A Big Brother villain, a beloved Bachelor alum, and a Challenge champion all enter a love triangle…No, that’s not the set-up for some corny reality TV-themed joke; it’s a reality, one that dominated headlines in December 2018, when it was revealed Paulie Calafiore was two-timing his former girlfriend, Danielle Maltby (most recently seen on Bachelor in Paradise) and his current girlfriend, Cara Maria Sorbello, whom he met while on MTV’s The Challenge. And all of this was preceded by Paulie also being called out for cheating on MTV’s Ex on the Beach after his time in the Big Brother house.Weeks after the cheating scandal broke, Paulie was spotted hanging out with Demi Burnett, the contestant stirring the pot on Colton Underwood’s current season of The Bachelor. Exhausted trying to keep up with all of that?
Welcome to the new normal for reality TV fans, as separate franchises have slowly been bleeding together for some time, blending together their various storylines from competing networks in the name of raising the stakes.It’s obviously been done before: Big Brother has featured The Amazing Race talent. Big Brother and Survivor stars have gone on to compete on TAR.Some fans didn’t exactly love the CBS synergy, and Phil Keoghan, the host of The Amazing Race, even admitted to not loving the casting move.”I’m less of a fan of that than I am in bringing in some new person with a unique personality,” he explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s not to say it didn’t work, but I’m just not as much of a fan of that cross-pollination. I think the shows are so different that to me it’s a little confusing.”
Cut to three years later, and now, with the premiere of The Challenge: War of the Worlds on Wednesday night, it’s official: reality TV has gone full-blown Game of Thrones, becoming incestuous…when it comes to casting, that is, with the MTV hit pulling from over 11 franchises from around the globe to assemble season 33’s cast. Haven’t been on a reality TV show before? Good luck trying to get one at this point, especially when it comes to The Challenge. War of the Worlds isn’t interested in newcomers; they want seasoned reality personalities who know how to give a soundbite and aren’t afraid of what their family is going to see them do on TV because Nana has already almost had a heart attack watching you hook up on-screen.
But there’s a fine line between hunger and thirst though when it comes to a career in reality TV. Hunger for love, hunger for competition, that’s all good. But obvious thirst for fame, thirst for followers…it just reeks of desperation, a stench any seasoned producer is trained to quickly pick up on.”Full disclosure: we’ve been approached by people who are managing the Bachelor fall-offs before and they’re like, hey, I got this great idea, so-and-so is on the Bachelor and he’s friends with Scheana,'” Vanderpump Rules’ co-executive producer Jeremiah Smith recently dished on The Ringer’s Bachelor Party podcast.
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He then revealed it was Chase McNary, who was pretty well-liked on JoJo Fletcher’s season of The Bachelorette to very, very briefly be considered for the gig of the next Bachelor before three-time franchise star Nick Viall came in like a wrecking ball, destroying that initial plan to remain on TV.Plan B: “Chase’s manager called me…so people come off The Bachelor and they wanna go on the circuit and someone’s manager thought it was a good idea to go on Vanderpump Rules…it does not work like that,” Smith said, adding he explained to the manager that Chase would have to actually get a real job at SUR before that would ever be a possibility.Bussing tables with Max Vanderpump? Hard pass!
(Interestingly enough, his fellow Bachelorette alum and Bachelor in Paradise “f—kboy” Robbie Hayes did recently appear on Vanderpump Rules, going on a Bachelor-inspired and seemingly staged date with Scheana Marie.)Plan C: Hit up MTV. And Chase’s hustle paid off, landing him on Ex on the Beach’s first season, and now, The Challenge: War of the Worlds. And his welcome in the premiere was a pretty rough one: “Fool, are you crazy? Do you know where you are, do you know who I am?” one Challenge vet Leroy Garrett said of The Bachelorette alum, just before throwing him to the ground. Toto, we’re not in the Bachelor mansion anymore!
Of course, a reality competition show is a very different beast than a straight-up reality show like Pump Rules, which lives and dies by the authenticity viewers feel for the relationships on and friendships, which often pre-date the start show. On a show like The Challenge, at least in the early days, it thrived on pulling from The Real World and Road Rules, two shows about throwing a bunch of strangers in a house (or van) and seeing how they co-exist and clash when they stop being polite…and start getting real.
