Are all of the reality shows on Bravo TV completely fake?
April 28, 2009 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Are all of the reality shows on Bravo TV completely fake?

My wife and I have been big fans of Top Chef and Project Runway for years. They make for great drama, and it's inspiring to watch talented people realize their dreams. And they both seemed to have at least some integrity. But we recently watched a few episodes of Millionaire Matchmaker. The show is clearly a sham - at least a few, if not all, of the millionaires are COMPLETLY fake. If Bravo is willing to support that, then does that indict Top Chef and Project Runway?

I know, I know... This question is a little embarrassing. All TV is a put-on. But was I alone in thinking there was some honesty and integrity to Top Chef and Project Runway?

On a related note, the episode of Millionaire Matchmaker that pushed me over the edge featured a cad named Michael Prozer who claimed to be an "internet millionaire" worth $400m.

Being an "Internet hundredaire" myself, I found that to be a little implausible. So, I thought I'd do a little googling about him and his company, and sure enough, his claims look slightly exaggerated.

However, I'd like to settle a debate, and prove conclusively that he's a fake. Any idea how I might do that?

There's a pretty heated debate about it on a few blogs. In particular, this one.
posted by stuehler to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of reality shows are "for real" but the contestants are the most opinionated, outlandish, unorthodox people that apply to be on the show. Makes for good TV.

I don't know specifically about Bravo, but you could do research on the winners. Do they have what they worked for? Are they successful models/resturant chefs?

No idea to the second half of your question.
posted by royalsong at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2009

"some" is probably the operative word. If you look at the fine print, they do note that more than mere merit may be at play at times in the interest of being interesting. (Can't remember the exact phrasing, but it's pretty unmistakable.)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:06 PM on April 28, 2009

For what it's worth, Anthony Bourdain says the judging on Top Chef is clean.
posted by Skot at 2:07 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: I've eaten at a number of the Top Chef restaurants: Perilla (Harold, winner of Season One), 24 Prince (Nikki, Season 4), Absinthe (Jamie, Season 5), among others. The contestants on the show are talented, professional chefs. I couldn't say whether or not the judging is entirely impartial, but if you read the judge blogs on, you'll see that Tom, Gail, Padma, etc. talk about decisions taking multiple hours and involving lots of arguments. I'd be willing to accept the producers having some stake in the outcome but it's definitely not a complete setup.

Also, Millionaire Matchmaker is not a competitive show like Runway or Top Chef; I think there's a difference between a talent contest and what is essentially a crappy soap opera (like the Real Housewives, which I would expect is partially-if-not-completely scripted).
posted by alicetiara at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: Obviously, all of the "challenges" are incredibly contrived. And consciously or unconsciously, the judges have lots of pressure to bias their decisions in favor of creating compelling TV - not just rewarding talent and merit.

My hope was that, for those two shows at least, there was a least some honesty and integrity.
posted by stuehler at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: I have spent some time behind the scenes working in "reality" television. Trust me, there ain't no such thing. Many of the "contestants" are wannabe actors. They bill their jobs as "personal trainer,"or "model" or "restaurant host," because that'll make the show seem more real. Almost all of the show's scenarios are set up, despite the fact that they try very hard to make them look like they happened spontaneously. And double seconding what royalsong said about them choosing the loudest, most obnoxious, or most dramatic and combative people they can. Quiet boring people make for miserable reality TV.
But trust me, very few of those scenarios are real. Yes, I'm guilty of this - in the edit bay, I've made two characters on a show (who had ZERO romantic interest - the guy even had a girlfriend for cryin' out loud) look like they had a romantic interest through the use of slow motion head turns, romantic music, and intercutting various cameras to make an innocent hug last much, MUCH longer. Yeah, it sucks, but they make drama where there isn't any. I say "they" because I avoid doing any reality TV anymore. Felt too deceptive.
posted by Spyder's Game at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2009 [15 favorites]

There's a thread on Television Without Pity about Millionaire Matchmaker, and some of the posters do a good job checking out the "millionaires" as well as the women (and sometimes men) who supposedly want to date them. A lot of the dates are wannabe actors who've appeared on numerous cheezy reality shows, and yes, often the supposed millionaires highly exaggerate their wealth.

