Ever since television has been around, people have been questioning the “reality” of shows featuring real-life contestants. In the early days of the small screen, this skepticism was limited to game shows, while just about anything else was known to be fiction.
Everything started to change in the early ’70s, when PBS first aired An American Family in 1973. This show was meant to be a simple documentary on the average upper-class family, but the filming happened to coincide with the messy divorce of the household’s parents. Viewers loved it, and networks began to experiment with the format for the next two decades.
The reality genre took off with the success of shows like American Idol and Big Brother in the early 2000s. Since then, every network has tried to create the next big pop culture phenomenon with varying degrees of success. Shows like Pawn Stars, The Voice, Laguna Beach, and Property Brothers have viewers tuning in every week to see what happens in the lives of these people.
Unfortunately, this influx of viewership has led to an increased push by producers to create drama where it may not already be. Often times they will script scenarios or plant items so that they can make the show more interesting. What is real and what is fake?
Here are 15 “Real” Shows Producers Don’t Want You To Know Are Scripted!
15. House Hunters
If you want to see a true modern-day success of reality TV, look no further than HGTV. House Hunters has been by far the channel’s biggest success; it has spun off into just about every single variation of the home-buying topic (such as Tiny House Hunters, House Hunters: International, and House Hunters: RV to name a few).
However, it was reported back in 2010 that the participants on the show already knew which house they were going to purchase before filming even started. In fact, having already closed on a house was a requirement to do the show!
A few years later, one of the show’s subjects came out and told the world just how scripted the series is — she claimed that producers tried to up the drama in her episode by making the couple lie about their entire backstory in order make their upgrade to a bigger house seem much more dire and urgent. The network has since responded, claiming that the process is much lengthier than most people realize and that they have to film the episodes after the decision is made.
14. Storage Wars
Recently there has been a whole sub-genre of reality TV that focuses on people turning trash into treasure. Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and Auction Hunters all fall under this category of shows where everyday people discover valuable historic items just sitting around their households.
Storage Wars takes a variation on this formula by having a group of auction-goers bid on repossessed storage units. Then, we get to watch as they go through the units and find out how much of a profit they’re going to make based on the stuff that’s inside it. Sometimes they make a fortune and other times they post losses of hundreds of dollars.
However, according to David Hester (one of the show’s most popular contestants), most of it is staged. So much so that Hester has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against he show back in 2013. He alleged that the producers would purchase multiple units in bulk and then plant valuable items into the ones that their characters won. Likewise the producers have been known to egg on the contestants into creating drama, including a case in which a fight between two of the contestants turned into an all-out brawl.
13. The Apprentice
It’s hard to believe that The Apprentice has been on the air since 2004! The show has certainly evolved over the years; it started off as “the ultimate job interview,” in which a group of businessmen and women compete for a job with Donald Trump’s company. At the end of each episode, the host sits down with the losing team and “fires” someone. A few seasons in, the format switched to having celebrities compete to receive money for their charity of choice. In 2016, Arnold Schwarzenegger took over as host.
While the competition part of the show was shown to be real enough, the “firing” segment of the show was scripted for dramatic effect. In 2004 it was revealed that none of the contestants were ever truly evicted. Instead, they simply had to stay in a different section of the tower with the rest of the season’s losers. In fact, the contestants’ suitcases that they took with them were usually empty (save a few necessities), and the elevator ride and taxi transportation were purely for show.
Similarly, it has been alleged by former contestants that their firing was all part of the plan from the beginning.
Ever since the term was coined in 2011, “Catfish” is a verb that refers to someone who manipulates people online into “dating” them while they pose as a made-up person. Sometimes it’s done just for a joke, but other times there is a more sinister motive at play.
On the hit MTV show of the same name, hosts Nev and Max try to solve the mystery of “who is really behind these profiles.” An episode will always feature the crew confronting the catfish and expose them for who they really are.
As crazy as the whole situation sounds, there really are people out there who catfish. That does not mean, however, that everything on the show that happens is legit. Allegedly the producers of the show run the application process in reverse; the people who are doing the catfishing actually are the ones who apply to be on the show!
The hosts are kept in the dark about the catfisher’s identity, but this means that there will never be any false leads, and that the catfisher has already been in touch with producers face to face to sign all the necessary release forms.
