The lead up to starring on a reality TV show generally includes months of auditions, psych evaluations and press. It can be grueling for even the most enthusiastic cast members, but what happens when you go through all that, only to be immediately voted off the show? We spoke to three contestants who only experienced a few hours in the spotlight to find out.
Simon Gross, ‘Big Brother UK,’ 2015
In 2014 I went on an audition for the show X Factor in the U.K. Through that experience, I was invited to audition for Big Brother. After that, I went into a workshop audition along with 200 other potential cast members: In my group of 20, we played games where you’d bring in an object and describe the object. We were also asked to judge who we felt was the most popular person in our group.
The final step was to meet with another producer who asked us why we wanted to be on the show. For me, I wanted to make changes in my life: My father had just passed away, and I wanted to meet new people.
In the months prior to the show, I went through a series of psychological tests. Four days before filming, they called and said I needed to pack my things, then I went into hiding at a secret hotel. I stayed there with all the other contestants, but I never met any of them — there were people standing outside everyone’s door to make sure you couldn’t go wandering around. I also had a personal chaperone who was sleeping in the room next to me.
The day the show started, they shoved me into a car, blindfolded me, put earmuffs on my ears and took me to another hotel in North London. Security did one final check before they put me back into the car and drove me to the studio, where I immediately met the host. After that, you walk down the catwalk with a live audience before entering the house. My mum and sister were actually in the audience that day. I was the third person to walk down the stairs and into the house.
Two hours later, I became the first housemate in Big Brother history to be evicted from the show on the first night. It was part of a stunt called “timebomb”: I was up against another contestant, but I had the feeling I was going to be the one going home.
My initial reaction was one of dread. I spent all those hours waiting and auditioning; my mum was furious with the producers. In retrospect, the stunt made me more popular and more famous — I became the talk of the show. Plus, two weeks later I got a call from the producers, who wanted me back on the show as part of another stunt. So I went back into hiding for one night, then I was on the show again for another five weeks. But I was never accepted the same way: From that point on, I was an outsider.
The experience taught me the importance of being dignified and when to keep my mouth shut. Being on Big Brother has actually calmed me down: I’ve learned that confrontation and shouting isn’t what I want in my life.
Nowadays, I maintain a production company where we put on theater shows for the elderly. I also put on an adult comedy pantomime. Last year we did a production of Snow White, this year we’re doing Aladdin.
I don’t live on the reality television cloud — I have to get up and make a living. I was lucky to get work on Big Brother and make some money, but I’ve got my own business and my own ambition. That was just one part of my life, and I want to be remembered as more than just Simon from Big Brother. I’ve got more to offer than that.
Katrina Radke, ‘Survivor,’ 2017
I was on Survivor 35 for three days, but even by the second day, I knew the Levu (Heroes) tribe I was assigned to wasn’t right for me. I got along with everyone in my tribe, but what people didn’t see on TV was that my fellow castmates felt threatened by me: I was an Olympic swimmer, which scared people because of what that meant for their long-term chances of surviving in the show. Generally speaking, castmates that people find threatening are more likely to be voted off early.
Before the show, I was doing exactly what I do now — coach people on health and wellness. Plus, I’m married with two kids. I have a really busy life, so for me, Survivor was an opportunity to chill and be forced not to do much.
At the end of January 2017, after a weeklong interview process, I found out I was going to be on the show. On March 27, we left on a plane for Fiji. We arrived to our hotel five days before production began: The hotel was hot; there was no A/C; and we weren’t allowed to swim in the pool or interact with our fellow castmates. We all had to go through several cardiovascular tests and psych evaluations to make sure we weren’t going to lose it on the show. We also had to take an IQ test.
I was sad when I was voted off after 72 hours, but it’s not like I was sent back to Minnesota after three days — they kept me there at the Ponderosa, so for the next 42 days I was on vacation (even though technically we were held hostage because we couldn’t call home or talk to anyone from the outside world). I was basically pampered for the rest of the time I was there.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy being the first to be kicked off the show, especially after months of preparation, but it was a reminder to stay true to myself. Other contestants didn’t take it so well — some really struggled to deal with the fact that they’d been voted off the show. My experience, although short-lived, taught me to respect people for where they’re at in life.
It’s easy to get caught up and hate each other in an environment like Survivor that preys on fear, but it’s important to remember that everyone has a good side. At the end of the day, when edits come out, people get upset because the editor’s job is to create characters out of contestants. I was mindful of that going in — because I was only on the show for three days, my character on the show, as small as it was, was true to myself.
Steve Moran, ‘Coupled,’ 2016
I was matched with a girl on Tinder who was a casting agent for the reality TV dating show Coupled on FOX. It led to a phone interview, then a Skype interview and then I was sequestered in a hotel for two days, where I interviewed with 10 producers in a hotel room.
I was also given a psych evaluation to make sure I wasn’t crazy, which is fitting, considering I was signing up to be a crazy person. I didn’t hear from them for months, but two days before the show began filming, I got a call saying that I was going to be on the show, which filmed in Anguilla.
According to the producers, everyone had a character they were filling, and I was deemed to play the free spirit — the guy they wanted to shake things up. Instead, I got shook up: I caught the norovirus twice in two weeks and contemplated going back home. When I got word that my call time was 4 a.m., I wasn’t prepared.
Beforehand, we were all just hanging out in the holding house in St. Martin. The show never operated smoothly: The contestants weren’t supposed to meet each other, but we all ended up going out together before the show even started filming. One of those nights, I ended up sleeping with one of the set designers — I think when word got back to the other female cast members, they’d already made up their mind that I wasn’t going to be their guy.
The other problem was that the producers wanted me to be outrageous, but I wasn’t willing to put on a monkey show. For those reasons, I was only on the show for a total of three hours of filming. I wasn’t selected by any of the female contestants, and after three days, they told me they’d send me on a one-way flight to anywhere in the U.S. I just wanted to get back to L.A.
My experience was far from glorious. It showed me that the whole reality TV industry is cut throat — it pulls a very unique crowd because of the type of person who’s willing to go on and play a caricature of themselves.
Oh, and no, I didn’t meet the girl of my dreams.