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"We can’t manipulate something that’s not there." The truth about filming reality TV.

I recently received an email from Channel 7 that read: Are you single and adventurous enough to step out of your comfort zone for true love? We are looking for single people who are willing to travel the most romantic parts of the world for love and happiness. If that is you, APPLY now.

It was a casting call for yet another reality TV show and it got me thinking about who would want to appear on one. Where do they come from? How many audition?

Well it turns out a lot of people; last year Australian Survivor had over 15,000 applicants.

I’m not sure if people are applying because they are genuinely passionate about cooking or singing or painting walls – maybe they just want their 15 minutes of fame, but the fact is they are applying in huge numbers and reality TV is still a ratings winner.

Yes, we love a good reality TV series. We love to see who is the villain and who is the hero. And sometimes, only sometimes, those “real people” we have taken a shine to on-screen go on to carve out a successful “celebrity” career.

Look at Fitzy, Rachel Corbett and Chrissie Swan who all graced our screens on Big Brother and who all went on to bigger and better things on radio and TV. Dr Andrew Rochford appeared on The Block in 2004 and Sophie Monk who first appeared on Popstars in 1999 (who has now gone full circle back appearing as the next Australian Bachelorette).

But when it comes to those villains and heroes, or who gets the attention on-screen, or what stories are shown, surely it is the producers who are in control, and not the contestants?

An Australian reality TV producer who has talked to Mamamia anonymously (of course, he’s a producer) says: “When people say something is taken out of context it’s usually BS, we can’t manipulate something that’s not there. Being on a reality TV show is nothing like you think, it’s long days, with a camera constantly in your face. A lot of people go on expecting one thing and when they don’t get that experience they get pissed off. You can’t go on one of these shows hoping to fix your marriage or meet your soulmate without being in the limelight.”

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Julie Goodwin won the inaugural Masterchef and has also appeared on Masterchef All-Stars and I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here. Julie told Mamamia she isn’t so sure a contestant’s portrayal is totally controlled by producers.

“You’re not going to be portrayed in any way that you don’t allow yourself to be. The producers can’t make you say anything you don’t want to. When you choose to go on a reality TV show, you choose your persona; if you say villainous things, then the producers are going to take that and cast you as the villain.”

Being a reality TV contestant
Julie Goodwin on Masterchef, Masterchef All-Stars and I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! (Images: Channel Ten)

On the US TV show UnReal (it's meant to be fiction but is scarily like The Bachelor), the producers use alcohol to "relax" contestants into doing crazy stuff, a strategy the Australian reality TV producer admits is used locally.

"Absolutely. Alcohol is a great way to loosen people up. It gets them talking and they become way more entertaining – no need for any creative editing.”

Appearing on reality TV, whether for the exposure or subsequent opportunities that may come your way from perhaps becoming a "celebrity", might not always be a positive experience.

The spotlight can burn bright and it can burn badly.

Remember "Ashley" and "John" from the 2006 series of Big Brother? The fallout from their infamous "Turkey slap" incident garnered death threats, being abused on the street and called rapists, a police investigation and both men have changed their names to get jobs in Australia.

Then there are the ever-present internet trolls.

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“I can tell when I’ve been on TV for one of those Where Are They Now MasterChef specials because I start hearing from the trolls who are still outraged at something that happened over eight years ago,” Julie Goodwin says.

"For the most part, it’s been all positive, it's allowed me to travel, cook and learn. It's landed me on TV and radio. It’s given me opportunities that otherwise would never have happened.”

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Barry Lea, who was on Australian Survivor Season 2 (and says he originally went on the show just for a laugh), told Mamamia: “It was really emotionally and physically tough, one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. If you couldn’t start a fire, you starved.”

While others went onto bigger and better things, Barry went straight back to his job in Cairns, but he does admit he came back with a different outlook on life.

“I had to have some time-out by myself and re-adjust physically and mentally to coming back to normal life. If you’re thinking about doing a reality TV show think long and hard about it, everybody thinks it will change their life and it can but not always for the best.”

Being a reality TV contestant
Barrey Lea on Australian Survivor 2016. (Image: Channel Ten)

For anyone who wants their 15 minutes of fame or maybe even more, is single and does want to: travel the most romantic parts of the world for love and happiness. Here are a few tips from the anon reality TV producer:

“Look good, make an effort, stand out, don’t be shy, be loud but not aggressive. If you’re thinking all I can do is be myself, well then you’re probably not going to cut it and if you do make it on TV be prepared for the trolls. No matter how nice you are, someone is going to hate you and they will tell you.”

Or maybe just stay at home and watch.

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