And for Julie Pizzi, the President of Entertainment & Development for Bunim-Murray Productions, there’s no real concern over diluting The Challenge brand by bringing in too many faces from established outside franchises.”To be honest, I think part of what was exciting for us is that it sort of brings in a new audience and it also freshens it up for our cast,” she told Rolling Stone. “Take somebody like Bananas: He looks at who the competition is based on the franchise that exists. Then you bring in new people that outsize him – and he doesn’t actually know how good they’re going to be. It sort of ups the game for our cast as well.
But ask Bananas the same question and you’ll get a different answer.
“Let’s be real…the stock isn’t all that high these days on a lot of the new kids coming out,” he told E! News. “And quite frankly, I’m a little concerned that the future of the franchise is being left in the hands of these absolute boners that they’re casting these days.”Of course, there are a few exceptions. Kyle Christie, from the UK’s Geordie Shore, has proven to be a fierce and flirtatious competitor. Ditto some other British exports brought in from UK’s Ex on the Beach, with the Brits proving they could battle it out with the best of ‘em, both in the competitions and in the house when they were first introduced in Vendettas (season 31).
After that season, The Challenge’s executive producer and Bunim/Murray’s executive vice president of International Scott Freeman told E! News that the production team was “thrilled” with how the risk of introducing international players paid off.”We took a chance casting people who had never been on American MTV and they showed up and it was a surprise for our regular cast,” he said. “It added new dynamics, it’s been fun to see them come on and really start getting into The Challenge, like Kyle.”Prior to Vendettas, The Challenge used to just poach from the Are You the One? pool. Now, “everything’s on the table,” Freeman noted. That season also introduced stars from Vanderpump Rules, the US’ Ex on the Beach, and, of course, Big Brother.
Big Brother’s Natalie Negrotti has now fully immersed herself in The Challenge world, with a few other alums from the CBS reality hit following her lead as War of the Worlds features seven former house guests gunning for their share of the $1 million prize…if they can survive the pressure from the veteran Challengers, that is.”I was the first female crossover from another network onto The Challenge, I was a solo ranger,” Negrotti told E! News at the Galentine’s Day Spa Party for Urban Skin RX in New York City. “And it was really tough because obviously the Challengers are going to pick on you. You are the only person from your tribe, from your network..[it had] never been done before.”
War of the Worlds also introduced stars from Love Island (the most popular reality show in the UK), Party Down South, Survivor Turkey, The Bachelor Canada, American Ninja Warrior and Telemundo. Basically a reality TV orgy and every show is invited.”I love that they are bringing all these other shows,” Negrotti said. “It’s exciting! I’m not alone and now everyone can be tortured just like I was!”
The driving force for many of these reality stars, however, is to keep stretching out their 15 minutes as not everyone can turn their reality TV fame into a full-blown profession a la Mr. Bananas. For most, social media is their money-maker and with more appearances comes more followers; with more followers comes more endorsements for Fit Tea and Sugar Bear Hair vitamins. For them, fame is fleeting and followers are fickle.”Dude, that wasn’t around! When we came up, it was like we were on The Challenge for the love of the game,” Bananas, who now hosts NBC’s First Look, said. “People showed up to compete, to be on The Challenge, to party, this, that. Now, it’s about how many followers am I going to get out of this it? Social media totally changed the game.”
He continued, “These people don’t have the complex personalities, they don’t have emotions. They’re not complex, intelligent human beings anymore, it’s just like, ‘You want to get drunk and hookup? Cool, you’re cast.’ That’s kind of what we’re dealing with these days. That’s why, I think, a lot of cast members haven’t established the amount of foothold with the older MTV fanbase is because they’re just not buying it.”One reason for that skepticism among the show’s fiercely dedicated fanbase could be the show-hopping some reality stars do as they work their way through the circuit. Even Negrotti recently revealed on Twitter that she had a hard time choosing between doing Big Brother or The Bachelor, with the former NFL cheerleader ultimately choosing Sam the Robot over a potential rose.
