how do people take months off from work to film a reality TV show?

A reader writes:

I’m watching my country’s Big Brother, and I’ve noticed the employment ranges of the contestants tend to be either “gig economy” (bartender, delivery) which, to not denigrate how important those positions are, is less likely to come with the psychological attachment to the job as someone who’s worked up their career ladder for ten years; self-employed/contracted and can decide their own time away from work; or students, who can take a gap year. There are no long-term career contestants, which I think is reducing the variety of personalities and life experiences going into the social broiler these shows make their bread and butter on.

My question is: considering reality shows will NDA your participation until day one, how would you go about informing your boss that you’ll be away for two/three months for a television show you can’t actually tell them about with the hope of still having your position, and career, to come back to?

This is academic, by the way. I’m camera shy.

I think your answer is in the question: the only people who can really pull this off are people who don’t have traditional jobs or who are planning to take a break between jobs.

(I also have the impression that a lot of reality show contestants are actors/entertainers, so this sort of is their job. Not in the sense that James, an actor from LA, is hired to portray “Chad, a banker from Boston,” but in the sense that aspiring actors try out to appear as themselves on many of these shows. Which is why you see a lot of gig work and other jobs that aspiring actors might have on the side.)

Now, theoretically, could someone with a more traditional career take several months away from it to be on a reality show? Not easily, but it could be doable in some cases. If your employer valued you enough and you’d been there a while, in some jobs you might be able to negotiate a few months off. If you signed an NDA prohibiting you from saying why, you could say it was for travel (since presumably some travel would be involved) or something in the entertainment industry that you couldn’t talk about. Of course, you’d need to factor in how your employer would react once the show aired; some might be delighted/fine with it and others might really not appreciate that clients might now know you for your bad behavior on show X. Theoretically, it could even jeopardize your job, depending on your type of work.

People with more traditional careers that they’ve invested in long-term are also more likely to worry about how appearing on a show might affect them professionally in the future. If you’re edited to look like the show villain or you achieve notoriety in some other way, will future employers see you through that lens rather than as The Guy Who’s Really Great With Excel? The greater your notoriety, the greater the risk.

Of course, the type of show matters. Appearing on, say, a baking show — or a show designed to showcase your talent in the field you work in — is less risky than something like Big Brother.

Relevant anecdote: Years ago I knew someone who worked on Capitol Hill who appeared on the wonderfully horrible reality show Blind Date. He took a lot of teasing for it (particularly for a shot of him running into the ocean with his date and falling flat on his face) but it didn’t seem to affect his career. (Notably, that was more of a week-long commitment than a months-long one.)

{ 518 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon in Canada*

    Some employers (but by no means a majority) allow employees to request a long-term leave of absence, and approve many of those requests. It’s probably easier to get it approved if it’s a position where there are a lot of people in the same position so it’s easier to shuffle people around.

    However, they are always going to ask why. “Going to school for a few months” or “visiting family out of state/province/country” is likely to be an easier sell than “I can’t tell you”.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Yes, it’s definitely possible! A friend got approved for 3 months off to bike across America for charity. I do think his CEO might have been swayed by considering there could be potential good PR from it.

      1. tamarack and fireweed*

        I’m in Alaska and have had people I know on reality shows and even more people I know take time off to hike / bike / sled / snowshoe across half a continent. One or two of the reality shows though were “follow Alaskans around while they do their daily job because it’s picturesque and can look pretty cool” type (eg, one is a tow truck driver), so it would have been something the employer is the actual participant in. I guess it’s just not that uncommon to take a leave of absence if needed, and the shows probably have experience with what their typical participant pool can negotiate. Sometimes it won’t work out.

        I also agree with the OP about some self-selection going on. For some of the “outdoors survival” type shows the participants were themselves engaged in, or trying to build, for example wilderness guiding businesses. In another example, I think The Amazing Race, participants were Alaska Native brothers with a subsistence hunting background, frequent extreme outdoors pursuits (eg mountaineering) and jobs like their own commercial fishing business.

    2. Trotwood*

      I remember reading an interview (or maybe a Reddit AMA) with someone who’d taken a leave from his office job to film The Amazing Race. He said his manager and team knew he was a big reality TV fan and that appearing on a show like The Amazing Race was a big personal dream of his, and that he’d established that, at the right time, it would be possible for him to take 8-10 weeks of unpaid leave. So when he actually got cast on the show, he was basically able to say “that leave we talked about, it’s time for me to use it” without specifically telling anyone where he was going and violating any NDAs.

      1. LTR, FTP*

        My partner and his boss tried out for that show. We thought they had a good shot because that’s a combo I don’t think they’ve had yet… but they were not young and hot enough to get past the first round (at least that’s what our insider person told us was the problem). The boss owned the company so at least they wouldn’t have had an issue getting the time off!!

    3. Nina*

      Reality shows with extremely strict NDAs do, if you ask, often have a loophole for ‘yes of course you can tell your boss what it is but they can’t tell anyone else’.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        … or allow the person to say, “it’s to be on TV but obviously I’m not allowed to tell you what show, or even what kind of show it is”?

        That would seem like a reasonable way to protect confidentiality without requiring contestants to lie to their employer.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          And sometimes, the contestants don’t actually *know* what the show will be about (or even the title), because the producers lie to them. (Undercover Boss did that a lot to the people who would work with the boss.)

          1. nnn*

            I wonder how that intersects with consent? I’m sure there are situations where people consent to be on one kind of TV show but not another kind of TV show.

      2. MaryMary*

        Yes! A friend of a friend was on a reality show several years ago and they were allowed to tell their HR (like FMLA maybe rules?) and ‘told’ their boss something like … “all will be revealed on CBS at 8:00pm this spring” or whatever it was. This was probably around 2010, so not sure if things have changed or if, back then, there was more emphasis on getting an Accountant from Kansas vs Gig Worker from LA.

          1. All Het Up About It*

            I assumed they meant they they could tell HR, but then like with FMLA, HR could not disclose the reason for the leave. So not that they were taking FMLA, just that the conversations were handled with HR in a similar manner.

    4. AVP*

      ooh ohh yes this.

      I have a weird firsthand experience with this – not reality shows, per se, although I’ve worked on those too, but one of my clients runs a very famous program where people from around the world will go participate in a content-producing event, and although it only looks like a few nights on television, it’s actually a month-long program and requires a ton of time to prep for even before it starts.

      The people who can take time off to participate are a mix of professional entertainers (people who have gig-type jobs where they can easily drop off the schedule for a bit and come back to a job), and people in normie jobs who can negotiate a leave of absence. Of course I only see the people who actually come to the event, but many of them have an arrangement where they go unpaid for ~ 6 weeks and then return.

      The one thing to remember is that shows like this are interesting to people in regular jobs, and its sort of an entertaining quirk if someone you know gets cast or chosen. It’s even prestigious in some circles (think of, like, Top Chef). Bosses can get excited with you if it’s a lifelong dream and want to support that, or think it’s fun/useful to have a very minor celebrity working the front desk. A lot of people are more supportive than you might expect, especially if they think they can get some local press out of it.

      1. AVP*

        To answer the specific question from the OP – when my mom’s assistant was on an early season of Survivor, my mom knew what show she was going on when she approved the leave. The fact that she was going on it wasn’t under NDA (at least not to her immediate family / colleagues) but how she did on the show was.

        There was a funny moment when the show was airing and the assistant had to come in one day and say, uhh, I need a day off tomorrow for Unexplainable Reasons? Because the episode where she was kicked off was airing that night and she needed to go on the morning tv shows but legally could not say that out loud.

      2. Statler von Waldorf*

        This is very true. My ex-boyfriend’s boss actually paid for his airfare and gave him paid time off when he qualified to be on Jeopardy! From what I gathered, the boss got far more value in free local press than it cost him, so everyone was happy with this deal.

        Afterwards, he put that Jeopardy appearance on his resume, and he has stated that he never failed to get an interview ever since. (I saw it happen, and I’ll admit to being a touch jealous.) He has had his time wasted by people who were only interested in that one experience, but it still opened a lot of doors for him.

        1. Jen*

          Jeopardy is the only show I would actually like to be on. I would put it on my resume and probably see if I could use my contestant picture as my headshot on our website too!

          1. Timothy (TRiG)*

            Only Connect is my dream. Or perhaps Mastermind. I doubt I’m good enough for either, really.

          2. Princess Sparklepony*

            I’d be too scared to be on that show. I know I’d mess up and be the contestant with the negative value on the little podium!

        2. Hokey Puck*

          Jeopardy is so much more prestigious than any of these other shows, so I can imagine a workplace really supporting people who may be on it.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            Jeopardy also has fewer opportunities to bring bad publicity to your workplace. I think the worst that can happen is being the person who gets every question wrong. Compare that to the pr damage control if you are edited to become the villain on a whole season.

    5. The Starsong Princess*

      A woman in my company took a leave of absence to appear on Survivor. She did quite well and took a second leave to appear on an all stars version. After the first one aired, she had a little sideline in speaking at department meetings on her experience and applying what she learned. She’s since left the company and I think worked as a speaker for a while and is still doing well.

    6. AnonInCanada*

      Some employees are also offered sabbaticals as part of their compensation as well. They could line up taking one of theirs with the taping/airing (whatever, like I watch Big Brother anyway) of the show, and never have to say a peep to anyone about it until it airs.

      1. pope suburban*

        Yeah, that was my thought too, that companies that offer sabbaticals would be okay with this. Sport Chalet, a sporting goods retailer that was local to me before it went defunct, used to offer employees “adventure leave,” because they regarded it as congruent with their mission to support outdoor/sport activities. I’m not sure the details of it, since the bulk of their employees were hourly retail folks; for all I know it was just your job being guaranteed when you got back. It was still on official policy, though, and I’ve heard of other companies offering similar things. I imagine someone in academia might be able to manage it too, either through taking a sabbatical or timing it for summer break.

      2. Nerfmobile*

        My company offers a sabbatical program, and if someone had that time available, they could certainly use it to appear on a reality program. If it required longer than that 6 weeks, I suspect most managers, at least in my company, would approve additional leave without pay. But then, we tend to encourage work-life balance and bringing the “whole person” to work, which means we are interested in people’s passions and activities outside of work, as much as people are willing to share.

        1. Ellie*

          My company does as well, and offers up to 12 months off unpaid where they will hold an equivalent job at your level. Many people use it to try living in another country or do some travelling. I also know someone who was on Big Brother who had a regular job in a call centre. She was a star employee, so they were happy for her to take the time off and then go back at the end of it (and she did tell her boss, and all her co-workers). I’m Australian, and I think there’s a lot of bad behaviour that would be widely tolerated here. So long as you don’t out yourself as a racist or something equally bad, I think you’d be fine.

    7. AL*

      It’s also worth noting that the filming schedule is not as long as it seems on TV. I’ve worked on set on some big (and small) reality shows; the typical schedule for a competition show is; 1 day of “challenge,” 1 day of “elimination,” 1 day of interviews. When the contestants/participants say “this week” in their interviews, they are really talking about 2 days of filming.

      So a show that takes 12-16 weeks to air can be shot in 6 weeks or less.

    8. Kate Goad*

      Our VP took a leave of absence. It wasn’t much of a mystery to anyone paying attention. She had several videos about how much she wanted to be on Survivor that circulated after we found out her name.

      It sucked for us. We lost the leadership that we would have had. She remained focused more on the reality show than work once she came back. She strongly encouraged everyone to do a watch party in the break room every week.

      It kinda sucked for me personally too. I told some friends, and it got to a spoiler board with my screen name attached. It was adjacent to my real name, and someone at work figured it out, but it was never confirmed. There were a couple of weeks where I just went very quiet hoping that it blew over. It did.

      Fortunately, she got fired a few months later. Or left. One day there, one day gone, so I assumed fired.

      So several lessons here: Don’t go on a reality show that requires you to be gone for six weeks. Don’t fail to do your job once you get back. And don’t talk about it if you are an IC.

      1. allathian*

        Oh dear. Did you watch? Was the VP as horrible on the show as she seems to have been at work?

    9. linger*

      On the one hand, long-format reality shows’ demands for availability under NDA must unavoidably select for applicants with fewer long-term commitments (thus, short-term/gig employment).
      On the other hand, those people with more experience of stable/long-term positions (e.g. with more practice in negotiating in-house politics and strategic planning) are perhaps less likely to provide the amount of emotional drama such shows demand, and may tend to be screened out on that basis even if they apply.
      (Most talent/ quiz programs are a different matter: shorter timeframe, secrecy covering outcome rather than mere participation, and higher probability of employer being happy to be associated with the outcome.)

    10. Defo*

      I knew someone who was on a reality show. There employment was exaggerated. Not at their request. Something like they had just finished studying finance with an internship and they were listed on the show and it’s website as a financial advisor (all details changed). Remember, it’s “reality” TV.

    11. Ally McBeal*

      Yep! I had a coworker at a former job take several months off to record a reality TV show – he told us he was taping a show but only after the show started announcing its cast and other promo was he allowed to tell us that it was The Amazing Race. We worked in financial services with very demanding clients and tight deadlines, but I guess he was able to arrange things so that the rest of his 4- or 5-person team to cover his workload while he was out. And of course that time off wasn’t paid, nor was he accruing leave or anything like that while he was out. No idea if he had to get COBRA for health insurance or if my company was willing to keep him on our plan with him paying 100% of the cost for the duration of his leave.

  2. ZSD*

    I’m always impressed by how many of the GBBO contestants seem to have normal, office-type jobs. I guess taking off lots of time to film a reality competition is more feasible in a country with more paid vacation time than we tend to get in the US. (I think GBBO might only film on the weekends, and the contestants go home during the week, but they would still need to be taking time off to travel to and from the tent and of course to practice their bakes.)

    1. Dreaming of Spring*

      Yeah I think the bake off and even a few other’s are filmed only a couple days of the week. My sense is that task master does this as well but I’m not fully sure.

      1. NameRequired*

        They occasionally talk about working with the contestants’ schedules for team tasks and setting up filming days, so I get the impression that they do their pre-live show filming really whenever works

      2. Venus*

        I don’t think anyone on TM has a normal office-type job! Agreed that any references to filming are to a few days at a time, so potentially more typical of UK reality shows.

        1. ferrina*

          TM is not a reality show- it’s a panel game show. It’s designed to showcase comedians and entertainers (closest American equivalent is Taylor Tomlinson’s After Midnight)

          And yes, Taskmaster schedules around their contestant’s commitments. On one season Alex Horne even said that the team challenges were assigned based on which contestants schedules best lined up.

        2. Storm in a teacup*

          By TM do you mean Taskmaster?
          Cos they’re all professional comedians with the odd funny presenter or actor thrown in for good measure.

      3. Random Dice*

        I have heard Great British Bake Off contestants make comments about taking the train in, or going home for the weekend. I assumed it was mostly shot on weekends.

        1. Roland*

          It’s definitely shot on the weekends, at least for the most part (and not during the height of covid when I believe it was compressed). My understanding is they just ask them to wear the same thing on both days. When they say “last week”, “this week” etc it’s the truth, unlike when Jeopardy pretends each show is a new say when actually they’re shot in big batches.

          1. pandop*

            It’s one of those contradictions of TV, same clothes often means it’s shot over a couple of days, different clothes every ‘day’, often means it’s shot in batches, but they want you to think it’s a different day

            1. Chas*

              Shows based around tournament formats seem to be the same way, from my experience. Robot Wars made it seem like the episodes were each filmed in a day, but for recording they would actually have random fights from several different episodes going on each filming days, so there would be at least a day between each fight in the final episodes (and sometimes even a day’s break mid-fight, which happened in the case of one fight that started when my family were in the audience.)

              Meanwhile the new series of Gladiators made it sound like every episode was happening in a new week, but they were doing filming days back-to-back, so the whole thing actually got done in a week and a half.

            2. Nina*

              When I was on a quiz show I will decline to name, contestants were told to bring a separate outfit for each game we might appear in. In the one-hour turnaround between episode shoots, you changed your clothes.
              Or in the case of one guy, changed your shirt, wore the same (very short, very loud) rugby shorts the whole time, and somehow didn’t know that while you were behind a table 90% of the time, when you actually won the show you had to stand up and go get the trophy. On camera.

        2. Snotneus*

          I know someone on the Belgian version of GBBO: shooting was every Monday and Tuesday. She used her vacation time to cover this. It was pretty tough though: shooting was 7am-6pm, and while she was back at work on Wednesday, she also needed to prepare for the next challenge and had to let the show know by Thursday exactly which ingredients she needed for that (anything added after that deadline wouldn’t be provided). She was happy to be eliminated after a few weeks, it was so exhausting!

        3. LCH*

          yup, GBBO is shot on weekends. they are in their normal life during the week. for the pandemic, they put them in a hotel bubble and compressed shooting (which i think they announced the first episode of doing that).

      4. Tumbleweed*

        taskmaster is professional comedians(/actors/presenters/etc) so they schedule around their other professional commitments in order to get them on the show (and you know, they pay them)

        The studio bit is all filmed over a 5 day stretch in a row (two shows per day). You can sign up to get tickets and go watch it being filmed (if you are interested and in the UK)

        1. Aerin*

          IIRC, there’s one day of filming in the house, one day of filming in the offsite location of the series, and then one additional day for the team tasks. So they’re doing all those ludicrous tasks (and many others that don’t make it to air) over the course of one very long day.

    2. NameRequired*

      If I remember correctly, this got harder when Covid hit and there was separate housing for the contestants to keep them isolated during filming. (Does anyone actually know how they did it?)

      1. Wordnerd*

        Great Pottery Throwdown is produced by the same folks who do GBBO – they used to go home in between, and they mention in the first COVID season that the contestants agreed to be basically sequestered in housing between filming.

        1. Beth*

          Same with the Great British Sewing Bee — the housing set-up was described as a “close-contact cohort”, meaning that the cast AND crew all went through Covid testing and screening, and then isolated as a group bubble.

          I get the impression that the UK shows (GBBO, Pottery Throwdown, Sewing Bee) have a much better reputation in the UK as Something Worth Doing than any US reality show ever could have, which would hopefully make taking leave (or even just doing long weekends) a good deal easier.

          1. hello hello*

            Also the UK is just so much smaller than the US that it’s much more possible for people to commute in for weekend filming in a way that wouldn’t be logistically possible in the US.

            1. ferrina*

              100% Geography makes a big difference here.

              The closest American equivalent logistically might be Jeopardy, which films 5 shows on a single day. All contestants have to pay for their own travel and accommodations. As a contestant, it might be worth it to do that for a single day (returning if you are a champion, therefore guaranteed money) but it quickly becomes prohibitive if you have to do it for multiple weekends

              1. Gila Monster*

                Yes, I was thinking that also. Jeopardy films five episodes per day, on Mondays and Tuesdays. (Or at least they did when I was on it, which I grant was in 2009.) Even if you’re the returning champion at the end of the last Tuesday-filmed episode, it’s the rare contestant who’s going to need to come back for more than one more ten-episode Monday-Tuesday series. (At the time, they told us they did indeed pay for that person’s new round of tickets, which would be expensively last-minute.) And we were told that while we couldn’t, say, post on social media how things had gone, it was fine to tell family and friends where we were going and how things turned out.

                1. iglwif*

                  Yes, this is all still accurate as of sometime last year ish, except that my Jeopardy filming day was actually a Friday and they had also taped on Thursday, so the filming schedule may have changed somewhat. Maybe because part of their COVID protocols was that we all had to do a PCR test the day before, and that’s harder on a Monday?

                  Depending on how far you have to travel and how long you stay there, the $1K you get for third place or the $2k you get for second place will probably cover your travel costs. We were told that if you are a returning champion who has to come back for a later filming date, they pay your travel costs to come back — at the time I was taping, the next filming date after mine was more than a week out.

