“May the odds be ever in your favor.”
I’m pretty sure most of you are familiar with the Hunger Games. You know, the dystopian novels where teens are pitted against each other in blood sport and are filmed for the masses to consume. I only exaggerate slightly (okay, maybe more than slightly) when I say that the whole shooting experience was akin to that.
Once you sign off on that contract they take everything off of your hands. They give you your flight info and time, video call you to make sure that you’re packing the wardrobe they discussed, and you’re on your way. You’re not in first class, but economy plus, because you know, you’re not THAT special, but you are flying cross country and they need you fresh. Why do they need you fresh you ask? Well, as soon as you get your luggage, you’re put in a car and whisked to the hotel, where not only you’ll be housed for the next few days, but where they’ve also set up basecamp.
It’s a pretty weird feeling when as soon as you step into the hotel there are notices and signs saying that filming is ongoing and that you are constantly on camera. Every producer is working out of the hotel restaurant and all of the conference rooms have been converted to makeshift studios to shoot interviews. A corner suite has been re-purposed to be the office where the paperwork is being handled and the room next door is a makeshift psychiatrists office. As soon as you’re checked in, you are taken to a room where you fill out endless amounts of paperwork. Keep in mind, this is in addition to the 16 page contract that we signed before showing up.
Oh and before we even showed up, we had to take a full STD battery and blood test before we could even be on the show. The good thing is that everyone who ends up on television is clear and disease free. I guess this is to ensure that if we do win and find our soulmates, when we eventually consummate the thing, the production company is in the clear from any liability. Fun fact though, it’s not over! As soon as we finished the paperwork, we were put into a half-hour session with a psychiatrist and then given a 500 question psych battery to fill out. No, that wasn’t a typo. Five. Hundred. Questions. The psychiatrist told me that most people finished it in an hour. Of course, me being the competitive idiot that I am, I refused to be most people. I handed that shit in within 27 minutes. The doctor was slightly shocked, but lo and behold she told me I was the first one to complete the test that quickly. That and I’m not suicidal, well, at least not according to the test.
After that, wardrobe. You’re put in a car that takes you to the studio lot with every single possible article of clothing they asked you to bring. The show actually gives you a stipend to cover the luggage costs on the flight. This is because they ask you to bring suits, tuxedos, casual wear, swimwear, and basically every combination in-between. I can’t remember the last time that I paid for luggage on a flight, I’ve become a damn origami master when it comes to packing my carry-on bag. Forget about actually paying for the luggage, the fact that you have to wait in baggage claim and then moving the aforementioned luggage from place to place is just a huge pain in the ass. However, once you get to wardrobe, you realize that all of it was in vain.
They do the wardrobe consult over Skype and text, but of course once you actually get into wardrobe, you realize that the producers who interviewed you and the wardrobe people are not on the same page. Also, the wardrobe people know exactly what looks good on screen and what doesn’t. I was pleasantly surprised when the wardrobe lady complimented my taste in clothing, and then not happy as she started knocking off pieces that would give the camera trouble. Needless to say, we had conversations about it, and I deferred to her expertise. We ended up compromising on the choice of outfits. I wasn’t ecstatic about it, but I wasn’t displeased either, then came the fun part.
I’ve gotten mic’d up before, and you realize quickly that the mic picks up everything. You learn to tell the sound guy (who hears everything but you don’t necessarily see) that you’re going to the bathroom so he turns off your mic, or that you’re about to eat. Of course, all of this changes on a reality show because they literally want to pick up everything. That mic is always hot, and that was something that was drilled into my head. Before I left to go shoot this in LA, I was working on set and started chatting with one of the PAs. I told her about flying out to do the show and she gave me the stink eye. She looked me up and down and asked if I knew who she was. I literally had no clue. Turns out she was a contestant on America’s Next Top Model [her IG: smile4kyle]. We ended up chatting for a long time and Kyle educated me about what it was like to be on reality TV, and I can honestly say that without her even limited guidance, I would’ve made huge blunders.
