Reality Shows That Treated Contestants Like Trash

The following article includes mentions of sexual misconduct allegations, mental health struggles, and addiction.

With the backstabbing, cast member brawls, and tear-filled confessionals, reality TV isn't exactly known for its ethics. After all, who would watch a "Survivor" where nobody was voted off and everyone got along? 

Drama makes for good TV, and it's been a long-running secret that reality show producers know just how to push their subjects to the breaking point — but it's not always pretty. From isolation and mental manipulation to behind-the-scenes threats and misleading editing, these reality shows allegedly put their contestants through the ringer. And when that didn't work, there's always a conveniently placed jalapeno to help trigger some tears. 

At the end of their experience, some reality stars allegedly didn't even make a dime, while others were left with life-changing, extreme plastic surgery (it's still unfathomable that "The Swan" was given the green light). Don't believe the TV world can be so cruel? Just ask the cast members themselves. From "The Bachelor" to "Teen Mom," these reality shows allegedly treated their contestants like trash.

Being on the The Bachelorette was like having 'Stockholm Syndrome'

"The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" franchises have always been surrounded by a little bit of controversy — especially since "Bachelor In Paradise's" 2017 sexual assault scandal. Though E! reports that Warner Bros. "cleared the show and its producers of any misconduct" related to that incident, cast members from other versions of the show don't speak so kindly about their treatment.

Jillian Harris hit the reality scene in 2009 with "The Bachelor" and returned as the star of "The Bachelorette." Despite the fact that the show gave her worldwide recognition, she has a pretty complicated relationship with the series. In fact, she likens the experience to being a victim of kidnapping. Harris claimed that she was "easily manipulated" on the show and lost sight of her real life, which isn't really difficult considering the mass amounts of alcohol thrown at contestants and the fact that they're completely cut off from the rest of the world (per producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro's interview with The New Yorker). Anyone would get swept away.

"I forgot about my 'real' life so fast," Harris told "Today." "I was like experiencing a really fabulous version of Stockholm Syndrome, with fancy meals hotels and clothes!" Well, it sounds kind of scary when you put it that way.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

The Bachelor would do anything for some tears

The morally questionable antics on Lifetime's scripted drama "UnREAL" may take creative license, but the show was actually based on what went on behind the scenes of "The Bachelor." The show's creator, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, was a producer on ABC's hit reality series, and she drew from her experiences.

Speaking with The New Yorker, Shapiro claimed that "The Bachelor" wasn't the friendliest environment for contestants. As a producer, Shapiro said it was her job to dole out "terrible advice and to deprive [contestants] of sleep." To hand-craft intense crying scenes, Shapiro often lied to contestants, even telling women who were going to be dumped during the rose ceremony that the Bachelor secretly told producers he was going to propose to them. Diabolical, right? It gets worse. 

Shapiro also claimed producers primed each contestant to have a song that represented their relationship with the Bachelor. When the dejected lover left the ceremony stunned because producers pulled the old switcheroo, she'd be shuffled into a limousine that played her song. The car would then drive up and down the 405 highway in Los Angeles for as long as it took to get them to cry. According to Shapiro, executives told producers not to return until they got the waterworks or else they'd be fired. Shapiro's solution? She sometimes used a jalapeno or lemon to help her cry on cue, which in turn, elicited tears from the contestant.

This Teen Mom felt like MTV put her in 'a freak show'

It's no secret that Jenelle Evans is one of the most controversial cast members of "Teen Mom" — or is she? According to the reality star, MTV has a serious issue with showing the truth, although Evans has certainly been involved some sticky legal situations, as evidenced by the 15 mugshots she racked up by 2015. Some of her more recent trouble involved a 2018 incident in which she allegedly pulled out a gun during a road rage incident (via TMZ). Nonetheless, the star has slammed MTV for her negative portrayal and claimed the network treats the "Teen Mom" cast as if they were "a freak show and in cages."

In a since-deleted 2017 Instagram post, Evans fired back at the network after they allegedly misled viewers about an argument she had with her husband, David Eason. The newlyweds were shown planning a photo shoot before Eason kicked the film crew out of their home. Evans claimed David didn't want to talk about drama on-camera, so the network resorted to making it look like he was "hiding some weird a** s**t from the public" or "hurting [her] in some way" when nothing was actually wrong. She threatened to quit the show until MTV started treating her with respect.

"It's getting too out of hand and it's not healthy for us anymore, just harming us mentally," Evans wrote. "We aren't human beings to MTV what-so-ever."

90 Day Fiance has a payment problem

The popularity of TLC's roster of wildly dramatic reality shows has led to some excellent perks for the stars. According to In Touch, The Duggars, who appear in various TLC hits like "Counting On" and "19 & Counting," get an estimated $25,000 to $45,000 per episode. Another TLC star, Kate Gosselin of "Kate Plus 8" fame, allegedly raked in "more than $40,000 per episode" (via Radar), earning her more than Taylor Schilling from "Orange Is the New Black."

