unrelated, the next day's work or another TV show. I'd try to will myself to sleep, but the comment returned.

"You are a bad person."

A bad person. It was the worst of them all. I could handle a lot, but this undid me. I rolled onto my side, staring into the curves of each letter on my screen until they flickered into a blurred mess. I knew I could do bad things. I could be selfish and unthinking. I could be arrogant and an asshole.

My teens and twenties had been littered with mistakes and misjudgements, but I had always notched that up to being young, dumb and human. Not a bad person.

There was something so particularly scathing about that comment that it sent me spiralling in a way I hadn't the entire time the show had been airing. Australia had picked apart our appearance, our personalities, our mannerisms and our clothing.

We had been scrutinised for who we sat with in a particular scene, our inflection as we read a date card, the hemline of our dress at a cocktail party, but this comment broke me.


Those five words completely shattered the image I'd built of myself in my mind. I thought I had a worthwhile personality. I thought I was someone people would like to know. I knew I wasn't a comedian but I thought I was funny. I thought I was kind but not so much that I was boring, or that it was laid on so thick that it seemed inauthentic. 

I thought I was an interesting person. I thought I was a good person. My reason for choosing to do the show had been, in part, to seek validation of that.

But the audience had clearly disagreed. Here, with five simple words, my reality came crashing head-to-head with another.

My heart pounded.

Three a.m. What the f**k have I done?

This is an extract from The Villain Edit. A memoir about reality TV and taking control of the narrative by Alisha Aitken-Radburn. Allen & Unwin, RRP $34.99, available now.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Channel 10/Mamamia/Instagram @alisha.aitkenradburn.

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