                2. WendyinCLE*

                  I was on in 2021, and that’s all still the case. (Hello fellow J! Alumnus)

                  For the returning-champ-the-next-week thing, they told us they call it the “Ken Jennings” exception, since they had to institute it when Ken had to come back so many times – they didn’t want to bankrupt him!

          2. bamcheeks*

            All of those ones have a good reputation— they’re much more focussed on showing off skills and putting people in a good light. But we also have things like Big Brother, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, Married At First Sight, Love Island etc which are much more “we’re hoping to see your tits”.

              1. Cats and coffee*

                Speaking of, when I was on Naked Attraction they filmed the full season Friday through Sunday, so even if you had to take time off work it wasn’t more than a day. The follow-up interview was filmed the next day, so we were in town two days tops for the entire shoot. The NDA only covered talking about the result of the filming before it aired, but we were allowed to tell people we would be on the show.

                1. Katie from Scotland*

                  Hello fellow NA friend! Yeah my experience was similar – I think we arrived Friday night for Saturday filming. I ‘won’ the date so we then filmed that on the Sunday and I was back for work on Monday morning. I had to go down about a month later for the follow up interview, which ended up being a bit of a drama, but that was the fault of my date, rather than the TV people, who were incredibly nice about it!
                  In terms of ‘how it affects you’re reputation’ to bare all on TV, I had a surprisingly broad range of people (including a couple of former colleagues) reach out to mention they’d seen me on the show, but no one was weird about it. My boss was greatly amused at the time, and it’s basically never come up again!

          3. Media Monkey*

            those shows would. i imagine Big Brother/ Love Island type shows would be similar in the UK and US. They also had small bubbles on Stricly Come Dancing (like Dancing With the Stars) where the couples were bubbles and all the group dances were prerecorded with the pro dancers in their own bubble before the series started.

        1. NameRequired*

          Oh that’s a lovely article! I thought I remembered that they could bring their kids and I’m glad that that was correct (they could also bring their dogs! and there were places for the dogs and kids to go during filming!)

      2. Fli*

        Cast and crew lived on site and they compressed the filming schedule down to a matter of weeks rather than than over several months.

    3. SPB*

      GBBO films over the weekend exactly for that reason. Contestants can take off half a day a week if they live far away from where they film, or even none at all.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It also means that contestants aren’t in the same hot house “No contact with family, sleep deprivation” that used to mark shows as they wanted everyone stressed out and melting down.

        I think BakeOff has been a really positive influence on, for example, the last few seasons of Top Chef–the difficulties of cooking creatively against a timer can provide the drama. You don’t need to, for example, do a school yard pick and then swap people around and try to get them to fight. You can let them talk to their families.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          That’s why I finally quit watching Project Runway. They were just abusing those contestants by only allowing them 4-5 hours of sleep/night and no A/C (supposedly because it affects the sound, but I also think it was psychological) in addition to all the normal traps for the show. They just wanted breakdowns.

          1. Random Dice*

            Same here. I don’t want stress and trauma in my TV shows, I get that in regular life!

            I want people striving to do something difficult, but being basically decent to each other.

            1. pope suburban*

              Making It is my favorite show for that. The people there really do seem to become friends, and they root for each other every challenge.

            2. pandop*

              Yes – I only like the ones where people are supportive, and get better at things, so Bake Off, Sewing Bee, even Strictly Come Dancing has quite a supportive atmosphere, or at least so we are meant to believe.

          2. Anax*

            Honestly, that’s true of most of these “hot house” reality shows – Project Runway made the sleep deprivation more obvious for their contestants by having them work on camera all through the night. A lot of other shows (say, Hell’s Kitchen or America’s Next Top Model) don’t advertise that they’re keeping the contestants up at all hours, but they often film the “talking head” confessionals after everything else for the day is done, one at a time – which can easily go to 3am or later.

            Off Wikipedia…

            “Many forms of psychological torture methods attempt to destroy the subject’s normal self-image by removing them from any kind of control over their environment, isolation, monopolising of perception, impression of almightiness, creating a state of learned helplessness, psychological regression and depersonalization. Other techniques include humiliation, forced nudity and head shaving, exhausting by sleep deprivation, hooding and other forms of sensory deprivation.

            A strictly fear-inducing method is the mock execution. Various threats operate on the same fear-inducing principle.

            Another method is indirect torture, in which a victim is forced to witness the torture of another person, often a loved one. This preys on the victim’s affection for and loyalty to a partner, relative, friend, comrade-in-arms, etc, whose real pain induces vicarious suffering in the targeted psychological victim, who is thus loaded with guilt but spared physical harm that might affect their ability to comply.”

            Which is a heavy topic, but I think I’ve seen literally all of these tactics used on reality TV shows, on camera.

            It’s a frighteningly exploitative industry which really should have better legal recourse for contestants! No shade to anyone who desperately wants to be on it – but I would say, with many of these ‘hot house’ shows (as opposed to Top Chef or GBBO), it’s important to consider whether you’re going to need even more time off work and more money available for physical therapy or psychological counseling.

            I’m not being facetious here; most of these shows have caused permanent damage to contestants, and I would consider them at least as risky as extreme sports.

            (An interesting note, however, is that most of these shows HAVE stopped making alcohol freely available since the 00s – I have to wonder if that was more because it leads to the ‘not fun’ kind of trouble, or because there were greater liability concerns if a contestant were too inebriated to fully consent to their work conditions.)

            I think reality tv is really interesting as a microcosm of our society and its values, but boy, it definitely puts our society’s problems into stark relief too.

    4. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      GBBO is filmed on the weekends. It helps that the UK is a smaller country so they’re not going to lose a day of travel on either end to go to/from the tent, and contestants will sometimes talk about late nights practicing their bakes. It would be pretty reasonable for a contestant to take half-days on Friday for travel for the duration of filming (which can of course be as little as one week if they’re unlucky.)

      1. EmmaPoet*

        I just looked at a map and from Inverness, Scotland to Cornwall is under 700 miles, for those of us who are used to looking at a US map, where you’re thinking in terms of days of travel rather than hours. So, given that the show is filmed in Welford Park Estate in Berkshire, which is about 60 miles from London, it shouldn’t be that hard to get there and back for a weekend.

        *nerd who likes maps and digressing*

        1. Sasha*

          There’s that old joke, that British people think 100 miles is a really long distance, and Americans think 100 years is really old for a building.

          (Sitting in my entirely unremarkable 140 year old suburban house in London, and yep even a 60 mile drive seems like a real mission).

          1. DisgruntledPelican*

            I was reading a book over the weekend set in the UK and the main couple were struggling with how to navigate being long distance while one of them went to uni. It was so hard for my American brain to empathize once I realized their version of long distance was a 45 minute train ride. I’ve had daily commutes that were longer!

            1. Lexi Vipond*

              That can be far enough to take you into a whole different ‘world’, though – there are absolutely people who (for instance) live in Edinburgh and work and/or socialise in Glasgow, or vice versa, but there are plenty more who live within their own city’s centre of gravity and view a trip out of it as an event.

              That’s a bit different from living outside London and having a long commute in, where the enormous gravity of London overpowers everything around it and turns it into one big region.

          2. MsSolo (UK)*

            One thing a lot of Americans overlook about the UK is our road system is much more effort to drive – you can’t go around the cities easily (and ring roads always have roadworks!) so every 90 minutes you’re going to have to drop out of motorway mental mode and into dealing with merging, pedestrians, roundabouts, one way systems etc. You might spend 45 minutes travelling 60 miles and an hour travelling the last 10.

            (and even if it’s village to village, tractors on single track roads! people with giant SUVs who aren’t willing to back into the passing place that’s right there so you have to reverse a mile up the road! sheep! thirty minutes to travel three miles!)

            1. SarahKay*

              So much this. My sister used to live in a small village in Wales and to get to her was 5 miles of reasonable (for a given value of UK countryside) normal two-way roads where I could comfortably do 50-60 mph, followed by 5 miles of narrow single-track winding roads with high banks/hedges on both sides so visibility was awful and tractors were likely; I’d be crawling along at 20 mph at best.

              Total journey time of 20+ minutes, but half of that journey would take three quarters of the time.

              Oh, and then I’d get to the village which had a speed limit 30 mph by which point 30 mph would feel *really* fast :-D

            2. Insert Clever Name Here*

              I’m an American who consumes a lot of British media and I never realized this!

        2. Not Australian*

          “it shouldn’t be that hard to get there and back for a weekend” … *assuming you’re not relying on public transport, that is!*

        3. londonedit*

          Would Americans really drive 700 miles in one go, though? I don’t know anyone who’d do Scotland to Cornwall without breaking the journey over at least two days. As MsSolo says, too, our roads are much smaller and more congested than US roads, so it’s not just a case of getting on some giant highway and driving in a straight line. My parents live about 150 miles from where I live, which on a good day can be just under 3 hours and on a bad day (bank holiday, Friday evening, just about any day of the week in the school summer holidays) anything up to five and a half hours, depending on how much time you spend sitting in traffic. I’ve done a ‘drive down on Saturday, drive back Sunday evening’ thing a few times but I’d really prefer not to – which might sound ridiculous to Americans who drive 150 miles as their daily commute, but to British sensibilities a 150-mile trip can take several hours and isn’t really the sort of thing most people would do on a regular basis. Trains are also extremely expensive and unreliable outside of London – the most convenient (and probably the cheapest) way of getting from the north of Scotland to the south of England would be to fly.

          1. Roy G. Biv*

            My brother has done a 10 hour drive to visit in-laws who live approximately 700 miles away, pretty much every year since getting married. The majority of the drive was on highways, so high speed. He said it depended upon having two adult drivers, so they could switch at the halfway point, and the person with nerves of steel drove the last bit that included navigating a major East Coast city.

            Obviously this works because of the American road system of highways and turnpikes. MsSolo (UK)* has provided me some much needed context about the roads in UK — especially the having to leave motorways to go through villages and one lane roads. Thirty minutes to drive three miles!

          2. Dek*

            I used to do Louisiana to Savannah a few times a year for college. I usually tried to make it in one go if I could. It made for about a 12 hour drive.

            The last time I tried a similar drive, I decided that I was kind of done on the whole thing, but I think when you’re younger it’s not such an issue. And if you’ve got two people, it’s much easier to make it in one go, since you just take it in shifts.

            Usually the furthest I go for a weekend trip now is about 200-300 miles.

          3. Potoooooooo*

            This past November, I drove myself 400 miles (including crossing an international border) on Black Friday, went to a couple of hockey games, and drove home, arriving in the wee hours of Sunday morning. One way, it was about 6 hours worth of driving. If it was much further, I probably would have needed a second driver to make it work (and thus been unable to make the trip, because passport requirements). As it stands, I probably should have stopped somewhere on my way home Saturday night, but hindsight.

            700-800 miles is probably around maximum distance for a single day’s road tripping, and that’s basically driving all day long with some brief stops for food, fuel, restrooms, and driver changes. It’s not unheard of, but it’s not common either. My family and I did that going out to look at universities (but then had several days coming home, stopping at various schools along the way).

            On the extreme end, the New York to LA trip has been done in under 26 hours, but that was aided by relatively nobody driving during the pandemic and a willingness to not care about such trivial things as speed limits and traffic laws. Don’t try it at home, kids.

          4. MsSolo (UK)*

            My mum is coming to see us for Easter. Google says the 375 mile drive will take 6.5 hours. Experience says it will take a minimum of 8, an average of 10, and the longest it’s ever taken her is 12.5. She will have to navigate around/through a minimum of 7 cities on the way and there’s no time she can set off where she won’t hit rush hour in at least one of them.

      2. L*

        I watch the Canadian versions of GBBO and Great Pottery Throwdown, and now I’m wondering how they manage for ours, because this definitely isn’t a country where you could easily fly people in and out for the weekend, especially if any of the contestants lived anywhere even a little bit remote!

        1. Tiny dragon*

          I love the British pottery throwdown .

          Thanks to making me know there is such a thing has a Canadian Great Pottery Throwdown ! I need to see it ! :)

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          It’s why everybody on our reality shows comes from the GTO (Greater Toronto Area) and, barring that, the major cities. You’d think the country stopped at Montreal from most of our reality programming.

    5. Storm in a teacup*

      So I had an old work colleague who made it through the final auditions for Bake Off (yes her regular treats she’d bring in were amazing) and was planning on taking Fridays off for the filming. In the end she didn’t make the Final Cut of the 12 chosen but it was interesting hearing the process.
      I am always so curious about the pottery throwdown though as often they’d need over 2 days for their main make challenge e.g. for drying and then firing. I wonder if they’re filmed over 2 weekends per episode?
      British Masterchef always has a wide range of contestants on it too. I once remember reading an article about Druv Baker and he’d said he’d told his business partner and wife of course but the rest of his work thought he was at something else (can’t remember if it was jury duty or a course). I think the hardest part must be the bit in between filming and when your announced as a contestant!

      1. Cascadia*

        I think pottery is filmed all at once because in the latest season one of the contestants says something like “since I haven’t been home in 5 weeks”. Since most of the firings are 24 hours long, it wouldn’t really work on only the weekends.

    6. EvilQueenRegina*

      Can confirm. Without naming her, I will say that someone at my employer, who is also a near neighbour, has done Great British Bake Off, and she only filmed on certain days. She was still working throughout. The employer did know she was doing it, it was announced in the employee newsletter right before her first appearance that she was going to be on, and there were regular updates in her progress in the newsletter right up until she was sent home. After the final there was a celebration event for her.

    7. Alex*

      Yes! They film on the weekends only and then they go home for the week. That’s why they’re always scrambling to practice after hours etc. I’m sure some take time off to practice but they commonly talk about their work colleagues during the time.

    8. tree frog*

      The original GBBO is structured so people don’t have to take a bunch of consecutive time off, probably because they are more open to having regular people as contestants. For spinoffs in other countries where geography is more of a challenge, I think they film in a big block of time instead.

    9. Nonanon*

      It does only film weekends (time to practice bakes and ingredient cost etc are on the contestant’s own), but occasionally you do get comments about needing to take time off; Saku on the previous series had a talking head about needing to ask her boss for an additional day off or similar after she had won star baker and was going on to next week. Could be anything from a travel day (eg needing to take a half day Friday to get to filming on time) to sometimes needing to work weekends to just wanting Monday off to process everything. Just thought it was particularly relevant to the conversation!

    10. Lady Kelvin*

      I have been seriously considering applying for the Great American Bake Off, and they state in the application information that they film over 4 weeks in July/August and so you have to be available during that time. I currently have enough accrued vacation that I could just take leave, but I’d be willing to bet if I asked for a short Leave without pay they’d probably give it to me too.

  3. CTT*

    I read this an immediately thought of an article on the Ringer several years ago about how many lawyers have been on the Bachelor (it’s called “After the Final Rose With TV’s Bachelawyers”). So people with more established careers do it, it’s just really hard, apparently.

    I’m also curious about the NDA – wouldn’t it prevent people from revealing who won and how the show is made, not but not the fact that you were going to be on the show? I would think they would want people to say “I’m going on America’s Next Top Model!” to their friends to drum up interest.

    1. LaurCha*

      Project Runway contestants can tell their friends and family they’re leaving to be on PR. Although it does seem like most of them quit their jobs or put their freelance work on hiatus.

      1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

        Season 3 of Project Runway is the only reality show I’ve ever watched, and I remember Vincent Libretti saying he cashed out his 401(k) in order to be on the show. So that’s a thing someone could do.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Of course being a lawyer and having an established career are two distinct things. Are any slated to make partner in a biglaw firm, but for the time off to go on a reality show? I would guess not. But an associate who is conventionally attractive and sees the writing on the wall that they aren’t going to make partner, or has otherwise concluded that biglaw is not for them? I could see that.

      1. Kaiya*

        Do a Google search on “Danny Barclay” and “Above The Law.”
        (The latter is a legal blog.)

    3. Cancon*

      Revealing the contestants/players/cast is often a key part of the marketing strategy so they don’t want people to reveal before it’s been officially announced.

    4. Anon Pecan*

      Yeah, I used to work with an attorney who was on The Bachelorette. He‘d been recruited by a producer that saw him and thought he had the right Look.

      He took a leave of absence of one month – he went home in week four or five which was only like two weeks real time – but with the understanding he could take up to an additional x number of weeks if needed.

      He couldn‘t talk about when he got eliminated or any show details but we all knew where he was going. In fact they filmed some of his intro package in the office after hours.

      It did have an impact on how he was viewed by a lot of folks – both at the firm and in the legal community at large. There was a lot of joking when he came back and I know one Judge referenced it during oral arguments. I think it probably kept him from making partner for an extra year or two.

      Fortunately he didn‘t do anything embarrassing on the show. No drunkenness or fights. He was actually a pretty bland contestant. So after a year or two it kind of blew over and he‘s again known for his actual work and not for being a reality show contestant.

      1. Random Dice*

        That’s so interesting!

        Can you imagine if he got sloppy drunk or said something stupid? That would stink for his career.

      2. Elsewise*

        Was he able to say that he was going to be on the show but not whether he won or not, like some of these shows? Wouldn’t it be kind of obvious when he came back after two weeks that he didn’t win?

    5. Distracted Procrastinator*

      I have a family member who has been on two game shows. The first one, they absolutely were able to tell people they were going to be on the show and even what day it filmed, but not tell anyone how they did until after it aired. For the second one, they filmed an episode for a brand new game show that hadn’t been announced or started advertising so they could say they had filmed an episode of a game show but not tell anyone what the show was or what it was about until after their episode aired.

      Different from something like The Bachelor, but still a show that involves NDAs.

      1. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

        I have been on a game show and had the same experience as your family member’s first show. Although a long-time friend correctly sussed out that “you wouldn’t have told people unless you had won.” She was right. ;)

    6. Mango Freak*

      reality shows also…lie. someone on a major reality show was billed as an “advertising executive” but my FIL knew them and that they were a copywriter. the show just wanted to call the person an executive because they were going to lose to someone with a humbler story.

      1. Cedrus Libani*

        Yeah, don’t take the “reality” portion too seriously.

        I know a couple who were on House Hunters. They only take people who have already signed a contract to buy a house. My guess is that in places where it’s possible, they will film at other houses that really were in consideration but not chosen, however we’re in a real estate market where that simply isn’t possible. Houses are “on the market” for a weekend, and then they’re sold to the highest bidder. So, our friends went to some other random houses and explained why they didn’t want to buy them. The house tour for the place they did buy was filmed the morning they moved in, with just the furniture out so it looked staged, then the film crew went to lunch while they unpacked their personal belongings for the final reveal scene.

        I’m not 100% sure what they got out of this, but they did get a story to tell, so I guess that’s something. It was also only about a day’s work, so no problem with time off.

        1. Annie E. Mouse*

          I knew a woman who was on the international version in Chile. It was even more fake! They’d already bought the place and started moving in when they filmed the episode, so they had to move all their furniture around to make it seem like they’d toured it empty.

          1. Elsewise*

            I knew a couple who was invited to be on the US version and declined because they would have had to move their stuff out to pretend to pick it! I know we all know that reality TV is fake, but I didn’t think House Hunters of all shows would be quite *that* fake.

            1. NYWeasel*

              The first season or so of HH, it was filmed “honestly” but it resulted in a bunch of episodes where the couples didn’t choose any house so there was no real payoff at the end. They went with the sure bet system bc those episodes tested much higher overall.

    7. MikeM_inMD*

      I can attest that Jeopardy! does encourage contestants to tell your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers that you are going to be on the show, and absolutely tells you to not tell them the outcome of your taping(s).

      (Of course, if people realize you suddenly made multiple trips to LA, they should be able to infer that you won at least once.)

    8. MusicWithRocksIn*

      My SIL was on the only season of a fairly unheard of reality show (Steampunked) and they were definitely allowed to say they were on the show, but part of that is they were all a part of the smaller community that the show was aimed at. They were not allowed to talk about how they did/ how other people did on the show though.

