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DIVORCE and Reality TV: 22 families and counting

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

By Tracie Egan Morrissey, May 2, 2011 05:15 PM

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

There have been seven divorces that have occurred on The Real Housewives franchise in the five years since its premiere. The most recent casualty of this “divorce curse,” Vicki Gunvalson, blames reality TV for her marital troubles telling CNN recently, “We didn’t have 90 percent of the problems that we have now and I truly believe it is the show.” But can a television show really be at fault, or does it merely shine a spotlight on the cracks that were already present in the foundation of a marriage? Whatever the case, divorce and reality TV have gone hand-in-hand since the very first show in the genre in 1973, when PBS’ An American Family, which featured the breakup of the Loud family.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Bill & Pat Loud
It’s ironic that something as intellectually highbrow as PBS and expensive reels of 16mm film birthed what’s considered by many to be the dregs of our beer-bottle culture: Reality TV. Producer Craig Gilbert’s vision of conducting an anthropological “experiment” is something that’s still debated when discussing the genre today. With the invasion of cameras into people’s lives, are we seeing the worst of humanity or are we seeing how things really are? When the Louds were first approached about the project, they were made to believe that they were chosen because they were the “perfect” American family, which seemed to set the reasoning behind agreeing to being filmed for all reality TV families to come—an inflated sense of self and conceit in their own camera-readiness. But when filming commenced for the Louds, a mirror was held up to their lives without even seeing a single frame of their show. Perhaps it was the meddling of producers or the pointed questions they asked that helped illuminate the problems that the Louds realized they could no longer pretend did not exist. In the middle of the project, Pat filed for divorce and the drama that Gilbert had been hoping to capture on film became, well, a reality. The Louds blamed much of their problems on the series and its editing after the fact (perhaps the only people in history who could rightfully say that they didn’t know what they were signing up for with such a project). The behind-the-scenes story of the Louds’ experience with the project was dramatized for the recent HBO film Cinema Verite, at the end of which the audience learned that Pat and Bill have reconciled and at 84 and 90, respectively, are once again a couple.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey
Perhaps because of the cautionary tale that the Louds provided in the early ’70s, reality TV took a break from families for a while to focus on partying twentysomethings (The Real World) and competition-based series (Survivor, Big Brother), but eventually returned its focus on the institution of marriage with MTV’s Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica in 2003. Unlike the Louds, who were vilified, Simpson and Lachey were celebrated way more than they had been in their original careers as pop singers. But after three years of marriage, the couple announced they were divorcing in 2005, just months after the last episode of their show had aired. Simpson doesn’t blame reality TV for their breakup, telling Vanity Fair, “In all honesty, I believe it did not affect our marriage because we enjoyed watching those episodes.” Lachey, however, sees it differently, telling David Letterman, “It was just so invasive that it became a problem.”

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Carmen Electra & Dave Navarro
Riding on the coattails of Newlyweds success, MTV aired ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen and Dave, a one-season reality show about the famous couple’s preparations for their wedding. Although they broke up less than three years after they were married, the couple agreed on one thing—reality TV was not to blame. Navarro didn’t even consider the show very realistic “because you’re not gonna be real with an eight-man crew in your house,” adding that “It’s the most realistic portrayal of…life with eight guys with cameras around.”

