As someone who loves reality TV, I have a lot to thank UnREAL for. The show, now on its fourth and final season, which is available to stream on Hulu, has pretty much uncovered the truth behind reality TV that we've all been too afraid to admit. From clever editing to straight-up unethical producer manipulations, the show has proven that our favorite guilty pleasures are guilty for a reason.
The show, created by former Bachelor producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, goes behind the scenes of a fictional dating reality show called Everlasting. Although fictional, many plots are based off Sarah's experience working on The Bachelor, and many former Bachelor contestants and crew members have even admitted that the depictions on UnREAL are scarily accurate. In fact, in case you need a recap, here's a rundown of everything UnREAL has revealed (and confirmed) about The Bachelor:
Producers are paid for starting drama.
On UnREAL, producers are given bonuses or promotions for creating the most drama with contestants, turning the production into a bizarre competition of who can manipulate contestants the most. It sounds like something dreamed up in the writers' room, but nope, it's true. Although are you really that surprised?
In the book Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Guilty Pleasure, producers admitted that they were definitely bribed to get contestants to bring the most drama. Author Amy Kaufman wrote:
"To motivate the producing team, [former supervising producer Scott] Jeffress offered cash incentives. He kept a wad of crisp $100 bills in the pocket and promised one to anyone who delivered strong drama. The first producer to get tears? A hundred bucks! You get Michel to make out with the right girl? A Hundred bucks! Catch a chicken puking on camera? A hundred bucks!"
Producers pretend they're the contestants' best friends to gain their trust.
On UnREAL, the producers are incredibly close to the participants, acting like a best friend who's there to help steer the contestant through the crazy reality TV landscape. Through this closeness, contestants trust the producers and open up to them, revealing their deepest secrets that producers later use to stir up drama. According to former Bachelor contestant Olivia Caridi, this aspect of the show is hardly fiction.
“There are five or so main producers who each have a certain amount of girls," she told The Real Pod. She recalled how her producer was like her "best friend" but ultimately manipulated her behind-the-scenes. “There are people from the franchise who have remained friends with their producers, but I will never speak to [my producer] again... I wonder how they sleep at night, honestly.”
However, not all contestants hate their producers. The ones who leave with favorable edits often have a very different interpretation of the experience, like this anonymous account from a former Bachelor participant:
You get to be so close with the producers. I have stronger relationships and friendships, overall, with my producers than I do with the other contestants. They're your therapist, the only people you can really speak to open and honestly. You know that to a certain extent you're being manipulated by them, yes; you know that they're being extremely sweet and sensitive because they need to get a certain reaction from you. But you do get to a point where you ignore it and you're just like, this is my friend and I'm just talking to my friend, I don't even care. It's really weird and it's honestly something that you can't even understand fully if you're not in that position.
Being locked inside places is kind of the norm.
The first episode of UnREAL begins with a bunch of contestants locked in a limo, with some complaining that they have to go to the bathroom. But apparently, being locked in places, from hotel rooms to even closets, is just another unfortunate side effect of being on reality TV.
"When you sign up for The Bachelor, you're allowing [the producers] to take away your freedom, basically, for as long as you're on the show," the anonymous Bachelor participant said. "When you go through casting, they confine you to a hotel room. The week leading into filming, you're also confined to your hotel room. You're confined to the house from the moment you've arrived."
For Olivia, her experience was the same. “They take your phones, there’s no internet," she said, "you are basically just watching TV all day.”
Producers control the romance, too.
On UnREAL, it feels like the producers control everything, sometimes even orchestrating actual kisses to make-out sessions. In the Bachelor world, contestants aren't forced to do anything they don't want to do, however, they are coerced by the crew.
According to former Bachelor executive producer Scott Jeffrees, the show often asks the bachelor or bachelorette to keep certain contestants around just for drama. "We would say, 'We'd like you to keep this one because she's good for TV, and this other one we'd like you to get to know better," he told Amy in her book.
But ultimately, the final choice is up to the bachelor/bachelorette, although producers try hard to get the storylines they want. For example, it was revealed in Bachelor Nation that former Bachelorette contestant Chris Bukowski was pressured by producer Elan Gale to propose to a girl he "couldn't stand."
"You've got to do it. This is going to fix your image so much. America's going to fall in love with you guys," Chris said Gale told him. Fortunately, he didn't go along with the plan. Smart.
Contestants are assigned character traits, like "the villain" or "the slut."
This one is definitely true. After all, when has The Bachelor not had a villain? "If there's one thing that's really real about UnREAL, it's the fact that each person has a certain personality trait that the producers use to create a character," an anonymous Bachelor contestant revealed. "I was definitely aware of what the producers were going to focus on as my 'character' while taping."
However, if you ever get stuck as "the villain," you probably won't even know until it's too late. "I thought I was just going to be myself the entire time, which is where I screwed up,” Olivia said, who was edited to be the villain of her season. “During filming I’d always ask her, 'Am I the villain?’ and she’d always say, 'No, no, no, you’re fine, you’re fine.' Then I’d watch an episode and think, 'What the f--k was that?’ At the end of the season, she sent me a book about strong women or something. I threw that s--t in the trash."
"Frankenbiting," or editing video to make contestants say things they didn't say, is pretty darn common.
This little editing trick is used shockingly often. "Let's say the bachelor says, 'I do not want to go on a date with Trish,'" Amy writes in her book. "If an editor took out the word 'do not' making the sentence 'I want to go on a date with Trish' — that would be a Frankenbite."
According to Olivia, it happened to her when she famously cried about her cankles to bachelor Ben Higgins after he revealed to her that he had just lost two of his friends in a car accident. “They didn’t air me talking about the death of his friends, obviously,” she said. Instead, they edited that part out to focus on the part where Ben asked her to share a hurtful story of hers. "That was like the really big moment I realized — if that’s what they did with that scene then who knows what they could do with the rest of it."
Another "frankenbite" example involves Bachelor in Paradise contestant Joshua Albers. On the show, he told a story about buying $30 coconuts full of molly, however he later told TMZ that the editing made it look like he bought the coconuts when really he was talking about a friend. After seeing the show, he had to have an embarrassing phone call with his parents. "I don't know how Bachelor in Paradise producers sleep at night," he said.
The "hit list" is real, too.
Although many former employers and participants of The Bachelor maintain that there's no hooking up between contestants and the production crew, there was a storyline on season two of UnREAL where crew members had a "hit list" of girls they wanted to hook up with after the show. And according to actress Shiri Appleby, who plays Rachel, it's definitely real.
"I think this year we have like a hit list of the girls that the guys can hook up [with] once they’ve gotten off the show, and that I hear is a real thing," she said on an episode of Watch What Happens Live. "Yeah, that, like, once the contestants are kicked off, that the crew sort of has dibs on who they can sleep with. They’re sort of angling on them and give them close-ups to let them know they’re interested in them and once they get kicked off, or even sometimes I think while they’re still on the show, crew guys hook up with them."
Quinn and Chet are based on real people.
On UnREAL, executive producer Quinn King has an affair with drug-addled creator Chet Wilton. It sounds like a soap opera, but their relationship is actually based on the real-life dynamic between former Bachelor producer Lisa Levenson and Bachelor creator Mike Fleiss. According to allegations in Bachelor Nation, Mike was "high every day" and was spotted flirting with Lisa even though he was still married to his first wife at the time.
Hey, I guess truth is stranger than fiction.