Psychological trauma, character manipulation associated with Reality TV
BY HANNAH RAKESTRAW
All eyes on me in the center of the screen, just like a reality show.
“I was walking around with a bag of groceries, and just started crying because I couldn’t figure out where my room was, where I was on this planet, almost,” Jenn Hoffman said after remembering the first disoriented day she was fired from season 6 of The Apprentice.
“I had to write down people’s names and phone numbers, like my mom’s, because I was scared I was going to forget who I was,” she said.
Constantly speculated and scrutinized, reality stars are housed in pressure. When released back into the “norm,” they face challenges, and in many cases have even reported psychological mishap.
Well-known Britain’s Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle was recently admitted to a private clinic in London. The show released that Boyle was both “exhausted and emotionally drained.”
In some reality shows, the stress is so heavy that the producers go to great lengths to appease their participants. Even after they are booted from the show, Hoffmansaid that participants from Survivor and The Apprentice are quartered in a hotel and then immediately met by a 24-hour on-call psychologist to help participants “decompress.”
“The microscope that you are in … I was miserable in it,” Hoffman said of her biggest psychological debacle.
“I guess what I didn’t expect was the way that they would treat us, and how they would use fear in order to manipulate the cast,” she added. “I didn’t realize they were going to use some many tactics to tear you down.”
And yet, reality shows have mustered the lucrative ability to take banal and produce gold. With their emergence into the mainstream media, they can make “ordinary” glitter for those who sit fixed in front of the television. In the limelight, shows like American Idol can attract as many as 38 million viewers on a single night.
As television competitions skyrocket in ratings, more viewers get hooked. Just last month, Fox’s American Idol wrapped up its ninth season, whilst still upholding its first rank position with the final result show. So You Think You Can Dance?, America’s Got Talent and Celebrity Apprentice also continue to hold spots on TV Guide’s hotlist.
Producers have found a way to utilize the hype by applying layers of drama. Reality shows capitalize on human intrigue, and create product that never leaves a breach of entertainment. The truth is humans crave competition, delight in drama, and lust for dynamic material.
Some viewers may fail to realize that what is passed as “reality,” is scarcely real at all.
“I guess I knew it wasn’t going to be 100 hundred percent real,” Hoffman said, “I assumed that they were going to kind of encourage us to be larger than life characters.”
“It’s not that they ever lie or make up a story,” Hoffman said after explaining the producers’ fabrication of “storylines.” “But they like to influence the way things go.”
After her participation and production experience with reality TV, Hoffman said she realized that a whole person is seldom portrayed. Instead, the cameras show the strongest element of an individual and compress it to help form a “one-dimensional” personality. Having seen the extent to which the “character mold” is played, Hoffman stated that participants are pushed to fill camera-worthy archetypes like “the villain or the slut.”
“We’re looking for what’s going to get the audience’s attention,” Over Your Head co-host Mark Jordan said about his HGTV reality show. “It’s TV. It’s made to entertain. It’s no different than the product of a play.”
In a reality pilot she worked on, Hoffman said, even before shooting, the producers had already fabricated scenarios and predetermined what character the participants would be based on, solely from casting and interviews.
“They kind of have a map of where they want things to go,” she said, “and will stubbly push you those ways.”
Hoffman said the factitious settings not only mislead viewers, but also the participants themselves.
“I think some people there were not able to kind of live in both those worlds and understand that this is a little bit of make-believe with a little bit of a job interview,” she stated about The Apprentice. “They were extremely manipulated, extremely effected, and [from] those days, these people still have a post traumatic stress thing from being on the show.”
Though Hoffman claims to have been in it for fun, she said she lost ten percent of her body weight from the obtuse lack of eating and sleeping.
“I went through so much stress that I almost lost my mind,” she said.
And still, after years of involvement in the reality world, acting as a publicist, host, star, and now producer, Hoffman said she has battled psychologically, as well as philosophically, with the vulgarity and humanity of it all.
“50 percent of me wants to capitalize them and take advantage of it.” Hoffman said about the opportunities public notion brings. “But at the same time, I think to myself, as a society, we should be really striving for something way better than this,” she followed.
And though reality TV brings sensation, it has just as many ethical pitfalls, something Hoffman honestly admits to struggling with every single day.
“This is so funny, because the thing I hate the most in this whole world is people that judge other people,” Hoffman said, “and I’m contributing to it.”