Turn on your television and no matter what time it is, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a reality TV program waiting for you.
Nine’s Married At First Sight is the number one program for 2018 (so far), even beating the Australian Open. Seven’s My Kitchen Rules is not far behind and we still have juggernauts like MasterChef (Ten) and The Voice (Nine) plus a range of fresh formats to come.
Currently, at least a dozen new reality formats are in production, each on the hunt for the next Dean and Davina or Sonya and Hadil to play the villain, have their heart broken, fail miserably at a soufflé or be reduced to tears for a renovation disaster.
Back With The Ex from Seven for example, is aimed straight at the train-wreck “romance” fans Married At First Sight had. These couples broke up for a reason, how can putting them back together be anything but crazy… except from a TV point of view.
For many participants the only payoff for most will be 15 minutes of instafame as the person everyone loves to hate, yet thousands upon thousands of Australians sign up.
“The last time we did a casting call for The Block, we had around 40,000 people register to apply,” Lucky Price, one of Australia’s leading casting directors and a veteran of multiple reality series, says.
“That’s 40,000 couples, so 80,000 people. That’s a lot of people!
“For something like The Block obviously money is a factor, then there’s people who sit on their couch with a glass of wine and think, ‘I could do that!’. And of course, there’s people who just want to be on television.”
And that’s a lot of those who apply.
Wannabe contestants happily spend thousands of dollars on professional application videos and apply for multiple series, reinventing themselves along the way.
Nasser Sultan from Married at First Sight said he was “single, had never lived with a woman and looking for that first true love” in the series.
In 2015 he appeared on the series Pawn Stars selling some toy cars to pick up some extra cash for his “wife and kids”.
Davina Rankin from MAFS had already popped up on Big Brother and First Dates before her Married At First Sight appearance, MAFS’ Sarah Roza had appeared on The Amazing Race and The Bachelor’s Sam Wood had applied for a role as a Biggest Loser trainer.
“Some people need to be confirmed, and this is one way of doing that,” psychologist Amanda Gordon says. “Or it’s simply that they want their 15 minutes of fame.”
And that’s often a drawback, Price says.
“The problem with people who only want their 15 minutes of fame is at the end of the day you’ve only got 15 minutes of story,” he says.
In terms of what casting agents are looking for, Price says: “You want someone the audience might see and make an assumption about, based on the way they look or the way their voice sounds and then as a series progresses we find who they are is a complete contradiction or a push against those assumptions.”
If they have what it takes, pass the screen tests, interviews with multiple network executives, psychological and medical evaluations (and most likely a police check), the next crop of reality stars can look forward to a slim chance at winning a prize. And for many, that’s good enough.
“We live in a world with such pervasive social media that there is an expectation for many of being examined or watched in what we do,” Price says.
“You walk down the street and you see people taking selfies … we’re so used to having an audience now that it’s almost a natural progression for them to think, ‘Well, the next step is being on television’.”