Did you watch the season premier of Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve been bombarded with the news about Russell Armstrong’s suicide (Russell was the estranged husband of one of those housewives).
Because he hated being on the show and/or because his marriage was on the rocks, or was it his deteriorating finances?
How are the other Housewives dealing with this? How did Bravo handle the situation?
The answer to the last question was answered Monday night with a 10 minute intro to the premier where the cast members met at Adrienne Maloof’s mansion home to “address the suicide”.
IMHO, the other cast members came off as self-absorbed prima donne who blamed the victim, Russell. They seemed more concerned about themselves than about the guy who actually died. WTF?
Where was the honest appraisal of the difficulties of being on a reality show? Is being on a reality show hazardous to your health?
Out of the top 5 most dangerous reality TV shows, let’s ignore Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers. Those kinds of shows depict occupations that are inherently dangerous, whether or not cameras are rolling.
Consider Dancing With The Stars! We’ve done at least 9 stories over the past 2 years about injuries on DWTS. These include Gilles Marino’s shoulder separation, the stress fracture in Tom Delay’s foot and Jennifer Grey’s ruptured neck disc which required surgery.
Then there’s the Survivor franchise. Just name an injury and someone on the show has probably had it. Two stand out in my mind…
Survivor: Micronesia contestant Chet Welch, a 49 year old pageant coach, cut his foot on some coral. This lead to a heel infection requiring antibiotics and caused Welch’s departure from the show. Outback Australia contestant Michael Skupin suffered third degree burns to his hands when he blacked out and fell into a fire pit. He had to be rushed off the set.
Weight loss is a good thing and indeed a goal for contestants on Biggest Loser. On other shows, such as Survivor, weight loss comes as a result of semi-starvation diets, eating bizarre foods like insect larvae, grueling physical exertion and exposure to the elements. Most seasons of Survivor are in hot climates probably so contestants have to prance around semi-nude (good for ratings) but this can lead to sunburn, heat exhaustion and dehydration.
On I’m a Celebrity…Get me out of Here! actor Stephen Baldwin got 125 bug bites in the 8 days he was there. An allergic reaction caused him to lose 22 pounds. On the same show, Heidi Montag left complaining of abdominal pain due to gastritis.
Contestants who have preexisting conditions can be made worse by their participation in the show. American Idol contestant Casey Abrahms, who had to be hospitalized and given a blood transfusion when his ulcerative colitis flared up.
Perhaps some of most insidious aspects of Reality TV is what it does to the mental and emotional health of the participants. Although being in the public eye can be exciting for cast members this exposure can come at a high cost.
The loss of privacy exposes details of participants’ lives to the world. Every aspect of their life is now available for comment and possibly public condemnation. This can lead to feelings of humiliation, inadequacy and self-doubt.
Reality TV thrives on drama and conflict. Shows specifically recruit the kind of unstable personality who will keep things unpredictable. According to the Dallas Heralds’ Elaine Liner:
Someone in each cast is pegged as the nasty one, either through editing or subtle scripting (what reality TV insiders call “cooking” the interaction among cast members).
Even more troubling is what can happen to these contestants once the show, and their 15 minutes of fame, is over. Many of these folks will have trouble readjusting to real life. For those predisposed to depression, the loss of celebrity can accelerate the process. According to Dr. Jamie Huysman, a therapist who specializes in reality show contestants:
Being on TV helps give damaged people the illusion that they matter, that they’re noticed: “Hey! I’m on TV so I must be important. People want to hear what I have to say.” So people will tell the camera what they’d never tell a friend or family member or clergyman…[or] a therapist. Appearing on TV is a validation that you matter, that you’re being noticed. It’s like shooting up a fix of self-esteem. Problem is, just like shooting heroin, the “fix” doesn’t fix anything. When the red light on the camera goes off, you’re left with yourself and all your problems still intact.
Tales of suicide among former reality show contestants abound. Here’s just a few:
Lastly, shows like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, where cast members belong a privileged class, often put additional financial stress on the families to keep up to the show’s high standards even when their own financial situation may change. Russell Armstrong’s crumbling financial status being aired for all to see could be a contributing factor to his suicide.
Please share your thoughts and stories with us and other readers. For more information on suicide and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI, e.g. cutting) see our story on Why Did Sadie Frost Hurt Herself?