CLOSE
Original image

11 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Reality TV Producers

Original image

We love reality shows as much as the next guilty pleasure fanatic, whether it’s the Real Housewives series, HGTV, or the Food Network. But just how much of that reality is, well, real? And what does it take to produce one of those shows? We turned to some reality TV producers to get a look behind the scenes.

1. SOMETIMES REALITY STARS AREN’T BOOKED UNTIL THE VERY LAST MINUTE.

“It’s difficult to make things work,” says Stephen Valpes*, who has worked on several reality singing and dancing shows, including The X Factor. Because celebrities have packed schedules that are often trans-continental, it’s often pretty hard to tie them down to your show. Scheduling can be a major feature when casting a celebrity, Valpes explains—and sometimes the celebrity is booked because of his or her availability, not their star power.

2. WORKING ON A REALITY SHOW CAN BE HARDER THAN WORKING ON A SCRIPTED SHOW.

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. Image credit: Getty Images

“Reality can be harder simply because it’s real people,” Angelica Brown*, who has worked on many of the popular dating shows, explains. “That human element that makes shows so great also makes it precarious for us.” The worst part, Brown says, is that there are many times when people go through the whole casting process, get selected, and then bail at the last minute or just don’t show up for filming. Other times, people are great in the casting process and then refuse to be that same personality when the cameras roll. “At that point, you’ve wasted everyone’s time, so I get in trouble with my bosses for something you’ve done.”

3. NO, THE BAD SINGERS ON THOSE SINGING SHOWS DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW THEY’RE BAD.

Remember laughing your way through all those audition shows for American Idol, The X Factor, and essentially every single audition reality show out there? While they’re funny to you, they’re usually not funny at all to the people on the show. This was the most surprising thing about being a producer on The X Factor, Valpes says. “They genuinely think they have a talent, and should be a star.”

4. THE PRODUCERS KNOW WHAT THEY WANT TO HAPPEN.

The stars of HGTV's Property Brothers, Jonathan and Drew Scott. Image credit: Getty Images

“The producers go into every episode knowing what they want, and it’s our job to get it, whether it’s tears, personal growth, a killer home renovation, or a couple kissing,” Brown says.

However, all the producers can really do is make suggestions. “If you’re on a home-building show and the producers suggest how you can sum up your feelings, it’s usually just to help move the story along,” Brown says. “People are always concerned that we’ll take their words out of context, but the people who say that they’ve been edited to look bad are often the ones caught saying horrible things. If you don’t say it, we can’t use it.”

5. THEY WILL USE “CREATIVE” EDITING …

Roberto Martinez and Ali Fedotowsky. Image credit: Getty Images

In the biz, this is called a “Franken-bite.” “Sometimes, it’s just to make the conversation easier to follow,” Brown says. “If one person says ‘she’ we’ll edit in her name so people are clear,’” she says. “Other shows will lift a sentence in one scene and put it elsewhere.”

6. YOU KNOW HOW THERE’S ALWAYS A VILLAIN? YOU CAN THANK THE PRODUCERS FOR THAT.

If there’s no conflict in a reality show, it’s boring. So when the producers are casting, they first figure out which “bucket,” or type of role, should be for each person. For example, the person who is late to work will be placed in the “slacker” bucket, and the owner of the store will be the “moneybags” bucket. And there’s always a “villain” bucket, too.

But don’t start feeling sorry for the villain—according to one Reddit AMA from a reality TV producer (who also asked not to use their real name), the producers will likely tell the individual that they need to make them into the bad guy, and the star will get into it and really become that character. “In development materials and write-ups, you give people little names and labels,” the producer writes. “The really interesting part is when you tell someone that you need to make them ‘the bad guy.’ Sometimes, they get really into it, and it is fun to develop the kinds of stuff they’ll do or say.”

7. IF ALL ELSE FAILS, THE PRODUCERS WILL FORCE THE ENDING.

On Love It or List It, the homeowners—or participants—are supposed to decide whether they love their home after a renovation, or whether they want to put their house on the market. But according to some sources, the producers make them record both sets of endings: they love the house and they list the house. Then, the producers decide which ending they prefer based on what will make for the best television, regardless of what happens in real life.

