For a single moment in time, perhaps a month or two, these women are the most famous faces in the country. Their name is brandished in headlines, their face on every newsfeed. Their actions and their mannerisms and their mistakes are picked up, analysed and thrown back in their faces with the force of a nation sprouting their hate.
They may be unlikeable, they may even be mean sometimes, but like a modern-day stampede, we force their head onto a pike and march through the streets, our indignation and our anger loud and public. Their actions don’t affect our lives, but they certainly elicit emotions.
They are our reality TV villains, and their reputations are our entertainment.
This year, it’s Davina and Dean of Married at First Sight. The year before that, it was Jen and Leah from The Bachelor. There was Chloe and Kelly from My Kitchen Rules and David from the Bachelorette and Jono from Married and First Sight and the list goes on and on and on because no season of reality TV can exist without the casting of at least one.
In 2016, it was Keira Maguire.
She knows, more than most, how absurd reality TV can make a contestant’s own reality.
“I had no idea that I was going to be a villain, none at all. But at the same time, I’m not someone who holds back on what they say. I didn’t really care what people thought and I am quite honest,” she tells Mamamia, reflecting on an experience that made her as equally famous as it did despised.
Mia Freedman interviewed Keira Maguire right after her time on The Bachelor. This is what she had to say. Post continues after audio.
“I’ve now realised honest people do get cast as villains because they’re the only ones who are honest with how they feel. A lot of people find that confronting, hearing people say things they would only think.
“The ones you wouldn’t expect to be the real villains probably are, because they have a persona up.”
Keira says when she sat down to watch the very first episode, she was “mortified”.
“When I watched it back, I was mortified. For example, in my introductory video, I was joking in a lot of that, but it was made to be so serious.
“I think I’m a comedian and they can easily grab those [jokes] and make that seem like what I genuinely said, or make it seem like I do think that way. But I would never say that in that context.”
When the first words out of your mouth are the fact you think you’re the “total package” – earnest or sarcastic – you suddenly become a producer’s playdough: to be moulded and shaped however they please. After all, you signed the dotted line.
“It’s not something you can describe in words, it’s quite overwhelming. You’re living your day-to-day life and no one knows who you are and then all of a sudden, one day people are going out of the way to force their opinions on you. You can start to isolate yourself because you don’t want to leave the house. You completely isolate yourself, if you’re not a strong person, it’s actually quite dangerous.”
Keira thinks producers make a conscious decision regarding who they cast as their villain.
“They know the people who can handle it, and they know who can’t.
“They really want to make sure that if they show her as this person, and if the backlash is quite intense, that she will be able to handle it.”
Being cast as the villain is one thing, of course, but navigating the deep and ugly public reaction is what Maguire found particularly trying. In an age of social media, anyone can find you, anyone can reach you and anyone can abuse you.
“Yes, have an opinion, but don’t go on their social space. We’re reading everything. It doesn’t matter how resilient you are, because I didn’t leave for two or three weeks it really takes all of your energy. It sucks the life out of you.”
Without prompting, Keira touches on the country’s current fascination for Married at First Sight’s Davina. After all, we cannot have a conversation about reality TV infamy without referencing the most infamous reality TV star of our moment.
She has, she says, known Davina since she was 19 years old. She is an “amazing girl”.
“What you have to remember is this person is getting married, and if you’re not interested, that’s a big deal. When it’s on TV, you’re not thinking about what people are going to think, you’re thinking what you’re doing at the time. When you put yourself out there on reality TV, without it sounding narcissistic, you are really going in for yourself, no one else,” Keira says.
“I can understand where the public is coming from. They can’t control what they’re being fed and the music and everything else – so what can they do with that?
“Reactions and emotional connections to TV is an experience we want. That’s great. Just don’t go on their social media and abuse them because of it.”
Of course, for someone who experienced such a fierce rise to fame, it’s curious that Keira is going back at it again for a third time, set to appear on our screens in Bachelor in Paradise. This time, she argues, she knows what she’s up against. After all, there’s only so much reality TV can do to surprise you.
“I have looked at things and learned stuff about myself. Now I’m like, ‘Whatever.’ I used to be like, ‘Oh my god, there is this article saying all these really mean things’. Now I am much more resilient, although I think if if you comment on looks and appearance that’s too far. If you start to attack my personal appearance, that’s not okay.”
For more from Keira Maguire, you can find her on Instagram here.
What do you think of how Australia treats its reality TV villains?