I am saddened to hear about the recent death of Mike Thalassitis and pained we have lost him only nine months after the sudden death of Sophie Gradon. I hadn’t met either of them, but mutual friends told me they were such great characters and genuine people. It angers me to think that more could be done to help them and it still can. While there isn’t one way to point the finger in these horrific circumstances, they were both contestants on reality TV, and it is crucial that we reflect on that.
I have been on two reality TV shows, The Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother – small and somewhat irrelevant shows in comparison to Love Island in 2019. Love Island is an appealing programme that snatched the attention of the UK – one I’ve loved to watch as much as anybody else.
While I’m no specialist, I know first-hand the reality of being reality TV ‘star’ and the impact it can have on your life. These are circumstances I encountered that I need those of you out there who are considering sky diving into the reality conveyer belt to reflect on.
…because it could cost your life if you don’t.
Before both programs, I had a psychological evaluation by a professional who decided if I was in a sound mind and understood what I was undertaking. My assessment was an informal and pre-planned chat, but can I be honest with you? When you have gone through extensive auditions to get to this point, paid for the countless train rides and missed work so much you need it to work out, do you think you’re going to mess up your opportunity acting like you can’t hack it in a 20-minute meeting?
No, you’ll be whoever they want you to be, you have been swept up by the 1 million they say that you could make in the first twelve months…
Think about it…how many times have you considered the full cast of a reality TV show stable?
After The Auditions
So then you’ve passed the test, and they want you – euphoria! Even if you were in sound mind, you then have to deal with a few other factors that you probably never even considered.
Okay maybe you know this, but this plays a massive part in public perception; a 30-minute argument in the villa/ house could be condensed to 3 minutes and will be made out to be a lot worse for one of the participants for entertainment purposes. What do you chat about with your mates? Do you remember every sentence you say?
(You better do cause one word can change your life.)
Viewers may find random sentences offensive because they don’t have context. I saw this with John Barnes on CBB, he preached for hours about equality and diversity, but because none of his 40-minute talks was good TV or suitable soundbites, one comment about Courtney Act branded him a homophobe – something everyone in the house knew was wrong.
The babies of editing and public perception. We all love to sit at home and make a judgement, but ever turned that into a direct message or online comment? With reality stars that often don’t fall into a void or get deleted by an assistant, we read them, and they chip away at us.
I have had some horrific messages sent to me, and yes, in the past I have even read the Daily Mail comments. While everyone tells you not to read them, humans are curious, they caused me a world of pain and I am sure many others.
Media prey on naivety, vulnerability and young reality stars without the money or knowledge to control them. Facts are dead; journalists can create fake stories by adding the apparently or “a close source to blah” said without any repercussions.
We would never let a person or workplace commit harassment and defamation to somebody without repercussion, but the rags can….why?
Expectation vs Reality
Many expect life after reality to involve free holidays, surgery, clothes, award ceremonies and lots of work for years to come.
…Keep in mind, the tax man and your agent both take 20%, and most of your money comes from (pretty well paid) personal appearances. Of course, PAs won’t do your relationships any good, and there is lots of time spent travelling or alone in hotels. Papers claim you sleep with people while the reality is you are in a hotel room with your ears ringing missing the regular life you aspired to get away from.
Friends and Family
However, that normality is gone: you are suddenly paranoid your mates are talking to others about the things you tell them, your friends ask you to Facetime people you’ve never met as they’re fans of the show, and with all the excitement they can feel as intense as your ‘fans’.
You still love them – but just nothing feels the same. Your foundations aren’t concrete anymore and you withdraw.
“But isn’t it worth the money? Why don’t you just buy help?”
Money comes as easy as it goes. Designer clothes and never-ending night outs, plus the TV industry is drowning in party drugs that only result in more self-loathing and depression.
Every single reality tv show requires each contestant to sign an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). NDAs are to protect the show and its integrity from the general public because if the public knew how much producer input goes into these shows, they wouldn’t believe the gossip as it would feel staged and wouldn’t be as interested.
NDAs are also the best way to create a barrier between a contestant and their close friends and family – which can have a direct influence on their internal ability to reach out when struggling. Don’t get me wrong; I understand why they exist, but producers need to create them so contestants don’t feel like they can’t ask for help. Not being able to talk about issues is already a massive problem for males struggling with depression, don’t make it illegal for people to speak about what they are going through with people they love.
Bit by bit, all these areas (and more) chip away at reality stars…yet, I heard none of this at the start of my journey. Reality TV is relatively new and has time to grow up – production companies are doing great at making TV, but they are working with real humans now and need to be honest about how they are using people, and the resources people need to support themselves through it. They make a lot of money from these people, and they deserve more than a 20 minute consultation…
Without comparing being on a reality tv show to our brave lads fighting daily overseas in the military – being on reality TV causes PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It’s a substantial shock to the system mentally and physically. You become a star overnight, your dynamic with everyone changes, you can’t open up to those you love, you get asked for constant favours while getting told to die by trolls daily, and you are hounded by tabloids.
It is so lonely.
Then all it takes is some real trauma in your life like the loss of a relative or someone you were close to and then it all gets too much, you feel like you have no one around you who understands and it’s easy to spiral further and further in to a dark and depressing place. Then the absolute worst option may look like the easiest.
I really do believe that more needs to be done to protect reality stars, Mike and Sophie’s lives aren’t worth our entertainment.
Production companies – start being honest with your contestants about life during and after the process and provide more aftercare. Tabloids- start realising that your bullshit headlines cause people and their family and friends pain. Trolls – grow up and put yourself in their shoes. What if they were your brother or sister and you saw what people were sending them. Wouldn’t feel like the big guy anymore I bet.
I’d also want everyone who’s been on reality TV and is feeling down about any of these things to know that there are people out there who are feeling the same. If you need a chat just send me a message and it will stay in complete confidence.
My condolences go out to both Mike’s and Sophie’s families. It must be hell. I am so sorry.