Not to mention Patti never seems to make any matches, even though she claims a 99% success rate or something stupid like that. The whole premise is stupid. If she is really not promoting gold-digging, she needs to find more parity in her couples, not set up a sugar daddy power dynamic thing.

For what it's worth, Top Chef always struck me as a competition with a reasonable amount of integrity. Yes, they have gimmicky tasks and no, it's not really the best way to find the America's top chef, but it does seem like the participants are all aspiring or reasonably accomplished chefs/cooks.
posted by JenMarie at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2009

Anecdotal data point: The multi-millionaire from Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire was a stand-up comedian named Rick Rockwell who was hired for the gig because a) he was a stand-up comedian and could presumably be funny on camera; and b) he was "worth" $2 million (hey, "two" is "multi" right?), most of which was unearned equity in his house in a southern California beach town.

Is that fake? Depends on who you ask. What it really is, is casting.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:18 PM on April 28, 2009

Project Runway and Top Chef are reasonably legit, and I'd extend that to Top Design, Shear Genius, but probably not to Make Me A Supermodel. Sure, the producers have the right to create drama and change up situations to make it better TV, but the quality of guest judges on PR and TC means that people like Diane von Furstenberg and Eric Ripert are willing to risk their reputations by being on those shows repeatedly, so the contestants have to be legitimately talented.

The non-competitive reality shows on Bravo - Millionaire Matchmaker, the gajillion Housewives shows, Rachel Zoe Project, etc - are probably about as legit as, say, The Hills.
posted by catlet at 2:21 PM on April 28, 2009

I was there behind the scenes at an MTV reality show and it's not fake in the sense that there is literally a script, but it's pretty heavily produced and very carefully edited. Keep in mind that every 20 minute episode is cherry picked from MANY hours of footage.

And the participants are encouraged to act in ways that result in artificially inflated conflicts. Also, there's a guy whose only job is to make sure only brands that have paid for placement are visible in the shot ("Here guys, today you're all drinking pomegranate juice")
posted by meta_eli at 2:22 PM on April 28, 2009

Bravo reality shows comprise the majority of Mrs. Beese's and my television viewing - so I have a big dog in this fight...

Between the number of judging decisions that seem completely unsupported by the presented evidence and the "made in consultation with Bravo producers" fine print that they flash for half a second during the end credits, I'm convinced that storylines trump performance whenever they feel it's necessary - regardless of any protestations to the contrary by the judges, who have an obvious vested interest in appearing legitimate.

But hey... that's entertainment.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:22 PM on April 28, 2009

Oh, also, Iron Chef is totally fake according to the Voice's food critic who attended a taping.
posted by meta_eli at 2:24 PM on April 28, 2009

Much as people like to blame networks for shows, or aspects of shows, that they don't like, I think it's more the production company than the network that tends to influence a show. (That goes for all shows, not just reality shows.) FWIW, Top Chef and Project Runway are both produced by Magical Elves Productions, while Millionaire Matchmaker is produced by Bayonne Entertainment and Intuitive Entertainment.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:39 PM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: Maybe this is just me rationalizing, but I've always drawn a distinction between Top Chef/Project Runway and the dreck this way.

In Top Chef/Runway, there are highly contrived challenges designed to create good TV, not identify the most talented competitor. And the judges have a tendency to reward compelling personalities as much as talent. However, I believed that the competitors are real people, playing themselves, with real talent.

In shows like "The Apprentice", the challenges are SO contrived as to have no connection to any real talent at all, so it's JUST about conflict, drama, and personality. Also, there's no real goal - they're not competing for a real apprenticeship. The only goal is to "win" the show.

Worse, in shows like "Millionaire Matchmaker", the personalities themselves appear to be complete fabrications. In the last episode, one millionaire was supposed to be a "top Beverly Hills plastic surgeon". However, as far as I can tell, he's not even a doctor. And the other "internet millionaire" (supposedly worth $400 million) also appears to be a complete fiction. The show shows him flying in a plane he claims to own, but doesn't, to a palatial home he claims to own, but doesn't.