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Shanna Moakler & Travis Barker
Desperate for more married couples, MTV recruited Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker and former beauty queen Shanna Moakler. The two seasons of their show Meet the Barkers chronicled their wedding and the birth of their second child. Barker filed for divorce just months after the final episode of their show had aired. But even though Meet the Barkers was no longer on the air, their relationship was still very much a show. Moakler infamously hosted a divorce party, featuring a tiered cake with a murdered, mohawked groom. The couple were then very publicly off-again-on-again for a few years until they finally divorced for good in 2008.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Whitney Houston & Bobby Brown
When America’s sweetheart first married R&B’s bad boy many thought it would never work. But oddly, it did—for the 14 years before they decided to open up their lives to Bravo cameras for Being Bobby Brown in 2005. In just 11 short episodes, viewers were given a very rare look into the private lives of the famous couple, and most were shocked at what they saw. Rumors had swirled about Houston’s drug addiction for years, particularly after her infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, but the reality show highlighted the couple’s loving, yet erratic behavior. Just months after the series finale, Houston checked herself into rehab and reportedly stayed separated from Brown until she had a divorce fast-tracked one year later.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Linda Thompson & David Foster
Years before they were ever on The Hills, Brody Jenner and Spencer Pratt starred in the Fox reality show The Princes of Malibu, which followed the lives of Jenner and his brother as the spoiled sons of former beauty queen Linda Thompson. The premise of the show was that Thompson’s babying of her sons caused tension in her marriage to songwriter David Foster. That tension must have been very real because Thompson filed for divorce the same month that the show premiered, causing Fox to cancel the series after airing only two episodes.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Kathy Griffin & Matt Moline
Griffin and Moline’s marriage seemed strong on My Life on the D List, but evidently, there were problems bubbling beneath the surface that caused the couple to break up after the first season of her reality show. However, they reconciled briefly and Moline was filmed for the show’s second season, but the couple divorced in May 2006, several months before Moline’s last episode aired.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Danny & Gretchen Bonaduce
If there was ever a reality show “train wreck” it was VH1’s Breaking Bonaduce. During filming, Danny fell off the wagon and began openly drinking and taking steroids. He and his wife Gretchen allowed cameras to film their couples counseling. The first episode of the second season shows Danny traveling to Mexico to promote the show, where he sees for the first time an episode featuring Gretchen getting a lap dance from a male stripper and he subsequently loses his temper. Gretchen then kicked him out of the house. The couple divorced a year later.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Linda & Hulk Hogan
The Hogans had something very rare among entertainment-industry families—a solid marriage that spanned nearly a quarter of a century. They opened up their lives for the VH1 show Hogan Knows Best in 2005 and in just two short years their 17-year-old son Nick was indicted as an adult on four criminal charges and sentenced to eight months in jail, a story surfaced in The National Enquirer in which a woman claimed to have had an affair with Hulk while he was filming his show, and Linda filed for divorce (just one month after the final episode of Hulk Knows Best aired). Hulk found out about the filing when a local newspaper called him for a comment.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Missy & Bam Margera
In 2007, Bam Margera threw caution to the wind and featured the planning and ceremony of his marriage to Missy Rothstein on Bam’s Unholy Union, despite MTV’s dismal track record with the relationships of the couples featured on its reality TV programming. In 2009, Bam was hospitalized after a four day drinking binge, which he said was sparked by his marital problems. In 2010, Bam told Howard Stern that, although they are not officially divorced, he and Missy live in separate cities and she is aware of his various girlfriends.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Jenni Pulos & Chris Elwood
Bravo’s Flipping Out is about decorator/house-flipper Jeff Lewis and his staff, who must put up with Lewis’ demanding personality due to his OCD. Two of his assistants—Pulos and Elwood—were married before they began working for Lewis. During the show’s second season, Lewis fired Elwood after a surveillance video revealed that he was shirking his responsibilities and not doing his job properly. Pulos divorced Elwood shortly after, citing the tape as “a factor in their breakup.”