11. Hell’s Kitchen
Thanks in part to Hell’s Kitchen, Chef Gordan Ramsey has become an icon of pop culture. Not to be confused with the New York City suburb, this show features two teams of aspiring culinary artists as they compete for a spot as head chef at one of Ramsey’s restaurants.
The most famous segment of Hell’s Kitchen involves each team running their own kitchen at the same time inside of a high-profile restaurant. As the pressure mounts and they start to make mistakes, Chef Ramsey swears their ears off and often even kicks contestants out of his kitchen.
Hell’s Kitchen isn’t as scripted as House Hunters or Catfish, but there are elements of the show that are definitely faked. For example, the “restaurant” that they work in isn’t a real restaurant, it is a sound stage fitted to act as one!
To dial up the drama (and Ramsey’s temper), producers would often swap out ingredients for the contestants, causing their meal to turn out sub-par and earning them a berating from the chef. It has also been alleged that the “guests” that appear to judge the contestant’s food are actually hired food critics.
10. The Hills/Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach followed the real-life stories of a group of students attending Laguna Beach High School in the early 2000s. It’s spin-off series, The Hills, followed one of the teens (Lauren Conrad) as she attempted to make a career for herself in the fashion industry. These shows had just about everything you hoped for in a reality show: backstabbing, relationship drama, and teenage angst were all common occurrences. Though these shows were never received that well critically, many refer to them as excellent “guilty pleasure” series.
Both shows were actually scripted to the extreme. Spencer Pratt once revealed that he and Heidi Montag had to shoot the scene of her thinking she was “pregnant” fifteen times and he had to pretend to be outraged. Lauren Conrad furthered these rumors when she said that she didn’t even know about Pratt’s apology for making up a sex tape rumor about her until she watched the episode in question.
The producers also have admitted that they cast certain characters, like Lauren’s best friend at work, because of their potential for drama.
9. The Jerry Springer Show
As much fun as Jerry Springer is as a TV personality, you’d find few who’d deny that The Jerry Springer Show is scraping the bottom of the barrel for entertainment. Like so many other daytime talk shows, The Jerry Springer Show would have on guests who have abnormalities in their lives; sometimes it would be that they think their wife is cheating on them, or that they don’t know who is the father of their baby, or sometimes they’re just torn between two lovers and want some help deciding.
This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, but The Jerry Springer Show is fairly scripted. Although the people and their stories are real enough, the producers feed Jerry talking points that they know will get guests’ blood boiling, and they give them a free pass to beat up on each other without any sort of repercussion.
The stage hands are also around to give the audience cues on what reactions to make, and participants are told to exaggerate as much as possible. First-hand accounts of potential guests also claim that the stories put on the show are highly exaggerated.
8. Ghost Hunters
Ghost Hunters has become so popular that it’s been spun off into several different iterations since its premiere in 2004. The story follows an investigation agency known as TAPS as they travel across the country searching for any sort of paranormal activity. Along the way the team explores a variety of abandoned properties, famous folkloric locations, and random hauntings using state of the art ghost-hunting equipment.
Ghost Hunters has been accused of being scripted so many times it’s not even funny anymore. One of the biggest pieces of evidence for this was in a Halloween special back in 2008. As the team is exploring a haunted property, a ghost supposedly tugged on one of the investigator’s jacket. However, eagle-eyed fans were quick to notice that just before the incident occurred, the man adjusted his hood and held his right hand steadily down at his side, leading them to believe he faked it.
7. Keeping Up With The Kardashians
The history of the Kardashians is one of those things that’s extremely hard to figure out. Just know that it has something to do with with the OJ Simpson trial. And Playboy. And the Jenners. Anyways, the Kardashian sisters have risen to celebrity status over the years, and were awarded with their own show in 2007 that followed their personal and professional careers.
You know things are definitely fake when even the house used in the show isn’t really owned by the family! The property that was referred to as Kris Jenner’s house was just an empty house used as a stand-in for their real property.
Then there is the actual “story” of the show; the producers had to stage not one, but two different marriage proposals specifically for the show. At this point it’s basically an open secret that Keeping Up With The Kardashians is full of made up, heavily edited, and scripted scenarios.
6. Cake Boss
You know, of all the reality shows out there, Cake Boss really isn’t that bad. Many shows in the genre give audiences the idea of what an “ideal” life is like while simultaneously scripting the best parts, thus creating a life that can never truly be obtained by the viewer. But not this one. Nope, the show about Carlo’s Bakery is just a good ol’ fashioned show about a guy and his family who make awesome cakes for their customers.
