Pay for losers on reality tv shows
September 7, 2005 4:47 PM   Subscribe

Do loser contestants on reality shows get paid anything at all?

Many of these shows involve filming for many months. I'd imagine that someone on a "16-week job interview" like The Apprentice is losing quite a bit of income if not working for 4 months.

So apart from the winner who usually gets the big bucks, do the other contestants get paid anything for being on the shows?
posted by madman to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They get paid daily SAG rates. I don't know exactly what they are, but probably around $200/day.
posted by billysumday at 4:50 PM on September 7, 2005

Some shows have progressive prize money, as well, that you don't necessarily hear much about, because 'Win a million dollars (or 50K or 10K or 5K or 2.5K or 1200 depending on how you place)' doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:07 PM on September 7, 2005

The Gospel According to Dreama, from her Jeopardy! appearance.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:52 PM on September 7, 2005

Crap. Jeopardy! isn't a "reality" show. Sorry. My reading comprehension's gone to shit from living out of hotel rooms.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:53 PM on September 7, 2005

According to this message on a Reality TV forum, the payouts on The Amazing Race drop off dramatically from the $1 million top prize. Reportedly, the prizes look like this:

1st: $1,000,000
2nd: $25,000
3rd: $10,000
4th: $7,000
5th: $6,000
6th: $5,000
7th: $4,000
8th: $3,500
9th: $3,000
10th: $2,500
11th: $1,500

Survivor is a little more generous-- second place is $100,000. I imagine the places below that look similar to this list, though.
posted by Zair TL at 5:57 PM on September 7, 2005

The prizes for Survivor are approximately the same.

The contestents for Big Brother also get a stipend if they make it to the jury, which I think is something like $700/week, but I don't remember the actual amount.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:02 PM on September 7, 2005

I had heard that everyone on the Real World shows got $1k per week, which sounded amazing when I first heard about it in my early 20s. Now, it seems like not so much considering how much MTV makes off the franchise.

I'm more interested in knowing what non-contest reality show people get paid. Like the guys from American Chopper for instance. Sure, the business gets an hour-long ad every week for their work and I'm sure they sell more bikes, but does each mechanic that gets screen time go away with a grand or two each week from the network?

Because it seems like the network could make a ton of money, even if they pay these people a few grand here and there.
posted by mathowie at 7:53 PM on September 7, 2005

SAG rates aren't bad at all. A friend of mine was filming a movie a couple of years ago, and the "fat guy" they had cast for a part didn't show up. He called me up apolegetically and asked if I could fill in.

For about six hours of work (mostly standing around waiting for my scene to come up), I ended up making about $600 because the filming ran "overtime", e.g., this was late at night.

I just did it as a favor for the friend, and was pleasantly surprised when they called me up a few days later wanting to know where to send the check...
posted by mrbill at 8:14 PM on September 7, 2005

Having worked as a production manager for a number of reality series (including a major-network non-contest reality series) I can tell you that it would be highly unusual for reality series participants to be paid a SAG day rate. For the most part, reality series participants are very explicitly NOT considered actors or employees (and, in fact, must sign lengthy participation agreements that state this very thing).

Many reality series do provide some compensation, nominal or not-so-nominal, but the participation agreements state very clearly, for the most part, that this compensation is an honorarium intended to offset the cost of participation, rather than payment for services rendered.

For example, the major-network non-contest reality series I production managed provides an honorarium of $5000 to entire families who were willing to devote a minimum of two weeks to the filming of the show. Other series provide more (to wit, Fox's "Trading Spouses" provides $50,000 to each family who participates, albeit with the ("surprise") catch that it is the visiting spouse who ostensibly oversees the disbursement of the funds. (In fact, although I never worked on that series, experience leads me to believe that it is much more likely that the producers determine how the funds should be disbursed, and then influence the visiting spouse to "make decisions" as if she or he were disbursing them....)

In point of fact, I actually don't know of any series in which the participants were paid SAG rates, either explicitly or implicitly...
posted by dersins at 11:40 PM on September 7, 2005

Oh, too many confusing nested parentheses for this somewhat intoxicated unemployed reality series production manager.

My apologies....
posted by dersins at 11:42 PM on September 7, 2005

I have worked as a writer/producer on a reality program and yes, all contestants are paid a weekly salary. This also serves as a legal deterrent to future suits as it confirms their status as employees of the production company. It was not SAG rates.
posted by captainscared at 6:02 AM on September 8, 2005

The (suprisingly large number of) people I know who have been on reality shows all were unemployed or severely underemployed when they went on their respective show, and got a trivial amount of money for doing it, far less than guild scale. One leveraged her notoriety with moderate effectiveness after the show; all the rest have yielded zero besides memories from the experience.

A key component of the economics of producing reality shows is the posture / pretence that the talent aren't actors, and that the producers and editors who make the stories aren't writers.
posted by MattD at 6:34 AM on September 8, 2005

According to articles about her recent DUI arrest, Katie Gallagher won $100,000 for 2nd place on Survivor: Palau.

Not exactly the same, but... Bo Bice, in a profile in the latest Blender Magazine, stated that American Idol contestants receive a weekly stipend of $220. They get free room and board (and presumably all the Coca-Cola products they want) but that $220 has to cover all other expenses in Los Angeles. Seems paltry to me.

I wonder about the employment of some of the reality types. Coral Smith, Melissa Howard, Julie Stoffer, Trishelle Cannatella (Real World), Mike "The Miz" (Road Rules), Nikki McKibbin, Ryan Starr (American Idol) and Omarosa (The Apprentice) seem to be making a living by appearing on various "reality star" shows, either the MTV challenges, Surreal Life, the Battle of Reality people on Bravo or something else. If any of them are actually gainfully employed, they have incredibly generous vacation allowances.
posted by Dreama at 7:12 PM on September 8, 2005

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