If, like me, you have no life, you may often find yourself watching reality TV. “Wherever have these freaks come from?” you cry, while ringing to save your favourite for the third week in a row. We watch enraptured, mocking the guinea pigs on our television screens and feeling safe in the knowledge that no sane, normal person like us would ever put ourselves through such an ordeal. Right?
Well… no. This year I made it my mission to get on the telly. As a student on the brink of graduation I was hoping for some exposure and a few doors to be opened. I also had a 10,000 word dissertation looming, and as a professional procrastinator I thought it might provide a nice opportunity to put it off a little while longer.
Although I’m contractually bound not to write about the programme itself, I can give you a glimpse into what reality TV is like behind the scenes.
The selection process of most reality shows begins with the humble application form. Having seen one of these before (Take Me Out series 2) I knew what to expect. For question six – Who was the star of 2011? – I answered “Pippa Middleton’s bottom” and my sides ached from my hilarity. They say positive thinking works so I sent off the application while mentally planning my TV debut outfit.
A week later I’m in bed at 3.30pm, trying to keep warm because I’m too skint to put the heating on. My phone rings and a lady tells me I’ve made it to the audition stages. I throw the covers off and scream the house down – I haven’t felt this brilliant since winning my year 7 haiku poetry competition.
Over the next few weeks I’m a bundle of nerves. My friends quietly sit me down and tell me that under no circumstances can I say on camera that I want to be famous. They also tell me to be myself… but not too much, which really makes my confidence swell.
I decide I needed to do something special to stand out. You can’t get much more wild than baked goods so I settle on the idea of baking cupcakes, my logic being that if I failed to woo them with my personality, Betty Crocker would surely do the job for me.
The day comes and I arrive, cupcake box in hand. My heart sinks as I realise others have brought along props too. There’s guitars and pieces of artwork, and one girl who looks like a budget Lady Ga Ga impersonator is wearing different size shoes so she walks with one leg shorter than the other.
From 5000 applications, 500 have been chosen to audition today, so it’ll be a long wait. After nine hours I am the last person to be seen.
All I’ve had to eat all day is a stale pain au chocolat and my blood sugar levels have plummeted. Suddenly a man with a camera shouts out, “You! You’ve got bright red hair, so I’m going to talk to you.” Cursing Schwarzkopf hair dye under my breath, I try to gather my thoughts as the man and his camera approach me.
This is the time when a contestant reels off their sob story, like how their cat got put down when they were 11 and the only way they overcame the grief was through the power of music and song. You know, real TV gold.
The man asks, “So, why are you auditioning today?” and my mind goes blank. All I can do is say the first thing that pops into my head. “Errr… I want to be famous”, I stammer.
I’VE SAID THE F WORD! However will I live this down? I may as well go home, I think, tears beginning to fill my eyes.
All is lost until I remember the cupcakes and why I am there. I give myself a pep talk and am ready to impress. Needless to say, my cakes are a storming success and I get a call from the producer that night telling me to come back tomorrow.
It’s like a computer game, this reality TV lark. It’s a series of levels and I’d just gained access to the next. From 500 people I was down to the final 40.
The following 24 hours are a blur of waiting to be interviewed and doing challenges. On TV they make out that all the decisions are made by the ‘judges’, but we know it’s the people behind the camera we have to impress.
The tensest moment comes when a “shocking” announcement is made – the judges are cutting the 40 down to 20. Names are called one by one and I feel like I am back at school in PE. Then, near the end of the list, I hear my name. I’m choked with genuine shock. I never thought I’d care so much. Clichés like ‘emotional roller coaster’ have never rung truer.
The classic reality TV characters are all present. There’s the glamour girl, the pretty boy and the audition addict who explains to me all about playing “the game.” This makes me wonder, which character have they cast me as?
WAS IT WORTH IT?
While I was waiting for the decision I lived off a diet of gin and rollies, too nervous to eat real food. I moped around the house while my friends mocked me for being “so dramatic”. I can tell you now, I wasn’t chosen to be on the show.
Will I try again? No. Flashbacks of the cringeworthy things I’ve said on camera keep me up at night and I’m dreading the day the auditions are aired. I’m resigned to the fact my clip will go viral, rendering me jobless and loveless forever.
My advice? Enjoy reality TV from the safety of your sofa and never, ever use it as an excuse to avoid writing your dissertation.
Illustration by Scott Nellis at www.scottnellis.co.uk