Why do people misbehave on reality TV (or TV of any sort)?

Something I’ve wondered is why being on television - in front of an audience of millions, and also the YouTube era where every gaffe or mistake is preserved forever for all to see - doesn’t seem to stop some people from throwing tantrums or behaving their worst or saying terrible things.

I would be on my absolute best (fake and pretended :stuck_out_tongue: ) behavior if I knew that millions would be watching me - including family, friends, etc. - but…why aren’t some reality-TV people (such as those on Survivor, or* “(insert nation)'s Got Talent,” *etc.) deterred from bad behavior by the cameras right there, recording and filming it all?

Reality TV shows engineer this. They put people in stressful situations and push them until they snap. It makes for good television, don’t you know.

I would guess that on the more obnoxious shows like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills they actually encourage the tantrums, plus I would guess that they select people for their propensity to be unstable.

I had wondered if bratty characters were scripted and in fact ordered to brat or perform something but it didn’t seem scripted; too genuine.

Most reality TV “stars” have ambitions that go above and beyond merely being reality tv cast members. What better way to stand out and make a name for yourself than to be the most outrageous?

The worse the behavior, the more screen time you get.

The producers also manipulate the stars by telling them things specifically chosen to make them angry.

I imagine people who can control their behavior under stress are weeded out during the selection process. Volatile loose cannons are what the producers are looking for.

They purposely select the drama queens, put em together and edit the bullshit drama. It’s not a complicated recipe and they don’t have to pay writers.

And the drama queens know to stir up stuff for more screen time. Throw in a couple of more, by comparison, likeable types and you’ve got a hit on your hands.

Big brother has been on for like twenty years, and in many different versions for different countries. Eek!

It’s called “Trolling”.

I’m assuming that the producers take precautions during the audition process to weed out the “loose cannons” that are might actually be dangerous to others. Though there must have been a few cases where really dangerous people actually ended up on the show—like the guy who appeared on the Jenny Jones show in the 90s who killed a man who said he a “gay crush” on him. (It didn’t happen on air; it happened after both of them appeared on the show together.)

Reality TV isn’t real. There are writers. Many people are acting, portraying characters, but they’re using their real names. They are manipulated by the crew, both overtly and subliminally.

Reality TV is cheap. There are usually no sets to build, no professional SAG actors to pay, no CGI. The people who agree to appear probably score high on narcissism and exhibitionism.

And, like Rashomon, reality is perception, and viewers’ perceptions are created through framing and editing.

Charlie Brooker - Reality TV Editing -

I’ve also heard from shows like Pitbulls and Parolees, and other long running shows, that eventually the people don’t see the cameras anymore.


Part of it is in scripting and editing, and part of it is this is how people are. The motivations are no different than those of similar behavior “in the real world”. The class clown, the narcissist, the jackass, the daredevil.

Sure there are people who reserve their misbehavior for domestic situations, because they understand it could have bad consequences, but there are a lot of people who don’t get how awful they are, or who prioritize getting attention.

The positions that reality TV is faked, or people are pushed into it, is perfectly valid. Also:

1). Some people are genuine aresholes. I see this on the local news all the time: a child is mistreated, or something was said that might be taken offensive, or a child is exposed to something awful, say porn on the school computer and in response, parents are on the local news, railing in indignation, because they came down to the school and were blocked by security, when they had to wave their arms and fix THIS PROBLEM RIGHT THE FUCK NOW and they were prevented from doing so. Of course, depending on the news program, an overeager reporter or anchorperson can play along, effectively making the local news a mini-reality program. At any rate, some people don’t know how to behave – overzealous mothers, ultra-zealous people deprived of their civil right to rail against politics they disagree with, etc.

2). Reality TV is populated by people who don’t watch TV. That sounds like utter nonsense in this world, but it is true. A favorite reality show of mine was Hell’s Kitchen, although I was exhausted by it after a while. These people are so clueless as to what Gordon Ramsay would want, and how he would react to a circumstance they caused. I was left with … how could they not know that … was a bad idea? I’d seen the first season, and I’d seen on BBC America reruns of the profile show Boiling Point and I’d started watching* F Word*, and I knew what would set Ramsay off, why don’t they? Answer: they selected people who had never seen these TV programs. There was one guy, some season (maybe the last time I watched the program) who had a secret weapon, he had one of Ramsay’s books – and the contestants were in awe, they’d never considered that. I think it was here, on the SDMB, that it was revealed that this is the norm for reality television, people are chosen for their cluelessness.

Here’s an hypothetical example, I roll around in my mind from time to time:

Gordon Ramsay, three or four seasons into the US version of Kitchen Nightmares, went to a Manhattan lobster restaurant, and did what he’d done dozens of times, as far as I’d seen – he orders a bunch of entree’s to taste them. So we see the following scene:

cut to office, Arkcon is typing receipts into his computer, enter Brian*:

Brian: Hey, did you see that Ramsay is here.
Arkcon: Uh, yeah, Greg met him, I think, I’ll meet him once I’m done with these receipts. I don’t want to look like some sort of attention hound on camera, or a slavering fanboi.
B: He just ordered three lobster rolls, is he gonna pay for them!?
**A: ** exasperated sigh, tsk I dunno, B, maybe check the rider we signed when we signed on for this show gestures to behind the camera maybe the cost is covered?

Director: Cut! Ok, first of all, Brian, luving your energy, do try to stay in it. Now Arkcon, you’re doing great, however, you’re going to have to lean less heavy on that fourth wall. Alright, lets take that again. And … action.

B: He just ordered three lobster rolls, is he gonna pay for them!?
A: shrugs, makes I dunno sound, continues typing with head down

Director: Beautiful, that’s just what we need. Thanks Brian and Arkcon. Let setup in the dining room people, clear out the equipment.
Cameraman: Want some action shots of Arkcon?
Director: Nah, he’s beautiful, we’re beautiful, its in the tin.

The second take was more like what we got in that episode. Was there a take like first take? Kinda depends on the person. Would they have shown the first take? No.

Don’t forget the power of editing. A few poorly chosen words, the right music, and a reaction shot taken later that day can turn a forgettable interaction into a dangerous confrontation or anything else the producers need.

Back in the day, I watched the first season of the real world, and after it ended, they had a episode where they went behind the scenes and showed how they could turn nothing into drama. In the example they showed, after a small disagreement over a minor matter, one of the cast goes to their room, then returns to the kitchen. By adding the right music, and using dramatic camera angles, and then using a series of quick cuts to suggest the passage of time it looked like there was a fight that had them sulking in their room for hours. Drama, created from nothing, and they didn’t even technically mislead- everything happened in the order they showed it.

Producers also give financial incentives to certain reality stars to get into it with other reality stars.

And depending on the show, they also provide an open bar to lubricate people into more extreme behavior.

That’s the real answer; one of my son’s preschool teachers was a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader for a couple of years, but was NEVER on the show. She’s absolutely gorgeous and articulate and a really nice person. Why wasn’t she on the show?
Because she deliberately refused to get involved with any of the dramatic stuff or gossip or anything like that.

Makes sense; a reality show consisting of all well-adjusted, sane people who want to get along and accomplish a task together would be insufferably boring.

“Oh, Jane just held her tongue… AGAIN.” “Bill let some annoying stuff slide.” “Everybody’s being deliberately NICE!!!”