Popular Culture

15 Lives Ruined by Reality Television



Reality TV has given us many gifts over the years, but it has also exacted steep fees from some individuals whose lives were stolen, chewed up and consumed by various shows. Perhaps a culture which so worships octo-moms and watching drunk people humiliate themselves is bound to incur injury, misery and death. Or perhaps it’s just a bad set of coincidences. Either way, Reality TV has caused a lot of sadness, broken a lot of hearts, and in a few cases, killed some people.

Extreme Make-Over

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It takes a strong stomach to read the paper these days, but some stories are just plain more disturbing than others. ABC’s show “Extreme Makeover” has always been controversial, as the combination of television and radical facial reconstructive surgery ought to be, but an incident in 2005 really took things to the next level.

“Extreme Makeover” promised Ugly Duckling Deleese a fairy tale ending, but she ended up the subject of a cautionary tale. She was promised by the show’s execs a Cinderella-like transformation and her family and friends were encouraged to finally come out of the closet regarding her looks. They revealed what they really thought about her appearance and how it held her back, making harsh comments about her unbecoming looks. Even her sister was egged on to talk about her sister’s ‘hideous’ face.

But the night before she was supposed to get her magical transformation, the executives sent Williams packing. It turned out that the surgery she was set to receive would require a longer recovery time than the show had in mind. Not wanting to compromise their schedule, Extreme Makeover called backsies. She was quoted through her sobs saying, “How can I go back as ugly as I left? I was supposed to come home pretty.”

Her return home was less than positive. Her family was racked with guilt over what they had said and Williams was deeply depressed. She became a hermit, and rarely left the house. Four months later, her guilt ridden sister overdosed on pills, alcohol and cocaine and died.

A lawsuit followed but its hard to imagine that any amount of money could ease the sorrow and guilt felt by the family. The entire family ended up with an Extreme Makeover, just not one they signed up for.

Toddlers In Tiaras

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While a multi-decade longitudinal study cannot yet be conducted on all the many children who have appeared on “Toddlers in Tiaras” it’s safe to assume that some, if not all, of these young lives have been ruined.

Each episode of this show revolves around a handful of mothers and fathers preparing daughters (aged 2 through early adolescence) for beauty pageant competition. These babies are painted, decorated, and spray-tanned until they look like bizarre sexualized Muppets. Because of the cyclical nature of pageant competition (most Pageant mothers are former pageant babies) we have a pretty good guess at what will become of these girls.

They’ll put on about seventy pounds, live in the same crappy town they grew up in, and stake all their self-worth on the possibility of their infant daughters being given a plastic tiara for looking cute.

Recently, an even more disturbing case of toddler makeovers has surfaced. Sheena Upton claimed that her admission to giving her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections was nothing more than a paid publicity stunt. However, the horrific idea of a child receiving painful appearance-altering injections isn’t so far-fetched; the show also featured a girl getting her eyebrows waxed while she cried and pleaded to avoid it. The parent of that child admitted that her skin had been torn off during a botched eyebrow waxing a few months prior.

Heidi Montag

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It’s not easy to be a young girl these days. Outside of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, there aren’t a lot of positive messages about body image being sent to America’s youngest generation of women. It’s understandable that becoming a crazy celebrity under constant media and viewer scrutiny for her looks might cause a girl to…well… snap! So we forgive you, Heidi Montag, for the total breakdown of your mental well-being.

In 2010 Ms. Montag revealed that she had had ten plastic surgery procedures in one day, and debuted her new freakishly shaped Barbie doll head to the gasps and laughter of the world. She quickly became a media obsession for her addiction to plastic surgery and clearly demented self-image.

In December of that same year she came out and revealed that she was not pleased with her surgeries, saying: “Surgery ruined my career and my personal life and just brought a lot of negativity into my world. I wish I could jump into a time machine and take it all back. Instead, I’m always going to feel like Edward Scissorhands.”

Take My Mother-In-Law

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The airwaves these days are so packed with reality TV shows that almost everybody knows somebody whose been on one. It’s the little people who get featured, normal everyday families tantalized by the thought of just a little glamor and fame.