      It is also worth noting that she made money off of her appearance on the show for years afterwards – she was the special guest at conventions and did leather making workshops. The boost to her career was way more worth it than the little she made off the show, or even what the winner made, it’s all about exposure and the press. Everyone on that show had unconventional jobs though, so taking time off to do the show was never an issue.

    9. Atlanta area*

      Yes I’m in Atlanta and knew someone who worked with Andi Dorfman, the Bachelorette, and yes, pretty sure Andi went back to work after the competition, but then basically took another leave of absence to do the marketing for the season and leverage it into more of an influencer career, if I recall correctly. My friend was still impressed with Andi’s intelligence and thought she was a great lawyer and thought something like, “I mean, it’s a great opportunity for her!” No grudges held, at least not publicly.

    10. BigLawEx*

      In the earlier days, you could say you were doing the Bachelor/Bachelorette – but that’s it. I don’t know about now, though. Things were way more loosey-goosey in the beginning of the reality show era.

  4. Bast*

    I’ve read that on some of these shows, they make it appear to be a weeks or months long competition, (ie: this week’s elimination round) when in reality it may only be two or three weeks, which could potentially just be made by emptying your PTO bank. This may not be all shows, but I believe that I read somewhere that Hell’s Kitchen (don’t quote me on it — I believe it was Hell’s Kitchen, but it may have been another Food Network competition show), among others, would actually have an elimination nearly every day, so you’d really have a winner in about 2 weeks. They make it seem like contestants are there for months with an elimination every week, but that isn’t true.

    I loved this question though, as I have wondered the same thing myself, as I have no doubt some of the shows really do take the full length of time they advertise a la American Idol style, where you know it’s a week by week thing. I ESPECIALLY raise my eyebrows when I see a career that screams more corporate America, 9 to 5 — ie: Bobby, the Investment Banker from NYC, Sarah, the Family Law Attorney from Miami, etc. Like… HOW are they away 8+ weeks to be on American Idol?

    1. Tio*

      I’m pretty sure you’re right about Hell’s Kitchen; I remember reading about that, and also that the lack of sleep from forcing them to get up early after they stay up late helped with the show tensions and made people act wilder than they normally would’ve too. I’m going to see if I can dig that old article up but it’s a long shot

      1. JustaTech*

        Yeah, I read Project Runway was set up that way as well. I remember noticing that Face Off (special effects makeup on SyFy) never had the inter-personal drama of some of the other shows because all the challenges were at least 3 days (because stuff just takes that long to dry), so people were never the same level of exhausted.

        Which is fine by me! I want my competition shows to be about the competition, not sleep-deprived drama. I saw plenty of that in college.

        1. Wordnerd*

          Face Off was maybe the best reality competition show ever, and I always felt part of why was because there was rarely interpersonal drama. It never occurred to me that that was because of the limitations of the craft – I just assumed it was a (smart) choice made by the producers. I didn’t love the season(s?) where the contestants worked in teams the whole season because it by default introduced more of that kind of drama.

          1. JustaTech*

            Oh yeah, the teams season was not great for exactly that reason – and you could tell that the contestants didn’t like it either, even if it is more “realistic”.

            I think in like maybe the first or second season they did a few bits in the “house”, but I guess there wasn’t enough drama/meat to those pieces to make it worth the cost of dragging the film crew out there.

        2. Miss Fisher*

          I love FaceOff for that reason, I hate reality tv mostly. FaceOff did not have the drama, they all help each other out. The only other show I can handle is the amazing race and I think it is filmed within 1 month.

        3. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Whenever they were sitting around talking in the apartment in Project Runway I was always yelling at them to go the F to sleep! You only get like five hours people, use it to get your sleep! I have no idea how they got the energy to stay up talking.

        4. ferrina*

          Love FaceOff! That was such a cool show- the talent of the contestants was really highlighted, which made it that much more devastating when things would go badly for a contestant.

        5. LKW*

          If you rewatch the first season of Face-Off they did try to create that drama, but they must have realized that people who want to see awesome special effect makeup don’t want to see interpersonal drama, they just want to see cool makeup.

        6. BubbleTea*

          There was briefly a GBBO-style programme about allotments (as in, gardening). I suspect the sheer lack of drama due to excessively long time periods was the reason it didn’t get renewed.

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            I pity the producer who had to come up with reality TV storylines for an allotment. No wonder the show got cancelled!

      2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        I did a lot of research into this a few years ago when I was writing a romance novel set in a fictional cooking competition reality show and found the same thing. Also that sometimes they’ll be saying that a challenge is for dinner, but it’s really being filmed at 1pm before the restaurant opens. The interviews I read said that time got really weird, kind of like being in a casino with no clocks or windows.

      3. TransmascJourno*

        That’s true. I had a friend appear on a very well known cooking competition show; said friend was only able to sleep about four hours on average per night. While my friend’s appearance on the show (which spanned multiple episodes—plus, said friend was a fan favorite) led to a somewhat lucrative career in the restaurant industry, they ultimately abandoned it for a non-culinary industry.

    2. Antilles*

      This is definitely the case for some shows. The Bachelor is reportedly filmed over about six weeks, which could be potentially doable with a mix of carryover PTO plus unpaid time in a bunch of jobs. Netflix’s Love Is Blind is only 10 days on site, plus an additional week if you go to the engagement/honeymoon afterwards, which is why there’s more variety in jobs.

      1. Garblesnark*

        But also I am sure that if I were on Netflix’s love is blind I would need an additional two weeks off minimum to emotionally recover.

    3. MsMaryMary*

      I think for chefs on cooking shows their jobs actively support them being away for the free PR. A number of the more advanced chefs (Top Chef, Iron Chef) own their own restaurant(s) so they can just give themselves time off.

      1. JustaTech*

        There was one episode of Iron Chef America where the challenger chef didn’t have enough staff to keep their restaurant open *and* bring two sous chefs, so they just had to make do with one souse chef.

        I remember Alton Brown saying that they did two episodes of Iron Chef America a day, which was bad the time that Iron Chef Saki made trout ice cream which apparently gave Alton food poisoning and then he still had to film another episode. (I *think* that’s how it went.)

      2. ferrina*

        The top cooking shows are great PR. Whenever a chef from my area has been on these show, their restaurant gets flooded with customers afterwards.

        1. JustaTech*

          I visited a restaurant once where there was a note in the menu that the chef had been invited on Iron Chef America but didn’t have the time to go.
          My husband and I (we were big fans) thought it was such an odd thing to write on the menu.

    4. kicking-k*

      This is true of the Great British Sewing Bee. They squish the rounds together so that each “week” is three days, and they have a longish filming break in the middle, which allows the contestants who have got that far to do their “homework”, since each week requires a pattern that the contestant has chosen to fit a theme and preferably practised beforehand.

      So if you were less successful, you might only need a couple of weeks, which with UK holiday provision is fairly doable. If you are a contender to win, your company might feel that’s good PR anyway and let you take some extra (though probably unpaid?)

      1. pandop*

        They have moved the location of Sewing Bee too, so it is more ‘central’ in terms of the UK as a whole – which makes the journey from Scotland a little easier, even if the journey from the West Country is a little longer.

    5. Language Lover*

      You are right. Love Is Blind is basically 10-14 days depending on if you get engaged and are followed. There is more filming for the engaged couples but they go back to work.

      The Amazing Race is 3 to 4 weeks. GBBO is on weekends.

      Many cooking shows are 2 weeks.

      Contestants might have NDAs but I think those are signed once they’re selected but they can be open about the casting process. I’ve heard of people in the casting process and so when they suddenly leave for a bit, people can guess why. They might even ask their supervisors if it can be worked out.

      1. Kate in NZ*

        It’s wild that people are getting engaged in a 2 week show! Similarly, the difference between American The Bachelor and NZ The Bachelor is that on the American show the contestants are engaged at the end and on the NZ version they agree they like each other a lot and will keep on dating!

      2. Anon for this*

        Yes, my friend was on a reality show – once she found out she was a finalist in casting, she talked to her job about it and gave them the dates and they were totally fine with her leaving and using up her pto (3 weeks) to film it. Once she was selected, then she had to sign a big ol’ NDA that was like ‘don’t tell anybody anything!’ – oops, too late!

    6. Lily Rowan*

      Big Brother is the real problem for this — they really do film for months, unlike a lot of shows where a “week” of airtime is a day or two.

      1. ACL*

        Wasn’t there some weirdness with BB (or some other similar show) when everything first shut down for Covid? Like they were already all isolated and on total media/communication blackout so they didn’t find out about the shutdowns etc. until filming was complete.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I think it was Big Brother Germany – they told them all a week or so into the lockdown. The contestants hadn’t known anything about it at all.

          1. Maggie Simpson*

            It was Big Brother Canada – which I suspsect is being discussed in the letter here as well as it just started back up again. In 2020 the contestants went into sequester (no outside world whatsoever!) in late Feb 2020, meaning they were completely cut off from the outside world whatsoever. There is footage of the show ‘breaking’ their rules by giving them an update about Covid around March 18th 2020 and then finally when the show was forced to shut down by the Canadian government forcing closures. The video went semi viral at the time for the ‘last people on earth’ to hear about Covid – I’ll put it in comments

    7. Decidedly Me*

      This is correct of Hell’s Kitchen – the whole show length is only a few weeks. A friend of mine chatted with a past contestant about it :)

    8. MK*

      I think some job titles might be a bit “generous”, especially when it comes to younger people. E.g. a Big Brother contestant in the first ever show in my country was described as working “in advertising”, and yes, she did have a relevant degree and a job at an advertising agency, but it was as a receptionist/admin, so I am guessing she thought a months-long break wouldn’t hurt her career. Or they may be underemployed.

    9. MusicWithRocksIn*

      My SIL was in a minor one, and they had them bring multiple outfits to wear some days so it would ‘look’ like different days. They would film the wrap up for one episode then have them change clothes (and makeup) and film the opening of the next episode so they made the most of the judges being on set.

    10. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah this is often true. The show will refer to “this week” in-show because they know the episodes will be available weekly, but they’re really filming one episode every 2 days or something. So depending on how many episodes there are, it may only film for 2 weeks.

    11. The OP*

      I tried to be vague to get a general “how would a manager want this handled” answer (which I got, so cool), but “this country’s” BB is actually Big Brother UK… and ironically alot of the comments are talking about GBBO. It also didnt help my question any now that I’ve checked out a bit of US Big Brother and it is a very different show. I think the first half of your comment is a valid observation for the BBUS as it (at least from what I’ve gathered) is self-contained; the evictions and competition are decided solely by the housemates, so could potentially be a few weeks extended to appear to last a couple months.

      However, our good old limey version has evictions ultimately decided by public vote ins via phone, email or app, with live evictions. It literally has to happen over the period of time the show airs and so at least is as long as the second half of your comment wants.. although it’s pretty unlikely to ever see ‘the Family Law Attorney from Miami’.

      1. Diana*

        I haven’t watched Big Brother US in years but I was really into at once, and it used to take the full time- there would be live shows on Thursdays when people got voted out, and there were websites that would livestream the cameras from the house. So I think it was the full length of time at one point and maybe still.

      2. Language Lover*

        The rules might be different in the US about how people are voted off but BBUS is the exception to the typically condensed way shows are filmed. It’s real time here as well.

  5. C*

    I worked with someone who was a contestant on The Bachelor! We worked a job that was partially an office job, partially very public facing. Our PR manager had to watch every week to ensure she wasn’t doing anything scandalous on the show before she was ultimately voted off.

    1. Spacewoman Spiff*

      Now I am *so* curious what the PR manager would have done if there was scandal! I used to work at a medical residency program and sadly just missed overlapping with one of our residents who’d taken a leave to compete on a reality show…which I am not sure the program director knew, when he approved it, would be Love Island. Apparently for about a year after her season aired, men would show up at our office hoping to get an appointment with her. (A real “really, men?” moment.)

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Doing something scandalous or, and this is the kicker, cast as a villain by the producers. I am not current with modern reality shows, but in the early days this edited-as-a-villain thing was pretty common, and unrelated to what the person was really like. I can easily imagine this harming the person’s career. I don’t know how much this is a thing nowadays.

      1. Miss Fisher*

        Often now, due to social media etc, most people come off better as they are just more aware that the whole world will know if they did something wrong. This is pretty noticeable on Amazing Race where previously people were not so politically correct in other countries, but now are. Big Brother seems to be a different story. Since the cameras are running 24 /7 for months, people tend to slip up. It isn’t so much they are edited to seem like the villain but they get caught saying something discriminatory on the live feeds that people watch all day and night.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Big Brother also has a reputation for producers encouraging, if not ordering, certain types of conflict and outrageous behavior.

          (All reality TVs show do, to some extent.)

          1. starsaphire*

            I read a REALLY good murder mystery about a reality show some years ago that went really in-depth into all the scripting and coaching and so forth. Dead Famous by Ben Elton, I think it was, but I could be wrong.

            1. Magenta Sky*

              Law & Order did a “ripped from the headlines” episode on it (and actually managed to exaggerate how manipulative the producers are!).

              It was about as factually accurate (or not) as most L&O episodes.

            2. Lilith*

              Dead Famous is a great whodunnit, and one I re-read quite often – I think it was written when Big Brother was still quite new in the UK so the reality show world has moved on a bit, but it gave me my first few into ‘reality’ not being actual objective reality (if that makes sense!)

          2. Language Lover*

            Lifetime had a show called Unreal that had former The Bachelor producers on it.

            It was a dramatization of a bachelor-type reality show and how it all came together, including how producers manipulate contestants to elicit certain reactions.

      2. mcl*

        There was a super interesting set of interviews with people who have done reality TV shows on the “This is Uncomfortable” podcast (it’s a Marketplace spinoff and really great). It is called “Reality (TV) Bites” and is available to stream on their website. Just search for “this is uncomfortable” and you’ll find the podcast, the episode is season 8, ep 7. One of the interviews was with a contestant on Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking” show, and she had gone from a season one sympathetic heroine to a season 2 villain, all through editing.

  6. PercyJax*

    I have thought about this often for more skills-based shows, like the Great Canadian Baking Show. Many of the people on that show have more “career-focused” jobs, and they also come from all over Canada to film in Toronto. I had assumed that people are taking time off to film in Toronto all at once (so then it’s extra confusing, since maybe you’ll be kicked off after the first episode, so how much time are you supposed to take off?)

    My husband looked it up, and if I remember correctly, they filmed on weekends only. So presumably people would work their normal jobs, and then in many cases fly to Toronto for the weekend to film, and then fly back home. And then go back to work (while also doing practice bakes at home for the next set of challenges.) I assume that they’d take SOME time off in there, but for people who make it to the end, that’s about two months of balancing your job with an intense filming schedule.

    Anyway, I just thought this was interesting, since to me it’s in some ways more bonkers than taking an indeterminate amount of time off to be on TV.

    1. Rowan*

      “since maybe you’ll be kicked off after the first episode, so how much time are you supposed to take off?”

      I know that Project Runway requires you to stay there even after you are voted off, so people can’t figure out who’s getting kicked off by seeing them pop up on their socials in their hometown or whatever. You get moved to a separate, secret apartment and trucked to any offsite shooting locations. (I wondered about this because they always seemed to have past contestants like, *right there* on a moment’s notice if someone got disqualified or left early.)

      1. Catherine with a C*

        ha, took too long to type my reply! always felt bad for those early eliminated in PR

      2. Filosofickle*

        Amazing Race does it like this. Top Chef does/did too, contestants have to live in a sequester house after getting booted. It always confuses me when a contestant says in their talking head segment something like “now I can go be with my family”. Do they say that for the viewers as part of the illusion? Or in that moment do they really not realize they can’t go home yet?

        1. Gumby*

          I think TAR also sometimes send the kicked-off people to do fake tasks to muddy the waters as to what is coming up. So if someone tweets out “Just saw TAR filming in Barcelona!” it could be actual contestants who are still competing or could be sequestered people keeping up the pretense.

      3. kristinyc*

        They also keep them there for the end when they usually bring back the previous 3-4 eliminated contestants to be their “assistants”.

        I took some classes at Mood a few years ago, and several previous contestants were teachers there. A few things I learned from them:

        1. They film about 2 episodes a week, but they also get 1-2 days off per week
        2. The Mood visits really are 30 minutes (which is wild – the store is huge and very overwhelming!)! But, since they’re going they several times a week, after a few, they know exactly what’s in the store and where it is, so it gets a little easier as they get further into the competition.
        3. They have a secret closed Facebook group for previous contestants, and they’re actually mostly friendly and supportive of each other.

        1. kristinyc*

          Oh! Remembered a few more!
          – They usually have the last 5-6 contestants do the full collection design for the finale (since they have to go back to their hometown for a few months to work on it), and they still get to show at Fashion Week, so it’s all a decoy for the people/press who attend the show. Some of them just aren’t included in the judging for the finale.

          – They do their Mood shopping trips during normal business hours, so there could potentially be customers all over the store during them (but it’s usally less busy times, like weekday mornings)

    2. Catherine with a C*

      Some of these shows require contestants to stay the whole time even when they are eliminated. I know that Project Runway does this so that no one knows the elimination order before the season airs, since they are out in public at Mood etc. The eliminated designers have to tag along to every single activity the whole time.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I read an interview early on in the PR run where a designer talked about how depressing is was — you’ve given up a lot to be there and you’re the first one(s) out, the sequester house is empty, and you’re essentially a captive with no money / phone / access to the outside world except a little bit they let you have.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Not in my experience with Jeopardy. This was a long time ago, but they filmed on Tuesday and Wednesday, I think — a week’s worth of shows each day. So you could be a pretty long-term champion in less than a week off work (or you could be on two shows that filmed a week apart!)

        1. Garblesnark*

          I do think Jeopardy is less controversial, though. Like if you told your boss, “I need three days off to be on Jeopardy,” the response would probably trend much more “wow, cool, approved!” than, say, Love Island.

          1. Bast*

            I worked with someone who appeared on Wheel of Fortune. She only used a few days of vacation for it, and it isn’t exactly a show known for scandal. I can’t imagine any of my employers (law offices) being cool with us appearing on something like Love Island and being gone over the amount of PTO allotted. We’ve had people fired for job abandonment for daring to daring to take too many unpaid, legitimate sick days, let alone to appear on reality TV.

        2. PDB*

          When I was on Jeopardy they shot Thursday and Friday. Wheel shot Monday and Tuesday. Same crew.

      2. Sean Factotum*

        Is that a recent change? Because I thought I remember reading in Bob Harris’ Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!, that two weeks of shows were filmed on a Tuesday and a Wednesday, twice a month. (three each morning, two each afternoon).

      3. RC*

        IIRC Jeopardy films during weekdays, but they do (/did) film like 5 episodes a day. So unless you get to really winning, it’s not a huge time off of work.

      4. I Lost on Jeopardy, Baby*

        I was on Jeopardy within the last few years (I’m being vague for the sake of anonymity) and regular season shows film two days a week (generally Tuesdays and Wednesdays) while tournaments generally start filming on a Tuesday and can go anywhere from 1-4 days depending on the size of the tournament. They film 5 episodes a day most of the time (occasionally 4 if the schedule is weird for a tournament.) So most of the time, unless you win a very, very large number of games, you’re only going to need to take at most a week off, including travel time if you need to fly in. If you end up in multiple tournaments (as has happened to a number of players in recent months) you might have to go back again in another 1-5 months, but it’s generally an amount that you could manage with PTO for most jobs.

        When I was on I was told not to tell my employer about it ahead of time, so I just asked for the time off and was vague about the reasons. Usually the show will let you tell people you will be on about a week before it airs, although sometimes they’ll give you more leeway with telling family/employers sooner depending on the situation.

        1. courtbot*

          A coworker of mine was on a few years ago and he sent the whole team a “Fergus OOO – Jeopardy” calendar hit for the days he was traveling/filming. I guess he didn’t take the secrecy memo seriously

      5. fhqwhgads*

        I am not aware of them filming on weekends. They do, however, film 6 episodes per day. So most people have jobs because you don’t have to be gone very long, unless you go on a massive streak.