Unfortunately, not all of TLC's stars are created equal. Those appearing in "90 Day Fiancé" allegedly make chump change comparatively. According to Reality Blurb, it is rumored that "only the American side of the couples" receive a salary, since their immigrant partners who appear on their show "typically don't have their work permits yet when filming starts." Even then, Starcasm reports that some of the stars make just $1,000 per episode or $2,500 per tell-all special. Just how low is $1,000 split two ways? "Teen Mom," which has similar ratings and viewership, allegedly gives stars around $250,000 per season.

The paltry payment has caused at least one star of the series and its various spin-offs to accuse the network of taking advantage of immigrants. "They destroy our lives with bad fame, but I don't receive any money," wrote Louis Mendez of "90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After" in a since-deleted Instagram post. "Only the American people [get paid] bc [sic] we are trash for them."

Is Love Island emotionally abusing contestants?

"Love Island" has taken the UK by storm. The reality series is so popular, there's even a "Love Island" branded line at Primark. Though fans of the series seem even more fervent than those of "The Bachelor," the show isn't without criticism. According to the BBC, the UK-based charity Women's Aid slammed the show for allowing contestants to emotionally abuse each other on set.

Per Sky News, over 2,500 viewers filed complaints with Ofcom, the UK's communications regulator, after a July 2018 episode. They claimed the series was unfairly misrepresenting events to manipulate a contestant into tears. In the episode, Dani Dyer was shown a clip of her boyfriend Jack Fincham, who was separated from her and placed in a different villa with a range of new potential love interests. He was captured repeatedly saying "oh my god" after realizing his ex was joining him in the villa. Dyer cried after watching the clip, but what producers didn't show her was Fincham telling his fellow contestants that he was sleeping alone during his stay so he didn't damage his relationship. Basically, they made it look like Fincham wasn't planning to stay faithful to purposely upset Dyer.

"I don't know if I can continue to watch a show that encourages the deterioration of someone's mental health," wrote one Twitter user in a since-deleted post. "'Love Island' wants people to be mentally unwell."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Diddy likes his cheesecake with a side of cruelty

The music industry can be a cruel, cruel place — perhaps even crueler than the world of reality TV. Luckily, Diddy managed to hit his reality TV contestants with the worst of both worlds while simultaneously ruining the treasure that is a slice of New York cheesecake, which is a crime in itself if you ask us. 

Anyway, the cheesecake incident has gone down in hip hop history as one of the cruelest things Diddy has ever done (unless you buy into the conspiracy theory that he's responsible for Tupac's murder). The infamous moment occurred during the Season 2 premiere of "Making the Band 2," when he forced the newly assembled Da Band to walk 12.4 miles to get him a slice of Junior's strawberry cheesecake. Even though Manhattan had its own Junior's, Diddy demanded that Da Band trek all the way to Brooklyn on foot.

Surprisingly enough, the contestants mostly managed to complete the feat which took a whopping five-and-a-half hours. By the time they returned, Diddy had gone home for the night. Was it all for show? Probably. Did it make Da Band feel like trash? Definitely.

The Swan was ugly inside and out

The early '00s was the golden age of reality TV. Seemingly nothing was too offensive or too exploitative. At any other point in history, "The Swan" may have been deemed too cruel to air. The show, which promoted extreme plastic surgery to its cast of "ugly ducklings," was slammed by The New Yorker as "the most sadistic reality series of the decade." 

Ex-Swan Lorrie Arias, who originally appeared on the show hoping for a simple tummy tuck, but was convinced to have $300,000 worth of plastic surgery over the two-and-a-half months of filming, said she was left mentally scarred by the experience. After the series, she developed agoraphobia and was unable to leave her home. Speaking with HuffPost, Arias said she was unable to see herself until the big reveal, where she completely broke down as soon as the cameras turned off. "I was screaming for the executive producer," Arias said. "I was screaming, 'I want my face back!' That's how freaked out I was." Arias also accused "The Swan" of not providing adequate follow-up therapy, a claim seemingly backed by Season 1 winner Rachel Love, who told the New York Post that contestants received "s**tty" support when the season ended. Vice additionally reported that the on-set psychologist, Lynn Ianni, had received her clinical psychology degree online. 

Perhaps the biggest feat of "The Swan" was that it wasn't drowned out of existence under a wave of lawsuits.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The Hills created valley girl villains then threw them to the dust

Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag are one of the most infamous couples in reality TV history. While the pair may have been painted as the antagonists of "The Hills," they claimed their poor portrayal was a product of MTV's constant threats. Their time with the show allegedly ended in a full-on brawl after the network fought to craft a storyline so twisted that Spencer "snapped."

