entertainment

One reality TV show contestant speaks out about what life is really like behind the cameras.

Jules Allen on Australian Story last night.

It was only last month that Kelly Ramsay – a contestant on this year’s series of My Kitchen Rulesspoke out about how she felt manipulated by the show’s producers and had been hospitalised for physical exhaustion after the series.

Then, only a few weeks later, Tully Smyth who appeared on the last season of Big Brother revealed that a “lack of psychological support” on the show left her feeling emotionally fragile and utterly alone following her eviction.

Now, Jules Allen from MasterChef has opened up about her bittersweet foray into reality TV — and what it was like to crash back down to reality following her elimination.

Her comments provide a fascinating insight into how the reality television phenomenon and how something that is so often classified as light entertainment by viewers, can take a heavy toll on its participants.

Allen, a 39-year-old social worker from NSW, said on ABC’s Australian Story last night that while contestants “think it’s just going to be this amazing mind blowing journey, and some of it is (but) it also knocks you around.”

“It’s not just MasterChef, it’s whether you’re on The Block, or MKR or The Biggest Loser,” she said.

“On all of them, the end result is it’s a ritual humiliation on national television and the worst thing is, we signed up for it. Try reconciling that in yourself.”

Kelly with her cooking partner Chloe from My Kitchen Rules.

Allen, who made the top 12 on the Channel 10 series, said contestants also fear the way they will appear to audience after a heavy editing process.

“There’s however many cameras filming for however many hours a day and then that has to be edited into a one-hour program,” she said.

“Things are portrayed in a way to appeal to the audience and it may not necessarily be the way they played out,” she said.

While specifically editing footage to create drama may seem unfair, Fairfax entertainment writer Michael Lallo said the practice is generally legal under the contracts participants are required to sign.

“These contestants have no leverage,” he said.

“If they don’t like these terms and conditions and they don’t want to sign these contracts there are a thousand other contestants who will,”  he said on the ABC show.

Allen said she never questioned signing the bulky contract, as it was a prerequisite for entry onto the show.

“It was quite a lengthy contract, which of course none of us were not going to sign, because if you don’t sign it, you don’t get in. So, I don’t I don’t actually remember reading my contract just thinking, ‘Righto, sign away!’,” she said.

But fear of skewed editing is not the only pressure faced by contestants, Allen makes clear. She said the competitive environment and relative isolation from normal social interactions creates a unique, pressure-cooker environment that is hard to bear.

ADVERTISEMENT

“People who haven’t lived in this environment don’t understand, it becomes like life and death because that is all you have,” she said.

Tully Smyth.

This stress is compounded by the fact contestants are tactically kept “tired and emotional and stressed to elicit an emotional response out of them,” Reality TV commentator Emma Ashton alleges.

“Why do you think we see so many tears on these shows or people flaring up and having fights? That’s because they’re kept under a high pressure, stressful situations,” Ms Ashton claims.

Another key element that can also take a psychological toll, Allen reveals: the fact that contestants are often subject to intense public scrutiny and online trolling.

“One of the things we were told to be quite mindful of when we left the house was being really wary of social media ’cause people are ruthless, and some people got slaughtered on social media,” she said.

“One nasty comment, I think kept me awake half a night,” she said.

Perhaps most frighteningly for her, Allen added there was no one to help with the transition back to real life following her elimination.

“You’re gone. You’re kaput. There’s no transition at all. It’s from that to that in the blink of an eye,” she said.

“It is so bizarre from having no contact with the real world to suddenly standing in an airport with your phone in your hand and the whole world going on… I remember feeling completely alone in that.”

Jules Allen on Australian Story last night.

Ultimately, while contestants are “encouraged to sort of crack open,” Allen said, “at the end, there’s no one there to put you back together.”

“Most of the contestants I kept in contact with found the hardest thing was the transition back into so-called normal life,” she said.

While she is “grateful for the experience,” Allen said she worries about the toll her appearance on reality TV had on her foster children and her biological son.

“I don’t want anyone to ever think I’m not grateful for MasterChef.. but from what I witnessed when I returned, my kids hadn’t coped,” she said.

“I still think it cost our family dearly, personally,” she added.

“I was brought undone.”

Would you ever consider competing in a reality TV show? Would you worry about the psychological pressures you’d face?