    3. Antilles*

      Anyway, I just thought this was interesting, since to me it’s in some ways more bonkers than taking an indeterminate amount of time off to be on TV.
      I’m sure this varies by person, but honestly, I’d find “travel to another city every weekend for 10 straight weekends” much more of a hassle than if they just filmed straight through on 10 back-to-back days (take PTO for two weeks, reserve a hotel, then go from there; if I lose early it just becomes an extended vacation).

    4. HannahS*

      Yeah, that makes sense, and I’ve heard the same. I think that the Great British Sewing Bee and the Pottery Throwdown had the same structure; the people seemed to have a wide variety of jobs. More of them have kids, too, which makes sense. I could see being away for a series of weekends (though that would be hard,) but not being away for months at a time.

      1. AnonInWiscosin*

        Speaking of reality shows and childcare, there was an interesting article a while back about women on the History channel’s reality show Alone, where they drop contestants off in the wilderness. When (after several all-male seasons) they started including women, those women outlasted the men on average, but some left before they’d run out of supplies to go back to taking care of their children.

          1. HannahS*

            Yeah, that’s a powerful article. Sometimes I think about the adventures my male relatives have–even minor ones, like sleeping on the beach in the summer–and think, yeah, I wouldn’t find that relaxing, because I’d be worried about being assaulted.

    5. MK*

      In some of these shows it’s not only about bring on tv, it’s about spending time doing a hobby you are passionate about with like-minded people and access to more professional settings and mentors. If you love baking, there might not be many opportunities in your town for you to do anything other than bake alone in your kitchen. But if you participate in a Great Baking Show, you get to spend your weekends with other bakers, bake challenging bakes in a professional kitchen and meet famous pastry chefs. And don’t some talent shows also provide lessons/mentoring?

      Presumably for many of these people it’s a fun time, not a chore they do to be on TV. It isn’t more bonkers than people who spend their free time climbing rocks.

      1. Lilith*

        I heard Siobhan McSweeney on the radio the other day, and part of the conversation was about when she was presenting the Great Pottery Throw Down – don’t quote me on this, but I’m sure she light-heartedly said something like most contestants are only willing to be on camera because they get the chance to use and experiment with all the materials they wouldn’t normally have

    6. tree frog*

      When you apply for the Great Canadian Baking Show, they ask you to be available for a few weeks in a certain time range. Something like, filming will take about three to four weeks in May and June of next year. They didn’t specify the filming schedule but I don’t think it’s practical to fly everyone back and forth each week.

  7. cindylouwho*

    I knew someone who went on the Bachelorette, and he quit his job to do so. A lot of people in their 20s/30s go on these shows expecting to make a career out of being an influencer as a result of the exposure they get from being on the show.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      How did that work out? Did he have to go back to his boring day job? Given the sheer volume of reality shows out there, it seems unlikely that more than a small fraction can leverage this into anything ongoing.

      1. cindylouwho*

        He is actually a full-time influencer now and seems to be making it work, but he was also a main guy that season. He was given lots of screen-time, then went on Bachelor in Paradise and ultimately had a storyline that garnered him a lot of attention (don’t want to be too specific). I’d imagine the number of people it works out for is quite small, but that doesn’t stop people from thinking it will be them and trying anyways.

      2. Random Dice*

        My childhood acquaintance parlayed one reality show into four or five. But he’s handsome, charming, and has a great story.

    2. KitKat*

      I’m a long-time Bachelor/Bachelorette fan and I think this hits it. There are a few categories of people who you tend to see on the show:

      1. People with no job or gig jobs (sometimes listed on the show as students, or as X thing they got a degree in but haven’t really done yet, or “entrepreneurs”, or as a joke job like “chicken enthusiast”)
      2. People in high demand industries where they can quit their job and then go get a new job afterward (nurses! Pilots! Nannies, personal trainers, etc.)
      3. People in professional industries who either manage to get the time off or just quit their jobs. I suspect most of them figure they’ll give it a shot in influencing or another media type job for a while after the show (often lawyers, salespeople, marketers, realtors, occasionally doctors or teachers).

      Of course ALL of them probably are hoping to give it a shot as influencers :)

      1. cindylouwho*

        I think this hits the nail on the head. The only type of person missing from this list is like Kelly from Peter’s season who worked as an attorney for her dad’s firm and therefore would be hard-pressed to be fired, lol.

      2. ecnaseener*

        And you also have to factor in that the job titles you see on screen are often fudged or exaggerated to make the contestants look more appealing as spouse material — there used to be a whole blog dedicated to fact-checking them.

    3. Beth*

      Yeah, often it’s an attempt to boost follower counts and make a career as an influencer or social media figure. But reality TV itself is a career track too, if you can get on it–people who have been on one show often get cast on others, sometimes keeping it up for decades if they’re popular.

      Most people who go on reality TV probably don’t succeed at getting on either of those tracks. They’re long-shot careers that tons of people would like to do, so there’s a lot of luck involved. But if you’re 22, newly out of school or working a low level job like retail that you don’t mind ditching, and interested in shooting your shot? It’s not the worst way to try and get a toe in the door. I think that’s why first-time reality show contestants are usually pretty young.

  8. Problem!*

    Oh! I actually know this one!

    I had a coworker who was on a reality show and he took a leave of absence to “travel” (since he had to sign one zillion NDAs it was easier to tell a white lie to everyone else instead of having people pester him the whole time between filming and airing) while the show was filming.

    1. Anon in Canada*

      Wouldn’t lying about the reason for taking a leave of absence be strong grounds for firing whoever did this?

      1. Frank Doyle*

        I mean, he was still “traveling” to the set probably, so it was only a white lie. And as long as his company didn’t have a problem with the show or his behavior, why would they care?

        1. Anon in Canada*

          They’d care because allowing a long-term leave of absence isn’t a routing thing and usually causes a hardship on the employer. Finding out that the employee lied about the reason for taking it would make the employer view the employee very differently, and not in a good way.

          1. Tio*

            I don’t see how they’d care more that it was for reality TV and not travel though, unless the employee really made a fool of themself on the show

          2. metadata minion*

            I can understand being upset if they’d said they were taking time off to care for an ailing family member, but if you’re allowing them to do one personal-enrichment/fun thing but it turns out it was a different thing, where’s the harm?

          3. NerdyKris*

            I don’t really see the factual difference between “travelling” and “being on a reality show”. They weren’t saying it was for a medical issue.

            1. Anon in Canada*

              True, there is a split there between whether the employee claimed an “essential” reason for the leave or not. If the reason was non-essential and the leave approved, the lie probably isn’t a reason for firing. That’s a big caveat.

      2. Huh*

        I did some googling and found some comments where people were fired for lying about why they needed all the time off. Someone on an early Survivor claimed they needed surgery and were fired when the lie was found out.

          1. Anon in Canada*

            This person probably knew that a request for a long-term leave of absence for “pleasure travel” or some other non-essential reason would be denied, so made something up that would appear to be “essential”.

            That’s a much bigger lie than simply saying it was for pleasure travel, and is 100% fireable.

            If your employer won’t consider approving a leave for non-essential reasons, unfortunately you don’t have a way of going on TV without losing your job.

        1. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

          Yeah, it seems to me that you would have to tell your employer a non-medical reason, since time off for medical stuff if protected by (US) law.

      3. kiki*

        If the company wanted to or had an objection to the type of show they were on it would, but I think most employers are human and would be more intrigued/excited than they are mad. And ultimately, as long as the contestant didn’t somehow portray the company in a negative light, an employee taking a 3 month trip around world wouldn’t impact the company more or less than a 3 month stint on a reality show.

        1. Anon in Canada*

          The difference would be in whether the company would still have approved the leave if the employee had been honest as to the reason why (which I understand that in this case, they can’t). It also depends on the nature of the lie.

          If someone said they needed time off for “caregiver responsibilities” and I find out they were on a reality show, they’re fired.

          If someone asked for 3 months off to “travel”, in most cases/jobs I don’t think I would approve it without there being a specific reason for the travel, e.g. “to visit family overseas”. If I had indeed approved 3 months for “pleasure travel” and find out they were on a TV show… I’d still feel lied to, but probably wouldn’t fire them.

    2. Yeah...*

      Interesting question. How much detail does your employer need?

      Could you say “personal reasons” instead of “travel”?

      At my job, you don’t “have” to say why, but it is considered odd if you don’t provide an explanation unfortunately.

      1. Anon in Canada*

        “Personal reasons” wouldn’t fly in any workplace I’ve been in. Just saying “personal reasons” isn’t an answer, it’s a refusal to answer.

        Taking more time off than your allotted paid vacation (if the company allows it at all) is going to require something more specific, e.g. “caring for a sick family member” or “travelling to visit family”.

    3. greg*

      I remember hearing an interview with Jeff Probst (or maybe someone recounting an interview?) talking about casting for Survivor… it was surprisingly difficult. They obviously want contestants that make great TV and those were ones that were very likely to be employed in jobs that were hard to take significant time of for or they were the type of people that had zero desire to be on TV (being very stereotypical think of socially smart, personable (or able to be grumpy and well liked), attractive, etc). Again, a lot of stereotyping there but often times what can get someone far in their career may be the same as what makes them good on a show like Survivor thus making it harder to cast.

  9. CTA*

    I suppose folks who have access to sabbatical time and can time it right can appear on reality tv? Maybe even folks who are consultants by profession? IMO, you don’t see a lot of folks with “traditional” jobs on reality shows because then those folks might be viewed as not hireable after it. Employers don’t want fame, baggage, etc from reality tv. If a traditional job person did go on reality tv, then that person would need to be comfortable making a living in entertainment or adjacent fields after their tv stint ends.

    1. BakingContestant*

      I was on an episode of a reality baking show, and I’ve found that not only do my employers not care, people love that as a fun fact. Granted, it was a no-drama baking show, but just to point out not all reality tv is the same, and a lot of it lets you go right back to your regular life.

      1. Distracted Procrastinator*

        I am now going to pretend you are one of my favorite bakers from GBBO. Feel free to not burst my bubble.

        1. BakingContestant*

          I want you to live in that joy, but I REALLY don’t have the talent for GBBO, I was on more of a comedy baking show.

          1. kristinyc*

            Oooh, I hope it was Nailed it! That show is so funny. My husband interned at UCB with Nicole Byers.

    2. AnonInWiscosin*

      Yeah, I had a coworker go on the Amazing Race, and the company actually had a little montage celebrating it at all-staff meeting, and had her give a presentation explaining how it was just like her day job where she always goes the extra mile(s) for her customers.

      These days there’s a wide variety of “reality show” formats; the ones you have to watch out for in terms of professionalism are the ones where there are “villains” (Big Brother, Survivor, Real Housewives, Biggest Loser, etc) or the show reveals a lot more personal information than you’re comfortable strangers knowing about you (many of the dating shows).

      1. mcl*

        Given your user name, I likely know what company that is. My spouse works there. I thought it was interesting that they were able to make it work, given (what I perceive to be) kind of inflexible PTO rules.

        1. allathian*

          Given that they asked the contestant do a presentation at an all-staff meeting, the company probably let her take unpaid leave. That’s my guess anyway.

          I also agree that reality shows aren’t equal. Basically the only ones I watch even occasionally are shows like GBBO, or renovation shows.

          I never watch any of the shows where they intentionally create drama, or the dating shows. But I really despise the ones where attractive singles and partnered people are thrown together and the point is to try and seduce the person in a committed relationship and get the couple to break up. I honestly don’t understand the couples who sign up for something like that voluntarily.

  10. Kimmy Schmidt*

    I’m so glad Alison took the time to answer this academic question, because I think about this every time I watch one of the Extended Reality Universe shows.

  11. DEJ*

    There are jobs that will grant it. Andi Dorfman was granted a 3-month unpaid leave of absence from her ADA job for The Bachelor/Bachelorette before she eventually decided to resign.

    1. KitKat*

      IIRC Rachel Lindsay was also still a lawyer after filming The Bachelor but quit before/after Bachelorette (and went on to a media career thanks to the publicity boost/connections the show gave her).

    2. BigLawEx*

      Andi Dorfman got a lot of flack for quitting (at least among lawyers), but she was making 55K. She talked about how everything else paid more.

  12. ThursdaysGeek*

    I had co-workers (married) who wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. They asked our employer for 6 months off, and were told no. No unpaid time off allowed, not that much vacation. So they quit their jobs, hiked the PCT (made it to Tahoe), and then found new jobs. We are computer programmers, and I ended up working with him at my next job, after the hike).

    1. Llama Llama*

      My cousin has a corporate job and has hiked that and the Appalachian and probably others and I often wonder how she manages to get the time off.

    2. Hedgehog in a ball*

      My cousin did/does something similar, except that he is sufficiently awesome at his job (and maybe has rare skills) so his boss just kind of holds his job for him every time he wants to leave on a trip. I think the amount of time off for a trip has also decreased a bit over the years so that it isn’t more than a month or two at a time.

    3. AnonInWiscosin*

      My dad is a tenured college professor who wanted to hike the northernmost section of the Appalachian trail. He took a term off teaching, we dropped him off in Maine at the base of Mt Katahdin, and he walked home to NH over the next six weeks or so.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        That’s such a charming way to frame it, “we dropped him off and he walked home!”

        1. AnonInWiscosin*

          There was a 100-miles stretch of wilderness in there, but it was fine, he packed a lot of gorp (Good Old Raisins & Peanuts trailmix).

    4. Cedrus Libani*

      I have a colleague who is doing the Appalachian Trail. He’s a specialized IT type that would be annoying to replace, so the powers that be allowed it. He was planning to do the whole thing at once (due to pandemic-associated cabin fever) but got hurt partway through, so the new plan is to finish the job in shorter segments. I think he’s hoarding PTO to cover this; we can buy extra PTO, there’s a limit but if you’re determined to, you can take a six-week hike every two years without needing special permission to keep your job.

  13. Sloanicota*

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s been assuming almost everyone on reality TV is, in fact, an aspiring actor; they probably play up the side jobs so the cast feels more diverse or authentic. I notice most of the contestants on American Ninja Warrior end up being gym owners or personal trainers since I assume it takes a lot of time training to stay competitive (at least one is also a stunt person, but that caused her to miss a whole season when she actually had to work).

    1. i like hound dogs*

      *Raises hand*

      I was on American Ninja Warrior three times and I have a normal corporate job (proofreader). Almost all of my friends who competed also had normal jobs or were stay-at-home moms. One of them was the owner of the gym where we all trained.

      That said, you are right that there are a LOT of gym owners. It’s sort of interesting — the show ANW spawned a whole sport (ninja, where people compete on obstacles courses in gyms) and so a ton of gyms popped up all over the country when the show gained popularity.

      I also always tell people that even when they present someone as “Stacy the accountant” or whatever, they often conveniently fail to acknowledge that pretty much everyone who gets cast for the show trains at a ninja/obstacle gym … like, Stacy probably has a salmon ladder in her backyard; she didn’t just wander out of the office and onto the course. The main exceptions being the former pro athletes who want to give the course a shot.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Hey fun!! They do a lot to feature all the jobs people have on the show (one guy’s a farmer, I remember some landscapers and the like, etc) but the highest-level ones who return every season seem to eventually become full time gym people. Not that this is in the same realm but I’m an author with a day job and I *finally* realized that a lot of the “full time authors” I know are actually stay at home parents maintaining the household for a working spouse with benefits. Took me way too long to realize this.

        1. i like hound dogs*

          Yeah for sure … most of the superstars work at gyms.

          It is totally similar to the full-time author thing!

        2. AnonInWiscosin*

          We do a real disservice to young people when we lie about how we support ourselves or the forces that really influenced whether we were able to achieve success.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Totally. I tend to be (probably overly) transparent about my finances. I live in an area with stupidly expensive and limited housing, and I bought a house solo after spending most of my working life as a freelancer. I did not get here through sheer grit, hustle, or luck but that’s what we think the story is. I hear people asking all the time: How are all these people buying houses that start at $1M? How do they even have the down payment for that? Are they earning THAT much? What am I missing, why can other people do this and we can’t??? Often, the answer is family help. The secret to my success is other people giving me money, and other people giving them money generations back. That’s reality.

            I told someone that I was able to buy because I got help, and her response was she didn’t like that story, she preferred the fantasy where I did it all myself. Okay then.

            1. Katie Impact*

              Yep. Ultimately, I own a house because my grandparents owned a farm, and that’s what’s freed me up to work in an industry where nobody makes any money. Most of my coworkers have a second job that pays better. It’s not a very inspiring thing to tell people who want to work in the same industry, but they’re better off knowing what to expect.

              1. AnonInWiscosin*

                If you want to get really uninspiring, I can trace the majority of my financial success to my grandfathers being white Americans. Yay for the American dream.

            2. AnonInWiscosin*

              When I volunteered at a program that taught computer programming to underprivileged youth, I was asked to share two things that influenced my life. The first thing I said was that my family had enough money to own computers, live in a great school district, send me to computer camp and pay for college. I said that having that money had made it easier for me to succeed.

              There was a collective gasp from all the adults. It was like I’d just told children there was no Santa. When I also shared that I’d been diagnosed with depression at about the kids’ age but I’d learned to manage it with therapy and medication and still get a job at a FAANG company, it was like all the adults sighed with relief. I was back on script with telling the kids they could achieve anything if they just put their mind to it, instead of pointing out inequities.

      2. HailRobonia*

        Can I pitch a new show “American Ninja Copyeditor”? Your mission is to sneak into an office and fix people’s manuscripts without being caught.

        1. i like hound dogs*

          LOL. I actually wish I could do that … some people do NOT like being edited.

          1. Miss Muffett*

            This might be a bit thread-weavy but I was copy-editing the whiteboard at CrossFit this morning. Can’t blame the coach – writing stuff at 5am is tough! A spelling error is bound to slip through. I just quietly swiped it away with my thumb…

    2. xl*

      Perhaps not the same type of reality show that’s being discussed here, but I have an anecdote. A local bar that I used to frequent was on one of those rescue/refurbish type shows a few years back when they were all the rage. I was there the night they were shooting a lot of the “before” shots to show the disarray.

      For that, they brought in actors to play the parts of most of the servers and bartenders.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I have heard the bars rarely keep up the “new” look, and that most of those home/flipper shows are carefully shot to not show how much is undone or half-assed at the “end” of the show. At least those kinds of reality TV shows make a bit more sense with a career – the home buyer ones wouldn’t need months of time off and can probably be filmed in a few weekends, and the flipper ones generally follow the host, whose job is flipper.

        1. LTR, FTP*

          Ugh, my friend worked for a company that did one of those “corporate do good charity” things where they spend 48 hours “fixing up” someone’s house, I went along to help out and it was AWFUL. They had unskilled people doing all kinds of half-assed work, shoving belongings willy-nilly into boxes where nobody would find them, etc. ALSO there were terrible employees that did nothing but sit around just literally making fun of the person’s house for being unstylish/messy/poor… and the owner was on the premises! I was horrified by how it went and would never advise anyone to sign up for that kind of “help”.

        2. Filosofickle*

          I knew two people who did TLC reno shows way back in the day. One was a living room transformation, and the designers did a great job but what you didn’t see was that the show would only cover 2K of the furnishings. The rest had to be returned, or my friends could pay for it. The second was an exterior/landscaping show — the episode was shot with only primer (not paint) and most of the plants were returned after!

        3. Gumby*

          Can confirm. My dad once hauled away the ‘indoor ice skating rink’ that had been put into a room on one of those shows.

          But I would love a show entirely devoted to house makeover show recovery. They could do an entire episode, if not a whole season, on people who had to remove things that Hildi glued/stapled to their walls. Or ceilings.

          1. GoryDetails*

            I’d be up for a house-makeover-recovery show too! Used to watch “Trading Spaces” regularly, but would groan in sympathy for whoever got Hildi. Remember the straw room? [Possibly good TV, but really impractical decorating!]

