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Reality (TV) bites
Jun 29, 2023
Season 8 | Episode 7

Reality (TV) bites

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Reality dating shows provide addictive entertainment to audiences at relatively low cost to networks. But at what price for contestants, who go home unpaid and heartbroken?

Michael Carroll has no problem admitting that he kind of enjoys manipulating people. It makes him feel powerful. And for a long time, it was also part of his job. He worked as a producer on “The Bachelor,” where he was rewarded for creating spicy on-camera drama — like getting contestants to cry on camera. If he could make something juicy happen, sometimes his bosses would hand him a $100 bill or a bottle of tequila. That’s because when it comes to reality dating shows, drama equals profit for the networks. 

Reality TV continues to be very popular. And that’s good news for television networks, because reality shows are relatively cheap to produce. They don’t require teams of writers, and even the cast is frequently paid little to nothing for appearing on the show. With the WGA writers’ strike continuing into the summer, reality TV might become even more crucial for networks’ bottom lines. 

Nadia Jagessar, a woman in a black tan top, sits at a table in a dimly lit restaurant smiling.
 Nadia Jagessar on set on “Indian Matchmaking.” (Courtesy Jagessar)

But for the people who agree to appear on these shows for free, the experience is often not as profitable as they’d hoped. Nadia Jagessar was on the first two seasons of the Netflix reality show “Indian Matchmaking.” She says she was hoping to find a husband, but she got more than she bargained for. After being on two seasons, she’d lost money taking time off work and doing her own makeup, hair and wardrobe for the show — but she was still single. And millions of viewers were talking about her. “I couldn’t find a therapist fast enough,” she told us. “I just didn’t know how to process the response. I didn’t know how to process everybody’s opinions of me.”

Jazzy Collins, a Black woman with long hair wearing a pink cardigan, black pants and a blue sits on a wooden ledge. Her legs are crossed and she is holding a massive rose.
Jazzy Collins, former casting producer for “The Bachelor.” (Courtesy Collins)

And working behind the scenes can take a toll, as well. Jazzy Collins worked as a casting producer for five seasons of “The Bachelor” franchise. When she started working on the show, she hoped that she’d have the chance to make stars of women who looked like her — Black women with natural hair and darker skin. But the network would consistently reject these women. “That’s when my mental health started to go down,” says Collins. “To constantly hear that someone that looks like you isn’t pretty and not deserving of finding love on a reality show, it was horrible listening to that all day every day.” 

In this episode, we explore the hidden cost these highly profitable shows can have for the mental health of the people who make them.

If you liked this episode, share it with a friend. And to get even more Uncomfortable, subscribe to our newsletter. Each Friday you’ll get a note from Reema and recs from the “This Is Uncomfortable” team. If you missed it, here’s the latest issue.

If you want to tell us what you thought about the episode or anything else, email us at uncomfortable@marketplace.org or fill out the form below.









This is Uncomfortable June 29, 2023 Transcript

 

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

 

Reema Khrais

When Michael Carroll started working as an assistant for The Bachelor in the early 2000s, reality dating shows were still a relatively new concept. 

 

Producers were mostly winging it, experimenting with different ways to make compelling TV. Micheal was intrigued by how they would create all this drama between contestants.  

 

Michael Carroll: just pulling emotion out of people and making people do things or, uh, planting seeds to make people think or do things …I was like wow…this is fascinating! 

 

Reema Khrais 

Michael wanted to know what it felt like to pull the strings… 

 

Michael Carroll: There’s a power that comes to being able you know, the realization that you can manipulate people into doing things you want them to do

 

Reema Khrais

But it wasn’t just about the power. He was more so drawn to the creative process…of figuring out how to make something out of nothing, how to craft a juicy, dramatic storyline. 

 

When he got a promotion and became a producer, he finally got his chance. 

 

One of the most challenging parts of his job was during the highly anticipated rose ceremonies…if you’re not familiar, that’s when The Bachelor chooses which of the women vying for his affection will make it through to the next episode.

 

Contestant: We are all going into the rose ceremony. It’s really nerve-wracking just because there’s a chance I’m gonna go home.

 

Chris Harrison: Ladies, I’m sorry if you did not receive a rose. Take a moment. Say goodbyes.

 

Reema Khrais

The producers had to do exit interviews with each of the failed contestants.. And those interviews… had a very explicit goal…Like if there were ten women who got sent home that episode

 

Michael Carroll: you’ve gotta make 10 girls cry or 10 girls be upset or get some kind of great sound bite. Out of them as they leave 

 

Reema Khrais

Making someone cry was apparently the holy grail. Like the equivalent of scoring a business deal in your corporate job. The producers – the good ones – would congratulate you, like welcome, you’re one of us now! Maybe you’d even get a bottle of tequila. 

