In light of Real Housewives husband Russell Armstrong’s suicide, on Wednesday Dr. Drew turned his attention to the dangers of being a reality show participant, and asked former Housewives star Jeana Keough and former Bachelor/current Bachelor Pad villainess Vienna Girardi to give their takes on the unreal risks that come with reality stardom.
Normally, I’d be the first to laugh or roll my eyes at what Vienna says in this interview: Essentially that her contract with ABC was as lengthy as it was exploitative, that she didn’t realize what she was “putting [herself] into,” and that, through editing, she was portrayed to be evil when she “never did or said anything mean.”
But it just so happens that I came to watch this interview immediately after reading this terrific piece by Slate TV critic Matt Zoller Steiz, tellingly titled “Reality TV: A blood sport that must change,” which both corroborates and better articulates much of what Vienna says about how she was manipulated before and after filming. It’s a fascinating read with lots for any reality TV fan to ponder — and after reading it, even considering my ample and well-documented distaste for all things Vienna, I found myself sympathizing with, if not the specific details, the general sentiment of her story.
I recommend you click that link above and read Zoller Steiz’s entire piece first, then watch this brief clip from Dr. Drew, and THEN join me below the jump for some thoughts on how these pieces fit together so eerily:
There are a couple points in Zoller Steiz’s piece that seem particularly relevant to Vienna here. First, his description of what kinds of people make the best reality cast members:
Sociopaths and deluded narcissists are the most valuable candidates, and seriously troubled or emotionally damaged people are sought after, too.
In her interview with Drew, Vienna says, “I do not regret anything that I’ve ever done in my entire life.” Not to do Dr. Drew’s job for him, but that sounds like something a deluded narcissist might say.
Then there’s the chunk in Zoller Steiz’s piece about the anonymous “dating series” editor he spoke to, who essentially confirms what any viewer of The Bachelor or Bachelorette has known for a long time now: Reality stars aren’t “people” anymore by the time we see them on screen. And even those in charge of making the show don’t let themselves think of the cast members that way:
Yesterday I asked a story editor on a long-running dating series who did not want her name used in this story if, during her years of working on these shows, she had ever heard a producer express authentic concern for a participant’s well-being as a person rather than an abstracted “character.” She laughed and said, “No. That just doesn’t happen. If anybody working on this kind of show thought that way, it would make the shows less entertaining, and that person would lose their job.”
I point out these parts of Zoller Steiz’s article not to suggest that Vienna is completely a victim. After all, she went ahead and signed on for another show with the network she claims exploited her and defamed her character, alongside her ex-fiance whom she openly loathes: the currently airing, currently obnoxious Bachelor Pad 2.
Vienna’s defense for going back to reality TV? She’s “stronger” now, and she can handle the pressure — and the hatemail. But — and I honestly don’t know if it’s more offensive or apologetic to say this — it does seem that only someone who is, to borrow Zoller Steiz’s terms, “seriously troubled” or “emotionally damaged” would submit herself to that kind of national nightmare. Twice.
Just a few things for us reality fans to ponder on this Friday afternoon. And here’s another for the road: How weird it is that Dr. Drew, a reality star in his own right who makes part of his living by exposing the most private, personal details about reality stars (that link takes you to ANOTHER great read) on shows like Celebrity Rehab and Sober House, is sitting there talking about the exploitative, destructive dangers of reality TV? And by “weird,” I mean “existentially and culturally disturbing in a way I can’t quite articulate.”
(Image courtesy of HLN)