“They locked me in a hotel room for three or four days” before production started, said Jen Yemola, a Pennsylvania pastry chef who was on the 2007 season of “Hell’s Kitchen,” a cooking competition. “They took all my books, my CDs, my phone, any newspapers. I was allowed to leave the room only with an escort. It was like I was in prison.”
Most reality series have contestants sign nondisclosure agreements that include million-dollar penalties if they reveal what happened on set. But interviews with two dozen former contestants — most of whose agreements expired after three years — from half a dozen reality series suggest that the programs routinely use isolation, sleeplessness and alcohol to encourage wild behavior.
“If you combine no sleep with alcohol and no food, emotions are going to run high and people are going to be acting crazy,” said Erica Rose, a contestant that year.
“The bread and butter of reality television is to get people into a state where they are tired, stressed and emotionally vulnerable,” said Mark Andrejevic, an associate professor of communications studies at the University of Iowa and the author of “Reality TV: The Work of Being Watched.”
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“Contestants of reality TV shows have nothing to complain about.” How valid is this statement?