 

The tequila was the carrot, but there was also a stick…

 

Michael Carroll: I heard a couple times, if you don’t make this chick cry, you’re fired. And that was more of like a joke. Winky. Winky. But of course you’re gonna have that in your head, like, oh, is she serious?

 

Reema Khrais

Under that kind of pressure, Michael would try to get personal 

 

Michael Carroll: you know, dig into her psychology or her character defects or her, um, issues and go, okay, there’s one that will get her, you know?

 

Reema Khrais

Maybe something like… I know you were cheated on in college, does this rejection remind you of that? Why do you think this keeps happening to you? 

 

Michael Carroll: So it’s almost like “are you worthy?” became a really easy one to go to  

 

Reema Khrais

And cue the waterworks. 

 

Bachelor contestant: Why am I so hard to love? Why am I always so misunderstood? 

 

Reema Khrais

Michael explains that there’s a recipe for making great TV. And if a crying girl is one component, then the show’s villain is the key ingredient, you gotta have someone who stirs the pot 

 

Michael Carroll: and you start sniffing that out quickly in, in the casting process. Ooh, maybe we have a villain. Who would it be? Um, It’s the girl who has a chip on her shoulder. It’s the girl that thinks she’s hotter than everybody or has strong opinions on other women

 

You’re like, okay, this will be a great person to make into a villain We can start really heavily producing it into being what we want.

 

Reema Khrais

Every once in a while, especially when he was alone, Michael would feel guilty thinking back on the seasons he’d worked on…like did we really have to make this woman cry? Or vilify that person? But then he’d think…

 

Michael Carroll: It’s not like we’re trying to save the world and make, make everyone really fall  in love. Like, that’s great. But , the driving force is making quality television that people wanna watch

 

Reema Khrais

And so with that in mind, he wouldn’t feel that bad….

 

Michael Carroll: the majority of the time, to be honest, I, I got to the place where I was like, these people signed up for it, the vast majority. Attention if not fame So if, if it’s great for you, terrific. If it sucks for you. You kind of knew what you were getting into, and if you didn’t, you should have thought about it.

 

Reema Khrais

I’m Reema Khrais and welcome to This is Uncomfortable, the show from Marketplace where we talk about how money makes life messy.

 

And today we’re talking about something really messy — reality dating shows. If you’re like me, you know how easy it is to get sucked into these shows. They can be really addictive. 

 

Which might be why over the past twenty years, Reality TV’s popularity has skyrocketed. Some reports say Reality TV accounts for more than  70% of primetime viewing. It’s a winning formula for networks. They can bring in millions in ad revenue and are relatively cheap to produce since they don’t require a big team of writers and they don’t even always pay the cast. 

 

With the Hollywood writers strike dragging into the summer, many have speculated that Networks will turn to Reality TV to fill in programming gaps. And while these kinds of shows can provide a lot of upside, there’s also a hidden cost – to both the contestants and the people making them. 

 

This week…we dive into the strange world of Reality dating shows with two stories. 

 

First, the cost of being an unpaid star…and then later in the show…what happens when you try to push back from the inside?

 

I really got into reality TV at the beginning of the pandemic. I found it comforting, like the ultimate form of people watching during an isolating time. 

 

One of the first shows I watched was Indian Matchmaking…

 

Sima: In India, marriage is a very big industry, a very big fat industry.

 

Reema Khrais

That’s Sima Aunty, the matchmaker on the show

 

Sima: In India, we don’t say arrange marriage. There is marriage and then love marriage.

 

Reema Khrais

I loved that this was gonna be a show that just focused on the Indian community. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. If you haven’t watched it, it centers on Sima Aunty, who travels around the world, creating everlasting love stories, or at least that’s the idea. 

 

One of her first clients on the show was a woman named Nadia. She was one of my favorite contestants, so I was pretty stoked when she agreed to chat with me. 

 

Nadia Jagessar:. Hi, I am Nadia Jagessar, um, entrepreneur and star of Netflix’s Indian matchmaking.

 

Reema Khrais: Amazing, dude. I’m so excited to talk with you about this.

 

Reema Khrais

Nadia is tall, bubbly, and has long beautiful hair. So it was a mystery to everyone, including Nadia, why she was single when she first signed up for the dating show

 

Nadia Jagessar:  I have four theories.

 

Reema Khrais: Oh, okay. Tell me. 

 

Nadia Jagessar:  theory one is that, um, I’m tall

 

Reema Khrais: How tall? 