8. SOME OF THE HOUSES ON HOUSE HUNTERS ARE PURCHASED BEFORE THE SHOW STARTS FILMING.

On House Hunters, producers take prospective buyers to several houses to make it seem like they’re going to pick between three. In truth, the choice has sometimes already been made: Producers will choose buyers who are already in escrow with a house to speed along the production process, then film two other locations just to make it seem like there’s a choice happening. As Julia Sweeten, a blogger at Hooked On Houses, explains, “The house hunters aren’t actually house hunting because they already bought one.”

9. SEVERAL WEEKS OF FILMING CAN GO INTO EACH SHOW.

Sometimes, it can take a few hours to make a three-minute segment, Brown says. Other times, shooting days can run for 18 hours at a time. It all depends on how quickly the drama happens. If there’s a fight or some action or something exciting that happens right away, the filming can be over quickly. But if the cast is just sitting around a pool and relaxing, the filming could take hours. That’s the problem with reality.

The producers might even try to introduce some chaos to speed things along. In general, they have an incentive to try and keep things short: Every day of filming costs thousands in terms of paying the production staff. “So we try to cram it all in as quickly as possible,” Brown explains.

10. TONS OF PEOPLE WORK BEHIND THE SCENES

Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, and Kris Jenner. Image credit: Getty Images.

From casting to editing, there could be a few dozen people working on any given show, Brown says. “A lot of that comes from pre-production,” she notes. “If we waited for someone to come along with the exact perfect story, the shows you love wouldn’t exist. So we have to go out and find them and figure out the clearest way to tell their story.” Often, that takes an entire team.

11. IT’S NOT A CASH COW FOR PARTICIPANTS.

Many shows offer participants discounts for their dresses and home improvement supplies. But if you’re on most renovation shows, you still need a budget of your own, Brown says. Participants don’t get the furniture for free—although they may be able to buy it. For many other people who appear on reality television, only expenses and a small daily stipend are covered. Others, of course, have been able to make it the basis for their entire careers—but those cases are few and far between.

* Name has been changed upon request.

Original image
iStock
arrow
job secrets
11 Secrets of Matchmakers
Original image
iStock

In an age of dating apps and casual hookups, matchmakers may seem like a relic from another era. But although they've been bringing people together since long before we were swiping right, matchmaking as a profession is still alive and well. We spoke to several matchmakers to get a glimpse at how their job really works, from their sixth sense for making matches to how they deal with picky clients.

1. THEY’RE ALWAYS ON THE CLOCK.

Whether they’re shopping for groceries, waiting in a doctor’s office, or traveling on vacation, matchmakers always have their eyes peeled for ideal partners for their clients. “Being a matchmaker is not a 9 to 5 job,” matchmaker and dating coach Bonnie Winston tells Mental Floss. “24 hours, seven days a week is more like it. My employees go home, but I never close!”

Winston, who often works on weekends and evenings, also gives her clients dating advice before, during, and after dates. “It is not unusual that clients call me with inquiries about what they should wear before certain dates,” she says. “Or, I’ll get calls in whispered hush tones—secretly from bathrooms in dining establishments—to ask me questions on etiquette, or if they can hook up with their date because they have great chemistry,” Winston says.

2. THEY HAVE A SIXTH SENSE.

A young man and a woman sitting on park benches near each other
iStock

Romance is mysterious—no one can predict whether two strangers will meet and fall in love. But successful matchmakers possess a high level of emotional intelligence and intuition that guides them in their work. Winston, who made her first successful match when she was 16 years old, says she just has a natural sense of which people would be good together. “Matchmaking isn’t something that can be bought or taught,” she says. “I will meet someone and just know when they are a good match for one of my clients.”

3. THEY’RE PART THERAPIST/LIFE COACH.

A young business woman counseling another young woman
iStock

Matchmakers meet with clients, interview potential matches, dispense dating advice, and attend networking events. But some also perform background checks, administer personality testing, and build psychological profiles of their clients. The best combine a therapist’s listening skills and objective perspective with a life coach’s ability to motivate. Matchmakers may also interview their clients to determine why past relationships have failed, and help them formulate a strategy to achieve their relationship goals.

