20 Dark Behind-The-Scenes Secrets From Reality TV Shows

Person holding clapperboard on TV set
Unsplash | Jakob Owens

Considering reality TV is something that barely existed just twenty years ago, the format completely dominates today's television landscape. We know that things can sometimes get pretty weird with the stars of these shows, so it's fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how things really go down.

Will these secrets change the way you watch reality TV? Probably not. But everybody likes a secret.

Warning: some of the stories here are very dark, including suicide.

Appearing on a show might cost you your life.

A tropical beach
Unsplash | Rowan Heuvel

Gerald Babin, a contestant on Survivor: Koh Lanta, died of a heart attack after taking part in a tug-of-war challenge. To compound the tragedy, his physician died by suicide just weeks later, saying in a note that he couldn't handle the media blaming him for Babin's death.

The bullying can be too much.

Braces on model teeth
Unsplash | Enis Yavuz

Paula Goodspeed, an American Idol contestant who wore braces, was mercilessly bullied by host Simon Cowell on the show. Cowell said things like, "I don't think any artist on Earth can sing with that much metal in your mouth." A couple of years later, Goodspeed died by suicide.

Contestants aren't always properly vetted.

A kitchen knife with spots on it sitting on a table
Unsplash | wu yi

Megan Wants a Millionaire was a reality show that was cancelled after just three episodes. This is because contestant Ryan Jenkins was implicated in the murder of his ex-wife. Shortly after the murder, Jenkins died by suicide.

Sometimes a map makes all the difference.

Surface of a body of water
Unsplash | Matt Hardy

The main challenge of Dangerous Waters entailed circumnavigating the world on jet skis. One crew got more than they bargained for when they inadvertently strayed into Russian waters. They were detained by Russian authorities for four days before they were released.

Stunts are often poorly conceived.

A helicopter taking off at night
Unsplash | Matt ODell

Three men involved with a Discovery Channel military-themed reality show died in a helicopter crash. The crash happened at night, and the pilot's visibility was further impaired by the bright TV lights filming him. The incident led to renewed calls for safety on reality TV sets.

There isn't much support for mental health.

Chefs working in a kitchen
Unsplash | Trường Trung Cấp Kinh Tế Du Lịch Thành Phố Hồ Chí Minh CET

Chef Seth Caro suffered an anxiety attack during production of Top Chef: Just Desserts, which wasn't shown on camera. After being involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, he says he's now unable to find work in the industry.

Some of the ideas are terrible all along.

Person wearing police uniform

The reality series Armed and Famous was all about training d-list celebrities to serve as police officers. This inevitably went wrong when they raided the wrong address, which resulted in a $1 million lawsuit being filed against the show.

The stunts can get out of hand.

An old-fashioned train locomotive
Unsplash | Chris Münch

A "test of strength" challenge on a Uruguayan reality show entailed having contestants move a locomotive along train tracks. They lost control of the train and it raced down the tracks, hitting twenty contestants. Seven of them died as a result of their injuries.

They don't always help fast enough.

Man swimming in a lake
Unsplash | Todd Quackenbush

Saad Khan, a contestant on a Pakistani reality show, was trying to complete a challenge that entailed swimming across a lake with a heavy backpack. He started struggling in the water, but wasn't saved in time and drowned.

Makeovers don't always go right.

Woman getting a makeover
Unsplash | Artem Labunsky

Lorrie Arias, a woman who participated on The Swan and got a plastic surgery makeover, is now deeply depressed. Years after the surgery, she now only leaves her house to see her therapist every couple of months. The show offered no therapy.

Don't ask a reality show to mess with your home. Just don't.

Sewer pipe, interior
Unsplash | Martin Brechtl

Rochelle Kirk and Scott Waters signed up to appear on Catch a Contractor, a show about finding mistakes made by a contractor. Months later, they were suffering adverse health effects — all because the show's producers had spilled raw sewage into their home.

The reality route can lead straight to prison.

Pile of various pills
Unsplash | Myriam Zilles

David Nickell, a contestant on True Life: Addicted to Pills, was shown on camera buying and selling drugs. He was promptly arrested and sentenced to prison. Nickell later sued MTV, saying that the show's producers had told him to do what he'd done, promising him there'd be no repercussions.

Sometimes, reality TV is the final straw.

Cameras on a movie set
Unsplash | Chris Murray

After being kicked off a Survivor-type show called Pirate Master in 2007, contestant Cheryl Kosewicz killed herself. She said on MySpace that the show had come between her and her boyfriend, who'd also died by suicide a few months earlier.

Appearing on a show can lead to merciless bullying.

A woman texting on her phone, bathed in orange light
Unsplash | Miquel Parera

Tyra Sanchez, who appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race, attempted suicide after ceaseless online bullying became too much for her to handle. She says she felt fed up after being subjected to two years of non-stop bullying.

Secrets aren't secrets.

Person making shushing gesture
Unsplash | Kristina Flour

Reality TV is all about coaxing out people's most personal details. This happened on Survivor: Game Changers when Zeke Smith, who is transgender, was outed by a tribemate during Tribal Council. Needless to say, it was a deeply traumatic experience.

Mental health is not a priority.

A hospital hallway
Unsplash | Dominik Kuhn

A contestant on Britain's Got Talent, Alyn James, was selected for the competition even though he was known to have suicidal ideation. James was mocked on the show and was placed under suicide watch as a result.

Again: mental health is not a priority.

Scrabble tiles spelling out 'mental health'
Unsplash | Total Shape

Deleese Williams was all set to appear on Extreme Makeover to get plastic surgery. Her family was coerced into making fun of her appearance on camera. Later, her sister felt so guilty about what she'd done that she died by suicide.

Even the camera crews aren't safe.

Man wearing 'camera crew' shirt
Unsplash | Jose P. Ortiz

During production of an episode of Cops back in 2014, police opened fire after mistaking a fake gun for a real one. Both the suspect and a camera operator were killed in the gunfire.

Dream homes are more like nightmare homes.

A mansion with a pool
Unsplash | Ярослав Алексеенко

The Okvath family was gifted with a huge makeover to turn their home into a mansion on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. However, the bigger space required higher bills and taxes and the family was forced to sell the home at a loss.

The consequences can be deadly.

Person holding clapperboard on TV set
Unsplash | Jakob Owens

"Dragon Man" Mel Bernstein is known as a gun and weapons expert. While filming a promotional shoot for an upcoming show called Dragon Land, Bernstein's wife and business manager Terry Flanell was killed after being struck by smoke bombs. A lawsuit against Discovery Channel was later dropped.