reality tv

"We use cushions with pricks." Reality TV producers share the tactics used to push contestants.


Ah, reality TV.

The home of arranged marriages, fruit bowl throwing incidents, wife swapping, mass group dates and well… a complete lack of reality.

Yes, we know it’s manipulated and heavily edited – but year after year, reality TV just keeps growing in popularity.

Since Big Brother hit Australian screens in 2001, it’s safe to say that reality TV has become a staple in Australian homes on a nightly basis.

Despite its popularity, however, reality TV comes with a lot of negative connotations.

The Feed’s Michelle Rimmer finds out what it means to be a reality TV survivor. Post continues below.

This year alone, we’ve seen fiery and often violent arguments break out on Australian reality TV shows like Married at First Sight, not to mention the complete vilification of ‘villains’ on shows including The Bachelor, Bachelor In Paradise, and of course, MAFS on social media.

But how exactly do reality TV producers manipulate contestants to get the results they want? And what’s it really like to return to real life after a stint on reality TV?


On the latest episode of SBS’s The Feed, journalist Michelle Rimmer spoke to former reality TV contestants as well as a producer about the reality of reality TV.

Here’s what she discovered.

The talk of doom.

During the episode, journalist Michelle Rimmer spoke to Marion Farrelly – a reality TV producer who has overseen some of Australia’s biggest reality TV shows, including Farmer Wants A Wife, Celebrity Apprentice, and X Factor.

Speaking to Rimmer, Farrelly shared the ‘talk of doom’ she gives contestants before they take the plunge to appear on reality TV.

reality tv
Marion Farrelly has worked on a number of Australia's biggest reality TV shows. Image: SBS.

"I tell them: 'You will leave here and you will be too famous to go back to your job but not famous enough to be famous, so you probably won't work for two years,' she said.

"If you're a guy, people will want to fight you in the club. If you're a girl, no one will want to date you. Everyone you have ever slept with will come forward and they will tell their story to the press."

How producers create drama. 

Marion Farrelly also opened up about the bizarre tactics used to push contestant's buttons on Big Brother.

"If people are sitting around doing nothing, you would give them some sort of challenge that either brings them together or sets them apart."

"Physicality is very important," she told The Feed.

"We would do things like lower the ceilings, turn the lights up and make the sofas rubber. They would have cushions with pricks in them and the colours might be a little too bright," she explained.

"People would always say, 'You give them booze'. Actually, no. You don't want people drunk. You don't want to watch people drunk. But what we would sometimes do is give them sugar.

"If you have interesting people, they'll do your job for you – if you've cast the right people and put them in the right situations."

A reality TV story producer takes The Quicky behind the scenes to find out what's real, how they get the reactions they need and what happens when the stars push back. Post continues below.


What it's really like behind-the-scenes. 

In 2006, Tracy Moores appeared on the first season of The Biggest Loser.

Since her time on the show, however, the former contestant has been strongly outspoken about the show's extreme tactics.

"It's Big Brother and Survivor for fat people," Moores told The Feed.

"One of the first episodes, there was this room that we were all in... and there was all of this food. They basically made us out to be pigs," she explained.

"I was quite distraught about the whole thing. We were quite traumatised, to the point that I was crying," she added.

"[We were on a] treadmill for hours on end – I'd say at least two-and-a-half, sometimes three hours. We were all on 500 calories a day. Some [contestants] actually chose to do less. [We were] fed on caffeine pills, some of the contestants – they had enemas. They shaved all their hair off their body, they didn't eat, they looked like the walking dead. When you're doing that much exercise, it takes a toll."

reality tv
Tracey Moores appeared on the first season of The Biggest Loser. Image: SBS.

Moores also shared the intense nature of some of the show's challenges.

"We were on a tarmac and we had to pull a plane. I think it was like 40 degrees. We were all standing in the sun and we were given hot water at this stage and the crew were under the shade with bottles of water and ice. I actually went over and said, 'Can we have some cold water'. And they said, 'Your water is over there.'"

Not long after her time on the show, Moores was placed on a drip in hospital due to dehydration.

"In my opinion, it's just a matter of time until someone has a heart attack and dies on that show," Moores has previously told New Idea magazine.

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