THR Emmy Roundtable: Randy Jackson, Gordon Ramsay and Other Reality Stars on Bad Contestants and Biggest Regrets
Tom Bergeron, Phil Keoghan, Heidi Klum and Padma Lakshmi also dish on tragedies on the set, awkward product placements, and the moments they wish had never aired.
Klum: You take care of them, but at the end of the day, they're not kids. When you sign yourself up for what you're doing, you have to take care of yourself.
Ramsay: I think there should be more aftercare. We leave them with a prescription, but I personally would like to see a stronger follow-through.
THR: What would that look like?
Ramsay: Well, we had a situation for the first time on Nightmares where I actually sat the couple down [the owners of Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Ariz.] and said, "You've got every right to run the restaurant how you see fit, but I can't help you." The problem with restaurants is that anyone can go and buy one, and that's what we're dealing with. You have a glamorous dinner party, and all of a sudden your neighbors say, "Hey, you should have a restaurant." So they fall in love with the idea as opposed to the reality of actually doing the job. But I drew a line in the sand. If they're a couple that's so dysfunctional, then they don't deserve that restaurant, and I'm going to stick my hand up in the air and say, "I cannot help you." And that's on the back of three months of research, and it's a proper program, and I've put my hand up and admitted, "You are too far gone, stop faking it."
Keoghan: And you were the most unpopular person at work that day.
Ramsay I was, yes.
Keoghan: All that work, right?
Ramsay: I will not be going back to Arizona for a long time.
THR: A lot of this speaks to the casting process. Has what you consider to be a good contestant changed since you've started?
Jackson: We find that the public always wants to see a cross section. Sometimes people say, "Well, why don't you just have all the good people?" If all the good people would show up, that's what we'd have. Do you think all the good people are sitting at home going: "You know what? I'm going for that Idol thing, man, I'm ready"? It just doesn't happen, so you get a lot of wild, interesting people.
Bergeron: But you want to see that. We did an all-star season last fall with Dancing With the Stars, and the numbers went down. We all thought, "This is going to be great, all the people that you've loved before" -- it was like The Avengers of ballroom dancing. But it wasn't. What we heard -- and I wish my wife had told me this before we started, because she said [it, too] -- "I like it better when they're struggling. I like to see the arc."
Keoghan: It's so true.
Jackson: By the way, it shows you that if you see someone struggling or not very good, when you see the really good one, you're like, "Wow."
Klum: But you also see that sometimes these people get pushed forward, not from you guys, necessarily, but America votes for them because they actually want to see that train wreck happen again, right?
Jackson: Yeah, they love that.
Lakshmi: They like the underdog, too.
Ramsay: The transition of watching and witnessing. That's what they're like three months prior; look what they're like now with the confidence and mentoring. That, for me, is the payoff.
Jackson: That's the real story of all these shows.
Keoghan: The viewer sees it more than a lot of people realize. The viewer is incredibly discerning at very quickly picking up whether that person is there because they are really that coal miner from Alabama and they're there to take on this experience as opposed to someone who's there because they want some afterlife from the show to go do something. With our show having been on over a decade now, we're attracting more people, but there are also a lot more people who are applying because they think, "Ooh, I could become famous."
Ramsay: I've seen it more with the parents. We're just coming to the end of this shoot with Junior MasterChef, which was about 8-year-old boys and girls. Their parents are up on the balcony, and they are literally pointing, "I told you inside that layer cake is where you put the f--ing raspberries."
Bergeron: I wouldn't think you'd want to annoy your child and then have them hold sharp objects.
THR: Is it fair to say the thread between your collective shows -- some of which have been on the air for a decade -- is that they're family-friendly?
BERGERON Dysfunctional families are families, too.
Jackson: Yes, they are, they are.
Keoghan: But you know, what's interesting is, there are still so many people out there that when they hear the words "reality television," they don't actually think of these shows. It does frustrate me sometimes that people will immediately think of the train-wreck shows that are big, big, big, and then they're gone the next season.