(Favorite quote alert: “You don’t have to be nice – people like complete arseholes more than the fakes.”)
Remember the good old days when any old shmo could rock up to a reality TV audition and we related to their awkwardness, if not their desire to sing like Beyoncé?
Those days are gone. The new breed of reality TV stars have media careers planned out before they’ve flambéed their first prawn for Manu.
“In that first wave of reality TV people had no idea what they were getting into,” says Dr Winnie Salamon, who did her PhD thesis on the experiences of reality TV participants.
“In the days pre-Commando and Michelle’s Love Child, they genuinely did these shows for the experience. Now there’s a whole industry of shows like I’m a celeb and Dancing with the stars based on keeping ex-reality TV contestants in employment.”
The reality (pun intended) is that not everyone makes it. “Some people I interviewed were absolutely desperate for fame but you just know they weren’t going to make it,” says the author of Pretty Girls Don’t Eat. “For every Em Rusciano or Millsy, there are a dozen for whom a nightclub appearance and nudie photo shoot is all it’ll be.”
So how do you parlay your fifteen minutes into something more substantial?
- Define your version of success / take control early
“While the earlier stars went in feeling a bit special and unique, many had breakdowns and depression once the initial interest wore off.
“Nowadays most participants know they’re a commodity to the TV station, just one of many. They realise that if they make it because of the show they’re lucky.”
Be specific about what you want to do with your ‘reality platform’. Is it a career judging fashions-on-the-field? A profile for your lingerie business? Or just a story to tell? Either way, clarity will help you make the most of the opportunities you have while you’re there.
- Remember you’re replaceable
If you’re name’s not Mariah, save the diva behaviour for the cameras only. Behind the scenes no one will tolerate it.
Salamon recalls the winner of one music-based series who became notorious for sleeping through scheduled appearances. The opportunities quickly dried up, and by the time the singer realised the fame caravan had moved on, it was too late.
“At the bare minimum you need to return journalists’ phone calls and get out of bed for interviews,” says Salamon.
- No talent? No problem!
“My advice is to develop a persona and stick to it,” says Salamon. Honey Boo-Boo’s ‘poor white trash’ persona, for example, spawned four seasons and a spin-off. (Making them … rich white trash?)
“Once they turn into a reality TV professional, the job is really to perform the role of ‘themselves’. That’s when you make a career out of getting recycled onto the ‘I’m a celeb’ style shows.”
But, she warns, it has to be based on who you are, as no one likes a fake. “You don’t have to be nice – people like complete arseholes more than the fakes.”
- As Britney says: ‘You better work, b*tch’
A strong work ethic is non-negotiable. Post Big Brother Season, Chrissie Swan slogged it out for years on local breakfast radio before finally landing a lucrative national radio gig and multiple TV contracts. Some of Swan’s cast mates were disappointed not to walk into similar roles, unaware of how hard she worked to get there.
Reality TV might be a short cut to having your private life splashed across the tabloids (who doesn’t want that?) but for everything else you need to pay your dues.
- Stay humble. Or at least look humble
“The whole point of reality TV is that we’re meant to see them as people like us who just catch a break. We want the rags to riches to story before our eyes. So showing ruthless ambition is one of the worst things you can do because it turns the audience off.”
Also, your cast mates won’t thank you. “Amongst the people I interviewed, ambition was really frowned upon and there was a lot of resentment towards contestants who perceived as vying for a media career. Which is funny because in every other field, it’s normal to want a promotion!”
- Vulnerability is a must
If you’re not willing to be vulnerable on national TV, forget it.
Sam Frost’s willingness to endure total humiliation at the hands of Love Rat Blake™ on The Bachelor endeared her to millions and got her a second gig on The Bachelorette.
“You have to totally expose yourself otherwise you’re not going to be successful,” says Salamon. “If you’ve got a guard up, everyone can see it. Georgia Love didn’t really work on the second season of The Bachelorette because he was so media trained she came across as wooden. So she’d talk about wearing her heart on her sleeve, but because she said it in her newsreader voice we didn’t really buy it.”
Producers learned their lesson and cast reality TV stalwart Sophie Monk (whom we first met as the loveable bogan on Popstars) as the latest Bachelorette. “The reason we love Sophie is that no matter much surgery she gets or Hollywood types she’s engaged to, she has no airs and she seems accessible,” says Salamon.
- When you make it, stay bogan
Many of those Salamon interviewed who got their break on reality TV were keen to distance themselves from their humble origins. “Perhaps they feel people look down on them, or that they’re above that now, like Melissa George doesn’t like being reminded about Home & Away.”
But what we love about reality TV is that we all secretly think it could be us. Maybe, as Honey Boo-Boo and Sophie Monk discovered, the secret to being a longevity for a reality TV star is to embrace your bogan roots.