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On Lifetime’s addictive drama UnREAL, producers have gone to extreme lengths to get a good shot — switching out prescription medication, triggering eating disorders and preying on the fragile psyches of the contestants. So, has playing a fictional producer on the show affected the way star Shiri Appleby (Rachel) views her favorite reality shows?
“Absolutely. You watch these shows now and you see the producing, you see the editing that’s going on, you can see all the manipulation,” the actress tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I actually feel really bad for the contestants in a way that I never felt before.”
Appleby, as well as co-star Constance Zimmer (Quinn), recently got to see the action up close. The two were guest judges on Appleby’s favorite reality competition and fellow Lifetime show, Project Runway, and the experience was interesting to say the least.
“Us on a reality show was so much fun because Shiri looked at me at one point and was like, ‘I think we just got produced,’ ” recalls Zimmer, before laughing, “It was like calling it out, and we did. We’re probably not going to look very nice on that show.”
It wasn’t the only close encounter the castmembers of UnREAL have had with the real world (but not The Real World) of reality TV.
“Through social media, my wife and I have become friends with quite a few of the contestants on some reality dating shows,” faux-cinematographer and Rachel’s love interest Josh Kelly (Jeremy) reveals, “Jamie Otis, from Married At First Sight… followed me on Twitter and then I followed her and then she sent me a message like, ‘We’re going to be in LA,’ and my girlfriend loves [the show], so Doug and Jamie have become like friends with us.”
He adds, “We’ve had some brunches with some other Bachelor/Bachelorette type people and they seem to like it. They seem to appreciate it for what it is.”
Aside from the occasional hater (cough, cough, Chris Harrison), the cast acknowledged that the response has been largely positive.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people involved in reality television, from contestants to producers. All of them have been unbelievably supportive and unbelievably impressed with what we’ve put up on the screen,” says Zimmer of the feedback, noting that many people do point out the exaggerations. Her response? “I always laugh and say, ‘Of course not, it’s television, we’re making good TV!’ Everything is an exaggeration of the truth, but, there’s a lot of truth in jest.”
When grilled about their reality TV guilty pleasures, most of the cast admits they weren’t habitual Bachelor(ette) watchers, but list shows such as Naked and Afraid, Big Brother, The Amazing Race and Project Runway as favorites. One person who has a hard time with reality though? Series co-creator, and former reality producer, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro.
“Reality TV is not very fun for me to watch,” she says, “It’s a stress response for me. It’s like, once you work at a hot dog factory, you never want to eat hot dogs again.”
As for her co-creator-in-crime Marti Noxon? “I love Flipping Out. I am just a Jeff Lewis and Jenni [Pulos Nassos] fanatic,” she reveals, also joking that she used to “follow” the Shahs of Sunset around.
THR tasked the cast with assigning their fellow actors to a number of popular reality shows. Some of the results were near unanimous — Johanna Braddy (Anna) easily won for American Idol (“She has the voice of an angel”) and Appleby for Project Runway and Top Chef (Appleby’s husband is Jon Shook, a well-known chef and restauranteur).
But which show would the stars (and creators) themselves want to try out? Check out their answers are below:
Shiri Appleby: “Project Runway. We already did it. Crossed that one off the bucket list.”
Constance Zimmer: “I’d love to be a judge on So You Think You Can Dance or one of those things. I want to be on Lip Sync Battle. Is that considered a reality show? That’s what I have to be on. That’s my goal for 2015.”
Freddie Stroma: “Top Shot, which is the marksman one. I’ve never shot a gun in my life. I’ve watched some of it and they throw axes and use bow and arrows and crossbows and that’s kind of fun.”
Josh Kelly: “If I studied a long time about fashion — I wouldn’t do well — but I would want to be on Project Runway. Any of the Survivor type things, I’d probably fail and I’d be really embarrassed, all my army type buddies would be like, ‘Yo bro! You’re letting us down.’ Whereas Project Runway if I fail, I’d be fine.”
Marti Noxon: “Maybe Worst Cooks in America. I’d like to see that one.”
Sarah Gertrude Shapiro: “I’m not at all qualified to be on The Voice, but I’d love to be on it.”
Ashley Scott: “Naked and Afraid”
Breeda Wool: “I want to go to Tokyo, and go to underground Tokyo restaurants with Anthony Bourdain. … There was a time in my life where I thought that I would really do well on Fear Factor. Not so much anymore, because I’m a vegetarian and I was a vegan for a long time, but five years ago I was like, I would eat the head off a bird and eat it alive. I will bite the head off of a spider and eat that shit.”
The season finale of UnREAL airs tonight, Monday at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.
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