When you’re cast on a show, the producers have a vision for you. You’re going to be an archetype, you’re going to be a small part of a story they’re going to craft. They already have the story in place, they already know what they want to happen, they just want to make sure you play your part. Most importantly, they want to create good television. When you sit down for your interview, they’ve blocked out hours for this. You’re in wardrobe, you’ve been touched up by makeup and you’re sitting in this studio they crafted with the hanging lights and everything to create this atmosphere. The producers in there have glad handed you and have read your file, they know you better than most people. The producers are supposed to get into your confidence, to make you drop your guard so you feel comfortable spilling your secrets to them. I knew this, but I resolved to get into their confidence, to make sure that they sympathized with me and that they would paint me in the best light. At the end of the day we’re all people, and we want to help people who we like.
I have to say, the producers I met are some of the most brilliantly manipulative people that I’ve ever met, and it was incredible to get to know them. It was a masterclass in learning how to handle people and how to subtly adjust their perceptions and what they’re willing to say. The interview session was absolutely incredible. It’s you, in front of a camera, three producers in a room, a sound guy, and a camera guy. I had been running on about 3 hours of sleep, but the first question woke me up, “So what are your thoughts on love at first sight?”
This is my wheelhouse, large swaths of my writing are about this, so my focus was on. And so the duel began. I knew that I had to charm and disarm. Not only did my answers have to be romantic and full of substance, but they also had to be funny. Every time I would answer, they’d make me do it again, with a new emphasis on certain words, with a new tone, with a new emotion. Then, they’d try to put words in my mouth. They’d say, “how about if you answered it like this?” Then feed me a line of their choosing. Never ever once did I say what they told me, because I knew that was the trap. I’d take their words, the thought behind them, and then re-write them in my head. This would lead to an exchange back and forth until I made them laugh, and then we’d record it. I never once wanted to use the words they wanted me to say because I knew that they already had the edit in mind, I wanted some things to be on my terms. The advice Kyle told me rang true in my head, they can’t edit anything you didn’t say, and they can’t make you do anything you didn’t do. Odds are they won’t use much of the footage, but still, gotta play the game.
Keep in mind at this time, we were all sequestered from each other. It’s show policy that all of the contestants are not allowed to talk to each other or see the competition until show day. This is easy on something like the Bachelor/Bachelorette where you’re all coming in from random places and not shooting on a studio lot. When you’re all at the same hotel, that’s another thing entirely. Walking through wardrobe we all casually said “hi” and low-key started figuring which episode we were going to be on. By the end of a few hours, I had figured out the ten of us who would be on the episode.
We were to be the first ten contestants, the guinea pigs for this new show. We were going to be the first episode to be shot and as such, we got a long rehearsal and the longest shoot day. All of us were kept in the dark about the scope of the show until we finally set foot on the soundstage. We walked in and they were doing a full light and tech flourish. It was breathtaking, and the executive producers were there and finally explained the show. The show was going to immediately follow the Bachelorette and have a lead-in audience of about 10 million people. At that point I would’ve loved to have seen the look on all of our faces. We knew what we signed up for, but hell, we didn’t know we signed up for something this big.
During rehearsal, we all bonded. Yes, we were supposed to competing against each other, but when you’re in an extraordinary circumstance, some things tend to fall by the wayside. While we were left unattended backstage, there was so much fraternizing. To be honest, most of the guys there were extremely chill and we ended up really getting along. According to one of the producers that I’m still in touch with, we were one of two groups that she legitimately liked hanging out with. The show should’ve been about 10 guys finding each other on the studio lot, believe me, it would’ve been worth it. We went through about five full rehearsals, with us memorizing the set choreography and faking some speeches our bachelorette. After that, they sent us back to the hotel and told us to get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow was shoot day.
Yeah, okay, like that was possible. As I laid there in the dark, I went through the million possible ways that I could make an ass of myself on national television. But then one thought came to mind, no matter what happened, I chose adventure. I said yes to the crazy, I decided to do the extraordinary. Who gets to be on a show like this, who gets to tell these stories? In about 60 hours I’d have experiences that only few people in the world would ever have, and that would be mine forever. With that thought, my mind settled and I fell asleep.
But honestly, nothing prepared me for shoot day.
(to be continued…)