When someone sidles up to me to ask how they can get on Reality TV — and for some reason this happens a lot at funerals — I generally provide the following reply, “Why the fuck would you want to do that?”
However, since you clicked through to this article, I’ll go ahead and assume you’re looking for more than *that* response.
So, instead, here are my “insider” tips — proceed at your own peril:
- Know what show(s) you want to be cast in. Make a list. Don’t just apply to everything. That’s just a waste of energy that could be put towards a kickass application for one show. Think about it: the kind of person who gets cast on Real World, isn’t the kind of person who’d get cast on House Hunters, but may be the kind of person who would get cast on Pawn Stars and so on. So, focus in on the shows you believe you have a reasonable chance of getting cast on and shape your application accordingly. Which brings me to…
- … really study the show. You’re gonna tell me you don’t need to study the show because hey you’ve watched it for X many seasons, you’re a superfan an so on, and I’m still gonna tell you you don’t know shit. Go back and re-watch at least five recent episodes of that show. Focus on the cast; these people received network approval, that’s why they’re on the show. Casts generally reflect the network’s desired audience (or who that audience aspires to be). TLC’s audience is very white, Christian, middle America… so those are the kinds of people who largely appear on their shows (despite TLC’s protestations to the contrary); HGTV, based on their casting, seems geared to a more inclusive demographic (I guess everyone likes real estate and renovations!). You get the picture. So, what kinds of people are they looking for on the show you’re considering applying to? What economic class are they? How old are they? What do they do for a living? What kind of person are they? Are they quirky? Or sweet? Or messy? Are they cast because they have a sad backstory? Or they’re a cop or Marine or something sexy? Can you see yourself in any of those people? If not, you should probably choose a different show to approach.
- Reading the online application forms critically also helps. If they ask about what kinds of conflicts you’ve faced in your life, they are looking for sad stories. Note, however, that most shows won’t have more than one sad story cast member on each show. So even if you don’t have a sad story, you may have something else they’re looking for. Maybe you and your hubby are the perfect quarrelsome couple for House Hunters?
- Once you’ve determined that you are totes what Say Yes to the Dress is looking for, take a look at the the details of the cast members you’ve seen on the show. Usually shows have no more than 6 or seven “types” of people they cast. Figure out what type you are: are you the sad story, or the picky bride, or the one with the nightmare mom? As an exercise, describe yourself in a sentence. When we sell cast to networks they want us to be able to summarize that person in a sentence or less. I would lay money that on, say, the first Real World: Vegas Trishelle was sold as The Small Town Christian Girl hits Sin City.
Decide what your Archetype is and hone your application according. And finally…
- … the footage you submit of yourself is what makes or breaks your application. I’m not suggesting that you spend a fortune shooting it: iPhone video will do; but I am saying that you have about 2.5 seconds to grab the attention of the bored Casting Assistant who’s looking through hours and hours of this material. The camera cuts about 50 percent of your vitality. So however BIG a personality you may have in person, the camera will cut that in half. Believe me, I have first hand experience. I’ve shot with people who were pretty much bouncing off the walls and chattering nonstop, who transformed into nice, slightly quirky characters once cut in the edit. So you need to bring A LOT of energy to your tape. If you’re low key, you can pretty much forget about being on a reality show, unless you’re a former or current celebrity or you have some crazily amazing backstory that makes you a must have like you’re a cancer survivor who recently lost both parents in a plane crash and something something. Long story long, when you do that tape you’d better be ON. Shoot your first take then screen it for a few friends. Then take a look at some Youtube personalities like Bethanny Mota or ijustine. How do you compare energy-wise? Do they have more energy than you? If so, shoot it again, compare again, and so on.
All that having been said, I will still return to my previous question, “Why the fuck would you want to be on Reality TV?” If it’s for money, you should know that most people on reality shows don’t see a dime: they aren’t paid to appear, and they aren’t getting any kind of special deal. If they’re buying a dress or getting a tattoo, they are paying exactly what anyone would pay for those items.
Even secondary characters on Docu-Soaps like the Atlanta house husbands get little to nothing in the way of payment, and the leads on those shows make more from endorsements and appearance fees than salary. Also if you are viewing this as long-term employment, you should also only be looking to get on shows that you feel may result in more appearances. Real World is generally pretty good at bringing back characters onto other shows produced by Bunim-Murray.
Just promise me that you’ll really, really think before you make a commitment to be on Reality TV. Actually, read more of this blog before making up your mind. If you decide that you are OK with being manipulated and resented by the people paid to “manage” you, set up to suffer discomfort and preordained conflict, a pawn in someone else’s subtle or overt racist statements, or made to look like an idiot by an over-worked, under-paid producer who, chances are, will not portray you in a flattering way, then, hey, go for it! It sucks, but it is what it is. Flattering doesn’t make for good TV.