Unfortunately, everyday normal families don’t film well and reality show producers are specially trained to bring out the worst in people.
Two individuals featured on British Reality Show “Take My Mother-In-Law” now claim that being on the show ruined their family. Signing up for what they thought was a show about mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws bonding and having fun, Claire Molyneux and Mother-in-Law Josephine watched in horror as their home was turned into a TV studio where show producers devised stunts to encourage fighting and drama between these once cordial family members.

The ploys worked and the two watched their relationship slide down the drain along with their privacy. The show ended and the 15 minutes of fame turned out to be more like 10. But the damage to the family and their reputations, reports Claire Molyneux, was a little harder to repair.

Teen Mom

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As one might expect just from the name, “Teen Mom” is a show specifically about ruined lives. And things probably won’t turn out so great for either mother or child if the show is going to be any kind of commercial hit. Right?

Jenelle Evans, first featured as resident party girl on “16 and Pregnant” has derived little benefit from her time on the show. The girl has had a stint in rehab (a veritable Hollywood initiation rite), lost custody of her son Jace, and now is mired in a messy legal battle to get him back. She was also recently arrested for pummeling a girl on camera while her deadbeat boyfriend cheered her on with shouts of “What now, bitch!”
It’s debatable whether she’ll succeed in time to reap the financial benefits of Jace’s most assuredly lucrative future Reality TV career.

Teen Mom (Again)

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Amber Portwood was another notable figure from the “Teen Mom” family. After her home and car were vandalized, Amber Portwood lost custody of her baby daughter to her baby daddy, Gary Shirley.

Amber Portwood, most known for losing 65 lbs and physically abusing her boyfriend, has now lost custody for raising her daughter in what she admitted was an unfit and unsafe environment for an infant. She was caught on tape striking her baby’s daddy in the head multiple times, and frequently screamed obscenities at him in front of their young daughter.

The Real Housewives of D.C.

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When a show is as big as the “Real Housewives” franchise is, there’s bound to be some collateral damage. And when you put a group of “Real Housewives” in the Nation’s Capital, there’s bound to be trouble. This was certainly true for Real Housewife Cat Ommanney, featured on “The Real Housewives of D.C.”

Ommanney’s husband, Charles Ommanney, was a high profile photo-journalist who covered the White House for nine whole years and rubbed elbows with the most powerful men in the country. But a more subtle fame is appreciated in D.C. than in Hollywood, and being on “The Real Housewives” only caused Mr. Ommanney distress.

His marriage ended, he’s lost the respect of his colleagues, and he’s fled D.C. for Miami. Ommanney has since said: “It’s just too painful. I’ve got eight more weeks of hundreds of Facebook requests from people I don’t know. I’d almost like to go and live in Katmandu. I have very few regrets in my life, but this is the one.”

Big Brother

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One of the contestants of the UK’s voyeuristic and “Real World”-esque reality show, “Big Brother” has claimed that being on reality TV has ruined her chances of ever again living a “real” life. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Being on a show named after the malevolent supervision system of George Orwell’s “1984” wasn’t a positive experience of human nature? How strange!

Lesley Sanderson, who says the show was skillfully edited to unduly present her as a bully, was astonished by the boos and hisses that met her after the show ran on television. She achieved the celebrity she desired but the bad reputation clung to her so much that months after the show was on she attempted suicide.

After a stint in a hospital under suicide watch, Sanderson still feels like a victim of the show, though she has decided to take a little of the blame for signing up in the first place. “How naïve I was,” she says.

Wetten Das

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They say that what happens in Germany stays in Germany. Wait… no they don’t. But then again, few people know about the German Reality TV show that was on the air while a stuntman met his untimely demise on the air.

The show “Wetten, dass…?” (“Wanna Bet?”) saw the death of a 29-year old stunt man as they filmed (live) an attempt to jump over a car in spring-powered stilts.

The car he jumped was being driven by his father. Needless to say, Justin Bieber’s slotted appearance for later in the episode was cancelled to the dismay of Germans everywhere.