“I am happy because I got to compete, but at the same time, sometimes I feel like I should’ve done The Bachelor…I’m still 50/50 on it,” she told us. “A lot of fans are like, ‘No, we don’t watch the Bachelor!’ But there’s still a lot of other people who do watch The Bachelor…I still don’t know if I made the right decision or not!” Negrotti’s conflicted feelings over her choice is understandable, especially given the lucrative social media deals that await many of The Bachelor women once they leave the show. Influencer is now a legitimate and lucrative career goal for women under 26 and blonde hair if they go on the ABC reality juggernaut.
But for someone like Johnny Bananas, who is now competing in his 18th season of The Challenge after first making his TV debut in 2006 on The Real World: Key West, such a decision wasn’t even on his radar. “No,” Johnny told E! News when asked if he ever thought The Real World would turn into a career, going onto reveal a producer wasn’t even sure he’d be a good fit for the spinoff.”He was like, ‘Maybe, we’ll see…it’s a possibility,’ and now here I am, 14 years later, as, essentially, the face of the franchise,” Johnny said.
Negrotti’s conflicted feelings over her choice is understandable, especially given the lucrative social media deals that await many of The Bachelor women once they leave the show. Influencer is now a legitimate and lucrative career goal for women under 26 and blonde hair if they go on the ABC reality juggernaut.
With 1.2 million Instagram followers, The Bachelor season 20 winner Lauren Bushnell has partnered with dozens of brands for their ads to pop up in her grid. Lauren, who is now dating country singer Chris Lane, launched her own rose line and has a lifestyle blog.Amanda Stanton has also amassed over 1.2 million followers on Instagram since her stints on The Bachelor and Bachelor in Paradise (seasons 3 and 4), and has landed major endorsements, including one campaign with H&M, a book deal, and individual Instagram accounts for each of her two daughters that probably have more followers than you do. (Around 38K for each, respectively.)
For Becca Tilley, her time on The Bachelor (back-to-back seasons) paid off: Her podcast, Scrubbing In with Becca Tilley & Tanya Rad, won a People’s Choice Award, and her sarcastic humor has kept her 1.1 million followers laughing and liking. Who needs the final rose when there’s spon-con waiting for you when you get home? The key is to continue to have fans invested in you long after your season ends. For a lucky few, like some of The Bachelor ladies, their aspirational lives continue to drive likes, with followers desperate to know the specific lip color they are wearing in that one post. Or maybe what workouts they are doing to keep those abs despite seemingly eating ice cream and drinking wine every day.
But most reality stars need to hustle to keep their follower count from dropping, and that means making another appearance on reality TV. Cory Wharton, originally from RW: Ex-Plosion, has appeared on several seasons of The Challenge, Ex on the Beach and is now on Teen Mom OG. After becoming one of the most notorious villains in The Bachelor franchise, Chad Johnson has popped up on Famously Single, Big Brother UK, and Ex on the Beach. (Curiously, his Instagram, which has just under 250K followers, is currently set to private.) “Chad Merch” is available for purchase on his official site, including a t-shirt that says “F–k you, Chris Harrison,” pet sunglasses and fat loss supplements. (We advise The Challenge contestants to start hiding their protein powder now.)
Alas, even reality TV royalty aren’t immune to the temptation reality TV can present: Jersey Shore’s DJ Pauly D has appeared on E!’s Famously Single, WE tv’s Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars (a frequent stop for many couples), MTV’s upcoming show Game of Clones, and his very own MTV dating competition series, along with Jersey Shore BFF Vinny Guadagnino–no stranger to the reality circuit himself. In fact, the entire Jersey Shore cast has made the reality rounds, hosting their own shows and popping up on celebrity-themed competition shows. And look at other seasoned vets, like Brandi Glanvilleand Omarosa Manigault-Newman, who have each appeared on well over six shows since their respective reality TV debuts. Their full-time career is now being a reality star…they just had the advantage (in most of their cases) of being somewhat famous before landing on TV.
And with Forbes reporting that an Instagram user with 100,000 followers can command around $5,000 for a sponsored post, is it any wonder reality TV stars are willing to lie, cheat, steal and deal with the endless cycle of production to rack up a few more followers? It seems like this war of the reality worlds is just getting started.
The Challenge: War of the Worlds airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on MTV.
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