“The one thing I hated most about people coming up to me after the show was, ‘Are you OK?’
“Like, are you for real? Of course I’m not OK. There’s people trying to like kill me online… After losing your job, and having it impact your modelling, and your whole family watching it… then a publication saying ‘The most hated man in Australia.’
Yeah, I’m alright – not.”
These are the words of ex-Bachelorette contestant David Witko, who is far more commonly known as ‘David – The International Model’.
In Sam Frost’s season of The Bachelorette, David was portrayed as the superficial, conceited villain, who was eliminated in episode two after a few ‘tense’ exchanges with Frost.
He was shown essentially ‘storming out’ after not receiving a rose, while the other bachelor’s looked on in shock. In a new documentary, however, Witko and others expose the misrepresentations that coloured their experiences on reality television.
Witko, for example, claims he hugged and said goodbye to all the other contestants before leaving. Clever editing created an entirely different narrative.
Filmmaker Gena Lida Riess interviewed a number of ex-reality stars for her short documentary, Creating a Monster, as well as Dr Misha Kavka, an Associate Professor of Media, Film and Television, and an anonymous reality television psychologist. Their insights make an audience take a hard look at our obsession with reality TV, the judgments we form, and the impact it has on those it victimises.
Clare Verrall, who appeared on season two of Married at First Sight, recalls that when she was making her decision about whether to say yes to the show, she asked herself, "what's the worst that could happen?"
"Turns out, now I know," she says.
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Clare was 'matched' with Jono Pitman, and since the show aired, she's claimed that with her history of PTSD after a violent attack, her 'marriage' to someone "who had known anger management issues" was irresponsible.
"I am someone who's very controlling," she tells Reiss in Creating a Monster. "I know that about myself. I'm also very bossy, I know that about myself. And ironically, I'm a know-it-all and I know that about myself."
"They see those traits and they know that those traits are not going to match up well with the person they match you with, they're like: villain. She's going to be controlling, she's going to be bossy, and he's going to rail against it."
Sandra Rato from Sam Wood's season of The Bachelor reiterates the feeling of being set-up by producers to be a villain. She recalls sitting at the first cocktail party, and the producers encouraging the women to talk about who they might not get along with.
In the show, Sandra asks this question to the group, and when she does, it's met with all the reality television trappings of a bombshell moment. Other women then tell the cameras they were having a lovely time when Sandra "started saying negative things".
"That argument, that stupid one question, basically was like the entire episode," she says.
Alex 'Boog' Roe wasn't a villain on the tenth season of Australian Big Brother, but she is familiar with the experience of being type-cast.
"They wanted to cast me as that sporty-bogan-type girl, so they really wanted me to run with that," she says. "I remember they were looking through my Facebook photos, trying to find an outfit they wanted me to wear, and they picked one - it was a dress up party - and they were like, 'we want you to wear that on opening night'. I was like, I don't wear that normally. And they were like, 'no that's what we want you to look like on opening night'."
David Witko's 'character' was also formed immediately. He tells Reiss that on the first night of The Bachelorette, the contestants all brought along a gimmick or a gift for Sam Frost. Unlike others who presented her with an owl, or made her a rose from paper, Witko donated to BeyondBlue, and told her as soon as they met. This exchange was edited out.
In fact, a soon as Witko appeared on screen, he noticed "the music went from literally like twinkles to like hardcore base". He says it was then that the people watching the show with him said, "David - you are literally f*cked".
Sandra Rato had a similar experience.
"The very first night The Bachelor aired, had all my friends and family around and it was extremely exciting, but then after the show finished, it was extremely awkward and the tension... my family just couldn't believe what just happened," she says.
"It was really emotional... I realised that wow, if this is the start of what the public is going to think of me - it's bad."
The ex-reality stars also speak about how situations were created in order to elicit a strong reaction, making the phenomenon more "manipulated than fabricated".
Verrall recalls that on Married at First Sight, she was asked for her preferences for every aspect of the wedding. "Then [they] give you the exact opposite to try to upset you and make you freak out," she says.
On The Bachelorette, rose ceremonies that can last up to four hours are edited to go for ten minutes. "You stand there, and every single time you look at a guy, or you're like f*ck this is taking ages, they get these reactions and then cut into these reactions later..." says Witko.
Dr Misha Kavka, from the University of Auckland, says there's actually a profound parallel between reality television and how we all live every single day. "You have no control how people see you," she says. "Reality television telescopes that lack of control, it makes it really clear that people are responding to you."
"You're out there for people to respond to... reality TV makes that patently clear."
And maybe that's why we can't stop watching.