In 2012, TLC premiered Breaking Amish, said to be about a group of Amish and Mennonites who ditch their butter churns for the bright lights of New York City. Sound ridiculous? That’s nothing compared to the drama that unfolded behind the scenes. Just two episodes into Breaking Amish, reports circulated that the show’s cast members weren’t exactly who they said they were. Among the craziest allegations: two cast members said to be meeting for the first time actually had a child together; and another said to be leaving the faith for the first time had allegedly split about 14 years prior. The scandal eventually grew so big that TLC had to release a statement. “There is a lot of information floating around about the group featured on Breaking Amish,” the network said, according to Variety. “Much of it is not true, but some of it is—and is addressed in upcoming episodes.”
Dinner: Impossible With a Side of Improbable
Dinner: Impossible star Robert Irvine boasted about his incredible curriculum vitae, which included a role in designing Princess Diana’s wedding cake, or so he claimed. In 2008, the St. Petersburg Times did a little digging and discovered that a slice of Irvine’s résumé had been greatly embellished. The Food Network fired Irvine from the show shortly thereafter, replacing him with chef Michael Symon. Despite the embarrassing scandal, Irvine actually returned to the Food Network later that year. In 2009, he was reinstated as host of Dinner: Impossible for a serving of episodes. Two years later, Irvine began hosting another series called Restaurant: Impossible.
Man vs. The Not-Exactly-Wild
In 2007, the United Kingdom’s Channel 4 conducted an investigation into Man vs. Wild (called Born Survivor: Bear Grylls in the U.K.) in response to claims that some of Grylls’ stunts were set up by a production crew. The examination revealed a long list of misleading information, including instances of Grylls staying at a hotel while claiming to be in the wild (aka. how the rest of us camp). In light of the scandal, some of the episodes in question were re-edited for British and American audiences. The show also made adjustments to become more transparent to viewers.
Millions of Americans’ mindless Saturday afternoons were ruined in 2012 when a former participant on HGTV’s House Hunters claimed her experience on the show was fixed by producers. The participant, Bobi Jensen, told the Hooked on Houses blog that she and her family had already picked a home before taping the show. She said the remaining two houses they viewed on TV were really just their friends’ homes. HGTV responded to Jensen’s claims in a statement to Entertainment Weekly, admitting things can change due to production timing restraints and the process moving too quickly.
In December 2012, Dave Hester blew the lid off of Storage Wars when he sued A&E for wrongful termination and committing fraud against its viewing audience. In his lawsuit, he alleged that “nearly every aspect of the series is faked” and accused the crew of “salting,” a term for planting valuable objects inside participants’ lockers. Hester says he wasn’t asked back on the show after he complained about its practices to the network. Hester reached a settlement with A&E the following July for an undisclosed amount that we suspect he is happily storing in his bank account.
If you assumed all the fighting and drama on Dance Moms was for the cameras, you’d probably be right, at least according to co-star Maddie Ziegler. Speaking to USA Today in 2015, the adorable youngster revealed that some of the show’s most dramatic moments aren’t exactly, you know, real. “It’s hard to do a reality show when there’s so much crying and drama,” she said. “The producers set it up to make us all yell at each other…The moms have a fake fight sometimes. Afterward they just start talking and laugh about it.” Color us unsurprised.
Survivor: Outwit, Outlast, Outhoax
Survivor’s survival came into question after executive producer Mark Burnett admitted to reshooting scenes using stand-ins to get the best shot. According to ABC News, Burnett said he recreated a river swimming race from Season 2 using body doubles and then spliced into the real race. “The only other thing we’ve done is when the two tribes approach Jeff for a challenge, we may do that twice—because I want a nice wide shot,” Burnett said. He insisted none of his tweaking affected the outcome of the show.
In 2010, multiple reports alleged that you couldn’t actually try to hail Discovery Channel’s Cash Cab at random. In fact, according to one former contestant, the whole thing was even more staged than you might have guessed. Writing for TV.com, Kevin Collier claimed he and his friends were actually tricked by producers into thinking they were on their way to a different reality show that one of Collier’s friends had been prescreened for weeks prior. One of the producers even arranged a ride for them to the alleged show, which, lo and behold, turned out to be the “Cash Cab.” Once in the cab, Collier says the game was very real, with only a few minor exceptions (e.g. If you win money, you have to give it back to host Ben Bailey and wait for a check to be mailed.) Lame, but then again, when have New York City taxis ever been fair?
Keeping Up With the Reshoots
Even rabid fans of Keeping Up with the Kardashians will admit the show probably isn’t 100 percent legit. Even so, producer Russell Jay shocked many when he exposed some of the show’s reality secrets in a deposition during Kim Kardashian’s divorce from Kris Humphries. Jay testified that Kardashian requested to reshoot her reaction to Humphries’ “surprise” proposal because she allegedly did not like the way her face looked in the first take, according to the Huffington Post. Even worse, Russell testified that Kardashian and her mom, Kris Jenner, shot a scene discussing Kardashian’s marriage problems on a sound stage, not during the episode’s trip to Dubai. Sad, but what else would you expect from a family who made its fortune selling superficiality?
The Hills Have Lies
Former Hills star Kristin Cavallari admitted on Bethenny Frankel’s talk show (via Us Weekly) that many of her relationships on the show were just for the cameras, including her much-anticipated reconciliation with Brody Jenner. “I knew exactly what I was getting into,” she said. Jenner also called “BS” on The Hills, even admitting his relationship with Lauren Conrad never actually happened. Does this mean that Heidi and Spencer don’t actually exist?
No Voice in the Matter
One of the big selling points of NBC’s hit singing competition The Voice is that after the celebrity judges weed through the season’s many hopefuls, the American viewing audience gets the chance to decide the winner. If your favorite contestant lands in the bottom three, there’s even a “fail safe” in the form of a last-chance performance and Twitter hashtag. Voice fans may think they have a lot of say in how the competition concludes, but the truth is, they probably don’t. Thanks to a very questionable contract signed by Voice participants, as obtained by the New York Daily News, the show’s producers reportedly have the final say in how things progress. The Daily News claims the show can “eliminate contestants at any time, even if they are ‘winning’ with the public,” and “ignore the show’s voting system.” But, hey, happy voting!
Mystery (Less) Diners
If you ever tuned into an episode of Mystery Diners, a once-popular Food Network series, you were no doubt aghast at the way terrible staff members took advantage of trusting restaurant owners when their backs were turned. The series featured hidden cameras, undercover employees and—you guessed it—mystery diners, all meant to bust these bad workers before they could do further damage to failing businesses. This reality TV show ultimately failed to live up to the “reality” portion of that phrase—at least according to Radar Online. The tab claimed Mystery Diners had a tendency to hire actors to appear on the show. An episode about The Groves Bar & Grill in Gilbert, Ariz. allegedly featured a so-called suspicious cook named “Chef Dave” who is actually actor and artist Dave Germain, owner of DisJointed Productions. A Looper article revealed that one of the experts who appears in episodes of Pawn Stars also turned up on an episode of Mystery Diners. Although listed as an actor by IMDb, Bob Yuhas is also well known as an antique restoration specialist. He was credited as the “second bartender” in the Mystery Diners Season 2 “Night Shift” episode.
Not Born Wild
The Phoniest LoserThe primary lie of The Biggest Loser is that the kind of rapid weight loss featured on the show is realistic and healthy when, in fact, it’s not only unsustainable in the long-term, but can be potentially dangerous. Setting aside that glaring issue, which has now been scientifically proven, there are actually many other ways the show has been deceitful over the course of 17 years. For starters, there’s the scandalous accusation made by contestant Joelle Gwynn, who told the New York Post that her trainer, Bob Harper, along with his assistant, allegedly furnished her with “Adderall and ‘yellow jackets’—pills that contain ephedra extract,” which is a federally banned weight loss supplement. Then there are the claims made by contestant Kai Hibbard, who accused the show of bugging people’s computers, borderline physical and psychological torture from trainers, and even faking the time between weigh-ins and using phony scales. Producers and doctors associated with the show have insisted the health and safety of the contestants is the primary concern, but even trainer Jillian Michaels admitted to feeling manipulated in 2014 when she quit the show for good. “Millions of people have this warped negative perception of me,” she told People, regarding what she felt was the show editing her in a way that made her look “harsh, rather than helpful.” At the time of this writing, the series has yet to shed the weight of all these accusations, and while it has not been officially canceled, things are not looking good.
Con of the Wildman
There is no doubt that Ernie Brown Jr. (aka The Turtleman) has spent his life as a self-taught pest control operator, often retrieving nasty snapping turtles from filthy ponds or fetching snakes and other varmints out of dark and dingy crawlspaces. His toothless grin, country charm, and signature “Yi! Yi! Yi! Yi! Yi!” call make for great television. Unfortunately, the producers of his hit Animal Planet show, Call of the Wildman, allegedly took things too far. According to a Mother Jones investigation, there were several occasions when animals were allegedly hurt or killed because of inappropriately staged situations in which The Turtleman was then called in to rescue or remove them. One episode portrayed Brown wrestling a “stray zebra” to the ground, except according to Mother Jones, the zebra had been sedated beforehand and was on loan to the show by a drive-thru safari park. The investigation also revealed that Brown had lost his Nuisance Wildlife Control Officer (NWCO) license, which was required in the state of Kentucky, where much of the show was filmed. Call of the Wildman was canceled after four seasons, but The Turtleman returned with his own YouTube channel. Although, it features decidedly more tame programming, such as a video about learning how to make lemonade and another that features him playing with a fidget spinner. Not exactly live action.
By now, we all expect so-called reality shows to be heavily produced, but even shows such as The Real Housewives feature what seem to be actual fights, regardless of how provoked they may be by producers. This does not seem to be the case with the now defunct Restaurant Stakeout, the Food Network show that supposedly outfitted restaurants with NSA-level surveillance in order to catch employees doing some dirt. According to The Journal News (via Reality Blurred), a show participant alleged that “none of it is real.” Another restaurateur featured on the show, Lucia Ivezaj, of Mount Ivy Cafe, seemingly corroborated that claim, explaining that she was “told what do, how to act,” and had to “change clothes every couple of hours, pretending it was another day.” She also claimed producers hired a waiter who “dropped food and drank on the job after lying.” Of the phony waiter, Ivezaj said, “They wanted a lot of drama, and unfortunately we don’t have drama here. So, therefore, they made some of their own drama.” On top of all of that, let’s pause for a second to see who they got to host the show. According to the New York Daily News, before restaurateur Willie Degel became successful with his steakhouse chain, he was convicted in 1994 in “a federal credit card fraud trial with Louis Ferrante, a crony of John (Junior) Gotti, the Gambino boss’ son.” The following year he was indicted on “federal hijacking and robbery” charges, and the year after that he was accused of being involved in the beating of an off-duty police officer. Granted, we’re not saying that proves anything shady about his TV show, but it certainly doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence.
Last Comic Chosen by Producers
In the early stages of the Last Comic Standing, which was basically American Idol for stand-up comedy, 20 comedians competed for ten finalists spots, which would then become the focus of the competition for the rest of the show. During Season 2, this pool of 20 was judged by a panel of celebrity comics, including Drew Carey, Brett Butler, and Anthony Clark, who all reportedly became infuriated after producers essentially overrode their judgments to create the “best reality show cast,” according to the Los Angeles Times. Speaking with The Times, Carey said, “They’re presenting this to the public as if it’s a contest, but it’s not.” He also alleged that he and his fellow judges were led to believe they would determine who got to advance to the finals, but the producers “were going to pick whoever they wanted,” adding that Clark “ripped off his microphone in disgust when the results were announced.” There were also alleged conflicts between comics who were cast on the show and who shared representation with show producers. In the end, the only evidence really needed to prove the show was completely contrived was Dat Phan’s Season 1 win, which, to circle back to the American Idol analogy, would have been like producers making sure William Hung won the whole thing.
Lyin’ Chef America
Although Iron Chef presents itself as one of the most dramatic cooking competitions on television, it turns out, like most reality TV, a lot of it is for show. We should make the distinction here that we’re actually talking about Iron Chef America, the timid younger brother of the original, insane Japanese version of the show that was basically a Kung-Fu tournament without the kicks and punches. When Village Voice food critic Robert Sietsema attended a taping of the show, he left hungry for the kind of intense competition portrayed on TV. What he experienced, according to Gothamist, was a mundane couple of hours during which the Iron Chefs and their competitors cooked “well-tested recipes” because they allegedly knew about the “secret” ingredient in advance. As for the judgment rounds, according to Sietsema, it takes up to two hours to film, so the judges aren’t even eating what was cooked during the televised cooking segment. Supposedly sous chefs recreate the dishes that the judges are filmed eating. Ugh. What a letdown. Sounds like the secret ingredient for every episode of Iron Chef America is baloney!
America’s Got Fibbers
Like a lot of contestants on America’s Got Talent, Timothy Michael Poe had a sad backstory to go along with his performance. Poe told the judges that he was injured by a grenade blast while serving with the National Guard in Afghanistan, leaving him with a brain injury, a broken back, and a speech impediment. The judges were clearly moved and advanced Poe to the next round. Some home viewers, however, had a different reaction. According to the New York Post, Poe’s tale of woe quickly unraveled after other members of his unit cried foul on his story. The Minnesota National Guard could not corroborate the details of Poe’s injuries, only that a single report showed he was “injured in the line of duty.” On top of that, the show aired a photo that Poe claimed was him on deployment, except it turned out to actually be Staff Sgt. Nathan Bone, who told TMZ he’s never even heard of Poe. Poe ended up admitting to the New York Post that he falsified parts of his story—including the part about receiving a Purple Heart and never singing before his injuries. He still maintains that his injuries occurred the way he claimed they did. In an interview with a local ABC News affiliate, Poe said, “It’s the truth that I know. It’s the truth that I truly think is real, and that’s horrible, because I don’t know if…” before breaking down into tears. Yeesh. What a terrible situation. Hopefully, Poe is now getting the treatment he clearly needs.
Cat(fish in a barrel)
Anyone who’s watched enough episodes of Catfish already knows the dubious nature of a show that supposedly finds people who’ve somehow missed the memo that the internet is filled with creepy liars. That said, executive producer Marshall Eisen shared even more insider knowledge on how a catfish encounter is crafted in a 2014 interview with Vulture. For starters, the catfish are often the ones who reach out to producers. This is completely opposite of how it’s portrayed on the show, which typically features hosts Max Joseph and Nev Schulman just hanging out in jorts, celebrating their perfect hair and teeth when, lo and behold, they get an email from a desperate, and unbelievably naive Facebook user! Then the investigation begins, except according to Eisen, producers already know exactly how it will end, since they’ve secretly collaborated with both the catfish and his or her prey. The trick is, they supposedly don’t tell Joseph and Shulman anything, meaning the show is basically a TV version of an Escape Room, and the producers, the catfish, and the supposed victim are all watching the hosts from behind figurative two-way mirrors. Granted, it’s a TV show, so of course, there has to be some structure, but this revelation means the show is less about the participants and more about how good Joseph and Schulman are at Googling cell phone numbers.
Ghosts HoaxEver since the show Ghosthunters appeared on the Sci-Fi channel in October 2004, paranormal investigation shows became all the rage. By 2008, there were so many paranormal shows to choose from, but one particular offering on The Travel Channel, Ghost Adventures had a hook-that hook was lead investigator Zak Bagans, who opened every show with a voice-over about how he never believed in ghosts but then something happened to him that changed his life forever. Bagans, who was usually dressed in a tight black tee shirt, would look at the camera with his good looks, and it seemed as though he had become the Justin Bieber of the paranormal world. He even showed endearing quirks like his fear of dolls when the team visited The Island of the Dolls in Mexico during Season 1. However, when the charm wore off, many people wondered just what these guys were up too. The star, Aaron Goodwin was fired I 2014 after he stopped by the podcast “Are We Alone” and explained how the network staged reactions, sound effects and other aspects of the program. He claimed that he felt absolutely “sickened” that he had been part of such a “fraud.”
Hell’s KitchenThanks to his part in the well-known television show, Hell’s Kitchen, Chef Gordan Ramsey has become an icon of pop culture. This show features two teams of aspiring culinary artists as they compete for a spot as head chef at one of Ramsey’s restaurants. The most famous segment of the show involves each team running their own kitchen at the same time inside of a high-profile restaurant. As the pressure builds up and the chefs begin to make mistakes, Chef Ramsey swears up and down and often kicks the contestants out of his kitchen. Although the show isn’t as scripted as some of the other television shows mentioned, there are elements of the show that are certainly faked. For example, that restaurant they work it? It’s actually a soundstage fitted to act as one. To turn the drama up a few notches, the producers would often swap out ingredients for the contestants, causing their meal to turn out sub-par and earning them a stern cussing session from the chef. It’s also been said that the “guests” that appear to judge the contestant’s food are actually hired food critics.
The Jerry Springer HoaxAs much fun as the Jerry Springer show was to probably watch on television, you’d find few people who would deny that the show is basically scraping the bottom of the barrel for entertainment. Like many other daytime talk shows, this show would have guests who have abnormalities in their lives; sometimes it would be that they think their wife is cheating on them, or that they don’t know who the father is of their baby, or sometimes it would be people stuck between two lovers, and need help deciding. It’s probably not surprising whatsoever, but the show is actually fairly scripted. Although the people and their stories are real enough, the producers feed Jerry talking points that they know will anger the guests, and then they give them a free pass to beat up on each other without any repercussions. It’s also said that the stage hands are around to give the audience cues on what reactions to make, and participants are told to exaggerate as much as possible.
