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.
Lakshmi: I couldn't agree with you more. I actually don't think of our shows as reality shows. I think they're mislabeled. To me, they're game shows or competition shows.
Ramsay: Everyone says it's reality, but it's unscripted drama.
Lakshmi: A common denominator in all of our shows is that they're about people trying to be better, whereas there's still a large swath of reality shows that are actually exhibitionists and people willfully trying to be controversial or idiotic or just acting out.
Bergeron: There was this -- I don't want to malign the well-intentioned people who put it together -- but I'm about to …
Keoghan: Go for it.
BERGERON It was this reality awards show that happened in town like a year or so ago, and I, in a moment of weakness, agreed to go. I think a friend was being honored, and I went there, and it was like a Fellini wet dream. I mean, it was unbelievable. Freaky.
Lakshmi: I'm still amazed at how much people are willing to humiliate themselves to be on TV.
THR: Looking back, is there a scene or moment on your show that you wish hadn't aired?
Klum: Thankfully, I don't have anything like that.
Jackson: I don't think there's any moment on Idol I wish hadn't aired. If you're calling yourself a real reality show, you have to show it all.
Keoghan: I wish we hadn't done the family version of Amazing Race, but I'm proud that we tried it. It didn't work, and it came back to the whole thing of having to eliminate kids. It's hard enough to eliminate anybody because they want to be there so badly, and I had to look into a kid's eyes with the tears pouring down with a raised eyebrow and dramatic pause, cameras coming in: "I'm sorry to tell you, you've been eliminated."
Klum: You're a monster, Mr. Keoghan.
Keoghan: So we do the family version of The Amazing Race, and the very first family that I have to eliminate is the Black family, who happen to be black. They were an amazing family, and I was talking to the father about how he wanted to be addressed. He said, "I want to be called the Black family. I'm very proud of my name, and I'm proud to be black." I was like, OK, and so we go to Harlem, and I'm doing a school visit, and I'm standing on the stage thinking, "How am I going to do this?" It's 800 kids, and I go, "And now from The Amazing Race: Family Version, please welcome …" And I just didn't know what else to say but "the Black family." I thought I was going to be killed, and then Mr. Black, thankfully, came up and said, "Hey, settle down, that's our name, we're Black, and we're brown." He saved my life. I guess I wish that hadn't aired.
Lakshmi: That's great television, clearly.
Bergeron: Week two, he gets rid of the Honky family.
Lakshmi: I don't know if I wish it hadn't aired, but I certainly wish it hadn't happened. It was my first season of Top Chef, and it was toward the end of the season, when there was this Lord of the Flies moment, and they kind of ganged up on Marcel Vigneron, who looks very similar to the Wolf Man or Wolverine. He had these mutton chops. He's a very eccentric, interesting young man, and he's very sweet, but he came off as very annoying to all of the people who had to live with him. They held him down and threatened to shave his head, and it got very ugly, and we did stop it. The person who actually did the holding down regretted it terribly and paid the price because we did air it. It was a terrible moment for us. What happened out of the kitchen did overshadow what happened in the kitchen.
THR: How involved are you in the day-to-day business realities of your shows, whether it be ratings or network notes?
Lakshmi: I don't look at ratings until somebody tells me. But I've already filmed that season when the ratings come out. With advertising, it's a very expensive show to do, so there are times when we have people or corporations who come in, and it's the "challenge for Uncle Ben's" or whatever. I'm the one on air who gets kind of most, I don't want to say saddled or slammed with the crappy part of it, but I feel like I do because I wind up saying the brand name in my introduction of the challenge to these chefs. And it's never, "Get in your car," it's "Get in your blah, blah, blah car." I have to make that shit sound natural, and it's hard.
Ramsay: I think it's a lot more difficult in the U.K. because you can't be that blatant. Over here, it's so much easier, so having experience in producing The F-Word and Nightmares in the U.K., we can't do anything there. We can't mention that Uncle Ben's. What it does do from a producing point of view is, it makes you strive harder to become more creative.