Creators Are Embracing Reality TV — Here’s Why They Should Reconsider

"Love is Blind" reality tv couple hugging on vintage television
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Last Wednesday night, viewers across the country grabbed their popcorn and phones to tune in and tweet along to the Love Is Blind (LIB) reality TV season finale reunion episode.

In case you’re unfamiliar, LIB is a Netflix reality TV show. Contestants propose to each other “sight unseen” after only 10 days of getting to know one another in custom-built “pods,” separated by walls. The only way to communicate with each other is through a glorified intercom system. They meet and have a month to decide whether they will marry or leave each other at the altar, proving whether or not “love is blind.”

It’s a ridiculous premise, of course. But it’s definitely entertaining. A real Roman Colosseum moment in the digital age. Millions of people chant along on Reddit and Twitter about when, how, and why the LIB engagements die.

The show has proven lucrative for some of its contestants. Former participants like Lauren Speed and Alexa Lemieux, for example, now have over a million Instagram followers and numerous brand deals. Two other contestants, Natalie Lee and Deepti Vempati, now have a popular podcast called Out of the Pods. Both told Fortune that following their appearance on the show, they quit their six-figure jobs. They now make three times as much as content creators.

At this point, everybody knows about the reality TV-to-influencer pipeline. But being candid about these desires for fame and fortune is a faux pas, particularly in the LIB universe. Multiple contestants got called out during this season’s final episode for not being in it for “the right reasons.” One contestant left the reunion stage with red eyes, saying he “needed therapy,” as the show’s host, Nick Lachey, chewed him out for having a girlfriend back home while filming.

Lachey’s air of moral superiority over the contestant, however, was clouded with irony, as numerous lawsuits loomed over the production. Lachey insisted that the Netflix show is for healthy, happy, ready-to-marry candidates. But the show is incentivized to select those likely to self-combust on television, providing juicy storylines and click-worthy social media debates. In other words, it’s very much the archetypal vision of reality TV. 

In the first lawsuit against LIB back in July 2022, Variety and CNN reported that one former contestant alleged “inhumane working conditions” on set. The contestant said producers “plied the cast with alcohol and deprived them of food and water.” All the while, the company paid contestants “rates that were below Los Angeles County’s minimum wage.”

Not long after, in an April 2023 report from Insider, several former cast members echoed these concerns. They alleged the producers engaged in “emotional warfare,” depriving contestants of sufficient sleep, food, water, and mental health support. They also exposed a stipulation in their contracts that demanded a $50,000 penalty for leaving the show “without producer approval.”

(The production company behind the show denied all these allegations, aside from the $50,000 penalty. They claimed they never “enforced” the penalty and removed it in recent seasons.)

But the allegations of terrible working conditions continued. In October 2023, People reported that another cast member sued the show for sexual assault, false imprisonment, and negligence.

Then, in January 2024, Variety and USA Today reported that Renee Poche, another cast member, filed a lawsuit against the show to end her contract with LIB. She alleged “intentional infliction of emotional distress” and “violations of various California labor and civic codes.”

According to Variety, Poche is the first former reality TV star to challenge the legality of binding provisions in reality TV contracts. The same lawyers that represent Poche currently represent former Real Housewives star Bethenny Frankel. Frankel is rallying together reality TV contestants who believe that television networks and streaming giants treated them “unfairly.”


The reality reckoning is here and the Bethenny clause is born…hell hath no fury like a reality star scorned. The days of exploitation & promoting IP that we don’t profit from are over. Terms will be in the next post. #imwithbethenny #bravo #peacock #neneleakes #vanderpumprules #raquelleviss #tomsandoval #realitytv #reality #strike #thebethennyclause #realityreckoning #realitytvstars #markmalkin #variety #realitystarsunion #justbwithbethenny #rewivespodcast #entertainmentnews

♬ original sound – Bethenny Frankel

Massive audiences continue to consume these types of shows. But in many ways, there appears to be a “reality reckoning” taking place.

LIB contestants, for example, are currently challenging the lack of regulation over unscripted media work. In 2023, two former members launched the Unscripted Cast Advocacy Network, which provides mental and legal support to reality TV stars.

Former contestants of shows like America’s Next Top Model and Netflix’s Squid Game: The Challenge are also speaking out. And, multiple ongoing lawsuits related to working conditions for Bravo’s Real Housewives saga are receiving press attention this month. 

These cases are a wake-up call to the premise of what it means to twist reality. That concern is currently mimicked in our social media landscape across multiple fandoms, niches, and styles of content — whether it be family vloggers exploiting their children’s real-life suffering for content or challenge videos taking advantage of people desperate for cash.

High-stakes drama has increasingly become the norm, but at what cost? And who is responsible for the fallout?

Creators are currently embracing reality TV not only as hopeful contestants but also as producers. YouTuber MrBeast, for example, announced on March 18 that he has teamed up with Amazon and MGM studios to produce the “biggest reality competition series ever.” In the show, dubbed “Beast Games,” 1,000 contestants will compete on the show for a $5 million cash prize.

Having contestants compete for large sums of cash is nothing new for MrBeast. He often films participants competing in his own Squid Game, Fear Factor, Physical: 100, and Survivor-style challenges for the chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But now, MrBeast raised the stakes. It’ll be interesting to see what hoops his contestants will have to jump through. And whether their dreams of social media stardom or a multi-million-dollar-pay-day be worth the potential negative side effects.

The reality TV system has long been predatory. Productions like 2001’s game show Fear Factor explicitly inflicted suffering on contestants, while shows like The Bachelor and LIB play with peoples’ hearts. The entire ecosystem is built to push people to extremes and exploit their suffering for content.

So as the reality TV system faces an ethical reckoning, creators might want to reevaluate how they morph their own realities for content. And, if they’re prepared to take accountability for the consequences.

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