Reality Show Curse: Truth or Fiction?
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans Posted Nov 21st 2010 01:00PM
You've heard of the 'Seinfeld' curse (on its popular stars, who struggled to find good roles after the huge hit ended), the 'Poltergeist' curse (on cast members who met with unexpected or violent deaths), and this spring's much-hyped Oscar curse (on Best Actress winners whose marriages crumble).
But recent headlines beg the question: Has a curse descended upon the reality-TV world? Seemingly fun-loving participants have made news for committing suicide, murdering their wives, murdering their wives and then committing suicide -- and a host of other problems from jail time to cash crises.
Julien Hug (pictured), a contestant on Jillian Harris' season of 'The Bachelorette,' horrified fans of the hit series when he shot himself in a California desert three weeks ago, leaving a note saying he'd been suffering severe depression: "If life's not enjoyable, why stick around?"
"In a reality show, it's a quick rise and fall," University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Dr. Christos Ballas tells PopEater. "You are hyper-inflated well outside of what you ever experienced before. If you take that away, you are in freefall. You go down, and you go down hard."
And a number of others involved with reality TV have shown just how far the fall is.
Former 'Survivor' producer Bruce Beresford-Redman has now been arrested and charged with strangling his wife while on a family vacation. Her body was found in a Cancun resort's sewer; guests nearby reported hearing a woman's blood-curdling screams the night she died.
Ryan Jenkins, a onetime contestant on a show called 'Megan Wants a Millionaire,' was the prime suspect in the grisly 2009 murder of his porn actress wife, Jasmine Fiore. The Canadian later led police on an international manhunt, killing himself as they closed in on him.
Obviously, suicide and murder are the extremes, but a curse seems to dog others in the form of major finance woes. Teresa Giudice of 'Real Housewives of New Jersey' made news this year for ongoing bankruptcy and debt problems. The first 'Survivor' winner, Richard Hatch, became infamous not for the cool million he won by outfoxing competitors, but for subsequent run-ins with the law: Imprisoned for four years for tax evasion after failing to properly declare his 'Survivor' earnings, he was jailed again in 2009 for violating his house-arrest terms.
Robert Thompson, of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, says the sudden national attention reality show contestants experience -- and then lose -- is overwhelming, to say the least.
"Being on a reality show is probably a profound emotional experience," Thompson tells PopEater. "When you combine that with shows that have some kind of rejection -- not getting a rose, getting voted off the island -- there are aspects of profound disappointment. Going back to regular life might be...difficult."
But he hedges on whether reality show stars are more prone to becoming criminal or suicidal than other, non-famous people.
"It could introduce all sorts of emotional complexitities that might then manifest themselves in bad ways if your tendencies were in those directions anyway," Thompson says. "It can turn a life topsy-turvy. But I'm not comfortable saying there's a reality show curse."
Because reality shows attract exhibitionist personalities, the pool of contestants may not be super stable to begin with, according to Thompson. "I doubt in all these cases you've had perfectly healthy people who go on these shows," he says. "I think Richard Hatch already had some issues before."
Still, Ballas believes reality stars are certainly more vulnerable than professional actors, who tend to be more savvy about the fame game they're getting into.
"Reality-show people have this problem more than actors," says Ballas, who specultates that "what makes Tom Cruise not kill himself is that he continues to make movies and be successful."
In truth, every population has black sheep who fall from grace, according to Thompson. We just don't hear about them as often.
And there's no question that becoming famous on reality TV is a delicate situation that may drive some to extremes. "The lifestyle and the attention and the wealth and all the stuff that comes from being on a major TV show like that can introduce elements that can be dangerous. We don't want to completely say one has nothing to do with the other," says Thompson. But he cautions, "I don't think it's time to start drawing up legislation calling reality shows a public health issue."
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