Who’s To Blame For The Dark Side Of Reality TV?

Susan Boyle is one reality TV contestant who let fame go to her head. And by that, I mean she had a breakdown as a result of the celebrity that was thrust upon her after appearing on “Britain’s Got Talent.” But she’s not alone. Paula Goodspeed committed suicide outside “American Idol” judge Paula Abdul’s home after being teased about her weak tryout. Then there’s CT from “Real World/Road Rules Challenges: The Duel 2,” who would have killed Adam in a couple fights if producers and cast members hadn’t intervened.

These people couldn’t deal with becoming a celebrity, even for an instant, as was the case with Goodspeed, or being on a reality show. But who is to blame when an average person can’t cope with new fame or humiliation? TV producers and industry watchers all agree that the networks who air the shows, the companies that create them, and the contestants themselves share the responsibility.

Believe it or not, producers screen contestants and cast members for mental health issues before production, at the request of the networks. The kinds of screenings vary, but people who live in close, isolated groups on shows like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” are subjected to more rigorous testing. Pre-show screeners look for red flags like depression, an inclination toward anger, and a history of being physically abused.

It is a little illogical to me to have producers, who are set to make a profit from the show, deciding whether someone is fit to be on TV. To them, the screening process is like a more intensive interview, where they can really get to the nitty-gritty of the person. I doubt they’d pass on someone who’s a guaranteed ratings booster. How else would they find out who’s a gay-basher, so they can put him/her in a house with a transgendered woman?

The networks seem to think that passing the buck to producers absolves them of any responsibility. TV networks require producers to have psychological experts on set in case contestants or cast members have breakdowns. But they’re still culpable. They have the power not to air an episode or an entire show. This, as you know, rarely happens because networks are in the business of making money by way of ratings.

So then, a contestant is left to monitor their own behavior, protect their emotions, and decide if they can tolerate celebrity. But how many actually know the full meaning of stardom and what it entails before it’s too late? Boyle, who was told she was ugly and needed a makeover when she first appeared on “Talent” obviously didn’t know what she was getting into. [Reuters]