Pakistani Show

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While American Reality TV always occasionally crosses the line, we can be thankful that our reality is not quite as real as it is in Pakistan. In 2009 a contestant of a Pakistani reality show drowned on television during a bizarre stunt in which he attempted to swim through a lake while strapped to 7 kgs of weight.
Eyewitnesses reported that he screamed for help before going under, but remember, Reality TV producers aren’t supposed to intervene unless it makes things more dramatic. It’s part of their code of ethics, similar to that of doctors and documentarians.

Murder Defense

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Sometimes Reality TV programs can ruin the lives of the viewers and not just those of the contestants. That doesn’t just mean the millions upon millions of us who waste our lives watching shows about octo-moms who do pageants and marry millionaire decorator-matchmakers. It also means crazy people who will ruin their lives in order to be on such shows.

While it’s highly likely that she was lying… Florida woman Dalia Dippolito said that trying to have her husband killed by a hitman was only a ploy to get on reality TV that they were both aware of.

Her husband denied it and the verdict for attempting to have her husband killed came out as a resounding “Guilty”. Luckily for her, however, the police team that got her in the end was being followed by the show “Cops” at the time.

Hell’s Kitchen

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In 2010 a strange thing happened. Two people committed suicide. Both were former contestants on reality TV shows and both shows were cooking competitions notoriously featuring the vicious-tongued foodie Gordon Ramsay.

Joseph Cerniglia, 39, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge, had been on “Kitchen Nightmares” and Rachel Brown, 41, who shot herself, had been on “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Ramsay, who, like many Reality TV judges is loved for being harsh and British, regularly berated his contestants on the program. While it’s not quite fair to say that his harsh words led directly to their suicides, it’s not a stretch to realize that hugely public humiliation is a little more serious than it’s light treatment on TV would have you believe. But then again, those audition episodes of “American Idol” are pretty damn classic.

Pirate Master

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Elimination is one of the great motifs of reality TV. It is given ceremonious treatment and symbolic rituals are attached to it. On “The Bachelor” you are eliminated when you don’t receive a rose. On “Survivor” votes are cast at a tribunal meeting. It is so central to Reality TV that it would be a very bad idea to appear on one of these shows if you considered yourself, in any way, to be uncomfortable with rejection.

Cheryl Kosewicz, 35, was eliminated off of the obscure TV show “Pirate Master” in 2007. On her Myspace profile, the former deputy district attorney left a comment blaming the series for her decision to end her life.

Apparently there is no limit to the harm that is still caused in this world today by pirates and pirate-themed enterprises.

American Idol

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Sometimes the “American Idol” audition episodes can seem a little… evil. No, these delusional and talentless “singers” can’t say that they were forced to audition and they can’t say (if they are fans of the show) that they were unaware of the Simon Cowell’s trademark bitchiness, but still… it can be heartbreaking to watch them fail.

One of the most heartbreaking auditions is that of Paula Goodspeed. She turned up on the show brimming with confidence in her voice and personal style. This kind of confidence rarely goes unpunished on TV and the brace-faced Goodspeed, when she confessed her great admiration of pop icon and Idol Judge Paula Abdul (as well as her penchant for drawing life-size portraits of the singer) seemed especially doomed.

After her glass shattering rendition of “Proud Mary,” the judges tore Paula Goodspeed apart, Simon noting that he didn’t think it was possible for anyone to sing with that much metal in their mouth. She got three No’s, even from her own personal American Idol, Abdul, and some months later turned up dead by suicide in an automobile parked by Abdul’s home.

Fortunately, Cowell is no longer on American Idol and has broadened his career to involve criticizing a different set of people on other shows.

Uruguay Disaster

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In 2006 during the filming of a Uruguay Reality TV Show there occurred a disaster that is to-date the most destructive and life-ruining event ever derived from Reality TV.

On a show called “A Challenge to the Heart” which raises funds for local charities (such good intentions never go unpunished) the execution of a difficult stunt left seven dead and others limbless.

Contestants had to manually maneuver a train a set distance down a railroad track when two of the carriages gained speed and plowed the people down. As a superfluously horrifying added detail, it should be mentioned that almost 3,000 children were watching this live at the recording while it happened.


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