However, this doesn’t mean that the show is completely real. Much like the HGTV shows on this list, Buddy and his crew are already commissioned to do a specific cake before the cameras are even rolling; the producers simply script in drama that makes them look like they’re going to miss a deadline or that the client isn’t happy with the product
. Also, the timing of the humorous bits are just a little too perfect to be real (such as when Buddy’s mom found a piece of an erotic cake by accident when the cameras were conveniently focused on her).
5. The Bachelor
In recent years, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have become the face of the reality TV industry for standard channel viewers. The show premiered in 2002 to much acclaim and is still one of the higher-rated shows of the genre today.
For the uninitiated, both shows follow a single man or woman (depending on which version) who is looking for their soulmate. As the season progresses, the main character eliminates contestants via a rose ceremony until there is only one left. The two get married and live happily ever after, right?
Well… a large portion of the couples to end up together on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette end up divorced – or don’t even get married in the first place. Who would have thought a reality show wasn’t the best place to meet your true love?!
Portions of the show are definitely scripted. An eagle-eyed fan noticed that one season saw the producers use reverse footage of the titular character to manufacture a cliffhanger for the show. The showrunners have also been known to figure out which contestants are “fan favorites” and do what they can to ensure they hit it off with the main character and stick around for the season.
This is the show that kicked off the modern-day reality genre as we know it! Survivor debuted in 2000 and has since accumulated a whopping thirty-four seasons since.
We all know the drill: a group of contestants are taken out into an isolated wilderness, where they are split into two “tribes” and forced to survive off the land as well as perform physical challenges for rewards. At the end of each episode the tribe gathers together around a fire with torches and take an anonymous vote as to who is to kick off the show. With it’s signature catchphrase, “The Tribe Has Spoken,” the show looks to remain strong for years.
But how real is Survivor? Recently producers have admitted to using hired body doubles for some of the challenges the contestants face. Also, former contestant Stacey Stillman swears up and down that her removal from the show was rigged. Even main producer Mark Burnett has gone on the record and said that he and his crew reenact shots all the time.
If that wasn’t enough, contestants have broken their silence to reveal that they were given both food and fire by the producers at some point in time.
3. Project Runway
Project Runway has to be one of the most fun competitive reality shows out there. Every week, contestants are given a theme to follow and asked to create outfits that are appropriately matched. There have been some insane challenges over the years as well as many creative outfit designs to match.
Hosted by Heidi Klum, Runway reduces the pool of contestants week to week until the final two compete against each other in the legendary New York Fashion Week celebration. Unlike most reality shows, this one actually won a Peabody Award!
Sadly, there is some evidence that points to the show being scripted. Season 4 contestant Jack Mackenroth claims that every elimination was planned out ahead of time, and that the producers then would edit footage of the episode to make the audience agree with them. Bravo has disputed this claim, saying that the only time the producers step in on a decision is when there’s a tie between the judges.
2. Fixer Upper
Fixer Upper is perhaps the fastest-growing show on HGTV as well as a brand on the rise. Everywhere you go nowadays you see Chip and Joanna Gaines with their faces plastered on magazines or their Magnolia Brand products on store shelves. The show focuses on the two as they help participants find their new house; it normally needs a ton of work, but the personality-laden couple turn it into a home we all dream of.
The stars of the series are about as real as you can get, which is a huge part of what makes the show such a hit. However, just like House Hunters, participants have already bought their house by the time the cameras roll. In fact, it is a requirement in order to apply for the show! This means that everything that occurs in the “other two” houses is completely for show.
1. Pawn Stars
Who doesn’t know Pawn Stars at this point? The show has been around for eight years now, and it has been both a blessing and a curse for the History. Thanks to the success of Rick and his family, the former History Channel has switched over to broadcasting mostly reality shows. Every episode features someone bringing an item into the shop to score some quick cash; Rick will often call in an expert to see if it’s authentic before bartering with the participant to get the item for the right price.
Here’s the thing: Pawn Stars is almost all scripted. Yes, the store exists and is owned by the Harrisons in real life. But nowadays it has become more like a tourist attraction rather than an operating store. In fact, they have to close the store down just to film episodes in peace! Also, the show’s stars are no longer allowed to work the counter during regular hours thanks to Nevada privacy laws.
Did we mention that all of the items are researched and price points agreed on beforehand?
Did you know how scripted most of these shows were? Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments!
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