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Katie Price & Peter Andre
The marriage of glamor model Katie Price (aka Jordan) and pop singer Peter Andre was a match made in reality TV heaven when they met while filming I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! in 2004. Audiences watched live as the couple fell in love. It was only natural for them that they continue their relationship on television, where they had a kid, got married, and had another kid while filming several one-off reality specials and eventually a series titled Katie & Peter. After three and a half years of marriage, the couple divorced, and while their breakup was not chronicled for television, the aftermath of it was with Price’s new show What Katie Did Next.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Kate & Jon Gosselin
The breakup of the Gosselins’ marriage dominated tabloid covers for a solid year, beginning in April 2009 when it was first reported that Jon was having an affair with a local woman. Perhaps the public was so consumed by the story because, unlike most reality TV couples, Jon and Kate were not famous before their show Jon & Kate Plus 8, a relatively mundane family show which featured the Gosselins raising their children—a set of twins and a set of sextuplets. The Gosselins’ brand, success, and entire reason for being (on television) was because of their family. Watching Jon’s misbehavior—the Ed Hardy shirts, the cigarettes, the late nights, the young women, the bikini parties in Vegas, the purchase of a two-seater car when he has eight children—play out in real-life was fascinating and completely antithetical to what TLC purported him to be. Jon blamed the media for “exploiting” his children in some kind of weird power play to get more money to appear on the reality show. Ultimately, he was kicked off the show and it was renamed Kate Plus 8. For her part, Kate never blamed reality television for any of their problems, but rather Jon, for being a selfish person.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Susie & Corey Feldman
Susie and Corey were married (by officiant MC Hammer) on the season finale of The Surreal Life in 2002. The returned to reality TV in 2007 for The Two Coreys, an A&E show which was originally intended to be a light-hearted account of Corey Haim moving in with the Feldmans, but spiraled into something completely different by the show’s second season, with Haim’s drug problem overt and out of control. Many scenes showed Haim lashing out at Susie Feldman. Corey Feldman refused to continue the project unless Haim got sober. (Sadly, Haim died of a drug overdose in March 2010.) In October 2009, Susie filed for divorce.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Jeana & Matt Keough
The Keoughs have the unfortunate privilege of being the first breakup in The Real Housewives franchise after they legally separated during the third season of The O.C. version of the show. Matt, a former major league baseball player, never liked the cameras and didn’t participate very much on the show. In interview segments, Jeana shared that Matt had a bad head injury that affected this personality, and later admitted that he struggled with alcoholism. In the summer of 2009, Matt was arrested for DUI and was later sentenced to eight months in jail. After the Keoughs’ money problems became public knowledge through the show, Jeana pulled out of the series.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

The Count & Countess de Lesseps
The next Housewives couple to split were the de Lesseps, from the New York City cast, which came as a shock to viewers as there were no signs of marital problems. In fact, the Count was barely featured on the show due to the amount he had to travel for work. It turns out that the couple had been living separately for years—he in Europe and she in New York—and that he had been carrying on with an Ethiopian princess, for whom he eventually left his wife.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Tamra & Simon Barney
Although theirs was the third divorce to occur in The Real Housewives universe, the demise of Tamra and Simon’s marriage was the first to actually play out fully on the show. We watched as they suffered from financial trouble, forcing them into a short sale of their home. We watched as Simon became more controlling. We saw Tamra attempt a last-ditch effort to save their relationship by unwisely having his name tattooed on her finger. Eventually, Simon filed for divorce and (along with his children) no longer participates on the show. However, the couple’s drama is still very much playing out in the public eye, as they release statements and contact the press about their alleged bad behavior.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Cat & Charles Ommanney
As part of the ill-fated D.C. cast of The Real Housewives (the first in the franchise to not be picked up for a second season) Cat’s husband had a very impressive job as the award-winning White House photographer for Newsweek. Admittedly, Charles’ job involves a lot of political skill, so it impacted his career negatively when his new wife signed on to a tawdry reality show. Before the first episode even aired, the couple split; Cat’s involvement with the show and association with the Salahis, the infamous White House crashers, negatively impacted Charles’ career. In an interview with The New York Times, Charles blamed the show for the dissolution of his marriage saying, “In a way, I was naïve and foolish to sign off on doing this. But, at the end of the day, it was innocent. I wanted happiness for someone I was in love with. I put all my reservations aside and said: ‘Go for it. Do it if it makes you happy.’ Then I regretted it. I lost touch with everyone, and mix that with my marriage falling apart and the show taking over, it was very sad.”

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

NeNe & Gregg Leakes
Much of season three of The Real Housewives of Atlanta focused on NeNe’s marital problems that were evidently sparked by her husband’s finances. The split seemed final, though, later in the season when NeNe learned that Gregg had given a radio interview in which he blamed his financial troubles on the amount of money that he had to spend to make NeNe appear wealthy in order to secure her a position on the show. She filed for divorce in June 2010, yet told Essence in December that she and Gregg were still legally together and living under the same roof, but hinted at the fact that they would, in fact, divorce, leading many to believe she was saving the drama for season four of the show.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Camille & Kelsey Grammer
It’s odd to think that Kelsey Grammer, a successful actor, would need or want to be involved with a reality show—particularly one that would expose his marriage, which had reportedly been sexless for many years. It’s also odd that while the show was filming, he would move to a different city and embark on an affair with a younger woman, for whom he eventually left his wife and married. But according to Camille, Kelsey had already emotionally checked out of the marriage, and pushed her into getting involved with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as a distraction, saying, “He thought it would be good for me to do something that was separate from us being a couple.”

