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News Flash: Bravo's Reality Contestants Aren't Guaranteed Success

News Flash: Bravo's Reality Contestants Aren't Guaranteed Success

Got 15 minutes? Then grab a cup of coffee and curl up with this interesting New York Magazine cover story about the plight of contestants from "Project Runway," "Top Chef," and Bravo's other competition reality shows.

Here's the gist: Appearing on one of these shows — and even winning — is far from a ticket to fame and fortune. First "Project Runway" winner Jay McCarroll is still couch-surfing in New York; fan favorite Andrae Gonzalo from season two has been capitalizing more on his fame as a reality star than on his skill as a designer. Prize money sometimes comes with strings attached, as it did for McCarroll in season one; even when it doesn't, Bravo still retains a lot of control over contestants' public exposure and career opportunities. An excerpt:

For the contestants, the implicit promise of these shows is that they’re time machines, compressing the brutal urban mechanics of getting ahead—the political maneuvering, the grinding incremental labor—from a matter of years to months. The problem is that reality-show success is no substitute for real-world experience. "There is something a little bit cruel about all the attention," says Ted Allen, the dignified cooking guru of Bravo’s "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and a recurring judge on "Top Chef." "Because during the season you’re in one of the shows, you are famous for a while, and you get to enjoy all the fun of that. But you’re not someone who has any sort of expertise that’s going to keep you on television. There’s no certain road map for translating that kind of ephemeral success into a life of yachts and bling."

Few things in this story really shock me, but it is interesting to consider what (if anything) reality contestants are owed, so

Reality TV doesn't change the fact that succeeding in a skill-driven field still depends mostly on, you know, skill; fame tends to come later. Unsurprisingly, the Bravo alums who have done the best so far already had a business before the show: Jeffrey Sebelia, who won the most recent season of "Project Runway," had a boutique established, while Tabatha from "Shear Genius" used the exposure from the show to take in more customers at her existing salon.

Writer Jennifer Senior makes the point that Bravo owes much of its recent success to these shows and their telegenic and talented stars. And it looks like Bravo is starting to recognize that it's a two-way street: Contestants on the shows (except "Project Runway," which Bravo doesn't own) now will be offered a chance to sign with a management company that will help the insta-celebs navigate the wild waters of post-show life.

But what does Bravo — or any network that helps regular people rise to fame — actually owe its contestants once the show is done? Should the network be required to give those stars more assistance? Or should chefs, designers and stylists who appear on reality shows be savvy enough to know what to do when the show's over, even without the network's help? I lean toward the latter; I think anyone who goes on reality TV these days has to know that it doesn't guarantee success. But I suppose I can also understand why ex-contestants feel ignored while the network profits off their work. What's your take?


ANP_NYC ANP_NYC 10 years
Jay McCarroll (ProjRun Season 1 Winner) filmed a response to the article wherein he focused on its claim that "Jay, 32, is still homeless in New York." Basically in the video he's dressed like a bum and writhing around on a sidewalk in New York. You can check it out on YouTube: It makes me laugh every time I watch it!
catsmeow catsmeow 10 years
Okay, I know this is strange, but I really don’t ever write about people, but this Tori the psychic on the new Bravo show, Flipping Out… does anyone know more about her? She’s really fascinating.
partysugar partysugar 10 years
Very interesting...
sumnboutme sumnboutme 10 years
Thanks for the article Buzz! I think one of the reasons that Adrienne Curry and Tyra Banks are on the outs is because Adrienne thought her life was going to be all gravy after winning ANTM. She didn't think that she actually had to work her ass off to get gigs...she thought all she had to do was be pretty. Then she married a Brady...
toxic_boi2004 toxic_boi2004 10 years
This is exactly why I wouldn't sign up for a reality tv show. I don't want to be pigeon holed into that one role and never make it anywhere else in life. Yah there are some successes but then there seems to be a lot more rehashing their same roles to gain more exposure to pay the bills. I myself don't know if I really want to do that.
tchan01 tchan01 10 years
Thanks for sharing, this is something most of us assume but there were definitely details here that I haven't thought of before. I think there are always a few that fight the pigeon holing and find a way to stick to their dreams and really succeed. Take Chris Daughtry?
crispet1 crispet1 10 years
Very interesting.
SoftRockStar SoftRockStar 10 years
I agree Julia: you've got to go into competition without wanting to become a "celebrity". I think the ANTM contestants have it worse because Anna Wintour frowns upon the show and the girls are seen as "TV personalities" instead of models.
juliamquinn juliamquinn 10 years
I love Emmett's store in New York. He makes really cute dresses and beautiful coats. His success is probably due to the fact that he seemed a lot more grounded than other contestants. Chloe actually was on QVC the other night and her items were sold out in like 5 minutes! She also was really grounded. I think that is the key to success after being on a reality show, remember that you are a designer, not a celebrity and don't expected to be treated that way.
Entertainment Entertainment 10 years
yeah, I thought it was weird that the writer didn't talk to Emmett or Kara from season two of "Project Runway" — she got famous off a dress she didn't even make for the competition; he opened a boutique in NYC that at least sounds like it's successful. And Chloe's been successful in her own way, she just didn't move to New York
Food Food 10 years
harold from top chef opened up his own restaurant, lee anne wong is a food producer for Bravo and a consultant for films. Sam almost opened a restaurant, but it didn't happen - although i was definitely interested to hear that he was almost a contender for the bachelor! Thanks for the link buzz, it was an interesting read. Also I think it depends on the personality and experience of the contestants. I think the successful ones were the ones that knew they were being used and went about trying to use bravo back.
pinkflats pinkflats 10 years
Oh this is so sad to hear because I love Bravo. I do agree with "instant fame" aspects, now that's just misleading advertisement there. But isn't there also success stories, Buzz. For example, the Top Chef (a Bravo reality show) became some kind of concultant for the No Reservation film. Her recipe even made it into the movie, right?
sydneyalias sydneyalias 10 years
I think they are being sold the whole "instant fame" aspect. It's not really fair and the networks are making huge money on them, so why can't they at least give the winners or top people a push in the right direction?
Mainly-Obsessed Mainly-Obsessed 10 years
Yeah, I mean you know this kind of thing happens all the time with reality competition shows (how many of the models from ANTM become household names?). But I do think they should take the idea of "instant fame and success" out of the helps if you don't believe you'll be as popular as Marc Jacobs once you've won the competition.
Melissa55 Melissa55 10 years
I think that Bravo's going above and beyond to help their celebs! They've got to face the real world eventually... isn't that why it's called reality TV?
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