 

Nadia Jagessar: so, um, I’m five nine. So i put heels on and I get close to six feet, if sometimes not taller  The second thing is that like, I own my own business…

 

Reema Khrais

She’s a busy, successful woman, which might intimidate some guys. Her third theory is that she’s very upfront. If she likes a guy, she tells him, which maybe freaks them out. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: the fourth theory is that, um, you know, in the least conceited way possible, I’m a pretty girl and guys like 80% of the time wanna sleep with me. And that’s the only interaction that they want to have

 

Reema Khrais

I’ve always wondered what draws people to apply for reality TV shows, why you’d decide to catapult your life into the limelight. I imagine most people seek it out, but for Nadia, she kinda just stumbled into it. At the time, life was busy. She was living in New Jersey, she had a full-time job in marketing along with a wedding planning business on the side.

 

One day her friend told her about this casting call she’d seen. And Nadia thought… sure why not? She wanted a husband. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: I had tried it literally everything So I was like, well, I have nothing to lose by, by trying this.

 

Reema: and were there any conversations about compensation? 

 

Nadia: Um, they were very clear from the beginning that we were not going to be compensated for appearing on the show.

 

Reema Khrais

This isn’t unusual for reality dating shows…there are ofc exceptions, but many contestants do not get paid. They sign contracts that make it clear that they’re appearing as participants and not “performers” (which would guarantee more legal protections).   

 

This is also partly why it’s cheaper to produce reality TV. It can cost less than 500-hundred thousand dollars to make an episode of a reality show, whereas a scripted episode can cost a few million per episode. 

 

Nadia wasn’t too hung up on the details though, she was just excited she actually got chosen. 

 

When production started, the days of shooting were long and arduous. They’d shoot her meeting the matchmaker, going on dates, doing debriefs with the producers. 

 

She had to take several days off from work to film….and she had to shell out money to be camera ready

 

Nadia Jagessar: it’s expensive. If you have to do your makeup and hair every single time, it gets really pricey

 

Reema Khrais

And on top of that, since they were filming in her family’s home, her parents saw the crew as their guests and would buy them all food. 

 

But overall, Nadia had a good time. She was making friends with the crew and the producers would tell her how great she was in front of the camera. Sometimes they’d even hang together outside of filming.

 

In terms of finding love…Nadia went on a few dates, but she hadn’t actually found a husband, which she was bummed about.

 

And then came the day, in July of 2020, that the show would air. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: I was like, holy crap, it’s happening. It was, uh, it was quite surreal

 

Reema Khrais

The show was scheduled to drop at 3 am where Nadia lives… so she set her alarm for 5 and when she woke up, her phone was just blowing up, message after message after message, from friends, from acquaintances, from strangers…. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: I was like what in the world is happening 

 

Reema Khrais

She jumped out of bed and turned on the TV 

 

Nadia Jagessar: I am on my couch in my apartment. Didn’t even have coffee cuz I was, my adrenaline was like already pumping, And I was like, holy shit. Like my face is on my TV 

 

Reema Khrais: That’s so scary. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: Uh, yeah, it was wild. The only thing I think of was like, wow, my hair looks great. 

 

Reema Khrais

Even when I was talking with Nadia, just imagining what that must’ve felt like, I could feel my palms getting sweaty. One minute you’re living a quiet, private life in New Jersey. And the next minute,  your face is on screens all around the world, your insecurities and dating life now the subject of dinner party conversations and entertainment articles. 

 

The show follows a handful of people, and I remember when I first saw Nadia on the screen, her personality and smile radiated. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: My name is Nadia Jaggesar. I’m fun, adventurous. My, like, life motto is try everything once.

 

Reema Khrais

She was the sweetheart of the show, the star of the romcom who is down on her luck, who you automatically root for. 

 

And at the end of the season, her experience on the show seems to pay off… She walks off into the sunset after a first date CK with a lawyer named Shekar. 

 

Shekar:  I mean, it was as if we’ve known each other, uh, for a long time

 

Nadia Jagessar: I think I’m a little smitten kitten

 

Reema Khrais

But by the time the season aired, Nadia hadn’t talked to Shekar for months. After filming stopped, their relationship fizzled out. 

 

But even if Nadia didn’t get a relationship out of the show, she did find that suddenly, tens of thousands of strangers were rooting for her. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: I mean, everyone was so excited, so supportive, so much like the outpouring of love was truly like overwhelming. Or people would share their stories of like, Hey, I met my husband when X, y, and Z happened, so like, don’t lose hope.

 

Reema Khrais

And Nadia was so overwhelmed with all the support, she felt pressure to keep conforming to that sweetheart persona. She wanted to be able to respond to all the messages she got.  And when people asked her to appear at events, she would do it. Even if they were not offering any money.. She did get some paid gigs…like some sponsored instagram posts, but it wasn’t a lot  

 

Nadia Jagessar: it cost me way more money to be on the show or even the aftermath of the show, to go all these things, than I actually was making

 

Reema Khrais: Interesting. Yeah.