4. THEY’RE MASTERS AT NETWORKING.

The most successful matchmakers love people. Meeting people, listening and talking to them, and ultimately pairing them together excites and inspires them. In a Reddit AMA, three matchmakers at Three Day Rule explained that successful matchmakers are extroverts, and highly confident when approaching new people. “You really have to be able to walk up to anyone. We go up to people on the street all the time and say ‘Hey, are you single?’ so you have to be ok embarrassing yourself a bit,” they write.

Besides speaking with people they encounter in daily life, matchmakers may also rely on their networks of family and friends. “My mother is one of eight siblings and I have literally dozens of cousins who are well aware that there is a ‘yenta’ in the family. I tap into those resources, too!” Winston says.

5. THEY WISH PEOPLE WOULD BE WARY OF PHONY MATCHMAKERS.

A young businesswoman holding money and writing on papers
IStock

Although some reputable organizations offer courses and certifications in matchmaking, matchmakers don’t need any formal training to do their job. “Some [of these organizations] are legit, but others are just about the revenue,” says Jamie Rose, the founder and CEO of Rose Matchmaking. Similarly, some matchmaking companies are more about maximizing profit than helping people find love. Scammers who start these matchmaking businesses take advantage of desperate, lonely people looking for love.

So how to tell which businesses are legitimate? Watch for these red flags: matchmakers who won’t meet you in person, companies that have recently changed their name (perhaps to evade detection or create distance from angry former clients), sites that don’t have testimonials (or where the testimonials seem fake), and companies that have many negative user reviews.

6. OVERLY PICKY PEOPLE FRUSTRATE THEM.

Matchmakers get frustrated when clients have unrealistic expectations about love. “There is no such thing as a perfect match, and some people come in thinking that there may be,” Rose explains. Clients may also have emotional blocks that get in the way of finding love. “Some people say they want to get married but they don’t really want to,” Winston says. “They turn down every potential date for a ridiculous amount of petty and inconsequential reasons.”

Jennifer Hayes, the Director of Operations for South Carolina Matchmakers, adds that because bad relationships tend to harden people, matchmakers must encourage clients to keep their hearts and minds open to love. “One of the biggest hurdles we have as a matchmakers is encouraging clients to stay open to the possibilities of finding love,” she tells Mental Floss.

7. SOMETIMES THEY HAVE TO BE BLUNT.

A man and a woman, each on a bicycle on a rural road, holding hands
iStock

When a date goes poorly, matchmakers must walk a fine line between being honest and being tactful. “My least favorite part would be telling one client that another client wasn’t interested in them,” Rose says. Although most people don’t enjoy getting rejected and hearing about their off-putting habits, it’s essential that matchmakers be blunt with their clients. By speaking the truth in a kind yet firm way, matchmakers can build a trusting, productive relationship with their clients.

8. DATING APPS CAN MAKE THEIR JOB HARDER …

Dating apps give people a huge number of potential matches at their fingertips, but most apps don't vet matches—and good results are not guaranteed. “[Dating apps] make things so impersonal,” Winston says. “[Users] are deleting really good people forever so easily in seconds with their fingertips. And scratching their heads [about] why they can’t meet anyone.”

In addition, many dating apps are free, while matchmakers charge for their services. Matchmakers say that free apps propagate the view that finding love shouldn't cost anything, and thus threaten matchmakers’ livelihood.

9. … BUT APPS CAN ALSO DRIVE CLIENTS TO THEM.

An older man and a woman looking bored and each on their phones
iStock

While apps may be many people’s initial foray into the dating world, a disappointing experience can lead unsuccessful daters to a matchmaker. “Honestly I think [dating apps] impact [our industry] positively,” Rose says. “People who try those apps or sites see that they are about quantity not quality, and then they research better options and find me.” Winston adds that matchmakers slow down the online dating process. “People who come to me are sick of swiping, scrolling, sexting and texting, getting poked, and being ghosted. They are burnt out,” she says. “I bring back old-fashioned courtship and romance.”

Matchmakers also lend a human element that’s often lacking in online dating. "We know as matchmakers that setting people up requires knowing them to some extent, and knowing people requires time. Unlike online apps we get to know our clients and build relationships with them so we can effectively match them," Hayes says.

