I’m not inclined to have much sympathy for anyone who takes part in a reality show. Parading yourself in front of millions of viewers in order to get famous doesn’t exactly bode well for any aspirations you may have of being taken seriously.
But just because you suffer from extreme narcissism doesn’t mean you get to be psychologically abused by greedy television executives hungry to create drama and drive up ratings. This article in the Guardian by former reality tv star Ron Copsey, who took part in the BBC’s ‘Castaway’ experiment where 36 random people were placed on a remote Hebridian island off the British coast to fend for themselves in extreme wilderness, is a must read if you want to understand the immense pressure reality TV shows put on contestants who don’t always know exactly what they are signing up for:
Back at home my depression deepened as I watched the programmes. I left the show in June 2000, but footage of me rowing with other Castaways continued to be screened right up until October. I was portrayed as a loose cannon with few redeeming qualities. I was constantly recognised by people who’d seen the show, and I felt they were thinking badly of me. Losing one’s anonymity in this way can be scary. I became a virtual prisoner in my own home. By then I was drinking far too much alcohol and my life was in chaos. Every time another episode of Castaway was aired, it got worse. One of the hardest things was discovering that my nephews had been bullied at school because of the way I’d been demonised.
People who take part in reality shows are often psychologicallly fragile, otherwise they wouldn’t feel the need to validate themselves by having everyone watch them all the time. Sadly, this makes them more watchable as they are more likely to fall out with other contestants or make a spectacle out of themselves. As a consequence, the reality TV industry has probably wrecked thousands of lives by taking advantage of people like Copsey who think that they will become huge stars and instead get made to look like idiots.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.