'I crumbled big time': Former reality stars call for more support, industry shake-up

Jan 13, 2020 5:29 AM
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Participants on some of Australia’s biggest reality tv shows have told The Feed they received ‘inadequate’ psychological support after their time on screen.

It's one of the world's most popular television genres, but more than four decades since its inception, reality TV is facing unprecedented scrutiny.

In May, Britain's parliament launched a federal inquiry into the industry following a string of suicides linked to popular shows there.

Two former Love Island contestants and a guest on the now-axed Jeremy Kyle Show died after their reality TV appearances.


David Witko was a contestant on the first season of Australian Bachelorette.

It's prompted calls for an industry-wide shake-up here.

David Witko, 'the villain' on the first season of The Bachelorette, says there needs to be greater transparency and support for contestants.

"I don't think that people are aware that reality TV, no matter how glamorous it may look to all the viewers...there are death threats, there are positions that contestants are put in, post show, where they want to take their own life," David said.


The Feed

"We need to have an understanding where there is some kind of proper support post show...it should be much more transparent."

Author and university lecturer Winnie Salamon interviewed a range of former contestants for her thesis on reality TV participation.

"I went in to researching my PhD about reality TV contestants in the hope that it would be quite a positive story, but the 'reality' was that for most people it was a bit of a disappointment," she said.

"So many people told me, 'I just didn't want to leave the house for years'."

It's a familiar story - and an experience many former contestants suffer in silence.

Reece Mastin was 16 years old when he was catapulted into the spotlight as the winner of talent show X-Factor Australia.

In the months that followed, he toured to thousands, releasing a series of hit singles and albums that topped the Australian pop charts.

But there was a dark side to the aspiring rock artist's time in the spotlight.

"It's a fun show to watch, but it's not all that fun to be on to be totally honest."

"They just want to control you."

"I'd write 15, 20 rock songs and one pop song, and low and behold there's the pop song, 'we'll put that out on radio',"

Reece told The Feed he felt as though he had no say in what music he released.

"I was constantly trying to justify myself to everybody that, 'no, I play rock and roll, that's what I love'."

The last record I did I was so embarrassed by, I actually felt sick.

He left the record label he was contracted to through the X-Factor, and eventually stopped performing altogether.

"I've had a lot of depression over the years from just feeling beaten up."

"I was just so lonely and I felt like everybody had got something out it bar me... "

"I've done therapy now for five years because it did get to a point when I stopped working and I had nothing."

There are currently no rules or regulations in Australia to determine the amount - or type - of psychological support production companies provide contestants during or after filming.

David Witko says the psychological support he was offered was inadequate.

There were psychologists on site and they say at the beginning that you could have any support that you need post show and whatever else, but that's absolute garbage.

"The psychologist that's inside the house seems like your best friend but she's actually probably one of your biggest enemies because that psychologist is hired, she's not a third party...she's working for the production company."


David Witko says psychological support post-reality TV was 'inadequate'.

Winnie Salamon said the contestants she spoke to had a similar experience.

"People said that the psychologists who were on hand weren't giving them the support that they really needed, that it was a bit of a token effort."

"They all said that they either didn't feel that they had enough access to a psychologist or that the psychologist was working on behalf of the show and their agenda was really about doing what they needed to for the sake of the show rather than for the contestants themselves."

Endemol Shine Australia makes some of Australia's most popular reality television programs.

A spokesperson for the company told The Feed they take the wellbeing of participants on their shows very seriously.

"There is a dedicated show psychologist and support team available to every participant throughout filming on every show.

"Our offer and the availability of a range of support, including by our show psychologist remains through production, broadcast and beyond."


A spokesperson for Fremantle said the wellbeing of our program participants is of utmost importance to Fremantle. As part of our production policies and procedures, each person’s participation in our programs is thoroughly risk assessed and we offer ongoing access to health professionals, including psychologists, during all stages of production and broadcast and after the broadcast. Fremantle also conducts an assessment of potential participants during the casting process to determine their suitability for the particular program.

ITV Studios Australia

A spokesperson for ITV Studios Australia said the company takes its responsibilities around duty of care to participants very seriously. We work closely with broadcasters to support the physical and mental health of everyone involved in our programmes - this is our highest priority. As the popularity of reality TV shows has increased, we have continued to evolve our processes, particularly in light of increased social and media attention on participants.

Catch The Feed 8:30pm Thursdays and 5pm Sundays on SBS VICELAND . Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.