August 16, 2010

BL Taping and the Realities of Reality TV

It probably goes without saying that confidentiality is a major area of concern for reality-based game shows. I don’t know who remembers a short-lived game show titled Dog Eat Dog from about 9 years ago – kind of a combination of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Survivor, but less interesting. Ha!  At the time, I had been living in So Cal for about 3 years and had made a lot of new friends, some of whom were actively involved in the entertainment industry. One of them forwarded an email to me from NBC about auditioning for this new show (using a similar description of the premise). I thought it would be really fun to try out, just to see what it was like.  

I made the cut, and they wanted me for the pilot episode.  I was all for it until they sent me the contract – a 20 page document full of releases and agreements, all benefiting the network, the production team, and the staff. The biggest red flag being a $20 million (yes, I said million) penalty for revealing the results or any other information about the show I participated in for 3 years following the date of participation; the next flag was agreeing to be available for an All-Star show (should it happen) with only 3 days notice. I was in a PhD program at the time, and not only was I not willing to agree to 75% of the other terms and conditions (they are in no way legally responsible for your well-being, safety or death), I certainly couldn’t promise to be available for a 3 day taping with 3 days notice.

This is not uncommon, and is in fact, pretty standard conditions for participating in reality shows. The folks you see on these shows have literally signed away any rights (basic human rights, if you ask me) they have as it relates to the show. They are living by a completely different set of rules, not just in the days or months leading up to the show, but for months and even years after their participation. You are at the mercy (for lack of better word) of the network and the production staff, for whatever time period the producers choose. 

I have attended other television show tapings -Who’s Line Is It Anyway; and a few episodes of Dr. Phil. These types shows have different conditions. No risk of financial penalties or death – just follow the dress code, behave yourself, and agree that the producers and the network own the images of you taken by them forever and always, in this universe, known and unknown.  I love that. Pretty standard entertainment contract language too.

I am going to be extremely respectful to NBC and the Biggest Loser in my description of our experience in the taping of next season’s makeover episode, not just because I am under penalty of $500K for revealing details, but also out of respect for other viewers of the show and for the show’s success. I can tell you the subject of the episode because this is what was posted on Facebook by the BL fan page.

Parking stub and validation sticker
We were asked to arrive at a specific parking lot near the studio where the episode was taping between 5:30 and 7pm. Shuttles would be transporting us to and from the studio due to lack of parking.  There were about 130 of us total (I think). What we weren’t told is that the shuttles would not be running consistently. We all waited in line in our nice business clothes (dress code) until nearly 7:45pm (We arrived around 6). The taping was supposed to be from 8-10.  We arrived at the studio only to wait in line again until just after 8:30pm.  The production team and the contestants are running late. I’m sure by this point, they had been filming all day and had had a very busy day leading up to this late night event.

Around 9 pm, the director comes out and introduces himself. He let’s us know what’s going on and that they’d be getting started soon.  The host, Allison Sweeney (Ali), who I know from watching Days of Our Lives in middle school and high school, comes out and says hi.  She’s running the show, as usual. It took her a few segments (I won’t reveal what each segment was), but she suddenly became very personable with the audience between segment transitions. We discussed past contestants with her, who we thought had been the most inspiring so far (this fall is Season 10!), who seemed/seems to be having or has had trouble keeping the weight off after their season was over, etc. A very lively discussion.  My husband asked her how much being a part of the show had changed her perception of nutrition/ how it affected her life.  Basically, it’s changed it a lot – in ways she couldn’t have predicted it seemed.  She loves that show – make no mistake about it.  The funniest thing she said was that she can’t go out to dinner with friends without someone ordering a meal, then looking at her as if to say “how many calories do you think is in this?”  Her answer – “you don’t want to know”.
Bob and Jillian did make an appearance for maybe 15 minutes. I’ve seen Bob in person at our local Starbucks within the past 8 months, but I had not seen Jillian before. Both are as beautiful and caring as you would imagine.

I’m so glad we took this opportunity. Not many reality shows have episodes where audiences are allowed to be present , but we did learn this show does allow audiences to come and watch some of the challenges.  I heard from other audience members that those can be 12-hours in length, depending on what’s going on. No thanks. I’ll wait for that to get chopped down to a couple of 10-minute segments when the episode airs!

Would I do it again? Probably (despite being let out at 11pm on a weeknight). This show is so inspirational to me and I do believe it has a larger national impact on people’s knowledge of basic nutrition and the importance of regular exercise. I understand the criticism that the show sets up unrealistic weight loss expectations for everyday people. Few people have the resources the contestants are provided on a daily basis, both on the ranch and at home; much less 4 months to spend focusing solely on eating properly and exercising 6 hours a day (unless you get voted out before the finale). Losing 50-100 pounds in 2-3 months (which is typically what we see every season depending on gender and starting weight) would be difficult to do on your own and you would definitely want to be consulting consistently with a physician, nutritionist, physical therapist and trainer/exercise physiologist. I don’t believe this is a reason to discount the good that comes from this show. It is still education after all. What viewers choose to take from it is up to them.  I choose to use it as inspiration to keep up with my training, reminders of the good choices I make and motivates me to inspire others to make healthy choices.


Java Joggers said...

Just found your blog, and will check back frequently! I'm a new follower :) I love BL, and found your post very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Bring your mind to a clear state and begin to believe your goal is possible.