 

Reema Khrais

Nadia was happy but she was also really, really stressed. Her life was suddenly so different. 

 

All these strangers were acting like they knew her because they’d seen her on tv. They’d email her at work, call her house, one guy even showed up at her doorstep.  

 

Nadia Jagessar: I couldn’t find a therapist fast enough. I just didn’t know how to process the response. I didn’t know how to process everybody’s opinions of me

 

Reema Khrais

Then the following year….a producer from the show call

ed her up and was like, do you want to come back on for season two? She hesitated. 

 

Nadia Jagessar:  I was like, does it seem desperate if I go on again, are people gonna be like, damn, this girl’s still single? And they were like, look, you have nothing to lose by, by trying again.I was like, okay, fine. 

 

Reema Khrais

She still wanted to find love. And she hoped this time around, she’d have better luck. Also yea there were drawbacks to being on the show, but overwhelmingly, people loved her and who knows what other opportunities she might get from the exposure. 

 

So she signed up for season two. When they started filming, producers told her they’d put her on some new dates and they’d shoot some scenes with her and Shekar to show viewers that they’re good friends now

 

Nadia Jagessar: and I was like, cool. That sounds great. And is like very accurate to what is happening.

 

Reema Khrais

So she went through the whole process again. She started dating someone on the show, and they filmed a bunch of scenes and debriefs. 

 

But ultimately, by the time production wrapped, Nadia was still single. She didn’t find her soulmate. Once again, she was getting ready to watch herself date… unsuccessfully.. on Netflix. 

 

Reema Khrais: Can you tell me about the moment that you watched season two for

 

Nadia Jagessar: Oh my God. I was in my parents’ house.

 

Reema Khrais

And what she was seeing… it didn’t match at all with what she remembered. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: There are some scenes, I literally sat up and yelled at the tv .I was like, what? And then like a jaw on the floor I and I’m like, What is this? 

 

Reema Khrais

Without getting into the weeds too much, the show basically was edited to look like Shekar was still Nadia’s boyfriend, or that there was at least something between them. 

 

We reached out to Shekar for this episode. He didn’t reply, but in previous interviews he also indicated that they weren’t dating at the time.  

 

Yet the show made it look like Nadia ruthlessly left him for another guy who she kissed right in front of him. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: I’m like, oh my God. Like people must think I am a bitch. And so they were basically somewhat tearing me down to build him up

 

Reema Khrais

She’s not wrong. I remember watching the show during a family vacation and I actually gasped at certain scenes, I even brought my brother into the living room to watch it with me cause I thought what Nadia was doing felt shockingly mean and, you know, it made for good TV. 

 

Like most viewers, I just assumed what I was watching is what actually happened. 

 

I couldn’t have known that real-life Nadia was fuming. After she watched the show, she called one of the producers who she considered a friend at the time. They’d even gone to a hockey game together.  

 

Nadia Jagessar: I was mad at everybody cuz I was like, how could he do this to me? Like, I opened my home to you, like my family, like cooked food, fed you, gave you alcohol, took you out for dinners. Like, I was like, we literally welcomed you with open arms.

 

Reema Khrais

The producer essentially told her look…anyone with a brain cell can tell what was really happening here, you’re fine. 

 

But the hate comments were already rolling in on social media.. 

 

Nadia Jagessar; Like, you don’t deserve love. You’re gonna be single forever. Like, you’re a hoe, you’re a, this, this 

Like, I hope Shaker’s future son comes back and fucks you and this, this like who says that to somebody? 

 

Reema Khrais:I’m so sorry. I don’t even know how anyone is able to deal with that kind of responce

 

Nadia Jagessar: it was, it was wild.

 

Reema Khrais

Nadia couldn’t stop worrying about all the ways this could potentially affect her life. Who knows who might see this show. 

 

Nadia Jagessar:  I was like, well now like are people going to, like, if I ever date somebody in the future are, is their mom or auntie or whoever gonna be like, oh she’ll, she’s just gonna go around kissing other boys in front of her boyfriends

is my employer a future employer gonna Google my name and just see a bunch of articles about saying like, oh, Nadia is a cheater, or Nadia breaks hearts. Nadia is a this Nadia’s a that. And so like, I was very worried about that for like, you know, my, my own reputation, um, because like, I didn’t sign up for this.

 

Reema Khrais

Whenever I watch reality TV, I can’t help but wonder about the real-life implications of people indulging in your insecurities and weaknesses for the sake of their entertainment. Whether or not the portrayal is even accurate, how do you handle hundreds of thousands of strangers having parasocial relationships with you? 

 

Increasingly, we’re learning more about what happens once the cameras stop filming. Many former reality TV contestants say they experienced severe depression and anxiety. Most notably…a couple years back, two former contestants of Love Island died by suicide.