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Vicki & Donn Gunvalson
As the last remaining original cast member of the original incarnation of The Real Housewives, Vicki Gunvalson shocked viewers after she filed for divorce in October 2010. The news came after season five of her show, which showed Vicki and Donn’s relationship healthier than ever after the renewed their wedding vows for their 15th anniversary. Vicki blames the show for her marital problems.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Jennifer & Eric Williams
The problems that plagued the marriage of Jennifer and (former NBA player) Eric Williams—namely Eric’s infidelity and a possible love child—were broadcast on the first two seasons of VH1’s Basketball Wives. After endless talks between the couple of saving their marriage, Jennifer confirmed to Life & Style in February that she was filing for divorce, the drama of which can be expected to play out on the third season of the show, premiering later this month.

22 Families Affected By The Reality TV Divorce Curse

Leah Messer & Corey Simms
Messer and Simms have had a crazy two years. They became pregnant with twins after only dating for about six weeks, tried to make it work, but then broke up shortly after the birth of their daughters (one of whom is a special-needs child), all of which was chronicled on their episode of 16 & Pregnant. They reunited on Teen Mom 2, and got married in a camo-themed wedding on the season finale. However, just six months after getting married (and only three weeks after the wedding episode aired on MTV) Messer filed for divorce, making them the youngest reality show couple to break up, as well as being the shortest-lived reality show marriage.

May 2, 2011 Posted by | Advertising, Cheating, Child Exploitation, Child Labor, Couples, Danny Bonaduce, Dating, Divorce, Fame, Gosselin, Gossip, Greed, Housewives, Humor?, Pop Culture, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Real Housewives of NY, Reality TV, Reality TV Suicides, Rehab, RHNJ, RHNY, TLC, Workplace | Comments Off on DIVORCE and Reality TV: 22 families and counting

TheWrap Investigates: 11 Players Have Committed Suicide

TheWrap Investigates: 11 Players Have Committed Suicide

Susan Boyle should consider herself lucky that when she was rushed to the hospital a day after the “Britain’s Got Talent” finale, it was only for exhaustion.

A Wrap investigation shows that the reality of reality shows is not nearly so benign: at least 11 reality-show participants have taken their own lives — and two more who have tried to — in tragedies that appear to be linked to their experience on television shows.

Many people may know about Paula Goodspeed (pictured left), who killed herself in front of Paula Abdul’s house last November after she was bounced from audtions on “American Idol.” Goodspeed, an obsessed fan of Abdul’s, was found dead in her car in Sherman Oaks after a prescription-drug overdose.

But Goodspeed is just one among a long list of reality-show related deaths.

The victims are as varied as they are unexpected: a deputy district attorney, a single father, a young boxer — even the sister of a contestant on a makeover show prodded to make hurtful comments about her sibling’s “before” look.

And the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. TheWrap’s investigation found suicides and attempted suicide among contestants as far afield as India, England and Sweden.

Certainly, many of these people had pre-existing problems, which may have been why they were looking for such instant TV fame in the first place. But mental-health workers have discovered that many contestants on shows like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” —  even those who win — suffer severe and often long-lasting psychological trauma. (Read Part Two tomorrow for more on this subject.)

Here are the victims, beginning with those on U.S. shows:


“Pirate Masters,” CBS
July 27, 2007

A Deputy District Attorney from Reno, Kosewicz, 35, killed herself after being bounced from the show. Her suicide happened just two months after Kosewicz’s boyfriend, Ryan O’Neil, committed suicide himself. Kosewicz wrote on the MySpace page of fellow contestant Ness Nemir: “I’ve lost the strong Cheryl and I’m just floating around lost. This frik’n show … was such a contention between Ryan and I and plus it’s not getting good reviews … then I made the National Enquirer today so … the hits just keep on coming.” A CBS spokesman did not return calls for comment.

