How real was UnREAL?

ur_101_08072014_jd_0411 There are few premieres that I have ever looked forward to the way I did for Lifetime’s new series UnREAL. The scripted dramedy features a candid look behind the scenes of the cutthroat world of reality TV production, centered around a dating show called Everlasting which pits 25 women against each other in a bid for the heart of one strapping young bachelor suitor.

Sound familiar?

“Finally,” I thought, ” a glimpse behind the most dramatic rose ceremony elimination process. It’s like Dorothy looking behind the curtain and finding out the the Wizard is real. And she wears Helmut Lang.

Still, UnREAL isn’t 100% accurate. Though the hokey first impressions, the production intervention and the handsome host may be familiar, not everything on UnREAL actually happens on that other show. To get to the bottom of things, I enlisted the help of a few friends* intimately familiar with the whole “falling in love on TV” process to find out which parts of UnREAL really do happen.

And which are totally UnREAL?

Constance Zimmer’s white v-neck: Helmut Lang
Constance Zimmer’s white v-neck: Helmut Lang

Possessionista: In the pilot, Britney kisses the Suitor on the first night and then is upset that it backfires because a producer told her to do it. Fess up, how much say does each contestant have in her first impression?
The limo arrivals are incredibly well orchestrated. Producers know what every cast member intends to deliver and exactly how they plan to execute. In the show, Quinn is caught off guard by the first woman out of the limo being of color. While I agree that a black woman would never be first out of the limo, what I found even more unrealistic is that she [Quinn] wouldn’t know the arrival order like the back of her hand. The girls’ looks, dresses, accents, props, ages, hometowns and job descriptions are all taken into consideration while masterfully planning the walk-ups. There are no rules, per se, but there really aren’t surprises either. Anything the producers wouldn’t want to see would never make it that far. Of course, there are times when a cast member balks and doesn’t follow through with whatever was planned, but that’s usually more about wimping out than going rogue. There are rarely surprises.
ur_101_08072014_jd_0509 POSSESSIONISTA: I never thought about the limo order before. Is the first one out always marriage material?
The first girl out of the limo is almost always the prettiest. And, you’d be hard pressed to find a season when anyone deserving of a “1st impression rose” who wasn’t in the first limo.
POSSESSIONISTA: Throughout the show, you hear the production team labeling the contestants: The ugly one, the villain, the sad, desperate old one. That can’t be real, right?
ur_101_08072014_jd_0120 Contestants are absolutely cast for a specific role. The virgin, villain, MILF and manscaper are just the tip of the iceberg. “Dead boyfriend girl” was a popular moniker for one woman who had lost a boyfriend very tragically, and would rarely speak about anything else. The sad thing was, she spoke about him incessantly because she was encouraged by producers to do so.
POSSESSIONISTA: What about the whole “wifey” concept? Are there certain front runners who get special consideration, like the Brazilian bikini model on UnREAL?
The show used the term “wifey” for girls that could go all the way. While that isn’t a title I heard used on the show, Quinn saying “protect the wifeys” absolutely rings true. The show will absolutely go out of the way to shield girls that have final four potential from being perceived as someone the Bachelor shouldn’t pick. If in the end he chooses someone that the audience isn’t made to like, he loses credibility, as does the franchise.
ur_101_08072014_jd_0176 POSSESSIONISTA: On the first night, there’s chemistry between the suitor and the Brazilian bikini model, and he suggests taking her to a private room. How does that work in real life?
This happened way more in earlier seasons than now. Bachelor Bob Guiney is well known within the franchise for stealing the most “private” time away with girls from his season. At the time, they’d take what they could get, even it if were in the restroom of a date location. As seasons passed, off-camera alone time became reserved only for the last few suitors (yes, they really use that word), and usually happened for the first time around the hometown dates. That said, I’ve seen plenty of leads use their desire for off-camera alone time as a negotiating tool when asked to do something they aren’t particularly psyched about. In other words, “you want me to take that dog on a 1-1 date? then you better give me some private time with my favorite hottie beforehand”.
POSSESSIONISTA: At one point, Shia the producer is dressed like a server to coach some of the contestants. Does that really happen?
