There’s been a lot of debate recently about how “real” reality TV is. Are all the scenes we see on the show exactly what happened in real life, or are they simply creative reenactments meant to boost interest and drama?
And to take it a step further beyond that, are the characters on these shows really real people, or do they count as actors once they’re being filmed? At what point does a television personality go from being a real person to being a scripted actor?
Unsurprisingly, this is a fuzzy gray area of television and everyone has their own opinion on it.
In general, it’s important to understand that while the people who appear on reality TV shows are not technically actors (because they do not usually possess the training and past experience necessary to be qualified and labeled as such), much of reality TV is still scripted, carefully managed, and orchestrated to appear a certain way for broadcasting; most if not all of the video footage shot for a reality show is also painstakingly edited and pieced together with the ultimate goal of furthering the profit and popularity of the show.
Additionally, while some situations shown in reality TV shows are in fact true events (or at least based on real events), often there will be scenes and events that are fully scripted and therefore could be considered “acting” on the part of the participants, since they are performing in a fictional event.
That being said, reality TV stars also differ from professional actors in that the pay scale is considerably different. Professional actors and actresses make much more money, even if all they do is film a small part on a soap opera. Professional actors and actresses also have agents and other specialists who represent their best interests to make sure that they are not taken advantage of.
In comparison, reality TV stars typically receive little to no compensation for their television appearances (unless they are the winner of a reality TV competition such as a cooking contest or a survival event) and have very little recourse for compensation if they feel taken advantage of; often a reality show participant will need to sign an extensive contract waiving their right to sue if things go wrong on the show.
And if that wasn’t enough, even if a reality TV star does receive compensation for their time on the show (whether it’s a daily or weekly stipend or the grand prize at the end of the show), there’s no guarantee that the show (or the network funding them) will pay them immediately. Sometimes, especially in the case of grand prizes or contest earnings, the show management or network will hold onto those winnings until a certain period of time has passed, in some cases until after the show’s run has been entirely completed and broadcast on television.
So overall, while reality TV actors could conceivably be considered actors in certain situations (such as blatantly scripted events), their roles in the television and film industry differ greatly, both in practice and in terms of payment and treatment.