“The Contender,” NBC
Feb. 14, 2005

The 23-year-old shot himself to death just weeks before his scheduled bout on the series, which chronicles boxers trying to win a TV tournament with a first prize of $1 million. According to the police report, Turpin was sitting in a Chevy Lumina at 4 a.m. with his girlfriend, whom he had been fighting with over their 2-year old daughter. His trainer, Perry “Buster” Custus, said that “he had a lot of stuff on his mind. I was going to talk to him about it while we were driving to camp.

You never really knew what was going on in Najai’s head.”In joining the show, Turpin hoped to earn money to support his family, but participants were not allowed to fight in any other bouts until the live finale of the show aired. He was said to have grown frustrated when the premiere was delayed repeatedly. NBC did not return calls seeking comment.


“Paradise Hotel 2,” MyNetworkTV
October 12, 2007

The 26-year-old lllinois native jumped to his death from a cellular tower several weeks after he wrapped production on “Paradise Hotel 2,” which aired on News Corp’s MyNetworkTV. Before filming the show, Clutter had moved to Phoenix, where he worked as a sales manager. The network initially reported that his death was the result of a climbing accident, but a police investigation concluded that it was a suicide. Clutter’s uncle told police that Clutter battled depression and a bi-polar disorder and that his family had sent him money in hope of his moving back to Illinois.

TheWrap received no response to an email to a spokeswoman for the network before publication.

“Extreme Makover,” ABC

McGee wasn’t even a contestant on the show — it was her sister, Deleese Williams, who was flown to L.A. for what producers called a “Cinderella-like transformation” that would fix her deformed jaw, droopy eyelids and crooked teeth. But the night before her plastic surgery, McGee was told she was being dumped from the show because her recovery time “wouldn’t fit with the show’s productions schedule,” said producers.

Williams reportedly sobbed, “How can I go home as ugly as I left? I was supposed to come home pretty!”

McGee had been coaxed by show producers to say mean things about Williams’ looks — apparently with the intention of contrasting those comment with the “made-over” Williams. When Williams became aware of her sister’s hurtful remarks, family members claim, “Kelli went all to pieces” and took a fatal overdose of pills and alcohol in May.

Williams, who now is raising her sister’s two children, is suing ABC and production company, Endemol Productions, for breach of contract, willful infliction of emotional distress and negligence. ABC referred questions about McGee to Endemol, which did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

“Vegas Elvis,” unsold pilot
March 25, 2005

Bell, not a contestant but a producer of the show, jumped from the Stratosphere Hotel after a day of filming. Her family says she was suffering severe depression stemming from her battle with anorexia. A news release for the fledgling show actually  promoted the fact that “Vegas Elvis” was “the second reality program in less than two months to suffer a cast member suicide,” apparently referring to the death of boxer Turpin. It claimed that Bell’s death was, basically, a more exciting suicide than Turpin’s.

“Breaking Bonaduce,” VH-1
September 2005

The former “Partridge Family” child actor tried to kill himself with vodka and Vicodin after his wife asked for a divorce while the couple was filming their reality series — and just prior to the Sept.

12, 2005, airing of the first episode. The programs shows Bonaduce swilling an entire bottle of vodka and screaming at a producer, “I’ll cripple him for life.” VH-1 producers claim they wanted to stop filming after the off-camera suicide attempt but his wife Gretchen “really begged us to keep filming.” Gretchen says she allowed the filming because “I wanted to use every leverage I had to get him help. Danny loves to be on TV.” A spokesman for VH-1 did not return calls seeking comment.


“Supernanny,” ABC
July 4, 2008

The Georgetown, Kentucky, single father died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds after appearing on the series that purports to help parents deal with out-of-control young children. Terill, 37, struggling with financial and parenting issues, called the police while at the cemetery where his father was buried, threatening to shoot himself. The police stayed with him on the phone for an hour but were unable to stop him. A spokesperson for ABC did not return our calls seeking comment.

It’s the same problem in other countries, as well. TheWrap was unable to get comments from spokesmen in other countries:


“Wife Swap”
April 15, 2008

Foster lost his wife Jane, his house and his job after appearing on “Wife Swap.” Finally, he was found dead in a tiny room in Brighton, after consuming excessive quantities of methadone and alcohol. He and Jane were featured on the program because they lived “an alternative” lifestyle, each having girlfriends outside the marriage. A friend of the Foster said, “The show put an enormous strain on Simon, he was really never the same. To be shown with your wife happily seeing another woman made him a laughingstock.” Soon after filming, Jane moved in with her lesbian lover and took the couple’s two children, Foster’s boss fired him and he ended up homeless. Viewers were told in an update that the Fosters had divorced but did not link the end of the marriage to the show.


