Family members of "normal" people starring in reality TV shows get really freaked-out about their loved ones opening up their lives to the cameras. Many feel that, by extension, they're signing up to join the circus, too. I know this because I've gotten a lot of messages from siblings, and even parents, with questions about what they should expect when the show airs. My "Ask Sandy" link is a popular destination for loved ones who are truly worried about what is going to happen next.
In one case, a reality TV "talent" asked me to help convince her fiancé that doing a show would be good for her business. He was skeptical and she wanted my husband to convince him. I had to explain that my husband would be completely real with the her fiancé about our experience filming 18 hours a day for 66 days, and what he really thought about it. No sugar coating. Together, we decided not to hook them up for a chat.
While the prospect of doing a reality show may be exciting for the person who volunteered to participate in it, the whole zoo can be terrifying for their close family and friends who don't really understand what-all their loved one has signed them up for by going on television. Many people closely guard their privacy and would never consider doing anything like that.
For me, it was easier because I live on an island, seven miles off the coast of another island, in the Caribbean, and our family doesn't live close by. From the beginning, we decided not to invite anyone to visit while we were filming our reality show because we figured getting through the production process would be hard enough without trying to have somebody in our guest room while we were filming us planning and executing two weddings a week. But they still had to deal with seeing us on TLC's "Wedding Island" - the good and the bad. And now some of my cousins and friends who live outside the country are still seeing reruns on FOX International in a variety of languages. Once you do something in reality television land, it really does live forever. On YouTube, if nowhere else.
So while, generally speaking, I don't think most family members need to be worried about the impact the show will have on their own lives, there is a certain reality about how life may change if the show is successful or their loved one becomes notorious. The most hated guy ever on "Big Brother" showed up on "Couples Therapy" where he revealed - against his girlfriend's wishes - the fact he'd tested HIV-positive. Certainly, that was his own personal decision (and a great way to notify any women he'd ever slept with all at one time), but it turned out to be their major issue and I'm pretty sure that's something Dr. Drew just cannot cure. But he made that decision to reveal his personal medical information on television himself. He put it out there.
How much publicity a new reality "talent" gets also depends on what kind of reality show they're making. We made a show about destination weddings on a tropical island, and while there were plenty of people who expressed really nasty opinions of me on Twitter (ouch!) and other social media, in general, the formula of the show wasn't about my personal life or my marriage beyond what we do to make weddings happen.
If you sign up to make a show like "Real World" or "Jersey Shore," you're signing up to put your entire life on camera in an alcohol-soaked environment where the producers are just DYING to catch you acting like a total jackhole. "Talent" who sign up to make shows about their own families or their businesses are playing by an entirely different set of rules that should have been established by a good entertainment attorney before anybody ever signed a network contract. If you're signing up to do a contest show, you know what the rules are in advance as far as privacy and how much participation your family is required to have - and yes, some shows do require that a close family member or friend be willing to travel to where you're filming if you make it that far in the series.
But I'm writing this blog to answer the most commonly-asked questions from loved ones of new or soon-to-be new reality TV stars. Here's what they worry about and want to know:
Will the cameras violate my privacy if I don't want to be on the show? Does this mean they're going to film me every time I call my sister/daughter/boyfriend/whatever?
No to the first question, and probably yes to the second one.
The production company cannot film for use in a show without your consent. So theoretically, you can go visit your friend/family member when they're filming but they can't use the footage even if they do film you unless you sign a release. With that said, the network/production company will discourage the "talent" from having visitors who don't want to be on camera because it's costing them thousands of dollars per hour to film you and when you're "on set" (even if that set is technically your place of business), they don't want to be told to stop rolling. They get pretty testy about that.
Unless they're on a show that doesn't allow them to have a telephone, you should be able to talk on the phone before and after the day's production work is done without being filmed. That can be hard - with our show we started at the crack of dawn and were frequently on camera til midnight - but the opportunity exists. Also, if the talent has a good relationship with their producers, they can probably squeeze in a phone call during a crew break without somebody listening in and filming.
Otherwise, when you call while they're filming, they're running cameras. And they're always recording when the talent is wearing the mic. Production still can't use whatever they film in a conversation without your consent. In fact, every phone conversation you have when they're on camera will begin with them reading you a consent form (unless they've had you pre-sign a blanket authorization form) and if you say "no" every time you're asked, they can't use that footage for anything.
Do I need to do anything to change my social media so that people won't get into my business?
The answer to this question really depends on what kind of show your loved one is participating in and your own regular social media habits. If you post everything you do and everything you eat, then it would probably be a good idea to make everything private to anybody who doesn't know you. Don't accept friend requests from people you don't know. Set your permissions on Twitter and Instagram so that followers need your permission to see your posts. Unless your sister is doing an episode of "Naked and Afraid" and she's super-hot, it's unlikely too many fans will bother to seriously creep her friends and family.
How am I supposed to handle all the negative social media that will inevitably be out there on Twitter and Facebook and everything else?
My first and best advice to everyone who asks this is to ignore it as much as possible! There will always be "haters" out there. I was a Twitter virgin before "Wedding Island" aired and to be honest, I wish my interns had never decided I NEEDED to be on that platform tweeting. Yes, it's good for business, yada yada yada - but when you're the star of a reality show, reading tweets about yourself can be brutal. Especially if you're like me - short and round with a big mouth.
If you jump into the fray to defend your sister on "Big Brother" or claim your cousin on "The Bachelor" after she gets tipsy and acts slutty, you are opening yourself up for attack. Those people who are watching would just love to see somebody jump to the defense of the person they're flaming on social media. They'd LOVE to identify a family member and argue with you about whatever they've said.
Think about it - who really has time to sit and live-tweet about what they're watching on television? I do it because I get paid to write about it, but who else really does that? Don't get me wrong, I really appreciated the fans who came to my defense when I was criticized. But consider the source before you throw yourself into the middle of something you didn't mean to expose yourself to in the first place. And if you really must "stand up for" your loved one, set up a new Twitter account to do it.
How is my relationship supposed to survive if I don't want to be on the show too?
Reality TV shows only film for a specific period of time. There is an end to it, unless the show goes to a second season immediately, which is rare. The vast majority of reality TV talent only participate in one season anyway, so why borrow trouble by worrying about it in advance when it may simply be a six to eight week commitment? Did you know that a LOT of reality TV shows are produced each year that never make it to the air? The mere fact that your significant other has signed up to be "talent" on a show you don't want to be on does not spell disaster for your relationship unless you can't be away from each other for a few weeks without having a meltdown. And if that's the case, you'd better re-evaluate the relationship anyway. That's not normal.
The best thing friends and family can do for a new reality "talent" who is making his or her debut in the television world is be supportive. Sure, it's okay to share your opinions - even the negative ones - but if their mind is made up and they're doing it, don't fight them on it. They're spending good money on a good entertainment attorney (if they're smart) and they're protecting themselves as best they can. They need you to continue to be the strong family member, friend or partner you were before they made the show after they finish production. The experience is a roller coaster and there's a little PTSD involved afterwards even if production of the show went well.