Most of us can acknowledge that not everything we see on a reality TV show is 100% legit. This is television, after all, and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Plus, none of the people on reality TV are professional actors — not to our knowledge, at least — so it’s to be expected that things aren’t going to go as planned on the first take.
But some reality shows are realer than others. Here are some of the worst offenders when it comes to presenting entertainment that’s more scripted than spontaneous.
Naked And Afraid
Discovery’s reality survival show, Naked and Afraid, takes participants to exotic locations, strips them bare and films them as they try to live off the land. They’re not supposed to have access to any food or local modern amenities, but some contestants claim that they received tampons, food and supplements from the crew and locals.
Reportedly, there was also a lot of distortion of the truth — on one occasion, a contestant who got food poisoning after eating a curry dish given to her by a crew member was encouraged to continue with the show. When the episode aired, it seemed as if she got the illness from drinking dirty water.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette
The Bachelor and its equally popular spinoff The Bachelorette may be hugely entertaining, but it’s not exactly spontaneous. According to former contestants, the producers pull some major strings behind the scenes to stir up drama and even coach contestants on what to say and do. Jamie Otis, who was a contestant on season 16 of The Bachelor, revealed that her make-out session with Ben Flajnik before a rose ceremony was suggested by the host, Chris Harrison.
And rumor has it that the casting is done so carefully that producers know ahead of time who will be in the top three.
RuPaul’s Drag Race
It seems that the wigs and nails aren’t the only fake things on long-running reality TV favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race. Former contestants have said that soundbites are edited and taken out of context to create drama for viewers. And as for RuPaul’s perfectly polished — and often scathing — critiques, they may not be entirely natural. Season one contestant Tammie Brown claims that Ru is fed lines through an earpiece.
The Biggest Loser
Weight loss show The Biggest Loser premiered in 2004 and has seen dozens of success stories. But not all of the former participants speak highly of the show. Kai Hibbard, who lost 121 pounds during season three, described it as “a fat-shaming disaster that I’m embarrassed to have participated in.”
According to Hibbard, most of the food on her season was provided by sponsors and had little to no nutritional value — not exactly in keeping with the show’s “healthy” message. Other participants have said the show is edited in a way that portrays them as much lazier and more lethargic than they actually are.
The Real Housewives
Since The Real Housewives of Orange County first aired on Bravo in 2006, it’s been a reality-TV hit, spawning several spinoffs (there’s even a U.K. version). But while the lavish pads and designer dresses are real, there’s a fair amount of fake, too.
According to Nicki Swift, cast and crew of The Real Housewives of New York have been seen shooting the same scene, over and over, until they get it “right.” One bystander told Radar Online “it was extremely contrived and set-up.” And during her and her husband’s fraud trial, New Jersey “housewife” Teresa Giudice told the court that their image was “little more than a carefully crafted fiction, engineered by Bravo TV through scripted lines and clever editing.”
Although Matt Barnes only appeared briefly on season one of Basketball Wives, he’ll always be associated with the show — something he’s probably not too happy about. Barnes has always been outspoken about the truth behind the show. On The Vertical Podcast with J.J. Redick in September 2016, Barnes said the whole show was staged and scripted and described taking part as “the biggest mistake I ever made.”
WE TV’s Bridezillas was designed to follow a bride through the final preparations for her wedding — and the more hissy fits she indulged in, the better. Many of the brides have felt duped by the show, such as season two bride Julia Swinton-Williamson, who sued the producers for misleading her about the nature of the show (her lawsuit was thrown out in 2009). Melissa from season seven said brides are regularly asked to repeat their scenes “with more drama.”
Bravo’s Southern Charm, which premiered in 2014, chronicles the lives of a group of socialites in Charleston, South Carolina. But what’s shown on screen isn’t entirely accurate. According to one cast member, Danni Baird, scenes were put into the narrative long before they actually took place in real life.
Singing competition The Voice, which first aired on NBC in 2011, makes dreams come true. But some former contestants allege that a lot of staging takes place and that producers handpick narratives to get the show viewers —rather than working to grow a fan base for the artists.
One former contestant, Dia Frampton (who came in second place during the first season of the show) told Huffington Post that her portrayal as a children’s book author was mostly decided on by producers because they thought the angle would make her more interesting. To her, it just felt like one of many different hobbies she enjoys.
Several former MasterChef USA contestants have claimed the show is anything but real. According to Ben Starr, who appeared in season two, participants had to agree to potentially fictionalized and humiliating portrayals of themselves. Starr also said editors would piece together different sections of dialogue to create statements that were never actually said.
“It is not real,” Starr wrote in a blog post. “It is not a competition. It is highly engineered fiction … designed to keep you watching from episode to episode. There is NOTHING real about reality TV.”
Like many other reality TV shows, Vanderpump Rules has come under fire in recent years for irregularities and “contrived” scenes. For instance, the second episode of season eight, which aired in January 2020, caused an uproar among fans, who noticed that Ariana Madix’s makeup and hairstyle changed between shots. Madix addressed concerns by claiming viewers didn’t understand television, explaining that some scenes require extra takes for technical reasons, and promising fans that the emotions of the scene are always real.
Fans of TLC’s Cake Boss love seeing the family drama on the show as much as they enjoy watching the amazing cakes come to life by Buddy and the Valastro family. But parts of the show are staged — arguably the biggest disappointment is that the incredible cakes are often inedible.