That seems far worse to me than suggestive editing.
posted by stuehler at 3:02 PM on April 28, 2009

"Reality Television" is a marketing term, not usually used by the shows themselves. They are more accurately called "unscripted dramas" meaning they can stage events, re-edit scenes to portray a completely different storyline or idea than what actually happened. They can also make up characters and situations, as long as there's no written script.

Take EVERYTHING you see on TV as unreliable at best.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:22 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: In Top Chef/Runway... I believed that the competitors are real people...

If you're doubting the credentials of the competitors, then for what it's worth (anecdotally), among Boston chefs it seems that nearly everyone has a story about one Top Chef competitor or another—"I worked with him at $restaurant," or "She was at CIA with me," etc. So while I suppose there might be a couple drama-ringers thrown in, it seems that at least a significant portion of the competitors are real people with culinary training and careers.
posted by cribcage at 3:26 PM on April 28, 2009

It seems like you're bunching together the competitive reality shows with the candid reality shows. And I don't really see what one has to do with the other.
posted by smackfu at 3:45 PM on April 28, 2009

It seems Project Runway and Top Chef would have some legitimacy to them, as the contestants really have to know how to cook/sew/design. There is no getting around that. But the drama does come from the editing in all the different reality shows.

I also think there is no black and white answer, there are real people and actors. I know actors who have faked getting on serious talk shows and 'judge' shows, making up stories, for practice, or just to see if they could get away with it, I suppose.

I also know real people who have been on these contestant shows. They were legit. (one makeup show, one model show).

So I think you are going to get both and everything in each show. I don't think they are all looking to 'cheat' the audience, nor are they looking to have integrity. I just don't think that is an issue for them as much as just giving us a good show. (which is really why we are watching...)

damn, I missed Daisy of Love!
posted by Vaike at 4:12 PM on April 28, 2009

Dunno about Runway and all those types of shows, but my gf is a model/actress who recently finished shooting for one of the A&E celebrity-based reality shows. Not only was the entire event scripted to a "T", but the girls were told at the audition everything that would be happening during shooting -- right down to the other celebrities involved, the surprise drama that would ensue, and which girl should be wild/quiet/slutty/whatever.

Those actresses who were actually cast then had to sign a confidentiality agreement saying that they wouldn't give anything away, and if they did they would have to pay the producers $1-million. (The fatal flaw in this plan is that the girls weren't cast until days after the audition, so my gf had already told me the whole story before she even knew there WAS a confidentiality agreement. )

Finally, the whole scripted event was apparently photographed by someone from TMZ who "reported" on it the next day.

As Spyder's Game said, "there ain't no such thing" as reality television.
posted by coolguymichael at 4:23 PM on April 28, 2009

Well, the shows that require you to have a job history and show your skills being done on camera seem to be real at least in that aspect. No fake clothing designers who learned how to sew last week on Project Runway, no technical "multi-millionaires" there.

But pretty much everything else on reality TV is fake in one way or another. Which is why I'm over watching it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:27 PM on April 28, 2009

I agree with the opinions on Top Chef and Runway, the contestants have real talent (otherwise there would be more fatal accidents!) and most of the winners have subsequently opened real restaurants. We actually can't wait to eat at Stephanie Izard's restaurant in Chicago.

2nding Joe Beese's comment about the producer's influence on the show. One notable occurrence of this was the Marcel/Sam/Ilan finale (sam deserved a finale spot, imho) when Padma was practically weeping as she told Sam to pack his knives. He was the better chef, but Marcel and Ilan made better TV.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:03 PM on April 28, 2009

All reality TV is faked, contrived, etc. They care about drama and ratings. That's it. Seriously. They create situations both in and out of the edit room. Everyone on the show is being paid to be there. I've worked with Showrunners, Exec. Producers, shooters, writers (yes writers!) on these shows.

Sure, most actors have worked in the food industry, most of the models are 'models' because they're a size zero. The casting might be "have any background in the food industry." They get a cattle call of people wanting to be on tv, and winnow them down based on experience and what they feel the show needs (Oh, we need a gay/lesbian/asian/african-american, etc.)