10. THEY MAKE CLIENTS LOOK THEIR BEST.

Visuals and first impressions play a huge role in dating, and good matchmakers help their clients improve their image. “You’d be surprised how many people come to me with terrible selfies to find love!” Winston exclaims. Because she owned a fashion photography agency, Winston stays connected to top photographers and hair and make-up artists, and she provides her clients with professional photo shoots. “I want my clients look their best while showing their authentic selves,” she says.

11. THEY LOVE HELPING PEOPLE FIND TRUE LOVE.

A black man and woman, with their foreheads touching, smiling
iStock

When matchmakers succeed in bringing two people together, they’re ecstatic. “I am joyful when my clients find joy in love. Especially when they immediately 'click'—I feel like I hit it out of the ballpark ... a homerun!” Winston says.

Rose adds that she enjoys changing people’s minds about each other. “I like when two people originally say no to one another, but you remind them of why they came to you. When that match works out you feel really good about it."

Original image
iStock
arrow
job secrets
12 Secrets of Roller Coaster Designers
Original image
iStock

Back in the early 20th century, engineers attempting to push the limits of roller coaster thrills subjected riders to risky upside-down turns and bloody noses. A century later, coaster designers rely on computer software, physics, and psychology to push the limits of the roughly 4400 rides in operation worldwide. To get a sense of what their job entails, Mental Floss spoke with several roller coaster specialists about everything from testing rides with water-filled dummies to how something as simple as paint can influence a coaster experience. Here’s what we learned.

1. GETTING STRAPPED IN MIGHT BE THE MOST EXCITING PART OF THE RIDE.

Roller coaster passengers prepare for a drop
iStock

Known as a “thrill engineer,” UK-based Brendan Walker consults with coaster manufacturers and parks on the psychology of riding the rails. In his experience, riders getting secured into their seats are at the peak of their excitement—even more so than during the ride itself. “The moment the lap bar is being locked down and you have that feeling of things being inescapable, that you have to suffer the effects of the ride, is the highest moment of arousal,” Walker says. “The actual ride might only achieve 80 percent of that excitement.”

2. THEY TEST COASTERS WITH WATER-FILLED DUMMIES.

Bill Kitchen, founder of U.S. Thrill Rides, says it can take anywhere from two to five years for a coaster to go from idea to execution. Part of that process is devoted to the logistics of securing patents and permits for local site construction—the rest is extensive safety testing. “We’re subject to ASTM [American Society for Testing Materials] standards,” Kitchen says. “It covers every aspect of coasters. The rides are tested with what we call water dummies, or sometimes sandbags.”

The inanimate patrons allow designers to figure out how a coaster will react to the constant use and rider weight of a highly-trafficked ride. The water dummies—which look a bit like crash test dummies, but filled with water—can be emptied or filled to simulate different weight capacities. Designers also sometimes use the kind of crash-test dummies found in the auto industry to observe any potential issues prior to actual humans climbing aboard.

3. EVERY FOOT OF TRACK COSTS A LOT OF MONEY.

A roller coaster track is ready for passengers
iStock

There is absolutely nothing random about the length of a coaster’s track. In addition to designing a ride based on the topography of a park site, designers take into account exactly how much space they’ll need to terrorize you and not an inch more. When England’s Alton Towers park was preparing to build a ride named TH13TEEN for a 2010 opening, they asked Walker exactly how much of a drop was needed to scare someone in the dark. “It was a practical question,” Walker says. “For every extra foot of steelwork, it would have cost them £30,000 [roughly $40,000].”

4. ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON BROUGHT A LOT OF PEOPLE INTO THE BUSINESS.

The popular PC game, first released in 1999, allowed users to methodically construct their own amusement parks, including the rides. As a proving ground for aspiring engineers and designers, it worked pretty well. Jeff Pike, President of Skyline Attractions, says he’s seen several people grow passionate about the industry as a direct result of the game. “I remember when the game first got popular, I would go to trade shows and there would be kids looking to get into it using screen shots of rides they designed. The game definitely brought a lot of people into the fold.”