It is common to use producers as waiters so they can speak with cast more freely. For the most part, the producers don’t like it (although it does make it easier for them to booze). Not only to they dislike the wardrobe, or being seen on camera in that role, but they can also be asked to downplay their hipster, non-middle America looks in exchange for something that will blend in a bit more.
ur_101_08072014_jd_0956 POSSESSIONISTA: What about the control room. Do they really interrupt like that?
Quinn screaming “CUT” and “hold the roll” seemed more unrealistic to me than anything else her character did. Otherwise, the vibe of the control room on the show was not that far off from what you’d really see on set. On any night one, the control room starts out jam packed. In fact, there are usually two control rooms. One houses the director, executives and most of the high end tequila while the other focuses more on story producers and those actually working their asses off until the wee hours of the morning.
POSSESSIONISTA: Are producers assigned to certain contestants? Is there a reward if their contestant stays? What about those financial incentives Quinn promised for nudity, crying and 9-1-1 calls?
ur_101_08072014_jd_0341 Years ago, all the producers would try to secure the best relationship with the girl they thought would go the farthest. That’s because as the cast dwindles, so does the size of the producing team. If you had the closest relationship with a girl going into the final episode, you were more likely to be kept on through the end. The danger in that was that girls never expected to go far would be overlooked, never developing as strong a relationship with producers. On a season or two, that became a big problem when a girl no one expected to stick around ended up being a Bachelor’s favorite.
More recently, in the weeks before shooting begins, each cast member will be (strategically) assigned a producer who speaks with them on a daily basis. Due to the nature of that relationship, the producer will often refer to those girls as “theirs”. But once production starts, it is important for every producer to have a strong enough relationship with each member of the house. If they don’t, they are really risking being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, unable to get what they need from a cast member who doesn’t like or trust them. Do some cast members prefer or even latch on to one producer like a breastfeeding baby? Absolutely. But the producer isn’t rewarded for that relationship, financially or otherwise, outside of being respected or promoted for a job well done.
ur_101_08072014_jd_0022 Is there really an on set psychologist?
I found this element of UnREAL appalling. There is almost always a psychologist on set, or at the least on call. After the significant amount of psychological testing done as part of clearance to participate on the show, that doctor has a wealth of knowledge on each woman in the house. While there are a couple of producers who will be privy to the secrets of each woman in the house, the psychologist would never disclose confidential or sensitive information on a walkie talkie. That said, I certainly can’t deny that the choice producers who have insight into some of those weaknesses (called “buttons”) wouldn’t push them to get tears.
*Sources have requested to remain anonymous

Categories : UnREAL
June 3, 2015 by Dana Weiss
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6 thoughts on “How real was UnREAL?”

amber
Thank you! I was also looking forward to UnReal, and it did not disappoint. Thanks for the insight; I was wondering how true it rang!

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Becca
Interesting read! Thanks for doing the background work. I definitely liked the premiere, but did think a few of the things seemed too extreme.

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Maggie
Fascinating read! It’s easy to assume what goes on behind the scenes, but really interesting to hear it from someone who has been there.

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Alyssa from The Sparkly Life
this is my all-time favorite post you have ever done. so juicy!!

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kelsey
Fascinating! I love the show already. Interesting to hear how it compares to the real thing! Glad your source felt comfortable sharing

Reply »

Aiviv
Fascinating interview, thanks! But I must ask: which part was appalling about the psychologist: the fact that she shared sensitive info over the walkie talkie or the fact that she was complicit in using the women’s biggest weaknesses against them? In real life, are the psychologists there to protect the women at all or only to help the producers manipulate?? Unclear from the answer, but I find that extremely disturbing!

Reply »
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