 

Many former reality TV stars have publicly pushed for mental health support after filming. One Love is Blind contestant who got married on the show asked the production company for help finding a marriage counselor.  He said “I literally begged for help, and I didn’t get it… Like, I want to fix my marriage that you’ve thrust us into for profit. 

 

It also doesn’t help that many contestants…they’re on full display at their lowest moments. For the more intense shows, they’re often deprived of sleep while offered an excess of alcohol. Because of the pressure, the isolation, the non-stop filming, some have reported having panic attacks or breakdowns only for producers to push them to keep on filming. Former Love is Blind contestants recently revealed that contestants sign contracts that basically force them to show up til the very end of filming, or else they have to pay a $50,000 fine

 

Indian matchmaking is comparatively tame… the people on the show don’t have to take weeks off of work or live in a house filled with cameras 

 

Even still…the backlash Nadia experienced was intense. And some of her friends didn’t seem to completely get it. Like one of them just texted her this reddit thread all about her. She thought it would be positive… 

 

Nadia Jagessar: I start reading this thread and it’s just people who are shitting on me, and I was just like, oh my God. So I ended up leaving work, sitting in my car, literally hyperventilating, called my brother and he was like talking me off a cliff.

 

Reema Khrais

Her brother told her… listen, even though this is about you, it really isn’t actually about you. This is about giving audiences what they want. It’s entertainment, and you’re just a pawn in that.

 

Nadia Jagessar: He’s like, they built you up in season one. So he’s like, they’re gonna tear you down now. That’s what makes good tv. And he was just like, you’re just a character. that’s all. we know what happened.Your friends, like your close friends know what happened. He’s like, who gives a crap about random people on the internet? And I was like, Yeah

 

Reema Khrais

It of course wasn’t just one light bulb moment, but Nadia kept repeating that sentiment to herself. 

 

Nadia Jagessar: it took me a really long time to separate. Character Nadia from real life Nadia… producer friend from actual friend who happens to be a producer.

 

Reema Khrais

Something I keep thinking about is how when Nadia signed up for this show, she told herself she had nothing to lose. Even producers reminded her that when she signed up for round two. 

 

But it’s clear that when you sign a contract for a reality dating show, you have so much to lose. You forfeit agency over your image…. and open yourself up to ridicule and consequences that can follow you for the rest of your life. 

 

And even though it can lead to more money, it’s becoming harder for reality stars to stand out and make a lucrative career out of being an influencer. Many of them just return to their 9 to 5 jobs.

 

If you look at Nadia’s social media presence, you can see that she’s trying to make the most out of her time on the show…she has more than 100-thousand followers, collaborates with brands  and has a Cameo where charges $50 for personalized video messages. She’s not getting rich off of it, but these days she’s at least asking for money…she used to think that giving away her time for free made her a nice person. 

 

Nadia Jagessar:but like nice doesn’t make money. And so, um, now I make sure I have my rates.I always ask people who send me dms for collaborations. Like, what’s your budget? What’s the rate? Here’s my rate sheet.

 

Reema Khrais: after you saw season two, did you regret being on that 

 

Nadia Jagessar: yeah. A hundred percent. I was like, are you joking? Like this is what they are gonna use me for

 

Reema Khrais; So what would it take for you to do another season? 

 

Nadia Jagessar: um, of Indian matchmaking, it would take a lot, like they would have to pay me 

 

Nadia:they’re all making money off of this, but it’s my life that you’re making money off of and I’m seeing zero. I’m not even seeing a penny. I’ve seen zero pennies from Netflix slash production company and it’s like, yeah, I’m pissed. Like, pay me if you’re gonna make money off of my life.

 

Reema Khrais

After the break, a reality TV producer tries to change things from the inside. 

 

Reema Khrais

One of the things that really drew me to Indian Matchmaking was the fact that it highlighted a community you don’t often get to hear from. But even so, after the show aired, it got some backlash for being problematic, for perpetuating some classist ideas…and colorism, like participants blatantly saying things like they want someone fair-skinned instead of dark.  

 

Reality TV shows often come under fire for reinforcing stereotypes. And one of the biggest culprits of this is The Bachelor Franchise. 

 

Jazzy Collins worked in casting at The Bachelor. She remembers when she first got hired:

 

Jazzy Collins: it’s a huge deal to get this show I was stoked to land it 

 

Reema Khrais

She was the only Black person in the casting department. And while that wasn’t ideal, and she lowkey thought the show was a bit cheesy, she had a plan.  

 

Jazzy Collins: My hope was to bring more people that looked like me on the show I was like, I wanna be able to see someone that has natural hair, or, you know, a girl that’s a little bit more fuller figured, um, on this show. And I said, well, now that I’m actually in it, maybe I have the opportunity to actually get that across the line.