5. PAINT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE IN SPEED.

Cans of paint are arranged on the floor
iStock

For all of their high-tech design—the software, fabrication, and precise measures of energy—a good coaster ride can often come down to whether it’s got too much paint on it. “The one thing that will slow down a steel coaster is a build-up of paint on the track rails,” Pike says. “It softens where the wheel is rolling and hitting the track, which increases the drag.” A good, worn-in track will have grey or silver streaks where the wheel has worn down the paint, making it move more quickly.

6. A COASTER’S SKYLINE IS KEY.

Brian Morrow, Corporate Vice President for Theme Park Experience at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, says that the looming curvature of coasters spotted as guests drive toward and enter the park is very purposeful. “It’s like a movie trailer in that we want you to see some iconic coaster elements, but not the whole thing,” he says. “You approach it with anticipation.”

7. SOME COASTERS ARRIVE AS GIANT MODEL KITS.

The loop of a roller coaster track
iStock

Whether a coaster’s theme or design comes first is largely left up to the end user—the amusement park. But for some rides, manufacturers are able to offer pre-fabricated constructions that designers can treat like the world’s biggest Erector Set. “Sometimes I work on rides that have already been built,” Walker says. “They’re produced by a company and presented almost like a kit with parts, like a model train set. There’s a curve here, a straight bit here, and you can pick your own layout depending on the lay of the land.”

8. WOODEN COASTERS ARE WEATHER-SENSITIVE.

If you’ve ever been on a wooden coaster that seems a little shaky from one trip to the next, check the forecast: It might be because of the weather. Pike says that humidity and other factors can shrink the wood, affecting how bolts fit and leading to a slightly shakier experience. “The structure itself can flex back and forth,” he says. It’s still perfectly safe—it just takes more maintenance to make sure the wood and fasteners are in proper operating condition. A well-cared-for wooden coaster, Pike says, can usually outlast a steel model.

9. THE TIME OF DAY CAN AFFECT THE RIDE EXPERIENCE.

A roller coaster track at dusk
iStock

“A coaster running in the morning could run slower when cooler,” Morrow says. “The wheels are not as warm, the bearings are warming up. That could be different by 2 p.m., with a slicked-up wheel chassis.” Coasters experiencing their first-ever test runs can also be slightly unpredictable, according to Pike. "Those first trial runs [during the testing phase] can be slow because everything is just so tight," he says. "A lot of coasters don't even make it around the track. It's not a failure. It's just super-slow."

10. DESIGNS CAN COME FROM UNUSUAL PLACES—LIKE JAY LENO’S CHIN.

The twisting, undulating tracks of coasters can often be the result of necessity: Pike says that trees, underground piping, and available real estate all inform designers when it comes to placing a ride in a specific park. But when they have more freedom, coasters can sometimes take on the distinctive shape of whatever happens to be around the designers at the time of conception. “We had a giant piece of land in Holland that just had no constraints, and we were sitting around talking," Pike says. “And we started talking about Jay Leno’s chin.” The ride was a “loose” representation of the comedian's jaw, but “it is there.”

11. RIDERS ARE REALLY PERFORMERS.

Roller coaster riders enjoy the end of the ride
iStock

For Walker, the best advertising for a coaster is having spectators watch riders de-board after an exhilarating experience. “It’s all about that emotion,” he says. “A spectator basically asks, ‘What’s making them so aroused? What’s giving them such pleasure?’ The line for the ride is the audience. Imagining yourself on the structure becomes a very powerful thing."

12. THE FUTURE IS VERTICAL.

Biggest, fastest, longest—coasters are running out of superlatives. Because rides can only be designed with so many drips, rolls, or G forces, some companies are looking to the sky for their next big idea. Kitchen has been overseeing design of the Polercoaster for years: It’s a sprawling, skyscraper-esque ride that uses electromagnetic propulsion to carry riders upwards instead of across horizontal tracks. “We want to put it in places where land is very expensive, like the Vegas strip,” he says. “You can only do that if it takes up a lot less space.” Kitchen believes it’ll be another two years before ground is broken on the project, which is set to exceed the 456 feet of the current tallest ride, Kinga Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey. “It’ll be the world’s tallest—and hopefully the most fun.”

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios