Cosmopolitan (UK)

THE ‘REALITY’ SUICIDES The curse of TV’s biggest show

Thousands apply to go on every year. Only a precious few are chosen. But what happens once their 15 minutes of fame are up? Annabelle Lee uncovers the not-so-glossy truth... ›


“I don’t think I was made for this game.”

“It’s bringing me back to a place I don’t want to go.”

Gia Allemand had just fallen out with her best friend. She was het up, in that way you are after an argument. Unsure if you’ve made the right decision, with blood rushing through your ears, clouding your judgement. In the heat of the moment, she’d walked out of the house she’d been living in; it was a snap decision and then she couldn’t stop crying.

Were the tears real or not? We’ll never know. Gia was a contestant on Bachelor Pad – a US reality TV show, where former contestant­s of The Bachelor hole up in a mansion, supposedly in the quest for love, but also for the $250,000 prize, and our entertainm­ent.

Three years later, the 29-year-old hanged herself. She’d been suffering from bipolar disorder and depression that she’d been hiding throughout her time on television. Two-and-a-half years later, Gia’s The Bachelor co-star Lex McAllister took a lethal overdose of prescripti­on pills. She was 31 years old.

These aren’t isolated incidents. In the past decade, 21 US reality TV stars have committed suicide.* They include Joseph Cerniglia, a 39-yearold chef who, in 2010, jumped into the Hudson river. Three years before, he’d appeared on Kitchen Nightmares, when Gordon Ramsay had yelled at him,“Your business is about to f*cking swim down the Hudson.” Then in 2011, Russell Armstrong, husband of Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong, hanged himself. His marriage had broken down, and he was about to face a $1.5 million lawsuit. This all played out on, and off, television. In the weeks running up to his suicide, Russell spoke of his time on the show: “It just takes [the pressure] to a whole new level; we were pushed to extremes.” Over the years, reality TV has evolved. It’s no longer gentle peoplewatc­hing out of anthropolo­gical curiosity. Instead, it’s five-star entertainm­ent. Our deteriorat­ing attention spans mean we need something to happen every second, or we’ll switch over. For months, we watch every moment of the lives of these ‘characters,’ with their loves, triumphs and defeats. Then we forget them, like they were never there at all.

Remember Zara Holland? She’s a 22-year-old fashion brand owner from Hull. She’s also the woman who was stripped of her Miss Great Britain title after having sex on Love Island in 2016, a show watched by an average of 1.4 million people. She left the island to find countless headlines and opinion pieces devoted to her behaviour. “It was the biggest regret of my life – I think about it every day,” she says. “I’m still so embarrasse­d. I went on the show thinking I’d never do anything like that, but it all happened so quickly. I remember waking up the next day and just staying in the beach hut for hours wondering what I’d done.” She adds,“The worst thing was that I felt I’d let my family down. I worked so hard to get my Miss Great Britain title, I was so proud and did a lot of charity work that was then forgotten. I’d love to go back in time and not be known as the girl who lost her Miss Great Britain title for having sex on TV.” When Channel 4 first aired Big

Brother, in 2000, we watched people like us: office managers, builders, teachers. The most controvers­ial thing that happened was ‘nasty’ Nick sneaking in a pen and paper and attempting to influence nomination­s. But, after viewers labelled season four ‘boring,’ things changed. During series five, a violent argument broke out, and police were called. Series six saw a contestant seemingly masturbate using a wine bottle. Then a former anorexic had to play games to win food in series seven. All this happened while Big Brother was at its peak, averaging five million viewers a night.

TV production companies recognised viewers’ hunger. Today, ›

“It was the biggest regret of my life”

you can watch Naked Attraction, Married At First Sight or Sex Box, and

on shows like Love Island or Geordie

Shore, getting drunk and having sex is the norm. On the latter, Charlotte Crosby peed herself most nights, had sex and a near-threesome on TV. She’s now worth £1.6 million. Love Island’s Olivia Buckland had sex 30 times on the show. She now has her own clothing line and countless beauty endorsemen­ts. ‘Reality TV star’ has become a desired profession, and this year’s Love Island received over 60,000 applicants within 24 hours.

Kimberly Davis, an entreprene­ur from New York, thought going on the UK version of The Apprentice would be an asset to her CV.“I think my series [five] was the first one where the show started to be known for its crazy characters. Previously, it had been about the best business minds, which is why I initially applied,” she says.“Before the show I ran a successful business, but ever since appearing on it, I’ve had to work much harder for jobs and really persuade people to work with me rather than relying on my credential­s alone. I have to say, ‘Please don’t hold it against me.’ I was so proud to be on it, and it turned out to be an embarrassm­ent.”