 

Reema Khrais

Up to that point, almost every Bachelor and Bachelorette on the show had been White. And the vast majority of the contestants had been White too. 

 

Then, not long after she started, she was called into a meeting where the head of casting would announce the next Bachelorette. This announcement was historic, the show decided to cast Rachel Lindsay… the first ever Black lead in the Bachelor franchise. 

 

Jazzy Collins:  And, um, hearing that, you know, news was just so excited and it just fully radiated inside that room, inside that glass box. 

 

Reema Khrais

I mean this was huge news…

 

Announcer: Our new bachelorette is Rachel Lindsay, making her the first black bachelor or bachelorette in franchise history. 

 

Rachel Lindsay: my journey is. You know, I’m just trying to find love, and even though I’m an African American woman, it’s no different from any other bachelorette.

 

Reema Khrais

I’m not really a fan of the Bachelor franchise, but I remember when they announced RacheI I thought oh wow maybe I’ll actually watch that season. 

 

Jazzy could hardly believe it. 

 

Jazzy Collins: not only am I getting to start this show and like be on this team, I also get to cast for the first black bachelorette. And that’s huge.

 

Reema Khrais

And so Jazzy hit the streets, looking for a diverse set of hotties to set Rachel up with. 

 

I’ve always been so curious to hear how a show like The Bachelor goes about casting. I think I just always assumed casting producers sat in a bland conference room sifting through pages and pages of applications, but apparently fewer men apply for these shows, so finding contestants for the bachelorette is a serious mission. 

 

Jazzy Collins: we were boots on the ground. we would go to like Sweet Green, we would go to the mall. We would kind of go anywhere.

 

Reema Khrais: I, I’m imagining you, like, are you like popping your head into the Sweet Green and, and just looking for people who might wanna be on TV and then being like, Nope, nope. Yeah, maybe. And then just like,

Jazzy: Yeah. Yes, yeah, It’s really okay. 

 

Jazzy Collins: it’s exactly that. So like I would see someone, if they were attractive and they had kind of like a presence about them, I would stop them and I would hand them my Bachelor card and say, Hey, are you interested in being on reality tv? 

 

Reema Khrais

Jazzy and her colleagues cast the most diverse set of contestants that had ever been on the show. 

Jazzy Collins:  the beauty of reality casting is that you’re plucking someone off of the street and making them into a star. and being able to have a hand in that is the most incredible situation. Like I absolutely love doing that. 

 

Reema Khrais

The new season was refreshing, but for higher-up producers, Rachel’s whole season was a bit of a gamble…

 

 Jazzy Collins: they had no idea how this was gonna land. are they gonna lose a whole bunch of money because they put a black bachelorette on? Are they gonna lose a whole bunch of ratings? They don’t know. This is a shot in the dark.

 

Reema Khrais: And, and what was the result, generally

 

Jazzy:It didn’t do as well as they hoped.There was a dip in ratings 

 I think their core fan base was not interested, and that’s what holds the Bachelor franchise together 

 

Reema Khrais

The show saw a huge jump among Black audiences, but overall they’d lost about a million viewers, a 17 percent drop. Jazzy says the attitude after that seemed to be… well, we tried diversity, it didn’t work out for us, so let’s get back to what’s been working, what makes us money.

 

This was pretty typical of The Bachelor franchise. Like in 2012, two Black men sued ABC for discrimination in casting after unsuccessfully auditioning for The Bachelor. The judge in the case ruled that casting is protected by the first amendment—so executives basically have the right to discriminate when it comes to picking who’s on their show. 

 

The next big season Jazzy worked on they cast a white male lead and so this time, Jazzy had to go out and find women…and she tried to make sure they were diverse. 

 

Jazzy Collins: So a lot of the times I would bring in a black woman that would have just braids, natural hair, whatever the case is. And a lot of them were like, no. They just would just say outright, no, she’s a no. And I was just

 

Reema Khrais: no. Follow up?

 

Jazzy Collins: yeah. And I was like, why? And they were like, she’s just a, no, she’s not. She doesn’t have the bachelor look. 

 

Reema Khrais

But then when Jazzy would bring them Black women with lighter skin and straightened hair… 

 

Jazzy Collins: They would, you would hear them in office, say, oh, she’s so beautiful, she’s great. And I was like whaaat? 

 

Reema Khrais

And of course this felt unjust, but it also felt really personal 

 

Jazzy Collins: Like as a black woman with darker skin tone, that is, feels horrible

 

Reema Khrais: Yeah, of course.

