I recently wrote about this past summer's 15th season of Big Brother, which aired on CBS and garnered more viewership than prior seasons. Part of what brought folks to the television screen was the fact that the season was dubbed "most controversial" and made national headlines for the racist, homophobic and other politically incorrect remarks uttered by contestants. I conducted an interview with Amanda Zuckerman, one of the offending contestants who made racial remarks and other comments of a violent and threatening nature. To numerous viewers, Amanda seemed to have no filter. I gave Amanda the platform to apologize, however, based on the fact that I had been contacted by #TeamAmanda Twitter cheerleaders and because personally, I enjoyed watching Amanda before controversy struck. However, some were very irate at my interview, saying that I gave Amanda a "pass."
On Twitter, one Big Brother viewer with the Twitter handle @RHeffern" wrote "I wish i could say I enjoyed your AZ article in HP, but it seemed as if she was tossed questions that were so easy for her."
The truth of the matter: Amanda was not just "tossed questions." She was given some tough ones to address in addition to those that were less difficult and when she asked that I not touch a subject, I respected her request because I could hear in our conversation the pain that lingered and the regret for the mistakes she had made (truth be told, I'm not a hard journalist but a blogger with heart). Amanda mentioned that she is a "people pleaser" and after pushing her to answer some grueling questions and realizing that she had already been forced to answer these questions with other interviewers, I gave her the space and the respect. When she asked me to keep something off the record, I kept it off the record. "@RHeffern" was not pleased. "I was so looking forward to a well thought out study into her very unstable psyche. You had the live feeds to back up your ? Sad."
Amanda is not the only reality show contestant to regret the things she said and be shamed by public perception. Amanda owns that she should feel ashamed and that she's determined to atone for it, by moving forward and doing the right things, by involving herself in charitable endeavors and giving back. That said, I do not, by any stretch, condone racist statements. I am of the mindset that we all need to be careful about what we say, whether or not we claim later on to have been joking or not thinking. Taking racism out of the equation for now and focusing on reality TV, here's a question for you, readers: If cameras were focused on you 24-7, through arduous challenges, sleep deficiency and isolation from the outside world, how would you fare?
Big Brother contestants Aaryn Gries, GinaMarie Zimmerman, Spencer Clawson, Amanda Zuckerman and even winner Andy Herren came under public fire, whether it be for uttering statements or for not taking a stance against them (Andy). But this type of thing hasn't only happened on Big Brother. Remember The Bachelor franchise's contestant Bentley William's (Ashley's season of The Bachelorette)? He made waves for acting one way to Ashley's face and then making less than flattering comments about her to the camera, admitting that essentially he wasn't into her (one clue was when he talked about how he would rather "swim in pee" than marry her). He intrigued viewers (and upped ratings) because he was the "villain" that season...OK, and not bad eye candy.
Good looks aside, Bentley got a lot of criticism, hate tweets and generally, sparked outrage among the Bachelor viewing community. But where was Bentley when it came to press interviews afterwards? We saw articles about him, including one where his ex wife says she used to be his best friend, but now she can't trust him after what he said on television. She even told Radar Online ""He needed to be more careful about how he acted on the show and what he said about Ashley. Now it's haunting him, me and eventually, his daughter. All of us are paying the price." However, Bentley himself didn't sit down to do a wide range of press interviews. I was recently alerted to his rather bland Twitter presence, but other than that, it seems Bentley has stayed out of the public eye.
The recipe for reality casting may in fact consist of who we viewers will 1)love to hate and 2)love to love. As far as anything in between? Boring. If you are a housewife unable to show the cracks in your marriage or the dysfunctional relationship between siblings/friends, Bravo won't be calling. There are some people on TV that I have found to be so outlandish with regard to materialism and self-love and self-promotion, but my friends rave about how they love these subjects. Take Kimora Lee Simmons, Theresa Guidice or Kim Kardashian as examples that very much differ from one another, but inspire a whole host of reactions that can be compared.
I informally polled 100 women about these three women. 98 percent of those polled said that they love Kimora (Russell Simmons' ex who started her own successful fashion empire) for her confidence and strength. 2 percent said they consider her to be a shameless self-promoter, incredibly materialistic and egotistical based on her behavior on her past reality show Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane.
100 percent of those surveyed said they don't watch the Kardashians for Kim at all, but for her sisters, Bruce Jenner and the overall camaraderie among the tight-knit crew (An aside: Today, Kris Jenner announced that she and Bruce are separated). However, when the group was asked about how they feel about Kim alone, a good 75 percent said they "like her." Within that 75 percent, a good 30 percent admitted that they like her for her makeup and fashion and had little to say about her personality.
Theresa Guidice got a 50-50 response, with viewers who watched her from the very first season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, clinging to the memory of her earliest charms and cutesy behavior with husband Joe (table flipping aside). I was surprised that 50 percent still "love" Theresa given her recent antics and attacks on her sister-in-law's character over the last two seasons. Again, this was only one sampling of women, but the overwhelming response to their final question was telling. All the women polled said they would never consider taking part in a reality show, fearing they might say something regrettable or that editing would put a negative spin on something.
The group consisted of lawyers, doctors, physical therapists, marketing professionals, hospital workers, accountants, musicians, government workers (who are now currently furloughed) and stay at home mothers. Not one woman polled wanted to take part in a reality show, according to what they had written, and is it any wonder? Even for me, writing about a reality show and giving a controversial contestant a platform to apologize, caused me grief. I had to grab a glass of wine (or two) and take a temporary Twitter break after the backlash following my Amanda Zuckerman article. And to think, I wasn't even on the show and I have never appeared on reality television! My mind flashed to Bentley Williams hiding out somewhere and wearing a mustache as a disguise. I think of the Big Brother contestants who will always have to answer to those who mention "the most controversial season ever." With all of the outrageous personalities in New Jersey as it is (I said that as someone who lives in this state and visits the Garden State Plaza often enough), Theresa Guidice might have been someone who goes about unnoticed - threat of prison or no threat of prison - had it not been for Housewives.
The point is, if you have anything to hide, it would be wise to avoid reality TV.
And if you have nothing to hide, count your blessings, and realize that it's best to keep it that way...by avoiding the spotlight.