      2. Ama*

        That reminds me that several friends of mine were on Cash Cab back in its heyday, because apparently there was one particular bar in NYC where the producers liked to go to recruit people from the trivia night and it was the bar they frequented at the time (it was a bit before I knew them so I was never there). My friends said they’d just tell them to pick somewhere to go and it had to be a certain number of minutes away so there would be enough time to film a round.

        My mom (who LOVED Cash Cab) was so disappointed when she found out that there was no chance we could just randomly hail the Cash Cab on the street when she visited me.

        1. NerdyKris*

          The version I heard once was that they’d also occasionally do casting calls for a fake commercial, have them show up to be picked up and driven to the “location”, at which point they’d film the reveal, then stop and film a fake pickup. And then the same “pick someplace X minutes away” bit before filming the rest of the trip.

        2. Storm in a teacup*

          So one of my good friends lived in NYC for a while and did end up on cash cab randomly!
          I think it can happen but they probably also use the bar.
          She one $50 I think

    3. Person from the Resume*

      I’m an ANW watcher. It does appear, though, for ANW it’s fairly short stints unlike Big Brother or other reality shows. Nearly all competitors are pre-selected. If a contestant doesn’t make past the first round, they give up maybe 3-5 days. And it seems like the second round is a number of weeks after so another 3-5 days. And after that the rounds in Las Vegas that probably are less than a week.

      * I don’t know if ANW still have a line of people who hope to be selected as a walk-on for round 1.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        Yeah, you are right. 3ish days at a time, and all competitors are cast ahead of time (no more walk-on line these days). So really not the same as going on Big Brother or Survivor. The last time I competed, I ran the course on a Monday and was back at work on Wednesday.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      One of my college friends was in Worst Cooks in America (Food Network). I met her through a filmmaking club. She was in SAG (maybe still is) and has several small roles from a while ago, but never made a career in acting. I believe her “title” on the show was stay-at-home mom. At times, it felt like she was playing up a “character” that she’d invented, but we recognized many moments where she was genuine. I believe she was trying to promote herself to be an influencer afterwards with a small hope of something more.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        Yeah I mean there are definitely people who say they’re a photographer when they’re actually a small-time actor or whatever. But my experience on the show as a non-superstar was that many of the non-superstars definitely had normal jobs or were stay-at-home moms for real, not just for the show.

        But they do massage your occupation as they deem fit sometimes for sure, and I’m sure it varies by show.

    5. kiki*

      I also think there are quite a few people who do have careers, they’re just willing to drop them for the opportunity to pivot into the reality show circuit or influencing.

      There are also some jobs, like real estate, where having appeared on a reality show and having a social media following can help your career. It seems like a lot of contestants in the bachelor/bachelorette universe either are realtors or become realtors after their stint on the show.

    6. MsSolo (UK)*

      I have a real soft spot for ITV’s daytime dating shows (Love Bites, Dress to Impress etc), where all the contestants are wannabe influencers and sometimes the show just can’t be bothered to pretend otherwise. Nearly everyone is a ‘model’, though occasionally you get a glammed up version of the job they have that actually pays the bills (a lot of admin jobs really getting the glow up!). Also, because they’re all 22 year olds who are there to promote brand them, and a lot of them are not very bright (or playing a version of themselves that isn’t bright), everything is incredibly low stakes. “Oops, I forgot to buy trousers for the guy I’m supposed to be going on a date with! perhaps he’ll think it’s bants! I got him a cupcake instead!”

  14. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I’ve never watched Big Brother, but I’ve watched a ton of Survivor and they’ve had lots of contestants over the years who I think fit the “traditional career” model, e.g. doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, architects, firefighters, cops, etc. Survivor was typically 39 days long, and I’m not sure how much time they required pre/post game (some of this has changed with the pandemic, so I’m not sure what the current time commitment is between game length and quarantine). I can see teachers managing if it films during their summer, or if you’re in a job with generous vacation (maybe certain kinds of union jobs have this with enough seniority?). Maybe they’re all taking time off between jobs, but it still leaves me with lots of questions how they’re managing this.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      It’s not exactly the same because, apart from anything else, there’s no secrecy, but in Ireland, teachers tend to be rather overrepresented among GAA players as GAA is all amateur and the major All-Ireland matches tend to take place in the summer with the final traditionally being just after the schools go back in September (plus of course, GAA players also like the chance to coach school teams and encourage the next generation of players).

      So I would imagine it could work for certain reality TV shows too.

  15. Llama Llama*

    For the most part anymore the reason people are in those shows for careers not to find love or survive. They are not the ones who have careers already.

      1. starsaphire*

        On some of the shows we do watch (not so much the British ones, although there have been a few) we like to play “spot the actor/actress” because you can almost always tell – and there are always at least one or two.

        Nowadays, of course, it’s more like “spot which half of the cast are the social media influencers,” but, same.

  16. Tio*

    For the NDA, can’t you say you’re going on a tv program but not what it is? Or are the NDA’s that bananas?

        1. Matthew Strickland*

          It depends on the show, but for most shows it is an absolute rule that you cannot tell anyone the real reason except for like one or two people (emergency contacts). Those people also have to sign an NDA.

          Shows like survivor and rupaul drag race and the amazing race all have these very strict rules.

    1. BakingContestant*

      I’ve heard for Drag Race you’re not allowed to say ANYTHING and queens will just disappear for a month or so, and then six months later, there they are on Drag Race.

      1. Aj*

        Yes and because drag race is a show very related to everyone’s careers (assuming you go on RPDR because you want drag to be your career) it’s easy enough.

        Also everyone knows when a queen has gone on drag race precisely because they disappear. Trixie famously told Kim Chi she was leaving town because her grandmother had died and Kim responded “I’ve seen your drag, she won’t be dead for very long.”

        1. Storm in a teacup*

          This is one of my favourite RPDR stories!
          Also how everyone knew Raja was heading to all stars as she got her lips done

        2. Office Chinchilla*

          I remember hearing a couple years ago about a queen who dropped hints and then disappeared while the show was filming, and rode that train of “subtle admiration” for a few months until the new season promos dropped and it was clear she wasn’t actually cast on the show. I can’t imagine the compliments and excitement would be worth the humiliation of being found out, but who knows?

      2. tree frog*

        It makes sense because doing drag race is so much an integral part of your drag career, and most drag queens are friends with a lot of other drag queens, so leaks seem inevitable. I believe they also tightened up all the restrictions a lot after the Perez Hilton leak back in season 3.

    2. KaciHall*

      My boss some years back took a weeks vacation to audition for a reality show. she couldn’t tell us which one it was, but let us know if was for a reality show. She and her friends decided not to do it because it was too invasive, but she did have a plan to take a leave of absence for the actual filming.

    3. renata ricotta*

      Yeah, I think the assumption baked into the question is not actually accurate. I listen to a ton of podcasts interviewing Bachelor contestants and people from other reality TV shows; they can and do tell their friends and family they’re going on the Bachelor. They just can’t tell anybody the results of what happens before it airs.

      Maybe other shows are more protective (probably ones where you’re going to be on the first season of a new show), but I think it’s highly unlikely you wouldn’t be able to say “I’m filming a reality TV show” without specifying which one.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        There’s a glorious reality show in the UK which I won’t name lest spoilers, but one of the finalists didn’t tell her CHILDREN she was on the programme, just that she was “working away at the weekends for a while”, and they found out by seeing her on TV for episode one…

        1. Distracted Procrastinator*

          Kim and Penn Holderness didn’t tell their kids they won their season of The Amazing Race. They said where they were going, but not what the results were.

          That’s some pretty strict NDA when you can’t even tell the people who live in the same house with you what’s going on.

            1. Filosofickle*

              They were actually already a thing! I had never heard of them before TAM but they’d had a pretty solid following before that.

              1. Burbonk*

                I was a huge fan of theirs for years and was SO EXCITED when I found out they were going to be on the Amazing Race. I loved that season.

          1. PDB*

            All game shows have NDAa like that and reality shows are classed as game shows. I was a winner on Jeopardy and couldn’t tell anybody until the show aired.

  17. MsMaryMary*

    A former coworker applied to be on The Amazing Race with her husband, but they were not chosen for the show. She’d worked for our company for over ten years and was well-respected, so she’d gotten tentative approval to take an unpaid leave of absence if she’d gotten on the show. Her husband worked in parks and rec for a local town (not Pawnee) and had also gotten tentative approval for an unpaid leave as long as it was over the winter.

    At the same job I also had a coworker who had also had an embarrassing unsuccessful Blind Date episode. We teased him mercilessly.

  18. i like hound dogs*

    Ooh, I love this question.

    I competed on American Ninja Warrior three times — not the same at all because it’s only a three-day commitment for each round/course, but everywhere I worked was DELIGHTED to give me time off (unpaid).

    I have aspirations of being on Survivor (which will probably never come true for myriad reasons, lol) and I actually think I could make it work with my current job (corporate proofreader). I believe it’s currently a 40-day commitment (26 on the island if you make it to the end, plus extra time leading up to it for press, etc). I actually wonder if producers may allow you to tell your boss? If not, I think I could say I had a once-in-a-lifetime entertainment opportunity and would they allow me a one-time unpaid leave? I mean, I’m pretty sure you could go as far as to say, “I have an opportunity to be on a TV show, but I can’t tell you in what capacity, but I’d need five weeks off.”

    For some of the baking shows (Great British Bake-off) I believe you report to the location every weekend, and go about your usual life during the week. So that would work for many people.

    Otherwise, yes, I think Alison is right that many of the contestants in *some* of the shows are sort of show-biz adjacent already, so it’s a gig for them. But I’ve definitely heard of others quitting their jobs for the opportunity. And I’m actually not sure “several months” is the norm — I think some of these shows film in less time than we might think — more like 4-6 weeks.

    There’s another unintended consequence to being on reality TV, though, which is the waiting period between when you can tell people you appeared on X or Y show and when that show airs. If you don’t do well (don’t, um, ask me how I know) you have to say “can’t tell you!” when people ask how you did, and then they’re like “ooooh okay but I bet you crushed it!” and they don’t find out the truth for, like, five more months, haha.

    1. BecauseHigherEd*

      God, this comment just reminded me:

      Years ago, a woman was hired to work at my husband’s company. Her first week on the job, she asked to take a half day off. This company was very flexible and even though that typically wouldn’t be allowed, they understood that sometimes people have something scheduled far in advance that they can’t change, so they let her take the afternoon off. She said, “Oh AWESOME, thanks! I’m going to go audition for American Idol!”

      Her manager (and my husband…and I…) thought, “Wow, you JUST took a job with us, and now you’re admitting that if your plans all align, you’re going to probably quit this job to go try to be a professional singer on a reality show?”

      She did not get the golden ticket. She also did not last very long at the company.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I’m not sure this is completely unreasonable. Consider how NFL teams sometimes sign midseason replacements who are otherwise out of football. If the guy does well, people will talk about who two weeks ago he was sitting on his couch watching football. The thing is, the team doesn’t generally sign the guy sight unseen. They will run him through a physical first. So if the guy told his employer he needed time off to take a physical for the Kansas City Chiefs, how would the employer react? My guess is that they would dine out on how the Chiefs’ linebacker (or whatever) used to work for them. The difference with American Idol is that the chances of anything coming of this are minuscule, but the principle seems the same.

        1. BecauseHigherEd*

          It makes sense from the perspective of the team or the show. If you’re on the other end….it’s not heartening to know that the person really wants to go do something else.

          She was let go about a year after this happened for non-American Idol related things, not because she auditioned, for what it’s worth.

    2. Cards fan*

      A former coworker was on Survivor. They were gone for quite awhile (more than a month, probably closer to two). They were higher level than I, and the rumors were crazy. Rehab, pending divorce, pending lawsuits, you name it. All without any real basis. However, one other coworker was a huge Survivor fan, and knew this person was interested. When they returned, they were down a LOT of weight. It was a crazy time.

      1. i like hound dogs*

        Oh man, that’s wild. I think the time commitment used to be longer when the seasons were 39 days (they’re now 26 days). I remember hearing that one contestant (who won!) was a therapist and had to try to explain the tan and bug bites to those who were curious upon her return.

        If I ever disappear from my job and come back thinner and tanner and covered in bug bites, they’ll know where I went to, lol.

    3. AL*

      I commented above as well; You are correct in your time assessment.
      I work in freelance tv & film, and have worked on several reality shows. The filming schedule is typically 2-3 days per episode, without weekends off, so a whole season can be shot in 4-8 weeks.

    4. Retail Dalliance*

      I have never heard of this career but I am now lowkey interested in being a corporate proofreader. What are the qualifications? What is the pay like? (If you don’t mind sharing–no pressure of course) :D I taught grammar and writing for 6 years so that’s my main qualification!!!

      1. i like hound dogs*

        Sure! I work in the marketing department of a national company. So I edit any and all materials that come through — emails, web content, print, social content, etc. I make $80k a year (which, I should disclose, is BY FAR the most I have ever made in a proofreading position). I came from academia (got my PhD in English and then decided I didn’t want to be a prof), where I learned how to edit and proofread from the managing editor of the literary magazine at my university.

        I have found full-time proofreading positions hard to find, but they do exist. Copywriting jobs are much more plentiful. If you taught grammar and writing and have an eye for detail, it’s likely you could learn to be a proofreader. The hardest part is getting the experience. I used to do some work on Elance (I think it has a different name now … Upwork?) back in the day before I got enough experience to regular work.

        1. i like hound dogs*

          *to get regular work … is what I think I meant? I clearly do not proofread my own posts, haha

  19. CH*

    My boyfriend’s colleague was chosen as a contestant for the next season of The Bachelorette. They work in a very corporate environment, and when the guy asked HR if he could take a leave of absence to film the show, he was told they wouldn’t hold his job for him. So he turned down the show.

    I suggested he could take a week or two of vacation at the start of filming and see how it goes – maybe he gets eliminated on night one and it doesn’t matter; maybe he doesn’t hit it off with the Bachelorette and decides to leave on his own; or maybe he goes and has a great experience and decides to quit his job in the middle of filming (I believe I remember another contestant who did that). In this case, the guy was told by casting that they really liked him and wanted him to stay in touch, so I suspect he might wait until a better time for him career-wise when he’d be more ready to leave this job and maybe do it before starting his next job.

    1. Sloanicota*

      This comment made me wonder if reality contestants get paid. It seems like some do, some don’t (the bachelor apparently doesn’t pay the girls, but does pay the guy a little) – it’s not a lot in any case, but if they offer the cast insurance coverage (? they must have something to cover people who are injured on set right??) and a small stipend it would work to do between jobs. But yeah nobody should quit a good job and do this unpaid, particularly since (IMO) nobody’s getting famous as an influencer on most of these run of the mill reality shows anymore … that time seems to be over, except for the ones that feature a lot of talent.

      1. bachelor fan here*

        no contestants get paid on bachelor/bachelorette. but the actual bachelor or bachelorette absolutely get paid, they negotiate with the production company on how much. tens of thousands for sure.. and the cast on the spinoff shows do get paid something.

        1. RC*

          Now I’m thinking of the excellent Burning Love, where when one contestant is eliminated (for sleeping with half the crew, and Not Being There For The Right Reasons), she’s like “fine, whatever, just give me my paycheck and I’ll go” and then they show her crying in the limo because “how could anyone not get paid for this??”

          (It’s truly an excellent parody show)

          1. AnonInWiscosin*

            I mean, I’m with her. It’s like college athletics. How is everyone in this situation making money off of the person’s work EXCEPT that person?

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Wait – they don’t get paid? Is this why full ride scholarships are a thing?

              1. Person from the Resume*

                College athletes cannot be paid, but they can (and the stars will) get a “full ride” scholarship that pays for room, board, food, books. Their coaches (top coaches in top sports) can make millions.

                1. Sloanicota*

                  I think this has recently shifted because they can get lucrative sponsorships (is this a new option for them?) that are worth a lot. People speculated Caitlin Clark could make more as a fifth year senior than at the WNBA due to all her deals. Mostly because the WNBA doesn’t pay that well, surprise surprise.

                2. bumblebee*

                  Yep, and as of just a couple of years ago with the NIL era they can also be payed for endorsements.

                3. bumblebee*

                  Ope, should have refreshed and seen that Sloanicota said the same thing. But yes, NIL (name image likeness) is new (2021, I believe).

                  With Caitlin, I think one thing that’s important to remember is that she doesn’t automatically lose those sponsorships by going pro, as the deals are with the brands, not the school. Obviously some brands may prefer to sponsor a college star vs WNBA but it’s not necessarily a choice between college sponsorships or WNBA pay.

                4. allathian*

                  @Sloanicota. Yup, and that’s the reason why many European WNBA players only play for a part of the season there and the rest in a professional women’s basketball team in Europe, where they actually get paid. Not millions, granted, but more than at the WNBA.

              2. Nameless*

                College athletes do not get paid, and previously have gotten in huge trouble for accepting any kind of compensation (including expensive gifts) – Reggie Bush had his Heisman trophy taken away for accepting money & gifts. The NCAA (National College Athletics Association, which oversees most college athletic competitions) has loosened up rules so that star players can make money on their image recently, though, which is a step in the right direction. (Also worth noting that many, many people, myself included, have strong negative feelings about the NCAA based on rules that tend to favor them and hurt players.)

            2. RC*

              I really wish there were more clips of that show on youtube. It hits everything so directly on the nose, and in a 15-minute package. Anyway, if you can find it, watch it! (It also has, like, literally everyone in the cast lol)

            3. Gumby*

              A lot of that depends on the sport though. The men’s gymnastics team at my alma mater is not raking in the big bucks (it’s free to attend meets and I’m not sure where else they’d get money). But the football team? Probably does bring in a fair chunk of change. Even though, objectively speaking, the gymnastics team is way more accomplished these days.

              Besides, given the cost of a college education, probably students in most sports benefit more from the college scholarship than they would from their sport. It’s only the football-basketball-volleyball type sports making tons of money. Your swimming & diving, track & field, water polo, field hockey, lacrosse, and squash teams (or whatever) probably give out just as many scholarships as the major income-generating sports.

              1. AnonInWiscosin*

                True, I’m not commenting on the smaller and… well… whiter sports. I do question how much of a quality education star football and basketball players at many schools are able to get given the massive time/energy/travel commitments of playing at a near-professional level.

                Then again, I’m one of those stick-in-the-mud types that thinks that frequent concussions and higher education do not go together and that if the NFL wants a minor league it should pay for its own post-college league.

  20. starrai*

    I’m just riffing here, but I feel like the Amazing Race is generally the one that has the highest proportion of office jobs compared to gig jobs, but a lot of those do seem like they have stronger job security or flexibility baked in. Corporate lawyers and finance folks are probably fairly confident of getting another job if their leave of absence isn’t approved. Real estate people work fairly flexible hours already (at least, they seem to) and often seem to be self-employed despite being part of a particular franchise or office. Teachers could maybe go during the summer breaks. Etc. It’s an interesting question! I guess there are more flexible job options in the office trenches than I realized, and also, I never want to be on a reality show. :D

    1. AnonInWiscosin*

      Someone from my company went on the Amazing Race, and the company celebrated her accomplishment when she returned. (I think she came in second place? Can’t remember/didn’t watch.)

      I imagine that there’s a major gulf between the career effects of going on the Amazing Race or Iron Chef vs Big Brother or F-boy Island.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        *considers, but decides not to google and learn whether “F-boy Island” is a real thing*

        Probably it is. After there were two competing shows about installing aquariums, I decided there was nothing that couldn’t be a reality show.

        1. HBJ*

          F-boy island, and the spin-off F-girl island, are absolutely things. I believe they recently changed the name, though.

          I have no desire to ever watch it, but I believe the premise is just a fairly typical dating show except there’s some money involved. The lead has to figure out if the person they’re falling for out of the group of suitors is an F-boy/girl who will take all the money and dump them at the end or if it’s someone who is truly falling for them as well and will split the money and keep dating them.