 

Jazzy Collins: to listen to that constantly hearing.No, no, no, no, no. that’s when my mental health started to go down. Cuz I was like, this is not great to be around. Um, to constantly hear that someone that looks like you isn’t pretty and not. Deserving of finding love on a reality show. It was horrible listening to that all day every day.

 

Reema Khrais: did he ever find yourself crying at work or just having moments to yourself?

 

Jazzy Collins: Oh yeah. I was in bathrooms crying. 

that was kind of my, that was my escape 

 

Reema Khrais

As Jazzy became disheartened, she also started pushing back more. 

 

Jazzy Collins: I was asking a lot more whys rather than just accepting the nos.  So, you know, I was like, well, why is this person not right? Is it their hair? Is it their body? And I think a lot of that, I think upset them. They didn’t like being disrupted

 

Reema Khrais

And the racism she was experiencing began to be more explicit. Like one day at work she told me she was wearing a African headscarf and when her superior saw it

 

Jazzy Collins: she said, oh my God, I love your headdress. I wanna wear that as my next Halloween costume.

 

Reema Khrais: Oh my God.

 

Jazzy Collins: And then she pulled up a photo of herself dressed in a full Indian headdress, and sari, and said, look, I wore this for Halloween last year, 

 

Reema Khrais: Oh my god…

 

Jazzy Collins:  And that was the moment I said, I need to get out of here

 

Reema Khrais

After five seasons with the franchise, Jazzy started making plans to leave. She’d stayed for as long as she had because she thought it’d help her get the next thing, and because the pay and insurance were good. But when she started to ask around, she realized even those things.. She could have expected more. She asked her colleagues.. What’s a good rate for a casting producer? 

 

Jazzy Collins: And they told me that I should be making closer to 1800 to $2,000. At that time, they’ve given me one raise and I ha was working at 1600 a week.  

 

Reema Khrais: oh, So you realized that you’d been underpaid?

 

Jazzy Collins: I was being underpaid for two and a half years and had no.idea. 

 

Reema Khrais

We reached out to The Bachelor’s press team to confirm these numbers, but they didn’t get back to us in time. 

 

When Jazzy found out, she went to get some air, to feel the ocean breeze near the LA office. 

 

Jazzy Collins: deep down inside I was a rage of fire because not only were they not treating me right there, they were not treating the contestants right.They were also underpaying me. And it’s like the cherry on top.

 

Reema Khrais

Jazzy quit and began freelancing, and managed to make more money that way. 

 

Even though she’d moved on from the Bachelor, she couldn’t stop thinking about her experiences there.

 

Then in 2020… Jazzy realized she could no longer stay quiet. That’s when the Bachelor made another historic announcement, The show was going to cast their first-ever Black Bachelor, Matt James. 

 

Matt James: My name is Matt James, I’m 28 years old and I’m in the Bachelor…. I would have never thought this was in my cards. 

 

Reema Khrais

It was June 2020, and Black Lives Matter protests were happening all over the country. Jazzy felt like the Bachelor producers weren’t actually interested in Matt as a person… in truly hearing his story. 

 

Jazzy Collins: I don’t care how many times they say, oh no, he was chosen because we wanted him. He was chosen because it was 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement was happening and they thought this would be a make good. obviously I don’t know that, like, actually for sure that is not fact. But I know deep down in some closed room, that was the conversation.

 

Reema Khrais

Jazzy was furious, that now it was convenient, now it was trendy to have Black bachelor. 

 

Knowing the inner workings of the show, she was scared they’d portray Matt in a stereotypical way…which she felt like happens a lot on reality shows. And research confirms this, one study we came across looked at 42 different reality shows and found that Black people, women especially, were disproportionately portrayed as “verbally aggressive.” 

 

Meanwhile Jazzy’s fears about Matt came true: producers ended up playing into a common trope and crafted a big storyline around his absent father, which Matt said was hard to watch. 

 

Reema Khrais:   it makes you wonder if the producers would think to do that if it was a white bachelor

 

Jazzy Collins: Hmm. Probably not. Probably not

 

Reema Khrais

But before that happened, Jazzy, feeling fed up with the Bachelor franchise, sat down at her computer one day and started typing…

 

Jazzy Collins:  so I wrote this letter purely half of it was frustration, and then the other half was concern, but I didn’t think anyone would care about it. 

 

Reema Khrais

She started the open letter by introducing herself, how she used to be the only Black person in the Bachelor’s casting office…and how disappointed she was when the show returned to status quo after Rachel’s season. She wrote to the Bachelor staff…your show has been white-washed for decades, inside out 

 

Jazzy Collins: Your head of post-production is white. Your Casting Director is white. Your Executive in Charge is white. You only cast the token Black person, Asian person or Latinx person to satisfy what you believe to be the needs of the viewers. 