For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it follows a single man or woman who is looking for their soulmate in life. As the season progresses, the main character eliminates contestants via a rose ceremony until there is only one rose left. Of course, then what happens? The two get married and live happily ever after forever, right? Well…not exactly. A good portion of the couples who end up together on the shows end up divorced-or don’t even get married in the first place. Portions of the show are certainly scripted. An eagle-eyed fan once noticed that one season saw the producers use reverse footage of the main character in order to create a cliffhanger for the show. The show runners have also been known to figure out which contestants are the “fan favorites” and so they do what they can to ensure they hit it off with the main character and stick around for the season.
Project RunwayProject Runway has been one of the most fun competitive shows out there. Every week, contestants are given a theme to follow and asked to create outfits that are appropriately matched. There have been some insane challenges over the years as well as many creative and unique outfit designs to match. The show is hosted by renowned supermodel Heidi Klum, the “Runway” on the show reduces the contestants week to week until the final two compete against each other in the legendary New York Fashion Week shows. This show is unlike many of the others seeing as it had won a Peabody Award. Unfortunately, though the show has gotten incredible reviews, there is some evidence that points to the show being scripted. Season four contestant Jack Mackenroth came out and said that every elimination was planned out ahead of time, and that the producers then would edit the footage of the episode to make the audience agree with them. Bravo has said that these claims are false, and they have said that the only time the producers step in on a decision is when there’s a tie between the judges.
Pawn StarsYou’ve certainly heard of “Pawn Stars” at this point, seeing as the show has been around for eight years now, and it has been both an incredibly blessing and a curse for the History channel. Thanks to the success of Rick and his family, the former History Channel has switched over to broadcasting mostly reality shows. The episodes feature someone bringing in an item to the shop to get some cash. Often times, Rick will call in an expert to see if it’s authentic before bartering with the participant to get the item for the right price. Unfortunately, “Pawn Stars” is almost entirely scripted. Yep, of course the star exists and is owned by the Harrisons in real life, but these days it’s become more like a tourist attraction rather than an operating store. In fact, on days when they film, they have to close the entire store down just to be able to film in peace. On top of that, the show’s stars are also no longer allowed to work the counter during regular hours thanks to Nevada privacy laws. As if that’s not bad enough, all of the items are researched and prices are agreed on beforehand.
Cake BossOf all of these reality shows, it seems that on paper, “Cake Boss” might not be that bad. Many shows in this genre often give audiences the idea of what an “ideal” life is like while scripting the best parts, creating a life that can never truly be obtained by the viewer. But nope, this show about Carlo’s Bakery is just a good old fashioned show about a guy and his family who make awesome cakes for their customers. Yet, just because it’s wholesome doesn’t mean that the show is completely real. Much like the HGTV shows, Buddy and his crew are already commissioned to do a specific cake before the cameras are even rolling; the producers simply script in drama that makes them look like they’re going to miss a deadline or that the client isn’t happy with the product. Also, it seems the timing of the funny parts are a little too perfect to be entirely real.
It’s hard to believe that the show ran as long as it did. The show began as “the ultimate job interview,” in which a group of businessmen and women compete for a job with Donald Trump’s company. At the end of each episode, the host sits down with the losing team and “fires” someone. A few seasons in, the bases of the show changed to having celebrities compete to receive money for their charity of choice. In 2016, Arnold Schwarzenegger took over as host. While the competition on the show was real enough, the “firing” part was scripted for complete dramatic effect. In 2004, it was revealed that none of the contestants were ever truly evicted. Instead, they just stayed in a different section of the tower with the rest of the season’s losers. The contestants’ suitcases that they took with them were usually empty, and the elevator ride and taxi transportation were just for the show purposes. It’s also been said by former contestants that their firing was all part of the plan from the beginning.
The Dog Whisperer
No, Cesar Millan has no credentials. He is not a veterinarian. He is not an animal behaviorist. He is just a guy who claims to know how dogs think and behave. He claims that “it’s just instinctual.” He just relates to dogs. His only training, if you can call it that, comes from his Mexican grandfather, who also was apparently a “dog whisperer.” Millan now works with over 50 dogs at his Los Angeles compound, and conducts webinars, films videos, and appears on talk shows espousing his own special methods of training dogs. One thing I do know is that Cesar Millan believes in a theory that has long since been debunked. It’s the idea of the alpha in the dog pack. Millan suggests that in order to have good dogs, you have to be the pack leader, or the “alpha.” Any other dogs in the pack must submit to you. He takes this from old research on wolf packs, suggesting that there is an alpha wolf and then the subordinates. Current research, though, suggests that wolf packs work more cooperatively than we once believed – there may actually not be an alpha, just a group of wolves who work together for the good of the pack. And there may be no need for dominance – simple affection may get the job done.