Reality Soaps are fake, but is that a bad thing?

We are all familiar with reality series that are “real and where nothing is acted”, but we know better. The reality shows are often staged and the participants are cast and screened so it’s a toe-curling treat for us as viewers to watch. There are also cute and genuine reality series with a game element, such as the The Great British Bake Off. But they are not comparable to soap operas like The Bachelor and Temptation Island.

For me, these shows have become an ultimate ‘Guilty Pleasure’: programs that are so bad that it is actually super fun to watch. Never ever will I be a candidate for such a program, though I won’t be cast for such as well. I also ask myself why would anyone sign up for these shows in the first place? Do they just want to make step on the career ladder, or are they, in the case of The Bachelor, truly seeking for love? The creators of that show try to make us believe that it is serious program, where a wealthy man or woman may choose his or her true love from a large group of bachelors. Unfortunately, we see participants back in other reality shows and we feel fooled again.

Producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro

UnReal is an actual series with actors, directors and a script. But it is written by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. Shapiro worked as a producer on nine seasons of the American dating show The Bachelor. Her work gave her inspiration to create the series UnReal. She gave multiple interviews where she talked about her time as the producer of the dating show, Hollywood and her experience during a TED conference. During an interview with Cosmopolitan she said she had to do things she did not support. Manipulating the participants, trying to make the women insecure and mount the show that a complete different story is created. Shapiro felt far removed from the person she actually was, even though she was good at what she did and that she occasionally liked it.

“And the other hard part was that I kind of liked it. And that made me feel like I didn’t understand myself. And it was hard that I was good at it.”

Many of us, including myself, assume that the participants only sing up to put themselves in the spotlight. However, Shapiro indicated that this is not always true. Some of them are truly looking for love, but can not find in their small home town with few dating material. In addition, she hopes with UnReal to show that no one is able to cope with reality television: little to eat, too much alcohol, lack of sleep, away from friends, family and everything familiar. This can make a person changes completely. Not even to mention the mounting tricks.

“Some of them really are just looking for love. Or just to see the world. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Reality series in the Netherlands 

In the Netherlands a book is published that sheds light on reality shows, and especially Temptation Island. In the novel from 2011  ‘Niet te Filmen’ Barbara Kuipers shares her experiences with the world of reality. Kuipers spent seven years as a reporter for Dutch reality shows like Temptation Island, Ladette to Lady and Beijing Express. She also confirms the mounting trick: 

“Words and phrases were mounting together for the desired result. Yes, that is lying”

Manipulating the candidates was also something Barbara was good at. She used her sweet and innocent image to bond with the participants and learn a lot about them. She used this to create an interesting show. You don’t like lobster? Perfect, lets give that person lobster!

“Television is something magical and everyone is focused on the script and the story we create. Thereby the feelings of the participants is something that slides to the background.”

Something Kuipers does concern is the aftercare. Candidates should receive professional aftercare after participating in a reality show, which ensures that they do not end up in a black hole or end up in a burnout because of all the (media) attention. But also the screening has to improve. Some candidates are not stable enough to participate in a show, and to be manipulated in front of a camera as well. Candidates who say nasty things about each other or completely break, is one step too far for Barbara Kuipers. Maarten Reesink, television scientist and author of the book ‘Reality Soap!’and ‘Television Studies’, believes that the guidance of candidates is not a must, but producers have a certain responsibility. And those are the very people who are responsible for what we get to see from the candidates on television.

UnReal, the series

In addition to books that shines a light on reality shows, the series UnReal finally shows how things are going behind the camera. The first season consists of ten episodes and was seen in the Dutch channel NPO3. The series focuses on producer Rachel Goldberg, who must do everything to make fictional dating show Everlasting a hit. This includes manipulating the participants and the recordings in such a way that everything is taken out of context.

People who love reality shows, will probably love this series as well. It is funny and interesting at the same time. Funny because it is in fact one giant puppet-show, and interesting because making a show entails so much more that you think. Those who normally skip these kind of shows, UnReal is a series to recommend. You get so much more sympathy for the candidates and less for the producers. Quinn (Constance Zimmer) is a tough woman who loves to see her female participants break. Quinn hires the unstable Rachel (Shiri Appleby) to be the one who manipulates the women for this fascinating show.

The bachelor is the wealthy British Adam (Freddie Stroma), who only participates on Everlasting to put himself on the map and improve his image. The female participants are cast on their character, as there should be at least a bitch and a milf on the show. Fortunately, there is also room for more decent women like Anna (Johanna Braddy). After she finds out that she has been manipulated and played, she says something very fitting: 

“All you care about is this hideous soul sucking show.”

And that’s exactly what we sometimes need to escape from our busy life. A compelling drama soap where we can put our minds to ‘zero’ and put our own drama to the background. It doesn’t really matter that it is stages, as long as we realize that not everything is what it seems. And don’t let television makers fool you.


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