Allegations of Reality Show Rigging

Inside Info From Behind the Scenes

America's Got Talent logo
(NBC/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Countless allegations have come out suggesting that the "reality" on reality shows is even less authentic than previously thought. What's real and what's scripted?

Behind the Scenes at America's Got Talent

Consider contestant Tim Poe, a singer from San Antonio. He lied about being injured by a grenade and suffering a brain injury while serving in Afghanistan—now he insists the show is "rigged" and audiences are coached to support predetermined favorites.

While the competition on America's Got Talent doesn't really play out the way it does on the show, former contestants say the competition is even more produced than viewers suspect.

America’s Got Lawsuits

Although Poe may have destroyed his own credibility, other contestants echo his allegations. "Whipchick," the leader of an aerial and circus troupe, wrote a Livejournal post about auditioning for a reality show she calls America’s Got Lawsuits (If You Reveal the Outcome Before the Episode Airs).

Whipchick says her group was recruited by a freelance producer who had wooed them for six seasons before they agreed to appear on the talent competition.

She says the group had been hesitant because, "the contract says 'producers of America’s Got Lawsuits reserve the right to determine the winner by any means they choose.' I’ve heard about the holding rooms, about showing up at 7AM in full hair and makeup and waiting in a convention center ballroom full of chairs for twelve hours over three days, and then being told, 'Everyone else, sorry, you won’t be doing your acts in this round, you’ll be flying home tomorrow.'"

Whipchick writes about the group working with producers, having "storyboarded every four seconds" and providing them with recommended camera angles. “We have run the full act once and the fire section three times, for the stage manager, the director, and the fire marshal.”

Yet, after all that, this highly skilled group was booed off the stage when they performed for the judges and a live audience.

Later, Whipchick writes, her mother "tells me that the audience was coached; their cue to boo was the crewman with the white sign in front of stage right. We learn that the audience was seeded with plants, paid to be there."

She says that the audience members are also instructed on how to act: "‘If someone next to you jumps up or makes an X, you do it, too!’ Knowing that the contest and the voting and the judging is rigged, I don’t know why it surprises me so much that the audience is rigged, too."

Whipchick concludes:

"Back at the hotel, showering out hairspray and removing the last of the glitter from my eyes, I wonder just how dumb this mistake will turn out to be, how many Americans this summer will see me and see a loser. But as I hang up costumes and plan the route to the next gig, and the next gig, and the one after that, I thank the universe that I am up there taking scorn instead of watching and dishing it out. Even standing up to boos and jeers and the caustic acid of three judges in the twilight of their celebrity—their downward trajectory still a place higher than I will likely ever reach—even that is better than waiting for opportunity to knock, for lightning to strike. Waiting for a life to begin. Waiting for a dream—any dream—to arrive."

House Hunters: Texas

Bobbi Jensen—a former contestant on HGTV's House Hunters: Texas—says that the show is so fake it features houses that aren't even for sale.

Of course, savvy viewers have long recognized that. As Consumerist put it: “It’s usually incredibly easy to sort out which of the houses the buyer will select in the end—it’s the empty ​one, because the buyers have already gone into escrow on the property and are just waiting to close.”

Now Jensen has revealed the machinations behind House Hunters in a story on Hooked on Houses, explaining that cast members aren't even chosen for the show until they have already closed on the houses they are buying.

That leads to a "scramble to find houses to tour and pretend we were considering." In her case, Jensen revealed that the homes she toured on the show, "weren’t even for sale… they were just our two friends’ houses who were nice enough to madly clean for days in preparation for the cameras!”

Jensen also talked about the number of takes required for each scene and says that viewers may also notice a difference in cast members appearances, as the producers film the couple's old home and new home at one point and then film the walk-throughs at a later date.