The Millionaire matchmaker? Prozer seems to not know how to update the copyright date on his web site (2005 right now.) Here's an article from a Tampa blogger who can't seem to find an address for the Tampa Native.

At least when you watch fictional television, you know they're lying to you.
posted by filmgeek at 6:44 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: There was one moment where TopChef really failed the authenticity test, and it's a big one. If you remember in season 2, some of the contestants got together and shaved their heads, and then went to shave Marcel's head as joke. You knew it was really intended as a fun joke group moment, because they shaved their own heads first.

Only they didn't. Bravo / Top Chef edited the show to make it look like the other contestants shaved their heads before grabbing Marcel, not after, as it really happened. You can tell because in one shot while Marcel is crying for help for a split second you can see the group and their heads are definitely not shaved.

I can only guess that the people at Top Chef thought this group physical assault would go down a lot better if the audience felt the attackers were trying to get Marcel to join something, rather than singling him out for abuse.

This really got under my skin. If they can condone and twist around an attack like that through editing to make it look more like the victim is to blame, they're capable of anything.
posted by xammerboy at 7:12 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Top Chef showed Elia shaving her head before the group went after Marcel, but take a look at this shot taken while the group is chasing him and she is doubled over with laughter. Specifically, take a look at her hair....
posted by xammerboy at 7:16 PM on April 28, 2009

Along with xammerboy's post you can check out Amuse Biatch for a lot of additional commentary when the show has edited things out of order to tell a better story rather than document the competition.

While I generally really like Top Chef I do have some beefs with the show. It is very clear that some of the contestants are so out matched by others that they almost feel like padding or there for some sentimental story or drama. While the judging must be really hard it is never clear what criteria they are using to get rid of people (and their proclamations are often contradicted). This opens them up to a lot of conspiracy thinking in the fanbase (although I wouldn't put myself in that camp). Lastly, I can't believe more of this competition isn't judged blind. Granted this makes for a lot less drama but it would seem so much fairer.
posted by mmascolino at 8:17 PM on April 28, 2009

On televisionwithoutpity, there was a whole Zapruder film style shot-by-shot analysis of the Elia/Cliff/Elian/Marcel debacle. It was kind of amazing.

As far as producer influence on judging, Tim Gunn, and I believe one of the judges, clarified that the producers interfere in the judging only in the case of a tie or stalemate. I believe this was after Nick Verreos was auf'd from Project Runway instead of Santino Rice; Nick was a very popular favorite, and Santino was the "villain" and had been shown gluing his outfit onto Kara Janx. Apparently the clothes looked different in person from what we can see from our living rooms, which I can buy. With Top Chef, the audience has even less to go on - there is no way we can taste the food, so we're very much dependent on how the food is described and how we perceive the competitors when we're assesing the quality of their work.

Now this is not to say that the producers don't manipulate challenges, which they most certainly do. They also manipulate social situations, and try to wring maximum drama from the competitors. Keeping the competitors as exhausted as possible is a common tactic (Victoria, a competitor on America's Next Top Model once described being awakened by producers every three hours. Apparently, she wasn't dramatic enough.)

Now, if you're talking about the "dating" shows. such as Rock of Love, those are almost completely run by the producers. The competitors rarely even get to interact with the "prize" at all. Jes, the winner of the first season, said the producers told her during the filming of the second episode that she was going to be the winner, and coached her on what to say and how to behave so they could give her the best edit. (BTW, Vaike, here you go)

I kind of view the whole enterprise as being like professional wrestling or porn. The bruises are real, the story, not so much.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:39 PM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know about "completely" fake. The reactions are, for the most part, real, I'd say. But the setting is completely staged and unnatural, and scenes are set up for optimum drama. Reactions are edited in certain ways to make it seem that certain behavors were provoked by certain actions when they were not. Sometimes scenes are recreated at the producers' requests so that a conversation or activity that was poorly recorded (or not caught at all) can be recorded and edited into the program. So it's a group of "real people" knowingly placed within an artificial environment that is controlled by producers and manipulated by camera people and hosts, and later edited for maximum drama. It's not totally fake. It's not totally real. It's hyperreal!
posted by Piscean at 6:25 PM on April 29, 2009

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