    2. Dek*

      Yeah, I feel like Amazing Race has a pretty wide variety of jobs. Dentists, grocery store owners, firefighters, police, engineers… ICE…

      My buddy and I always talk about applying, but that’s been one of the things I wondered about–how do you take a month (plus. Because lord knows you’d need a week’s recovery if you were running the whole time) off with minimal information?

  21. Tracy*

    I believe some shows, like Married at First Site, have specific dates you need to be available (wedding, honeymoon, reunion, couple’s retreat) and other than that you work your regular job and then film the show. It sounds pretty brutal, but it’s doable. Unfortunately I believe a couple people have had career issues from their behavior on TV.

    Other shows, especially reality competition shows, are filmed on a pretty intense schedule with only one day off per week. I imagine if you’re a baker who is promoting your employer on Food Network there is more flexibility.

  22. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    Also, a lot of shows film a whole lot faster than is suggested during the show. They’ll consistently say “this week” in each episode as though the season took 8-10 weeks, but it might have been filmed in just one.

    I was recently rewatching the first season of Worst Cooks in America and during most of the episodes, they refer to it as having been a week for each, so 6 weeks for the whole season. But when explaining to the judges in the finale, they said it was “10 days.” I also remember contestants on the Texas road-trip season of Top Chef (yes I watch a lot of cooking competition shows) talking about not even getting time to sleep between filming the end of one episode and the start of the next; they were just forcing them to work around the clock. (It makes some of the bizarre decisions or conflicts people get into in these shows a whole lot more understandable.)

    I think one of the only reality shows that probably lasted the time they claimed was The Biggest Loser, just because you literally cannot get a body to lose weight any faster than that.

    1. mango chiffon*

      I remember the Texas season being one of the messiest seasons and I expect the sleep deprivation being a huge part of it.

      1. AnonInWiscosin*

        Oh yeah, I’m a nice person unless I’m sleep deprived or hungry. Give footage of exhausted, hangry me to a talented editor and I could be a reality show monster.

      2. Filosofickle*

        That all-night outdoor barbecue challenge was ridiculous — terrible season all around

        1. not my usual self*

          I was there, man (one of my friends worked for the flagship “Whole Paycheck” store at the time and employees were allowed to invite friends/family to the taping)! The chefs sure did look beat when serving us the food; it made more sense once I watched the episode for sure (and I did get a glimpse of us eating at our table when I watched).

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      …I was recently rewatching the first season of Worst Cooks in America and during most of the episodes, they refer to it as having been a week for each, so 6 weeks for the whole season. But when explaining to the judges in the finale, they said it was “10 days.”
      That explains so much why they really don’t get that much better with cutting, using appliances, cracking eggs…things that take repetition. I wondered, “what the hell do you do for all the time you are not filming? How can you not practice?”
      Oh, because there is no time.

      (Full disclosure: I like that show, particularly the ones with the celebrities or professional entertainers. They are comfortable on camera and make good TV. The people who are less so, Uberfremschaden. And I love that Alton Brown kept his shit but lost all faith in the future of mankind and will never guest host again. )

      1. ZugTheMegasaurus*

        Yeah, I’ve also noticed that a lot of the Worst Cooks contestants seem to have difficulty predicting the results of their actions. If I keep this already-very-hot pan on high heat, it will catch fire. If I cut something in half by stabbing it 20 times with a paring knife instead of once with a big chef’s knife, it will be ragged with holes in it. If I set a round object on a flat countertop, it will roll away.

        It’s like this weird little blind spot. They seem like totally normal, competent people otherwise, but it’s like when they step into the kitchen, they just can’t seem to apply the same critical thinking skills they use in their jobs and everyday lives to cooking. And it makes sense that it would be incredibly hard to improve if you weren’t making that connection confirming that whatever you’re doing is making a difference.

    3. starsaphire*

      Nope! I’ve read a few articles about people who were on that show, and they were very clear that “a week” was usually maybe three to four days, but could be anywhere from two days to seven, so whenever everyone would get berated about not losing enough “this week” you could tell that they picked up filming the next day.

      (I’ve also heard a lot of people got really sick/injured and a few almost died. And caveat, I never watched that show because I dislike what it stands for, but YMMV.)

  23. mango chiffon*

    Have been watching Love is Blind recently (need to go home to watch the new reunion episode!!) and most of the participants seem to have regular office jobs or are “entrepreneurs” so I assume they just take their PTO during the pod dating and the holiday trip, and they have to get back to work after that and film in the evenings.

    1. BecauseHigherEd*

      Yes. My mom’s second cousin was on America’s Got Talent. The show makes it *seem* like they’re all amateurs, but a lot of them are professional, working entertainers who just want to raise their profile. Mom’s cousin had already been doing his thing full-time professionally for like 15 years when he went on. I think a LOT of people go on reality TV for self-promotional reasons, so in a sense, they basically ARE doing their regular job.

    2. Antilles*

      Love is Blind is 10 days in the pods, then a few days on the holiday, and any further meet-ups, the weddings, etc all happen in the city itself. That’s well within an ordinary amount of PTO, even for people in their late 20’s/early 30’s.

    3. asturdysoul*

      I feel like the LiB reunions are always so highly anticipated and then wind up being kind of a letdown…I hope this one is the exception that proves the rule!
      Re: filming around a regular job — Deepti and Natalie from season 2 of the show have both said they had WFH corporate jobs when they were filming the show (I think Natalie worked at Deloitte as a consultant and Deepti did something in IT for a big insurance company, like Progressive or Allstate?). IIRC Natalie told her bosses she was doing a reality show but not which one, and Deepti just put in the vacation request and didn’t explain what it was for.
      They have both since quit to be influencers/host a podcast, but I remember them talking about when the show first aired, people were DMing them on Teams and whatnot to ask about the show. That’s the part I think would be the most dicey/uncomfortable: if you’re on a show that’s super popular and you get lots of screen time, and then you have to go back to work and navigate all your colleagues’/bosses’/clients’ perceptions of you on the show. Those two are fortunate they were able to quit, but clearly not everyone can parlay a TV appearance into a lucrative influencer career. And if you get a “bad edit,” that could absolutely affect your reputation/career in the future!

  24. Casa Amor Bombshell*

    Love Island (especially early UK seasons) has had a range of careers despite being filmed daily over eight weeks! Doctor, lawyer, firefighter, flight attendant, lab scientist, paramedic…

    The answer though is that most quit their jobs to go on the show. A few go back, but it’s a new contract, not just an unreal amount of leave.

      1. allathian*

        The time commitment is no doubt the same for most shows, to ensure that the elimination order remains a secret until the show airs.

  25. Coverage Associate*

    I read a profile once of a lawyer who went on a learn to cook show. I think the time commitment was only one work week and she had her own practice. Since it was a family friendly show and no one cares how their lawyer cooks, it didn’t hurt her other than the lost billables.

    Kim Kardashian is working for a law license too.

  26. Too Long Til Retirement*

    I have a friend who appeared on one of the baking shows(not in the U.S.). She said that the contestants had to be prepared to be gone for 3 weeks if they made it to the end. That seems fairly do-able for many careers, especially where 5 weeks is a standard amount of leave(like most countries that are not America).

  27. BecauseHigherEd*

    Oh! Oh! Oh!

    Two months ago, my office was meeting with a governmental liaison (think something along the lines of: we’re the Financial Aid Office at a University and this is someone who liaises with the US Department of Education). As we’re wrapping up our convo, he said, “By the way, you may have noticed some delays in requests sent to the federal office. Jane took some time off to participate in a reality TV show, and she won, so she took her cash prize and gave notice. You know how government is…it’s taking some time to fill that position, so please be patient.”

    I don’t know the details of her time off request (although her position was VERY niche/specialized, so I would imagine it had good PTO) but yeah…the minute she won the cash prize, she was out of there.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Quitting =/= retiring, so BecauseHigherEd’s government colleague may have just quit that job now that they had some breathing room to do so before looking for something else.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Totally. I have had a lot of jobs I would have quit if I got $25K. That would have been enough to float me during a job search for something better.

        2. BecauseHigherEd*

          RC, you had the same thought as me. The person won a decent amount of money (I think the government contact said it was in the 7 figure range?) which is a lot but not necessarily RETIREMENT level wealth. They made it sound like she was going to try to build a career based on her reality TV stardom. There could be some product endorsements or a book/podcast/TV series in the works that I don’t know about, but yeah, I was kind of surprised and wonder if that means they don’t get their government pension after retirement.

          It also sucks because this person really was the ONLY person in the US doing this very specific thing.

      2. Matthew Strickland*

        Only show I know of that is quit my job kind of money is squid game the challenge, everything else is $1m or much less. In fact only two are at $1m, survivor and the amazing race. Even squid game the challenge, I’m not sure I’d quit my job. I’m 41 and a social worker. $4.65m would certainly change my life but I don’t think it’s enough to live and play for the rest of my life and remember I’m a social worker, I’m not living the high life.

        1. BecauseHigherEd*

          ((((((it may or may not have been Squid Game: The Challenge))))))

          (((((((if it was hypothetically Squid Game: The Challenge, the contestant is someone very distantly tangentially related to me, not a close colleague or personal contact)))))))

        2. Gumby*

          I remember fondly the season of Beauty and the Geek where one team had a really likable geek and a rather unlikable beauty and the college-student (I think?) geek was all “vote us out; I can make [$prize for winning] in a year or two of working a job in my field.” The prize there was $100k or $250k or something – I don’t remember exactly.

          1. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

            $250k, see below. (That season you refer to was s3, as I recall. I was s4.)

        3. allathian*

          It should. Most people don’t earn that much in a lifetime, certainly not social workers.

          This assumes that you invest most of the money wisely so that you can afford to pay for end-of-life care and health insurance as well as everything else you need.

  28. theothermadeline*

    This would be an interesting guest article to have one someone like Eliza Orleans, who is a public defender in NYC but has also been on multiple CBS reality shows (Survivor and Amazing Race).

    1. Justice4MikeWhite*

      I don’t think Eliza has been on Survivor since becoming a lawyer full time but the most recent season of Survivor had three lawyers make it to the final 5.

  29. Contracts Killer*

    I watch a lot of US-based cooking competitions. A lot of the contestants say that they quit their job to be on the show. Others own restaurants and talk about leaving someone else in charge of the restaurant while they are gone.

  30. Katie*

    One of my very bright colleagues was asked to audition for Married at First Sight/Love Is Blind (I think they cast both from the same pool) and she had zero interest, in part because there is no way she could have left her job for weeks. I think OP is right that it has made a lot of the dating shows evermore tedious to watch.

  31. AnonInWiscosin*

    I don’t know how it was arranged beforehand, but someone at my full-time non-seasonal employer was on The Amazing Race. I know because when she got back they decided to make a big deal about it in a staff meeting. It was a company that pretended to be hip, and they gave a 4-week sabbatical after 5 years tenure, so maybe that’s how the employee swung it?

  32. Mouse named Anon*

    I know a few people that have an option to take a “Sabbatical” at their companies. Most of these people have been with their companies for quite sometime. I wonder if someone could use a sabbatical for a reality show.

  33. RC*

    And it’s openly understood that GBBO films each episode over one weekend, right? So I’d imagine that’s far more doable for normies than something like the Bachelor or Big Brother (or, as I’ve been watching lately, The Traaaitorrs, although that one looks like maybe 2 weeks max, cause everyone keeps getting murrrrdered?). Jeopardy is sort of a 1-2-day commitment unless and until you start winning a lot, but that’s probably looked upon favorably enough if you get that far. And then you have things like Top Chef which I’d presume in the industry is seen as a legit enough career move?

    Basically I’m saying for a lot of reasons I don’t understand why people would do something like Bachelor/Brother, but also I’ve never wanted to pursue acting/influencing as a career :) (also, Traitors taught me that apparently Real World/Road Rules Challenge is still a thing in this year of 2024)

    1. Miss Fisher*

      Yes but it is just The Challenge now. I think CT and Jonny Bananas are the 2 mainstays though they werent on the last season that was on CBS.

      1. RC*

        Yes, I learned from The Traitors that there is a grown adult in his 40s who goes by “Johnny Bananas”. (Maybe he missed the last season cause he was in Alan Cumming’s Scottish castle for a bit?) Life never ceases to surprise me!

  34. No Bees On Typhon*

    The only reality show I watch regularly is Survivor, which does seem to have several lawyers / doctors / teachers / project managers / engineers and other similar professionals each season. I’ve wondered how they swing the time off, too!

    I honestly can’t imagine doing the show as a teacher. It must be incredibly tough to balance a game where lying and backstabbing are pretty central to most players’ strategies with having to go back home afterwards and face a room full of kids (and their parents). I remember one elementary school teacher a few years ago getting voted out because she got caught stealing from the communal food supplies to create her own private stash, which is seen as crossing a line even in a game based on lying and backstabbing (I see the regular, acceptable types of lying within the game as equivalent to bluffing in poker – I don’t care if my friends beat me at poker by bluffing, but I would care if they lied to my face in most other contexts. I would also care if they stole my food when I was really hungry). I always wondered if she suffered professionally from that.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Also a lot of salespeople on Survivor. Which makes sense in terms of convincing random strangers the two of you have a lot in common and should team up.

    2. Matthew Strickland*

      Tommy won season 39 and he is an elementary school teacher. I remember there was a middle school principle on season 18, Tocatines. I don’t remember her name but it was certainly a topic of conversation for her through the game. Denise on season 15, China, was a school lunch lady and I remember she told a story where she lost her job after the season.

      1. Wes*

        Lol Denise the lunch lady got busted lying about that, and had to give back the money Mark Burnett gave to her at the reunion

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      I also wonder if she taught older kids, not sure how far elementary school goes, so maybe they are too young to have watched it, but kids old enough to watch…it’s hard to imagine how you’d have much authority if they saw you stealing food. Like how could you tell your students to be kind to each other or tell them off for lying about leaving their homework at home when they knew you’d done that?

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, that’s true. But I still think that a lot of these reality shows are unsuitable viewing for kids and young teenagers. Even if it’s all a game, showing kids that it’s OK to deceive others and to stab them in the back to win isn’t a lesson I’d want to teach them.

  35. Hiring Mgr*

    This happened when my mom was on Card Sharks in 1980. We were worried that if she went on an extended championship run it would conflict with her work schedule. It didn’t matter in the end, she was eliminated in her first match when she foolishly went “higher” on a Queen.

  36. Sam*

    The Bachelor kept trying to recruit my roommate but she wouldn’t do it because it would cost too much to take that much time off of work…they really should be paid.

  37. Anon for this*

    My good friend was on a reality show recently! She is definitely not an aspiring actress, but in fact a real person with a normal career. Though the season was 8 episodes total, once a week, the filming was only 3 weeks total and they did it over Thanksgiving. She had to sign a bazillion NDAs and wasn’t allowed to tell anyone she was even doing a TV show. They gave them a lot of suggestions about what they could say they were doing instead. She actually did tell her job about it before she even found out she got on (and before she signed an NDA) and they happily let her take her 3 weeks of vacation she had built up. She works for a non-profit and told them that she would have ‘viewing parties’ when the show came out as part of promoting their cause and raising money for the org, which she did. The reality show also paid all of the contestants a weekly stipend to cover their living expenses while they were gone. Also, they all had to be gone the entire time, regardless of when they got eliminated from the show. As soon as you were eliminated you were sent to a hotel and had to stay there, totally sequestered, until the whole show finished filming.

  38. HBJ*

    I used to follow a couple reality shows, and if you listen to interviews, some will talk about it. You can take a leave of absence. Some jobs are conducive to it. One fascinating interview is with Peter Weber (The Bachelorette/Bachelor) on the podcast Trading Secrets. He is a commercial airline pilot who talked about going without his company’s permission and trading shifts while on the show at the last minute to be able to stay.

  39. irritable vowel*

    About 20 years ago, I had a coworker who auditioned for and was chosen to be on one of the PBS “live life like you’re a Puritan/on the frontier/in the 1940s” reality shows. We worked in higher ed, although he wasn’t an instructor – so, he didn’t have the summer off. I think he must have taken a leave of absence from work to do the show? Maybe it was more palatable to our employer for him to do so since the show had an educational/historical focus. It was really fun to see him when the show came out!

    1. subaru outback driver*

      I think I know the show you are talking about. The one where they had to live for the spring/summer/fall and then at the end they were judged by historians to see if they would had made it through the winter.

      PBS did another similar show where folks lived in an English house from the Downtown Abbey period. In the end the big reveal was the guy who was in the part of the Butler, his family had owned the estate during that time period.

      Those PBS shows were really cool.

      1. starsaphire*

        I so wish there were more of them! I’d swear I’ve watched all the Ruth Goodman shows a dozen times each.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        There was the BBC Back in Time for Dinner/Tea/Brixton series, which looked like it was filmed during the summer.

  40. Clala*

    An acquaintance of mine was on Married at First Sight. The marriage didn’t even last for the duration of filming, and his wife accused him of only being on the show to promote his sleazy real estate business (her words). Going by his Facebook posts during and after airing, I can’t say she was wrong.

  41. Not My Usual Username*

    Game shows have managed this for decades by filming episodes back-to back. I was on Jeopardy (won three times), which films five shows on a Tuesday, films another five the next day, and then takes 1-2 weeks off and does it again. A superstar who lives in the Western U.S. and wins 20 shows may miss only 6 days of work over a 6-week period. Some co-workers may not even realize that person was on the show until it airs a couple of months later.

  42. Lily Rowan*

    I love this question!

    And just have to take the excuse to mention that someone from Bad Girls Club was (a while later) one of the admin people at my dentist’s office!

  43. Ok_Criticism*

    I’ve been on a few game shows over the last few years, including one that involved multiple days of filming. Maybe it’s just the office culture where I am, but no one really questioned me about it; we have a flexible vacation plan, and I just gave advanced notice I needed to take a personal day(s) and wouldn’t be reachable. They obviously noticed I was gone, but no one really probed into the reasons behind my days off.

    No idea how I’d manage something longer term like Survivor or Big Brother, but fortunately, I have no aspirations to be on a show like that!

  44. misplacedmidwesterner*

    One of my husband’s coworker was on an episode of househunters. But that was like a 2-3 day commitment and not terribly embarrassing. My husband was offered a spot as an expert on a reality show, but it was going to be six weeks and they couldn’t afford to pay him was he earns in his regular career (they were recruiting him for his expertise in his side line). And he was very concerned about how he would end up portrayed and so passed.

    I’ve often joked that I’d approve time off for any of my employees to be on a reality show, no one has taken it up yet.

  45. Minerva*

    Definitely based on your workplace and mgmt. I work in finance but auditioned a couple of times for a major notable singing competition. My boss knew I was taking the day off to attend the audition. She was incredibly supportive of me “following my dream” and said that is I made it far enough to make a difference she’d see about temping my position in case I needed to come back.

    Sadly I didn’t make it past the 2nd round which was normal PTO days, but it was cool to know I had something to come back to.

  46. Falling Diphthong*

    Amazing Race films in just under a month, and, not coincidentally, is known for having a much bigger mix of jobs–the sort of thing you could ask for a month off “to travel” and that it’s with a camera crew is only learned by work later.

  47. AnonAnon*

    I know for a fact most, if not all of these “contestants” are actors.
    We had a family member who filmed for one of these shows who was an aspiring actor. This is how some of them break into the biz.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      Yeah, that’s a safe bet for shows that have multiple episodes and the contestants can showcase their personalities.

  48. GeekGirl*

    I was a civilian analyst in a large law enforcement agency. One of our female detectives was on a reality show, think trading places with two people from radically different backgrounds, possibly filmed during a four week vacation. Fortunately she was not allowed to wear her real uniform, badge or identify her agency. I have no idea who would have approved it or what they were thinking. It was the talk of the Department at the time, and is still brought up when discussing her critical thinking skills. There are many other questionable choices in her career path, but this is one of several you can Google.