“The Colony”
May 2005

Stephenson, 17, the youngest reality suicide, took her life two weeks before her role was to air. Her body was found hanging from a tree in a Yorkshire forest two days after she went missing; it later emerged that she had been visiting suicide sites on the internet. On the sites, Stephenson was encouraged to take her own life and given advice on how to kill herself, which her mother claimed Stephenson followed in her actual attempt. “The Colony” — filmed in Australia — is described as a “fly-on-the-wall series that shows how modern day families would have coped as settlers in 1800.”


“Celebrity Big Brother”

February 2007

O’Meara has recovered from a suicide attempt after fellow contestants accused her of being a “bully and a racist.” Her conduct towards the eventual winner, Shilpa Shetty, was questioned, and O’Meara claimed that she received death threats after leaving the show.

She later described her attempt in detail, in which she downed pills and whiskey before passing out on her bathroom floor. A friend found her in time to revive her, but O’Meara still is furious with the producers for “abandoning” her. “I was in so much pain and just hurting, I couldn’t believe what I’d become and how I’d been shown on the telly. I was shaking, but I poured the whiskey into the glass, then I just took one Nurofen, then another, then another,” O’Meara said in April 2007. Her mother says she’s recovering from her suicide attempt but, “She’s not eating, she’s wasting away.”

July 11, 1997

Savija threw himself under a train after being voted off the island on an episode of “Expedition: Robinson,” the 1997 program that was guided by producer Mark Burnett, who renamed it “Survivor” for the United States run. His suicide led Burnett and other producers to subject potential contestants to psycohlogical testing before casting. Savija’s widow Nermina said the 34-year-old “became deeply depressed and agonized. He felt degraded as a person; he was a glad and stable person before, and when he came back he told me, ‘They are going to cut away the good things I did and make me look like a fool to show that I was the worst, the first to go.”


September 2008

The 21-year-old Saha swallowed poison immediately after being rejected as a participant on the Indian reality show. Apparently she brought the bottle of poison with her to the audition.

(Additional reporting by Tina McGilton and Lucas Shaw.)


Part 2.

Reality TV Stars Often Suffer Enduring Trauma

By Frank Feldinger & Tina McGilton

The second of two parts; previously, “Win, Lose or Die: 11 Reality-Show Players Have Committed Suicide.

Katie Gold made it to the final four on the first year of “Survivor’s” Australian edition. Throughout the program she received a continuous stream of letters saying, “You’re a disgrace, you disgust us.”

When the show was done, Gold (pictured below) continued getting hate mail, suffered clinical depression and had to undergo years of psychotherapy to deal with, as she put it, “serious trust and abandonment issues.”Mental-health workers have discovered that often people who compete on shows like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” — even those who win — suffer severe and often long-lasting psychological trauma as a result.

“The obsession to be on TV is like the obsession to use drugs and alcohol,” Miami psychologist Dr. Jamie Huysman told TheWrap. “It’s just a symptom of a much deeper emotional problem, and the sufferer’s malaise infects the entire family.”

Huysman, who has a special practice in which he treats victims of reality shows and their families, says he has treated over 800 people since he founded AfterTVCare in 1992.

He started the practice when the producer of a TV talk show asked him to intervene in a case where a man who had appeared on the program was threatening to kill his daughter and himself because of what he revealed about lusting for her.

“Reality shows open wounds which no one can suture, so after your appearance, you’re left to bleed to death,” he said. “In effect, everyone who appears is thrown out of the lifeboat when their segment ends. “For everyone who appears — winners and losers alike — the lights go down, clinical issues remain. (See more on the interview with Dr. Huysman.)People don’t have any idea what it’s going to feel like to have so much of their life exposed to the camera, said Dr. Michelle Callahan, who recently served as a co-host and life coach on the mean girl makeover reality series “Queen Bees” on The N network.

