What Is It Like to Be on a TV Show?

Updated on December 31, 2017
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I write about employment issues, ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

Film cameraman recording on location.
Film cameraman recording on location. | Source

You Must Be in It to Win It

Have you ever watched a gameshow and thought the questions were very easy? Or you saw a TV reality show about people getting a free garden make-over as a thank you for being “nice”? You know you could easily have scored highly in that quiz. You’re forever doing good turns for your neighbors but don’t get any linked freebies.

Some people seem to get lucky and appear on TV shows. They have the chance of winning money and prizes, (although there are some downsides to that experience too.) Below are some tips on how to get on one of these shows, but I also give a reality check on what it’s really like to be a contestant on primetime.

Contestants for German TV show "Germany's Next Top Model".
Contestants for German TV show "Germany's Next Top Model". | Source

Apply to be a Contestant or a Member of the Audience

The first step to your 15 minutes of fame is to make an application to be on a show. It’s a bit like applying for a job. You need to read the job description and note what sort of competitors they require. Then sell yourself on paper, making sure you match your life experiences to what the producers are looking for.

The places to find these adverts depends on where you live. There are generic websites which list the requirements of lots of production companies all in one place. For example, in the UK, beonscreen.com is a good place to start. Alternatively, if you know the name of the production company or TV channel of your preferred show, then go direct to their website. They will have a section on there about how to apply to be a participant. Keep an eye on sites like Craigslist and Gumtree as there are sometimes calls for competitors on these.

If you don’t yet feel fully confident to be a contestant, then try getting tickets to be a part the audience. It will give you an introduction to how TV programs are made; and it can be quite an eye-opener! You’ll probably only get a coffee and snack for your efforts, but you’ll need to stay focused and look like you’re still enjoying the show throughout the many hours it takes to shoot. You’ll be surprised how many retakes of “spontaneous” applause are made for the key moments in a show.

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Pitfalls of Becoming a TV Contestant

Filming records everything.
You won't be able to control which of your bloopers are replayed ad infinitum.
Loss of privacy.
Everybody will be interested in finding out everything about you.
Intellectual Property Rights
Production companies keep the intellectual property rights to your performance.
Unscrupulous Editing
Producers will edit the show to make you fit a pre-ordained character role.
Time committment
It can take weeks to shoot enough "action" to fill a one hour show.
Social media
Your screen persona may be subject to a hate campaign on social media.
Gordon Ramsay, co-host of the reality TV show, Master Chef, asks Marines their opinion on food prepared by contestants during a taping of an episode at Camp Pendleton.
Gordon Ramsay, co-host of the reality TV show, Master Chef, asks Marines their opinion on food prepared by contestants during a taping of an episode at Camp Pendleton. | Source

Being in Front of the Camera

You may have heard a reality show host say to a contestant “the camera loves you”. They mean a person is relaxed and doesn’t freeze when the spotlights are on them. I’ve been on a TV quiz show and even though I didn’t seem nervous, when my big moment came, I was the proverbial rabbit stuck in the headlights. My mouth went dry and I couldn’t speak. My face took on a look of fright and bewilderment. In my case, the cameras certainly didn’t like (let alone love) me!

It helps if you have a bit of an extrovert personality, then you can relax and really enjoy the experience. However, after a few retakes, even I got used to the incredibly bright studio lights. I began to ignore them and concentrate on being the first to push the buzzer and answer the quiz questions. I didn’t win any money but I had a great day out and learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes.

If you want more than a money prize, (perhaps you want to lose a lot of weight or find a new partner,) then reality shows are for you. There are so many topics covered these days that if you look hard enough, there should be one that suits your age and lifestyle.

The video below is about a contestant from the Swedish TV reality show “Allt För Sverige”. This series has been running for five seasons already. Aired on Swedish TV, the show brings Americans with Swedish ancestry back to Sweden to find their roots.

Jenna Claire Wroblewski gave up an internship to take part in the show. On balance the experience of being in a reality show has been a positive one for her. She heard the program was looking for contestants through her Swedish language teacher. At that stage, Jenna’s spoken Swedish was not very good, but she applied anyway and got onto the show. Her video starts with her speaking in Swedish, but she quickly switches to English so that all her American family members can learn about her good experience of being on TV.

American Jenna Wroblewski Took Part in a Swedish Reality Show

All That Glitters is Not Gold

Not all TV show participants have a positive experience. Some people enter without thinking about the potential down-sides of celebrity. Whichever show you appear in, whether it’s a quiz, a house makeover show or a weight-loss camp, they all have one thing in common. They are entertainment. I’m going to repeat that as it is so important. Contestants are there to provide entertainment.

You may think you’re there to show off your general knowledge or to win big prizes etc. but there is often a hidden subplot. The producers have already decided they need a “villain”, an “intellectual snob”, a “dumb blonde” and so on. Filming takes weeks for a one hour prime time slot. Contestants become so used to being continually filmed they forget the cameras are there. The microphones record any “silly” off-hand remarks they make. These are then edited to create the required characters and storyline.

The video below shows what happened to a contestant from a UK reality show, “Love Thy Neighbor”. The stakes were high for Stephanie Connolly. The prize for the winning contestant was a mortgage-free house. She didn’t win, but she has lived to regret being typecast as someone who lived a champagne lifestyle on a lemonade budget. She feels misled and sullied by the experience.

What is it Really Like Being on Reality TV?

Winners and Losers

Anyone can be a TV contestant. Some hope to win money and prizes, some want to become famous and some are there just to have fun. Almost all enjoy themselves and have a good experience.

So far, I’ve been a contestant on one TV quiz show and a volunteer extra on one TV science show. I enjoyed both and met interesting people on set. The production companies looked after us very well. They gave us lots of breaks with freshly prepared meals. They provided us with comfortable rest areas and lots of snacks throughout the filming. Where there were long periods of us standing around waiting for our part to be filmed, they even put on entertainment for us.

A filming day can be 10 or 12 hours but it’s an experience I would recommend. You need to be adaptable and willing to show emotion on camera. It can be a stepping stone to other things.

One person who has made a hobby out of appearing as a gameshow contestant is David St John. Over 30 years he has been on 34 different programs. He appears in the 2016 edition of the Guinness Book of Records as the person who has the most TV appearances as a quiz contestant. You can see him talking about it in the video below.

Record Breaking Number of Appearances for TV Contestant


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  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 12 months ago from The Caribbean

    You answered both questions I would have asked and questions I would not have thought to ask. Thanks for including those pitfalls. Very helpful and useful.