"We played up to the characters we were told to be, and because they'd always threaten us with losing our place on 'The Hills,' we went along with it," Pratt claimed in the E! documentary, "After Shock: Heidi & Spencer" (via the Daily Mail)In an interview with The Daily Beast, Pratt said his breaking point was when producer Sara Mast allegedly tried to make him the catalyst for sister Stephanie Pratt's struggle with excessive drug and alcohol use. He claimed Mast tried to get him to punch Stephanie in the face to invoke "that Snooki effect" (this referred to the time "Jersey Shore" cast member Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi was punched in the face at a bar). As a result, Spencer screamed, "You want me to punch my sister in the face? Are you trying to get me to kill you?" 

According to MTV, he scared producers enough that he got himself booted from the series. Of course, that didn't stop Montag and Pratt from reprising their reality TV roles in the 2019 reboot, "The Hills: New Beginnings."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Big Brother is grueling before the show even starts

"Big Brother" may seem pretty brutal on-screen, but the real grit comes before the cameras even start rolling. According to Reality Blurred, casting finalists must endure several days of screening and are pretty much sequestered in a hotel room with limited human contact. They're allowed to use the Internet, phone, and TV, but they're not allowed to utter a word to each other. In fact, they're not even allowed to look at each other.

Contestants must endure this isolating experience all while knowing they can be cut at a moments notice, especially if they don't look hot enough, apparently. Uproxx reports that contestants are advised to be "looking and feeling [their] best for pool time if [they] make the show." Between grueling medical and psychological evaluations and meetings with producers, they're allowed just five 45-minute personal breaks a day. At night, producers collect their hotel keys and essentially lock them in their rooms.

All in all, "Big Brother" finalists are allegedly given just $50 a day for their time, which must cover all of their meals. The hotel restaurants and bars are sometimes so expensive that finalists reportedly pick and choose whether or not they're going to eat. Basically, you've got to be willing to be incredibly hungry and kind of lonely to make it into the "Big Brother" house.

Legends of the Hidden Temple scarred '90s kids for life

Most '90s kids still have anxiety dreams about "Legends of the Hidden Temple's" silver monkey. While the task was undeniably the most difficult and set up a generation of young reality TV contestants for failure, it's not at all the most traumatic thing that happened on set.

Former contestant Keeli told SBNation that the final round of the game show, dubbed the Temple Run, "was practically impossible for a kid between the ages of 12 and 14 to complete." Not only did the Temple Run come after 12 hours of competition, Keeli claimed that the obstacle course set had significant issues, like doors that didn't open properly and essential props that were missing. 

But it wasn't the inevitable failure that traumatized Keeli, who appeared on the children's game show when she was 12 years old. It was the terrifying temple guards who left lasting emotional scars. "When the second guard got me and ushered me through that little door to the back of the set, I just burst into tears," she said. "I'm 31 and I can't go to haunted houses. I'm deathly afraid of things popping out of closets and doors, etc., at me. I can't watch scary movies where things jump out and scare people. Can I say that this is directly related to that? No, not 100 percent, but... ."

Contestants of The Mole were hungry ... but not for fame

"The Mole" wasn't just a hit show for ABC. The reality game show tore through the late '90s and early aughts with incarnations spanning across continents — from Belgium to South Africa to Australia. In fact, the series is still churning out new episodes depending on where you look.

It's unclear what made the spy series so popular, but it definitely wasn't the way they treated their contestants. Nick Baylart, who appeared on "The Mole's" sixth season in Australia, claimed producers routinely withheld sleep and food to make sure contestants had "interesting performances." Baylart also alleged that producers regularly shouted at contestants and purposely paired them up with people they didn't like in order to stoke the flame.

"If they can twist a necessary element of production into something that will make the contestants a little bit more ready to fight, they'll do it," he told The Guardian. Baylart admitted the entire experience was filled with a "weird sense of isolation" as producers encouraged castmates to scrutinize each other's personal relationships. You never know which one is the mole.

Million Dollar Money Drop made an $800k mistake

For primetime networks, reality game shows are a dime a dozen, so it's not surprising that the short-lived Fox series "Million Dollar Money Drop" had a few kinks that were never really worked out. This unfortunately came at the $800,000 expense of two contestants, who were forced to play a game they were destined to lose.

In 2010, Gabe Okoye and Brittany Mayti appeared on the show. As the game goes, they'd have $1 million to bet across various questions. They ended up placing $800,000 on the question, "Which of these was sold in stores first?" The options were Macintosh computers, Sony Walkmans, or Post-It notes. Okoye went with the Post-Its, but producers claimed it was the Sony Walkman. 