According to ESPN, Chicago Cubs spokesperson Julian Green acknowledged that the incredible cake made for Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday was “mostly made up of non-edible material.” And because the edible portion of the cake was left on display for a long time, the team decided not to serve it.
The Hills cast members faithfully kept up the facade of an unscripted show until they were no longer under contract, at which point many of them admitted that it was all basically fake. And the producers of the hit MTV show seemed to admit as much at the end of the whole series. The closing scene shows Brody Jenner standing on a Hollywood set.
The show’s creator Adam DiVello told MTV News, “We had joked early on about different ways to do kind of a wink to whether it was real or not.”
Since HGTV’s House Hunters made its debut in 1999, viewers have been hooked, becoming truly invested in people’s quests to find their perfect home. But the show is said to be scripted, and most of the time the owners have already bought or at least toured their house before they even think about being on the show.
HGTV even confirmed to EW that they generally choose couples who have done most of the leg work already, saying that they “seek out families who are pretty far along in the process” in order to “maximize production time”.
This makes it slightly less of an emotional rollercoaster, for sure.
What Not To Wear
Over its 10-year run, What Not To Wear transformed the wardrobes of many, but the $5,000-cash injection they received wasn’t quite what it seemed. For starters, they didn’t get cash — the amount was put on a gift card, which was mostly for show. The clothes were actually bought by a crew member using corporate credit cards, according to Screenrant. The show’s participants also have to pay for services out of that amount, as one revealed that “literally EVERYTHING you buy is later tailored to you”. The fees for getting their hair and makeup done were also taken from the $5,000.
Millions of people tune in to the MTV reality show Catfish, which shines a light on people who use fake pictures and information to trick people online. But some elements of the show are contrived for entertainment’s sake. For instance, the catfishers already have mics on before they’re “confronted” by their victims, which suggests they’re not as surprised as they appear to be. And while each episode begins with an email from someone who suspects they might be being catfished, the truth is that it’s often the catfisher who contacts MTV in the first place.
Love It Or List It
After an impressive 15 seasons, HGTV’s Love It or List It has secured a loyal fan base. But allegations of fakery have been around for years.
And according to a Reddit thread, one insider whose aunt and uncle were on the show said that while the renovations were real, two different endings were recorded. The producers liked the “list it” ending best, so that’s the one that aired. But the insider revealed that their aunt and uncle “are still in the house and they love it”.
The Simple Life
The Simple Life secured Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s roles as the wild kids of the Noughties, but their characters on the reality show weren’t genuine. In 2016, Hilton revealed that her entire persona was an act.
“They said, ‘Nicole, you play the troublemaker, Paris, you play the ditzy airhead’,” Hilton told Access Hollywood. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into or what a huge success it would be and that I’d have to continue playing this character for five years”.
Breaking Amish, which aired on TLC from 2012 until 2017, focused on five Anabaptists who moved to the Big Apple for a taste of city life. But some of the characters had already left the Amish life behind before they starred on the show, and two of them even had a child together (the show claimed that none of them knew each other). In an interview, one of the participants, Jeremiah Raber, said that “about 60%” of the show was real – which means that 40% is fake.
Fans of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, based on a Las Vegas pawn shop, will be disappointed to learn that most of the show is staged. The shop and the people are real, but that’s about it. All of the customers who enter the shop to strike a deal are pre-arranged by producers.
One of the most popular reality shows on TV, CBS’s Survivor is also one of the longest-running — it first aired in 2000 and is still going strong. But despite the contestants being isolated in the wilderness and left to fend for themselves, some of them have said they were given food and fire by producers. For instance, Erinn Lobdell told RealityBlurred.com that while she competed on Exile Island in Survivor: Tocantins, a camera operator lit a fire for her with a lighter. And Kelly Goldsmith of Survivor: Africa said her tribe was given matches.
Also, in a 2006 article on ABC News, Executive Producer Mark Burnett admitted that he sometimes reenacts scenes of the show to “get a more picturesque shot”.
Keeping Up With The Kardashians
The hugely successful Keeping Up With the Kardashians made (very rich) household names out of Kris Kardashian and her five daughters Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie. Since the show started in 2007, just how “real” their reality is has been a matter of debate. For instance, there was the time Kim stepped out of a studio in Los Angeles in the same hair, makeup and outfit she was supposedly wearing in a car in Dubai.
The Jerry Springer Show
One of the first of its kind, The Jerry Springer Show had some regular themes: betrayals, brawls and finding out the “truth” (often involving a paternity test). But not all of the elements were real. Sometimes the guests were actors, sometimes they were encouraged to fight by producers — provided Springer was safely out of the way, of course — and sometimes the stories were completely made up. A Vice writer who went undercover to try to get onto the show revealed his conversation with a guest booker, who told him that they “can fabricate for the show.”
Another long-running reality show, MTV’s Cribs gave viewers a glimpse into the homes of the rich and famous. Or did it? According to House Beautiful, there were several occasions when the house didn’t even belong to the celebrity showing it off. For instance, Damon Dash allegedly rented Mariah Carey’s London home for his episode. Robbie Williams reportedly did the same with Jane Seymour’s, and a woman named Janette Verla sued rapper Ja Rule for passing off her leased house as his crib.
Long Island Medium
She may be one of the most prolific mediums in the world, but Theresa Caputo is also a controversial figure. The star of Long Island Medium has been embroiled in various scandals, in which people have alleged that Caputo gets all the information about clients and audience members in advance. Rumor has it, producers do a lot of digging on social media, carry out background checks and ask participants to answer questionnaires, then feed it to Theresa on stage.