 

Reema Khrais

She called on the show to select a more diverse cast and production team, one that actually reflects the country. No one in her industry had talked about this openly before, so understandably Jazzy was spooked she’d ruffle some feathers and lose work. Still, she decided one night to post the letter onto her Instagram page.

 

Jazzy Collins: And I remember 24 hours after I posted it, I got so many emails and dms and all of this stuff, and a lot of it was very positive feedback. 

 

Reema Khrais

There were a couple trolls in her inbox, but many more people who were excited to see someone speak out against the show. And to her surprise, instead of being alienated from the industry, she found herself suddenly in demand 

 

 Jazzy Collins: I got to go into some meetings and spoke with a lot of production companies that wanted to do better, which was actually really interesting to like, be like, we read your story, we understand where you’re coming from, how do we actually implement this? What do we need to do to move forward? 

 

Reema Khrais

Executive producers from the bachelor and even the president of entertainment at ABC responded to her letter with public statements, basically saying yes we know we have a responsibility that our show is representative of the world we live in. This is just the beginning, we’re taking positive steps and we’ll do better. Since then, I should say the show has cast a few bachelorettes who are Black. 

 

Lately, Jazzy has been reconsidering not just diversity within reality TV, but the whole genre. Like what does it mean to turn someone into a star. 

 

Jazzy Collins:. It was like a lot cloudier than I thought it was because I thought this, I was making their lives better when in fact I was actually making it worse  by putting them on the show.

 

Reema Khrais: It sounds like you had regrets in some ways.

 

Jazzy Collins: I had some regrets, especially one individual that told me that she was suicidal after the show. Um, cuz she was someone I really pushed for to get on that show. 

 

Reema Khrais

Jazzy started to understand how competing with a bunch of women in front of a massive audience can take a real toll on your mental health 

 

Jazzy Collins: You’re constantly comparing yourself to other women on the show. Um, you, a lot of these people quit their jobs to get on tv.They don’t get paid for it. 

 

Reema Khrais

If anything, they’re required to spend thousands of dollars on fancy gowns.. Even when they might have to go home after just one episode. I’ve also read accounts of women cashing out their retirement savings or going into serious credit card debt to be on the show. 

 

Jazzy Collins: So a lot of them have this like hope that this is going to work out for them and then a lot of them it doesn’t. So they come home to nothing.

 

Reema Khrais

Nothing except for a flood of critiques. No big career, no soulmate. 

 

While working on this episode, I kept thinking of this book I read by Danielle Lindemann, a sociologist who studies reality TV. It’s called, “True Story: What Reality TV Says about Us”

 

She wrote about how we should think of this genre as a funhouse mirror. It reflects our day-to-day experiences in a really dramatic form, which means it also amplifies real life dynamics we’re not always eager to acknowledge, like our racism, sexism, classism, just to name a few. Basically it can show us who and what we value, who gets to be seen and who doesn’t.

 

And by picking apart the contestants, by debating their storylines, we’re deciding together whether someone’s actions are acceptable, if their decisions are right or wrong. And that can teach us something, by analyzing human behavior and hypothesizing what we might do in certain scenarios. 

 

But it’s clear that comes at the cost of participants, when you sign up to be a character on a dating show, that’s exactly what you’re doing, you’re going to be a character, a two-dimensional person people can either identify with or hate. And when the cameras stop rolling, you’re left to pick up the pieces on your own.

 

But because production is relatively cheap and humans will forever like to indulge in other people’s problems, networks will keep using tried and true formulas to keep us hooked. Meanwhile, many contestants will leave these shows still single (or in relationships they formed under extreme pressure), with less money, more fame and in desperate need of some therapy.

 

Alright that’s all for our show this week. 

 

As always, if you have any thoughts or wanna shoot us a note, you reach me and the team at uncomfortable at marketplace dot org. Also be sure to sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t. I usually write about what’s on my mind and you hear what the rest of the team is listening to and watching and reading. You can sign up for that marketplace dot org slash comfort 

 

Hannah Harris Green

This episode was lead produced by me, Hannah Harris Green, and hosted by Reema Khrais. We reported and wrote the episode together. 

 

We got additional support from Yvonne Marquez, Alice Wilder and Marque Greene . 

 

Zoë Saunders is our senior producer.

 

Our editor is Jasmine Romero.

 

Our intern is H Conley.

 

Sound design and audio engineering by Drew Jostad 

 

Bridget Bodnar  is Marketplace’s Director of Podcasts

 

Francesca Levy is the Executive Director of Digital.

 

Neal Scarborough is Vice President and general manager of marketplace

 

And our theme music is by Wonderly.

 

Reema Khrais

Alright we’ll catch y’all next week. 

 

Michael Carroll:  I heard a couple times, if you don’t make this chick cry, you’re fired.

 

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