Sarah Goodhart, a 24-year-old beautician, thought TV offered a passport to another life. She’d dropped out of school before her A-levels, and after appearing on Ex On The Beach, was approached by Geordie Shore producers. “At the time, it seemed like a good idea,” she says now. She thought she would become a well-paid regular on the show, so quit her job. She ended up on just one series, then had to apply for work, but she stood out from the others on the job hunt – and not in a good way. In one interview, she was certain everyone in the room knew exactly who she was. “I really felt like they’d only asked me in so they could laugh at me; I don’t think they had any intention of hiring me.” Sarah didn’t get that role, or the six she applied for after that, and began to fear she was unhirable. Sarah did what everyone does on

Geordie Shore: she got drunk, wore revealing clothing, fought over men. It is, she says, a far cry from how she is in real life, describing herself as ‘an introvert.’ This could be hard to believe, considerin­g she’s been on reality TV twice. But editing plays its part, and we now live in an age of scripted shows. Sarah claims Geordie

Shore is one of them. “[Producers] told me I had to make a very crude comment about a co-star’s penis. It wasn’t the sort of thing I’d ever say, but they said this part had been written for me,” she recalls.

A celebrity agent who looks after a host of reality TV stars says this is not uncommon.“The producers have a storyboard of characters, and they recruit people to fit into that,” they say, asking to remain anonymous. “In casting meetings [for other reality shows], I’ve overheard producers telling the stars,‘Lots of shagging tonight please.’ And on others they get extra money for things like nudity, sex and cat fights,” they say, adding that “in some shows, they’ll ply you

with alcohol to make the behaviour more outrageous”.

Sarah, who struggled with anxiety and depression before Geordie Shore, says her experience on the show deepened her mental-health issues. At one point, she says she felt pushed to ‘near insanity’: “I felt exploited and traumatise­d, and it affects me to this day.” She believes producers must have seen how ‘unstable’ she was becoming. When we contacted

Geordie Shore, they declined to comment. But Gladeana McMahon, one of the first psychologi­sts on

Big Brother, who has set out ethical guidelines for reality shows to abide by, says there are still those who do not stick to them.“The difficulty is that nobody wants to watch boring people, so you have to find characters. However, there are characters and then there are problems,” she explains. “After a few years at Big Brother, I left, because I didn’t like the way it was going. I’ve seen production companies whose values I’m not happy with.” Endemol Shine, the production company behind Big

Brother, says it offers psychologi­cal assessment­s for the housemates before entering, with a dedicated welfare team on hand and once the series is off air. But still questions remain for all shows.

Should Stephanie Davis have been accepted for Celebrity Big Brother, just months after being fired from

Hollyoaks for being ‘unfit for work’? She later admitted to being an alcoholic. Or how about Ceri Rees, the widow who was humiliated on

The X Factor just after her husband died? Her family are taking legal action against the show. And you probably don’t even remember Shahbaz Chaudhry, from series seven of Big Brother, who was monitored by psychologi­sts after threatenin­g to kill himself live on air.

The answer is, of course, probably not. While a pre-existing mentalheal­th issue should never become a barrier, there’s no doubt shows like these change lives – and not always for the better. There are countless examples of reality TV having an extreme, detrimenta­l effect that the contestant simply wasn’t prepared for. We could blame the producers, or the stars themselves, but maybe we should also look at ourselves. Our hunger for that window into people’s lives is now insatiable. We spend our lunch breaks watching Instagram stories of influencer­s we’ve never met, and in the evening, we watch these shows, making snap judgements about yet more strangers. If there wasn’t demand, these shows wouldn’t be as extreme. Ask yourself,‘Would we watch if everyone on them were stable, sober and secure?’ If we regulated the psychologi­cal side of things too much, we may not have reality TV at all. And it’s up to us to decide what’s more important.

 ??  ?? Left to right: Zara Holland, Kimberly Davis, Sarah Goodhart
Left to right: Zara Holland, Kimberly Davis, Sarah Goodhart
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Zara on Love Island
Zara on Love Island
 ??  ?? Sarah Goodhart, Geordie Shore Suffers from depression and anxiety Pushed to ‘near insanity' Laughed at in interviews
Sarah Goodhart, Geordie Shore Suffers from depression and anxiety Pushed to ‘near insanity' Laughed at in interviews
 ??  ?? Sarah makes a point on Geordie Shore
Sarah makes a point on Geordie Shore
 ??  ?? Struggled to get work Judged by her clients Kimberly Davis, The Apprentice
Struggled to get work Judged by her clients Kimberly Davis, The Apprentice
 ??  ?? Kimberly in Lord Sugar’s boardroom
Kimberly in Lord Sugar’s boardroom

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