  49. LaurCha*

    What I’m wondering now is how employers react when it turns out an employee took time off to be on Naked and Afraid? Because, well, naked. On TV.

    1. Katie from Scotland*

      From my experience of being on a different Naked reality tv show – you’d be surprised about how little most normal reasonable people will care about ‘The Show’ after it’s happened. Before I was cast (in Naked Attraction) I had to read/sign lots of stuff about considering how my appearance might affect my life, negative social media, what friends and family and colleagues would think, etc etc. It really made it seem like A Big Deal, but in fact, most people were like “haha hilarious” or “oh that’s an odd choice” and then it aired, and after a couple of months, it’s like everyone forgot it ever happened. My boss included!

  50. Sales SVP*

    I took three months off in my 20s to do a 78 day adult Outward Bound class. The economy was terrible (recession), and I was a management consultant, so we had very little work, and they were happy to let me take a leave!

  51. Falling Diphthong*

    I recall reading (sorry, don’t remember where) that being on reality TV is actually really bad for a serious actor resume. Which I can see–if you really like someone’s reality TV persona, then it’s probably very hard for them to translate that to “next door neighbor” or “second assassin.”

    When the iconic role is playing yourself, it’s not a particular sign that you can play everyone else. (And of course, many people’s reality show persona winds up being “annoying person eliminated early” rather than their envisioned “someone I would love to see again, but playing a nun.”)

    The exception is that I gather Mike White has been happy to cast survivors from his season in his scripted shows.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Yes! A few Survivor folks have been on The White Lotus as very, very minor characters.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      This is “being on reality tv” from the other side, but I was really pleasantly surprised to find Jonathan Bennett a decent actor in Hallmark movies after seeing him as a Food Network competition host for years.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I think he started out as an actor and then became a host — he’s in Mean Girls!

    3. Language Lover*

      Being a contestant on a one-off game show doesn’t seem to be an issue. The Price Is Right has has people on it that have gone on to do other things in the industry (Aaron Paul) for one.

      But otherwise, it’s a tough transition unless you already have somewhat of a career before joining the reality show.

  52. Person from the Resume*

    I am embarrassed to admit I watched The Ultimatum Queer Love edition. (My arm was twisted by someone I was dating and the first few episodes were less ridiculous than the later ones so I was sucked in before it got really terrible.)

    There were a few recent college grads and some people attempting to become influencers (which being on a reality show supports that goal). The show generally DID NOT talk about these people’s jobs, and I do wonder if some of these folks maintained steady employment at all. There was lots of behaving badly.

    In this show’s case, I think it attracts people trying to further a career as an influencer, actor, entertainer, or singer. People wanting to get their name and face in front of the public and are willing to do a lot including joining a show where you air your romantic dirty laundry.

    There was one contestant who did not seem to want to be on this show at all, but I suspect was dragged there by “the ultimatum” to go on this TV show or break up. And that person’s partner is now making money from only fans so her goals were likely to become semi-famous enough for that to work and maybe not so much about wanting to get married to her partner. But everyone else was a seemingly somewhat willing participant to this train wreck of a show.

    1. Glazed Donut*

      Some people on that show in particular went by nicknames (or, I believe in one case, just made up a different first name to be called on the show) – likely in order to protect the person’s real identity outside of the show. Not an actor but a more serious person with serious career aspirations (this person was NOT excited to be on the show and it showed!).

  53. Anita Brayke*

    OMG!! I loved Blind Date! It was the first “reality show” I watched. I don’t watch many of them at all, but I loved that show. With Rodger Lodge!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      The only one I watched every single episode of was Bridezillas. I can’t explain why I liked it so much — I knew it was fake but the whiny brides pissed me off so much, hahaha. Still, I sat through every single one.

    2. Goldenrod*

      “OMG!! I loved Blind Date!”

      Came here to say this!! That show was the BEST! (And also the worst, as Alison implied.)

      Oh, Roger Lodge!!!! He was so great. I loved how hostile he was towards the show, and how he ruthlessly mocked the contestants. Good times!

  54. Alissa*

    I haven’t watched the full range of reality tv but I feel like some of that is dependent on the type of show.

    Stuff like Jersey Shore, it seemed everyone was young enough to not really have careers yet…reality tv was their springboard into careers (whether more reality tv, selling items, etc).

    I remember a salesperson or two on Love is Blind? Depending on the type of sales, a commission only gig could be more 1099, so it’s less of needing to ask for time off, and more about impacting the flow of commissions.

    And if it’s a show that’s less about fighting for jungle survival where someone is cast as the bad guy, maybe it would help your sales because people are now curious to talk to you, so you have an “in” to start building a banter, make a relationship, try to get the sale. (You’re no longer just a random cold calling insurance salesman.) I’m in sales myself, and it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “oh I’d totally do X for the publicity”, with X sometimes being a reality show. I know people in education and tech careers that work for X months out of the year, and spend the rest doing other things (such as thru-hiking on the A.T.; or volunteering with habitat); because they’ve built their careers over not working a standard schedule, they already have the flexibility.

    Personally I could never do it because I don’t want to be sequestered away from re-runs of Matlock that long, but to each their own, hahaha.

  55. Lisa*

    “(I also have the impression that a lot of reality show contestants are actors/entertainers, so this sort of is their job. Not in the sense that James, an actor from LA, is hired to portray “Chad, a banker from Boston,” but in the sense that aspiring actors try out to appear as themselves on many of these shows. Which is why you see a lot of gig work and other jobs that aspiring actors might have on the side.)”

    Even before Reality TV was a thing, this was definitely true of game shows, especially the ones that don’t require knowledge (like Price is Right).

      1. Chanel No. Pi*

        Jon Hamm was a contestant on some dating show before he was famous. I think he didn’t get chosen.

  56. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

    I have a very good friend who was on a Food Network show; but she is a professional baker- her restaurant gave her the time off because ultimately (even though she didn’t win or make it to the finals) it was good publicity for their restaurant. Also, at least in her case, although the episodes themselves aired over several months, her actual taping was only around 2 weeks, so not an egregiously long vacation time.

  57. ihaveaheadache*

    I work at a Big 4 accounting firm and multiple people have gone on various reality TV shows over the years, so its certainly possible.

  58. hello hello*

    I saw an interview with a chef once where they talked how if a fellow chef disappeared for 2-3 months everyone knew they were either in rehab or doing Top Chef.

    (I presume there must be some carve outs for NDAs where you’re allowed to tell your family and possibly employer why you need to take six weeks off work, but who can say.)

  59. Justice4MikeWhite*

    I will never not think about Coach from Survivor who told all of his students and coworkers that he was taking 4 months off for cancer treatment when he was really… going on Survivor.

    1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

      I once had a teacher tell our class that she’d applied for Survivor and planned to quit on the spot if she made it.

  60. Pam Halpert*

    I worked at a school district admin office. One of our teachers went on Married at First Sight. She lied to her principal about why she was gone. Her behavior on the show was not as bad as it could have been, but it was still enough to make the principal call us frequently to see if she could fire her. Think bachelorette parties that got a little out of control. It was a mess and I was so happy when the season was over. The former teacher is now a travel influencer.

  61. IllyriaShaw*

    I am not big on reality TV but for me it brings to mind some specific Jeopardy contestants (one being the current host) and how they handled it. I couple years ago when Amy had her run I remember leaning after she had to take a demotion at work and then was able to quit when her winnings came in.

  62. Triple Nerd Score*

    Trixie Mattel tells a story about this re: going on RuPaul’s Drag Race! Apparently, the excuse that many drag queens/performers would give was, “My grandma died, I’m going to be away for a few weeks.” But because SO many drag queens in small tight-knit circles were giving the same excuse, everyone knew that “my grandma died” was really code for, “I’m going on Drag Race.” So Trixie says, “My grandma died” (read: “I’m going on Drag Race”) and another queen just raised an eyebrow and goes, “Well, she probably won’t be dead for long!” (read: “You’re getting eliminated fast!”)

    1. tree frog*

      I believe that was Kim Chi, haha. Drag race is kind of in a category of its own because the majority of the cast either do drag full time or have drag-friendly day jobs. The real struggle is getting all of your outfits made, which is a major time or money outlay (or both).

      1. Bananas for banana*

        Yea I heard some queens only get 2-3 weeks notice to get their outfits etc together depending on if they’re cast later – I think this happened to Naysha on Allstars.

  63. Poppin' in for this*

    I just finished watching a reality show where a young (20s) friend appeared. He is a professional actor, but he used to be a tour guide (big city, think bus tour guide). He was billed as “tour guide” on the show, and he wasn’t the only actor billed as such.

    His family has money and he does acting gigs for a living. He was coming off a Swiss vacation with family and he had the luxury of spending six weeks in Ireland filming the show (comprised completely of Americans, just cheaper to film there).

  64. Glazed Donut*

    Ah, this reminds me of an interview I was in years ago. We had a candidate come on campus for a whole day for a teaching job, and at lunch we invited this person to sit at our table.
    One of the current faculty (not involved in the interview) looked at the candidate and said “You look so familiar! Where do I know you from?” and the candidate quickly and enthusiastically answered “I was on What Not to Wear!”
    While she WAS on that show, she was also a volunteer at a local garden center, which is where the faculty member knew her from. Her episode of WNTW was at least a decade old – and I’m not sure that’s the impression she wanted to give in her interview!

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I can understand why she went with WNTW as her answer. It would be something that someone would easily be able to look up with her name. There are lots of people who really liked that show. It used to be on reruns, I don’t know if it still is (I don’t have the channel and lost interest).
      Also, if she been intentionally vague it could have been seen as odd, like she was hiding something. I don’t think saying you were on WNTW is a bad thing, unless she is working in the fashion industry, or if she dresses like a slob.

  65. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

    I think often the NDAs allow you to say you’re on the show, but not much else? I’ve known a few people who were trying to get onto shows and I had friends of friends successfully make it onto them. They just can’t tell you the details of what happens, who wins, and so on. After all, how are they going to get all their friends to watch Survivor or whatever if they can’t explain why?

    I might know that a friend of mine knows who wins the next season of (show redacted) but *I* have no idea who wins, because they can’t tell me that.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      yeah I think it would be the same if you were on a game show. You just can’t say what happened

    2. Wes*

      I don’t know about other shows, but Survivor does a ‘cast reveal’ with photos and profiles of the contestants a few weeks before the season premieres, and obviously cast members are allowed to talk about the fact they were on the show at that point

  66. fat scientist*

    Someone from my workplace was on the Amazing Race and did a Q&A after the show aired (after hours and on zoom, I guess people had been asking her a lot of questions so she decided to just answer everything at once). She said that she asked to take a month off for a “writing retreat” which was granted, I’m not sure paid or unpaid. I don’t think anyone was that upset when it turned out she was not at a writing retreat, it sounds like the NDAs were very strict.

    1. Dek*

      I feel like I would be in SO MUCH trouble if it turned out I wasn’t out for the reason I said I was out. Especially if it wound up being a public thing like that.

  67. Storm in a teacup*

    I work with someone who was once on the X Factor.
    It’s an interesting piece of trivia about them and they’re always relied upon to take part in the karaoke

  68. Catherine UK*

    If I remember correctly, the UK Apprentice used to make the contestants leave their current job to be on the show. When the recession hit I think that’s when they allowed contestants to say things like they were on jury service, and I think one person said they’d be working on an oil rig!

  69. RedinSC*

    I interviewed at a local company and my interviewer was a well known person from one of the early Survivor series. I’m forgetting his name now, he was all tatted up. I walked in and was a little startled at the moment, but got over it. I was not anywhere close to qualified for that job, it was much more technical than I was.

  70. anywhere but here*

    I’m not sure that NDAs are so broad that a person can’t say they’re going to be on a reality tv show at all. I know someone (production side, not a performer) and he can say he is working a reality tv show, just not which one.

  71. morethantired*

    I just watched Blown Away which is the glass-blowing competition reality show on Netflix and several of the contestants talked about leaving their jobs for the opportunity to compete and get exposure. I was surprised because I would think, if you’re a glass-blower, it must be hard to find full-time positions.

    1. Ginger Cat Lady*

      But were those full time jobs in glass blowing? Or were they doing an unrelated job and moonlighting in glassblowing?
      Or maybe they’re doing mass production work and want to make it as an artist?

  72. Forgot all about this*

    I worked at a Big 4 consulting firm right out of college – an analyst at another office went on the Bachelor. She got fired (rumor was because it did not align with the company’s image). Not sure if she did it between receiving her offer and starting or took a “vacation” to do it, but I think for some companies it most definitely has career impacts.

  73. PDB*

    I’m a sound mixer and I’ve worked on Big Brother. Lots of contestants are students or just out of school and a lot ARE actors and the like.
    And everybody gets paid. The longer you last the more you make. You can get $100,000 just making the merge on Survivor.

    1. Wes*

      No – the runner up of Survivor gets $100k. Third place about $85k.

      The first boot gets around $2500 and it goes up incrementally from there.

        1. Wes*

          Nope, I don’t think so. The only exceptions are All Star casts get a higher amount than newbie seasons.

  74. bishbah*

    A person at my company was on a reality show and was in it until the end, so gone a while. Their job was white-collar corporate, but also largely commission-based, so I imagine that made it easier to get approval for a leave of absence. They did come back to their job after filming (and did a number of internal newsletter interviews and the like about the experience), but once the show aired, they ended up a reality star! I can’t tell that they work anywhere else, but they are no longer in our corporate directory, and a web search just pulls up LOTS of tabloid articles…

  75. Artemesia*

    I know someone who was on Jeopardy. She won once but only about 12K and lost the second time — but what surprised me is that the show pays nothing. She had to pay her own expenses to travel to the show. She came out a little ahead because she won once but others would actually end up paying to appear.

  76. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    The only 2 competitions I watch, both BBC and definitely not actors: MasterChef UK has contestants in a wide selection of very ordinary jobs, plus a few retired people and SAHPs. Masterchef the Professionals UK has real chefs who are employed, mostly young.

    Both have several rounds to reach the final. Anyone know if they film at weekends like GBBO do?

    1. MsSolo (UK)*

      I’m pretty certain Masterchef is weekends, or one day a week, for the early rounds. They’re all in cohorts for the early rounds so the show doesn’t have to coordinate everyone until they’ve eliminated a fair chunk of them. The Professionals is an opportunity for people to promote their restaurants, so it’s a slightly different kettle of fish. One year there was a husband and wife couple with one on Masterchef Pros and the other on Great British Menu, which felt awkward (if it’s already one of the top restaurants in the country, as per GBM’s schtick, then they’re too experienced for Pros)

      (it’s actually one of the reasons I prefer Masterchef Au, which has everyone there from the start, so the contestants get more of a chance to get to know each other – I assume the distances involved mean it would take too long to keep bringing people in for short shoots. Masterchef UK being different people each week means you can’t really root for anyone until you’re already halfway through)

  77. first thought best thought*

    I knew an actor/tech/soundman/comedian who played a total cad jerk troll on a dating game show, and irl he is an extremely thoughtful, emotionally intelligent, committed father and partner.”Reality” label aside, it was an improvised, collaborative role he created.

  78. Elizabeth West*

    I wish I could ask my old coworker about this. Her friend was on Fear Factor (this was a long time and several jobs ago) and she asked us to watch her episode. I forgot what the first task was but it was way high up (nope), second was to eat live snails, shell and all (double nope; I had to leave the room on that one) and third was to drive a car up into the back of a box van. She won, by the way.

    No idea what her employer said about it. Probably she used some PTO, since it was only one episode.

  79. Lifelong student*

    I was actually on a relatity type show on local TV. It was, as best I can describe, a knock-off of The Apprentice- but the prize was a full scholarship for an MBA. There was no paper work to sign as I recall- but we were told we could not discuss the results until the shows aired. I told my boss about it, but no one else. Since it was local, time off was somewhat flexible- and no travel. BTW- I won!

  80. MissAmandaJones*

    I’ve worked with people who have been on reality shows: The singer and the weird-habit person.
    The singer was fun to root for. They were immensely talented. While they didn’t win, they were gracious til the end.
    The weird-habit person was a bit unsettling. Not a deranged as the people who marry a car, but disturbing nonetheless. It’s hard to take this person seriously after seeing their meltdowns on numerous shows that were equal to a preschooler refusing to eat broccoli. Nobody needed to know this secret!

  81. Annie E. Mouse*

    I have an acquaintance in my professional network who was on Love at First Sight. It’s a little different because they spend a couple of days in NY getting set up and then they’re supposed to go back to regular life except with this rando spouse. Anyway, she was able to do it with a professional corporate (non-client facing) job with just taking normal PTO. The show runners made her into bit of a villain, so it didn’t do her a lot of favors.

  82. Glitterspuds*

    As someone who made it to the semi-final rounds of auditions for The Great American Baking Show (almost got to meet Mary Berry!) I was constantly in confidential communication with my boss about the audition process. At the time, I worked at a law firm and we already handled so much highly confidential info that I felt comfortable being open to a very select few upper management about what to expect.

    Had I been cast in the show, I would have been flown to the UK for about 3 months and would have had to have lived in designated apartments (with a financial stipend) all through the filming process. Even if I had been eliminated in the first episode, I would have had to stay until all the filming had been completed.

    The plan, had I been cast, or cast as an alternate, would have been a PTO/leave of absence combo. I had a lot of social capital at this position, and they were willing to accommodate this particular adventure. (They already really liked my baking, and were happy to be guinea pigs for whatever I made, looooong before I even sought to audition.)

  83. Addison DeWitt*

    I spoke with the winner of a famous reality show (rhymes with Flop Ref) and he had to tell his staff that he was going to help fix up a restaurant owned by the same company in another city. (The company had in fact referred him to the production company, so they were more than happy to give him the time off.)

    That allowed him to disappear for several months of shooting. Once he got there, they were all on extreme lockdown– phones and other devices taken away, he could call his wife once a week for 10 minutes, but they listened in (so no “Guess what Honey, I won!”) If you were eliminated early on, it would have been a real bummer, because you were stuck there till the end with nothing to do.

  84. groffner 5*

    Reality shows advertise for participants in Backstage and other places actors look for work. Those actors might have day jobs as waiters or whatever.

  85. Frustration Nation*

    I’m a reality/nonfiction TV producer, though the only docu-follow I’ve worked on is House Hunters, so that’s where my knowledge is from. Our participants could tell their employers why they needed time off (though it was tough because they were buying a house, so they needed the money!), but we asked them to keep the results of the show off social media until it aired. The extent of the NDA definitely depends on the show, as does the time involvement. But as others have pointed out, the time involvement can absolutely be cheated, and frequently is.

    Keep in mind, for our corporate overlords (the networks) the point of reality/nonfiction TV is to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. There are very few (if any) unions involved, so exploitation of cast and crew is rampant. They’re always pushing to shorten the shoot schedule and the production schedule to save money. Please keep watching our shows and don’t feel guilty about it! We’re still trying to convince the networks our work is valuable and worth paying for! Very, very little TV is getting made right now for various reasons, and we’re facing some even tougher times whenever we are able to get back to work. Thanks to those who do watch ANY type of nonfiction show!

    1. BigLawEx*

      Totally off-topic, but I have to ask how much longer you think you can do it. I’m in my 50s now and I only have a single friend left doing this because it was too grueling to keep doing it for years. (And she’s struggling, but has made zero move to change).

      The scripted folks are doing fine and will go on as long as they can, I think.

      1. AL*

        Scripted folks have it VERY tough right now! Many crew members have not worked – or have worked very sparingly – since Thanksgiving of 2022. Studios shut down (or never started) a lot of production in anticipation of the WGA and SAG negotiations, and then was almost completely shuttered during those strikes. Work is trickling back, but is only about 25% of the normal production levels in Los Angeles. Lots of anticipated work is not starting because IATSE, Teamsters, and Hollywood Basic Crafts may go on strike this year.

        Fortunately, more and more unscripted and low-budget shows are unionizing, which helps everyone in the long run.

