For viewers at home, reality television can make for riveting watching.
We are quick to select our favourite contestants and revel in judging others for dishing up bad food, revealing bad rooms, and hitting all the wrong notes when performing great songs.
But once the cameras swing onto someone else, the impact of reality television on contestants rarely rates a mention.
Former Masterchef contestant Jules Allen spent four and a half months riding the highs and the lows of reality TV. The attention was overwhelming, the pressure to perform was an adrenalin rush like no other. But when she returned home, when the so-called reality of reality TV was replaced by her old life, her experience was one of confusion and loss.
“While you’re in there you actually feel like you’ve got bipolar because the highs and the lows in a day are so extreme,” says Allen.
“For me, when I came out I had no idea how to reconnect back into the world.
“You’re separated from everyone, from the world, really. You live in this encapsulated bubble with 20 other contestants and we were together 24/7. That is quite an intense situation.”
The mother of four says it took her almost six months to regain a sense of normalcy in her life.
It’s not talked about much, but the intensity of being a contestant on reality television can change everything and not usually for the better. Allen says she lost friends after going on the show and became a very introverted person.
“For me it was easier not to see anyone, so I isolated [myself] a lot because I didn’t know how to be in the world and pull off that role.
“The four-to-six months that you might go in there, that’s the first bit. The second bit is the aftermath, and that goes for longer and you’re on your own for that one.”
Allen says that she has spent months working with a counsellor to help her work out why she felt so low after leaving the show.
Other reality television show contestants have also struggled to return to their lives as well as cope with abuse from viewers.
Kelly Ramsay was famously portrayed as a ‘villian’ on the latest season of Channel Seven’s My Kitchen Rules.
Ramsay was hospitalised a week after leaving the show, citing physical and mental exhaustion.
In an interview with News Corp, Ramsay said that she felt producers went too far with portraying her as a villain, and said that she had struggled to fit into normal life.
Ramsay said that she received abusive emails and was bullied by viewers of the show at her work and when she was in public.
A contestant on talent show The Voice has also been a victim of violent threats in the past week, receiving thousands of hateful comments online.
“I even had people saying they were going to find me and punch me and come get me,” 27-year-old Louise Van Veenendaal told the Today program.
Most recently, a contestant on dating show When Love Comes to Town voluntarily left in tears, saying that she had ‘struggled’ and found the show too competitive.
Allen says the production of harmful reality television is both the fault of producers and of viewers.
“Producers need to be very careful around their selection process and make sure that the people they’re selecting are very sound and quite solid in who they are, and not select people who are a little on the edge because it makes great television,” says Allen.
“Those people are very vulnerable and the people who sort of crack quickly don’t bounce back very quickly.”
Allen believes that as long as we consume reality television that pushes contestants to the limit, television channels will produce it.
“It’s actually a problem with society that we want to watch that stuff, that we want to watch people crack open and cry and fall apart on television,” she says.
“We have to figure out how to connect to our emotions in a different way rather than doing it through other people’s demise.”
Jules Allen’s story will feature on Australian Story on the ABC on Monday, June 2 at 8pm