“They underestimate how much stress they can deal with,” Callahan told TheWrap. “They think, ‘Oh, we’re cool, we’ll have so much fun and it’s gonna do great things for us so it’s worth it for the exposure.’ “Callahan added that often contestants don’t realize how much scrutiny they will have to endure even after their time on the show has ended. “Your persona on the show extends back to your real life,” she said. “If you’re on ‘The Biggest Loser’ and the show ends and you’re driving down the street and you stop at Popeye’s, people are gonna say, ‘Hey, you still look fat.’ Your weight issue has become public. That’s a lot of pressure to endure.”Weight, especially, can bring out the insults.

Jade Goody (pictured below), a 21-year-old dental nurse from London who died from cancer earlier this year, was dubbed “the most hated woman in the United Kingdom” during her 2002 “Big Brother” stint and was routinely called out for being bitchy, two-faced and fat.

A newspaper columnist wrote, “Jade is one of the most hated women on British TV and life will be hard for her when she leaves the house but don’t feel sorry for her … vote the pig out.”

And she wasn’t the only one to be targeted: A 15-year-old who had the misfortune to look something like Jade was beaten up after being mistaken for the contestant.

“We live in an age of disposable people,” Huysman told TheWrap. “The producers don’t care about the players, they care about the sponsors who want eyeballs, confrontations, meltdowns — they love it when people cry or are brow-beaten. That’s why the highest-rated shows are the ones where people get crushed emotionally.”

What doesn’t happen naturally often is added by the shows’ producers, he said: “No one tells these people it all will be edited, not just to shorten the running time but to manipulate character development. Character defects may be exaggerated simply by editing down their good qualities.”Some contestants end up being the good guy; others end up as the villains.

“Americans aren’t comfortable with ambiguity,” Dr. Jorga Leap, a professor of social welfare at UCLA, told TheWrap. “So, just like a dramatic series, the producers decide before taping who will wear the white hat and whom the black. The problem is, we all are made up of good and not so good qualities and the contestants don’t get to choose which qualities they want displayed to the audience.”

“It doesn’t matter if someone is a strong personality or a basket case,” she added. “Everyone loses their sense of self — and that’s why the worst traumas are suffered after the program airs; people are left with, ‘Now what?’  And they have to face a society that thinks they know you because they saw a version of you on TV.”

The only difference between so-called reality shows and dramatic shows is that they get real people to play the roles,” said Huysman. “You may think you’re the smart, sexy one, only to see yourself portrayed as a calculating bitch when the show airs. That’s why so many winners suffer a type of post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

Jade Goody actually got a chance to switch hats, when she was given her own talk show, “Just Jade,” in 2006. With a public plea for forgiveness, Goody stage-managed a kiss-and-make-up session with the fellow contestant she mocked and made a “goodwill visit” to India, where she toured a children’s charity, apologized again and made a donation.

Finally, unwilling to give up her newfound notoriety up to the end — literally — Goody invited the cameras to film her as she was dying, for a two-part tribute called “Jade: With Love,” that aired in 2009. Her funeral was broadcast live in England.

So how does one prepare for the onslaught reality shows bring?Potential contestants need to be “brutally honest about the possibility that people are going to be critical of them,” Callahan said.

“You have to think about the worst case scenario and be sure you can live with it — people invading your privacy, family coming out of the woodwork to sell you out, people picking on your weight or your skin — is it all worth it?”

Dr. Geoffrey White began working as a therapist on reality television programs like “The Mole” nearly 10 years ago. Now he screens potential cast members to make sure they’re not too unstable. He also supervises contestants while the show is in production.

“The best way to screen the cast is not to talk to them but to put them in situations where you can watch them interact,” White told TheWrap. “Most people can make a pretty good impression in an interview or filling out a form, but if you place people in two or three mock situations, then you can really judge the way someone will respond to a situation.”

White believes there should be greater ethical standards created for the screening process.

“There is enormous potential for risk, and nobody is really following these people up or watching over their welfare,” he said. “An industry standard should be created and producers should be held liable should anything happen.”

(Additional reporting by Amy Kaufman.)

July 19, 2009 Posted by | Death, Gossip, Greed, Reality TV, Reality TV Suicides, TheWrap Investigates | , | Comments Off on TheWrap Investigates: 11 Players Have Committed Suicide