According to USA Today, fans later noted that Post-Its were actually sold before Walkmans but "under a different name and only in select parts of the country." They lost on a technicality. It was seemingly rigged, and Okoye and Mayti ended up going home without a dime. Though the series invited them back after the mistake, they were never reimbursed for the life-changing money they rightfully won.

90 Day Fiance 'manipulated' this star all the way to the hospital

As it turns out, money wasn't even the biggest issue on the "90 Day Fiancé" set. In a 2021 interview with The Celeb Talk Guy, Season 8 contestant Stephanie Davison — who went to Belize to spend time with then-boyfriend Ryan Carr — painted a grim picture of a relentless production company who didn't care about her health and safety.

Fans already know that Davison's relationship became one of the biggest "90 Day Fiancé" scandals — if only for her affair with Carr's cousin, Harris Flowers, a plot point she claims was completely fabricated. She told The Celeb Talk Guy that she dumped Carr and quit the show before leaving Michigan, but Sharp Entertainment apparently showed up at her doorstep with "a crew of 12" and pushed her to change her mind. From there, things went downhill. 

In a now-deleted Instagram post captured by Screen Rant, Davison claimed she was "raped while filming" in Belize and "manipulated to keep filming" even though she "begged to get off set after being bitten hundreds of times by sandflies." She was allegedly hospitalized for an allergic reaction, but the production company was reportedly "unwilling to pay" her medical expenses. Davison planned to take legal action, but so far, there's no word on what happened.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit

The issues with American Idol start after you win

"American Idol" has always been a little cruel. The first couple weeks of each series hinge on watching people sing, who are so delusionally untalented it should arguably be illegal to put them on TV. Then again, contestants are signing up to be judged — which does include the ridicule of the general public. Weirdly enough, the cruelest part of "American Idol" might just come after contestants win.

In 2015, Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips sued "American Idol" producers 19 Entertainment over his so-called "oppressive" contract. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the suit alleged that the company "manipulated" the singer into accepting jobs after his win, and he was even forced to perform a free gig for JetBlue that had no benefit to his own career. Instead, 19 Entertainment allegedly used the performance to land a JetBlue sponsorship for the "2013 American Idol Live Appearance Tour," which had nothing to do with Phillips. He also claimed the company lied to him about royalties, tried to finagle a larger percentage for themselves, and kept him in the dark about his own music. The star reportedly lacked so much creative control that he wasn't even told the name of his album until it was announced to the general public.

Phillips' lawsuit became one of the biggest scandals in "American Idol" history. According to HuffPost, the singer settled with the producers in 2017.

This Bravolebrity called RHONJ a 'decade of pain'

Danielle Staub may not exactly be the most reliable source on the set of the "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," but her voice is definitely the loudest. She certainly squawked all the way down the Jersey Turnpike when she was reportedly axed (or, as she claims, quit) the series. Her main beef? A so-called "decade of pain" by the hands of Bravo producer and beloved host Andy Cohen.

In a 2020 Instagram post, Staub likened the show to a "lion's den" and claimed Cohen left her "in the dark" about the series. "Now that you are a parent, I'd hoped you would see some of the pain you caused my family," she wrote to him. "Even when I left the show to protect my young children, you mocked me repeatedly defaming me and yet I still continued to give you over a decade to do right by me and mine!"

Staub took it one step further on her podcast, "Absolutely Danielle" (via Reality Blurb), and accused the network of trying to sabotage the release of her memoir, "The Naked Truth." She claimed they purposely made her compete with co-star Teresa Giudice, who released a cookbook the day after hers. "How can I know she would get a book deal when she can't form a sentence?" Staub said. "There's just no way that I would ever think she'd be a published author."

Wife Swap was '10 days of pure hell' for one contestant

Aside from a critically-panned reboot, "Wife Swap" hasn't aired new episodes in nearly a decade. Nonetheless, former contestants are still dealing with trauma allegedly left behind from the series. One of these contestants is Heidi Mae, an influencer who appeared with her family more than 10 years ago during Season 6. In a bombshell TikTok video shared in November 2021, the star called "Wife Swap" the "worst mistake of our lives" and claimed producers labeled them "the bad family" right off the bat.

In the video, Mae claimed contestants had to have an extensive psychiatric evaluation to make sure they were "mentally sound enough" to appear on the show. Producers allegedly used the evaluation "to find [her] pain" and "[exploit] it for television." As such, her childhood insecurity of feeling alone was thrown immediately back in her face. "I kid you f**king not ... the first conversation with the 'other mother,' she ... looks me dead in the f**king eyes and she says, 'You are alone. Nobody cares about you. You have no friends. I don't care about you,'" Mae claimed. "And I just f**king broke down."

Mae told the Daily Dot that the "other mother" was equally "as manipulated." They later discovered producers were feeding her lies to purposely create beef between the families. All in all, Mae claimed the show was "ten days of pure hell" and that she's still dealing "with the after effects of it."