        But it’s been a very, very hard year for us working stiffs in the film industry.

        1. BigLawEx*

          Ooof. That’s true. I apologize for coming across as tone deaf.

          My show runner and producer friends are mostly fine. But they went right back to work on existing shows or have overall deals…

          1. Frustration Nation*

            Yes, most of my scripted friends on existing shows started right back up, but hardly anyone else is working. I’m on a gig, but it’s only 3 weeks, so we finish this Friday. I turn 50 in just a few weeks, and am actively applying for corporate roles that will be more stable and come with health insurance. I worked 2 good gigs last year but they were each only about 7 weeks long. It’s just not possible to survive anymore with the shrinking budgets and schedules.

  86. Nicholas Diak*

    Not months and months for me, but I got to be an extra in the Netflix show Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever.

    They were filming at the Industry Hills Resort at the City of Industry. I got asked by some friends if my GF and I wanted to be involved – of course!

    My normal 8-5 is business analyst – as far from acting as you can be. But I put in a request for a day off, went and was part of filming for a day (it was grueling – doing the same thing over and over, peas and carrots, but very fun! Even got catered too!).

    At the end, I got paid twice that day: PTO monies from work and monies from the shoot, which was almost half my check of what I made in a week at the time (CA OT FTW).

  87. Addison DeWitt*

    Another story about a chef: she was on Iron Chef. I asked her boss how she did (knowing he couldn’t tell me). He said “She did well. She either won, or lost, or tied.” I didn’t realize till it aired a year later that she was a rare tie on that show—so he had told me, but in a way that I didn’t realize it!

  88. Frankie D.*

    I agree with LW that reality TV shows often seem to be missing this perspective. Huge Survivor fan here, and it’s almost all gig economy/aspiring actors/self-employed contestants. And a lot of lawyers.

    In addition to the logistics of requesting several months off, I think the reputation piece would be very important for someone in a “normal office job” to consider and would probably be a deal-breaker for a lot of folks. Nick from Love is Blind S2 has been pretty public about how he lost his sales job after the show aired, and he was having trouble finding a new gig.

    I watched the season, and while it was messy overall, he definitely came across better and had a better edit than many of the other contestants, so I think it’s interesting to hear how much he apparently struggled.

  89. Despachito*

    I do not know about other countries’ version of Big Brother but I saw one episode of our version and was cringing so hard that I couldn’t even. Those people were disgusting, and if I were an employer I would be very reluctant to hire any of them.

  90. Elizabeth*

    My friend that did it was a realtor. I’m assuming he had people handle his listings while he was gone a couple of weeks.

  91. BigLawEx*

    I should preface this by saying I live in LA part-time. I know quite a few people who’ve done this. Two lawyers (see my username) one who did Survivor. One who did the Amazing Race. One was doing contract work, so gig stuff. The second took a leave – that lasted forever. Her job is now as a personality/influence. My neighbor was on Average Joe. He’s in PR, though, so self-employed. Almost everyone else was able to take a LOA. I’m not sure anyone went back to their original job. Lawyer salaries are not great and it’s far easier to earn 60-100K post-reality than working full-time as a lawyer if you’re not big firm.

    and FYI, lawyer salaries here are very much the same as 20 years ago…so shrinking.

  92. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I once applied to be on a reality show about women who went to live as nuns in a convent for a month or so. It was possibly the least risque reality show ever. I told my boss in confidence that I was applying and if I was accepted I would need to be off work for potentially the whole month. She was fine with it. I did not get to live as a nun for a month. I can’t remember if the show ever got made. I also worked with a Big Brother contestant. I remember it as being a fairly unremarkable event when she came back to work.

  93. DatesDatesDates*

    I’m based in Australia and a coworker in my highly regulated blue collar adjacent industry was on a popular dating show. He managed to get leave for three months for the show as the company felt it would be good press (it was a slightly less dramatic show than, for example, The Bachelor). There were definitely very mixed opinions about this choice amongst employees, it can be difficult to have even unpaid leave approved for us.

  94. Glowworm*

    The point about a lot of those “gig workers” being aspiring actors is right. I have a friend who’s done extra work and been on some game shows, and if you get picked for the game show they instruct you to say your day job, otherwise wayyy too many people will say “actor”.

    Also I believe she was asked to say where she’s from-from, not where she currently lives (e.g. say Chicago, not L.A.) because most game show ppl will be from LA but you want the audience to have the impression that anyone from anywhere is in the mix and could be picked.

  95. Wes*

    Actually a criticism fans have of Survivor these days is that they basically only cast people with white collar jobs, and students. (Last season, literally a sixth of the contestants were lawyers). It used to be a real mix of people from all walks of life, but honestly now it’s just people who can afford to take time off for the casting process (not to mention paying to travel to LA for it, although this requirement might have been changed since COVID), then take 6 weeks off to go to Fiji.

    Another criticism is they used to cast more older people, and the generation gap interactions were fascinating – not sure why they have basically stopped casting anyone over the age of 45 lately (other than ageism). You would think a lot of retirees would have the sort of time available to be on the show.

    1. NotAManager*

      As a Survivor fan, I’m also frustrated by the lack of contestants who are 45+, but I think it’s partly to do with the format of the new era; in addition to the season being shorter (26 days instead of 39, so a shorter time commitment that people in the work force might be able to get a leave of absence for) they’re also relying on a standard challenge formula of “complete an obstacle course, then solve a puzzle or throw things at a target”.

      Back in the early seasons there were challenges that didn’t rely on everyone on the team having a certain level of athleticism to be successful (quiz challenges about the location they were filming at, answering questions about fellow castaways, putting a bunch of random stuff in a blender and making them chug it, constructing SOS signs, building challenges, etc.). There were a few contestants in the VERY early seasons who couldn’t swim which would make competing impossible now. So I think that’s partly why casting has been skewing so young, because there basically aren’t any challenges in the first half of the season that don’t rely on completing an obstacle course. It’s still silly; there are plenty of people who are 50+ who are athletic and plenty of people under 30 who aren’t.

      1. Wes*

        If only there was some solution to the collective ‘lack of diversity in the age of contestants’ and ‘repetitive obstacle challenge’ problems :/

  96. Madison*

    Something I can contribute to! One of the contestants on the new season of the Bachelor works at my company. She actually quit for a couple months when the higher ups refuse to give her more than two weeks off (even though she had the PTO). Then she got rehired once she left the show. Not conventional, and obviously she took a big gamble, but it’s something that some other contestants might do.

  97. Anecdotal Evidence*

    I once had a recruiter disappear on me in the middle of a recruitment. I had no idea why until a few months later (after the whole thing fell apart; her replacement was not as good), when I discovered that she was on Survivor.

  98. Rocky*

    Once I was working in a govt department with highly secret functions. One of our colleagues announced that he would be away for six weeks. He was a skilled linguist and tradecraft practitioner so we all assumed he was on a mission overseas. Turned out he was competing on the local Masterchef LOL!

  99. Dawn*

    I think even if all of this weren’t the case, not to put too fine a point on it, but these shows are generally looking for a specific type of person which, as a sort of side-effect of being them, is usually not a long-term-career-oriented person.

    Just to pick a random example, Survivor would be quite boring if you stuck a bunch of well-adjusted people who can easily work together on an island together and there were no hard feelings ever and everyone did their best.

    Reality TV is entirely about the drama, and it helps to select for particularly drama-prone people.

    1. Have you had enough water today?*

      There is a reason a psychological profile questionnaire is included with the application for most of these shows.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, indeed. And as I hate drama in my personal life, the second-hand embarrassment I feel whenever I happen to see a bit of one of these shows ensures that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full episode of any of them.

  100. Raida*

    my sister went on First Date or Blind date or something here in Australia – she had an interview in our home city, then got informed she was in if she wanted it along with the dates and location.

    They get through basically an entire season in two days, which I wanna say was Friday-Saturday or Saturday-Sunday.

    Very small overall time commitment, easy for anyone fully employed to get a day off if necessary. People going on the show were basically told “You can tell x people.” So she told one of her friends and Mum.

    Then when the season was being advertised she could tell whoever she wanted.

    We went to her place one night a week for three weeks to have tacos and watch the show, not knowing which episode she’d be on – very fun! and she would tell us how it’s put together “Oh yeah this is shot after that, there’s free beer, wine and cider in the hotel before the dates, this shot is from before he was at the restaurant and I was alone they’ve cut it in to make him look boring…”

    I cannot imagine how interruptive it’d be to go on a show for even a couple of weeks, let alone the amount of editing that can make anyone look good or bad – First Date is like three hours of footage. A week is over a hundred hours. More than enough to make you look like a crazy b*tch!

  101. Have you had enough water today?*

    Many years ago I shared a flat with a man who was heavily involved in the production of the first series of Big Brother Australia. I asked this exact question & the answer was pretty similar to Alison’s, however they did allow people to discuss their acceptance to the show with their employer, as long as the employer also signed an NDA.

    FYI, I also asked if any of them were paid actors & he assured me that no, none of them are paid beyond the stipend they received to help them keep their lives on the outside secure (covering their portion of rent for example so they were not homeless when they got evicted from the show) & the prize money at the end. After their time in the house they were contractually obliged to make certain appearances, which they were paid for, & once the contract ended they were free to use their time on the show to try to get paid product endorsements if they wanted to.

  102. tiffany*

    I’ve known two people on reality TV shows – both of them were able to say that they were on a show, and both of them were able to say which show as well. But anything about the show was under the NDA, and they also weren’t allowed to go home/contact home immediately after leaving to obscure how when they left the show

    One of them seemed pretty cruel. She was in a relationship with someone from the show and everyone was congratulating her but due to delay in filming/screening she was currently going through the fact that he’d been cheating on her the entire time and she was barred from talking about the relationship at all

  103. Mialana*

    Do the NDAs really prohibit you from telling your employer or do they have an exception for that (maybe without telling the exact name of the show just that it is a reality dating show for example)? If I want to do another job I have to ask my employer for permission so if the NDA prohibits mentioning that the job exists from my employer, I can’t do the job.

  104. Penguin Tummy*

    My colleague did apply and got a fair way through the process for a reality program about home renovation. She had planned to use all her acquired leave allowances and then negotiate unpaid leave if she got on the show. However she didn’t get selected and only had 4 weeks off using annual leave.

  105. Resentful Oreos*

    I had a coworker on a reality show that took them away for three months. They were not required to keep secret the fact they were going on the show, only what the results were. My coworker was back when filming ended, I assume it was mostly in the can before it aired. We were full time restaurant workers so there was some flexibility.

  106. Worlds Worst Texterer*

    Im Australian and from what I heard, many contestants on Master Chef were lawyers who had to quit their jobs in order to devote themselves to the show.

  107. Fellmama*

    Jeopardy films ten episodes a week, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ken Jennings talks in Brainiac about having to “call out sick” from work on those days for two full months. I can’t remember if he let his immediate supervisor in on it or if he gave her plausible deniability–either way, it was very nod nod wink wink. And he was working a regular office job at the time. But of course Jeopardy has a different reputation than other game shows.

  108. Elsewise*

    I had a coworker who was on a reality show- not one of the big ones, it was a dating show where the contestants’ parents got to pick the winner. She only had to take a few days off to fly down to LA for the audition, and then a long weekend for the shooting. From what I recall, no one came off particularly well in the final product. I think her daughter wound up getting divorced (or possibly annulled?) within like six months. The show was not renewed for a second season either. So everyone lost!

  109. Yellow sports car*

    In my country you’d just have to take your long service leave at half pay, or you’d apply for unpaid leave.

    So long as the reality show doesn’t reflect poorly on the employer (eg Big Brother and working with teens would go poorly) I think they’d be plenty of places willing to support provided you haven’t taken a lot of other lengthy leave.

  110. Madame Arcati*

    Alison mentions baking shows – fwiw the great British bake off and sewing bee are filmed at weekends so although it’s a big time commitment (and you might want to take a week or two of leave if you got to the later rounds) you can carry on being a tax accountant throughout. There may be others like this but for sure, anything residential like big brother requires a job that works with a leave of absence.
    Or tremendous brass neck, as evinced by a U.K. politician who did the jungle one…

  111. Glitterati*

    My dad was a partner at a big law firm. A Big Brother contestant had secured a position there post graduation. He had a few months before the role began as they start all the grads at the same time so he went on Big Brother. Made such an ass of himself his offer was retracted during the show. That would’ve been an unpleasant surprise when he was voted out…or maybe he knew it was a possibility. He didn’t become famous so I wonder if it was worth it.

  112. Just Thinkin' Here*

    I’ve worked for two employers that both claimed they would grant such sabbaticals. Both times the colleagues who requested them were turned down. I’m curious how often employers say they will, and how often they actually do.

  113. Earl Grey*

    This is a really interesting question to me, as a long-time Survivor fan who stopped watching around season 40 (‘the New Era’).

    While my first-hand familiarity is with early Survivor, one major subject I’ve seen in online communities is that the New Era of Survivor has less class/career diversity than ever before. When it comes to bartending, delivery driving, or other financially precarious work, I’ve heard the opposite of what OP is describing – it’s basically many different lawyers and financial analysts nowadays. Although, maybe these jobs fall in the same class as ‘self-employed/contracted’ like OP described – I don’t know enough about the structure of these careers to say.

    My understanding is that it’s a combination of network priorities and the fact that many lower-income folks just cannot afford to take these adventures in modern times. I do agree though that the homogeneity in life experiences is changing the dynamics of these shows – just never thought about how different it could look outside of Survivor. Great question!

    1. I Speak for the Trees*

      Years ago (very early season), I applied for a temp admin job at a major Boston university to replace a woman who was on Survivor. I didn’t take the job, but she came back and resumed her position.

  114. ACfan*

    I’ve been wondering this about the jr. high school principal on “Love is Blind” this season. I wouldn’t marry him but he hasn’t done anything morally objectionable. But it seems like his job would put him one bad edit away from serious career consequences.

  115. BaconPancakes*

    A co-worker of mine was in one of the survival type reality shows (Tethered) that filmed for about 6-8 weeks in backcountry Alaska. He took a LOA to be in the show, although it may have simply been ‘vacation’ as he was accruing the top of our PTO levels.
    I work in state government, and he was a seasoned professional when he did it about eight years ago (he is now retired).

  116. Dan*

    At least in some cases the NDA does include a clause allowing people to notify their work. I have a relative who runs a research lab, and someone on his staff took an unpaid leave for a few months several years ago to be on The Bachelor; he mentioned that she told him (her boss) and a few other people at work she worked closely with ahead of time but explicitly asked them not to tell anyone else or to post anything about it on social media because of the NDA.

    (Apparently she did not win but did come across well on the show, she went back to her job afterwards and by all accounts later said she had a great time doing it and was glad she did)

  117. MsSolo (UK)*

    Throwing a random one out there in case anyone knows:

    Lego Masters Australia and New Zealand. Are they really spending 14 hours straight building something, or is it actually split over several days? I assume that like a lot of the antipodean ones (well, the Aussie ones, anyway) they fly everyone in and shoot the whole lot back to back, rather than having them for weekends.

  118. I Speak for the Trees*

    Some employers might go for it. Many years ago, I moved to Boston and applied for a temp job to replace a women who was currently on Survivor.

  119. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

    As I’ve mentioned before (though it’s been a while), I was on Beauty and the Geek in 2007. (Holy crap, that was over fifteen years ago…) At the time, I was a very junior software developer in a small financial services company, but I already knew that I wasn’t looking to make a career out of it–I already had plans to apply to law school. Still, it was technically a salaried office job, so I can speak to this to a degree.

    As a brief refresher, the show–while usually thought of as a dating show–was more of a combination of My Fair Lady, Survivor, and The Odd Couple; teams made up of one “beauty” and one “geek” were given challenges more closely related (in the public perception, especially circa 2007) to their counterpart’s skills (the geeks did things like write and perform a rap song or give massages, the beauties had to political debate or build a bottle rocket), each week the two winners chose two teams to face off in a head-to-head quiz, and the losers got booted out. Winners got a quarter of a million dollars, split between the two.

    It was also set in a classic reality show mansion, and they were eager for some Big Brother style drama. (And they got it!)

    (A lot of the “beauties” were indeed gig-economy workers; actors, models, bartenders, and the like. Some of the “geeks” too. Also, some were immediately post-college, even more than I was, and I think in at least one case had simply delayed the job start until the fall.)

    The first interview in April/May was on a weekend, the second (and maybe third? Memory is fuzzy) was a weekday where I used a vacation/sick day. When I got the next/final round in June, which involved flying to LA from DC for a couple of days, I asked for a meeting with my boss and the CEO (his boss).

    I had been told I could tell people what show I was trying out for, and also, had been told that the maximum filming time would be on the order of two months tops, in July/August, but if/when I got kicked out, I would be allowed to go back to my life immediately. There was also an asterisk of “there may be a reunion show” (translation: there would be a reunion show).

    I said to my bosses that at the moment I would be gone for a few days, and if I made the show, I would be gone for longer; my hope would be to cover my time with PTO, either accrued already or to be accrued over the rest of the year, unpaid leave if necessary…but I also said that I was prepared to not have a job when I got back. If that was how it would be, it was how it would be. (I wouldn’t be burning relevant bridges; not only was I about to go back to school, I was about to change career fields.)

    To my relief, my boss and the CEO both said that they didn’t want to lose me, that I should go for the interview, and if I made the show, we’d work it out. (The CEO had a deserved reputation as a capricious individual, but she had taken a shine to me.)

    The following week, before I even left for the interview, my boss announced he had put in his notice four weeks prior and would be gone in a week. (That explained “we don’t want to lose you!” Not that I think I was useless, but I was far too junior to warrant that kind of response…except that the department was already leaking like a sieve.)

    I went off to the interview, got onto the show, and came back in order to tie things off so I could pick them up again when I got back. The show would, as I said, be filmed over the next two months, and if/when I got kicked off, I would be able to go back to my life immediately, though under an NDA. So I was able to tell that to the CEO, who as previously mentioned liked me, that I would be back when I was back, and we’d square away how it was accounted in payroll and time off afterward.

    The events of each episode of the show took about three days. On day 1 we would be given our week’s challenges and start preparing, and having the usual drama. Day 2 and 3 had more preparation, the challenges, the final decisionmaking, and the quiz/elimination. Start over the following day, though we got Sundays off. (From the challenges, not the drama.) We were also not entirely isolated; I got a jury summons and the friend who had been picking up my mail called to let me know (I was able to delay it), another person had to go online to register for college courses for the following semester, and so on.

    I got booted after about two weeks (four episodes), went back to my job, was allowed to say only that I was back and couldn’t provide any details–though the timing was probably enough for people to conclude I hadn’t won, that was speculative–and was able to balance the PTO numbers by going a bit into the negatives on accrued vacation (not normally allowed but I had dispensation). The show aired weekly for the next three months, and yes, we did get invited back to a reunion show shortly after Thanksgiving. I had enough vacation.

    Of course, I had the vacation in part because between my return and Thanksgiving, in fact Labor Day weekend that year, the company was sold to a larger financial services company. The capricious CEO became a capricious marketing director, and we started integrating into that company’s systems, including vacation and payroll and all.

    (I quit my job the following July, having gotten into law school. Turns out I got out at a good time, as the company mostly did consulting/financial modeling for banks that engaged in mortage and asset backed securities. I did mention this was 2007-2008? Pretty much all of our clients were involved in tanking the world economy.)

    So that’s my story.

    1. Will*

      (Oh, and I forgot to mention–we got a per diem. I think it was $100/day. Just to cover things like rent, and the like.)

  120. Jasper Janssen*

    My employer (traditional large company in the Netherlands) allows you to take up to six months unpaid sabbatical as long as you have worked for at least three years for them without doing that (but yes, three years later you can go again). I could theoretically totally go film big brother during that time.

  121. Cymraes*

    I’ve always wondered this – I’m in the UK and on the latest series of (civilian) BB, there was an NHS Manager taking part. How did they get the time off?!

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