Ahead of UnREAL season three arriving exclusively to Lightbox tomorrow, Olivia Caridi from The Bachelor US takes us behind the curtain of reality romance.
To use the quote the astute words of Rachel from UnREAL, her job as a reality TV producer is basically “Satan’s asshole.” Working as a puppeteer behind the scenes of a Bachelor-inspired romance show called Everlasting, UnREAL follows one ambitious producer on her spiralling journey to mayhem, manipulation and… murder? Over two seasons of the bleak dramedy, with season three landing tomorrow, UnREAL is a nightmare-ish vision of the depths producers will plunder to keep eyeballs glued to their shows – made even scarier by the fact that its co-creator is an ex-Bachelor producer.
So how realistic is the grim producer arm-twisting of UnREAL? While on holiday in New Zealand, where our biggest reality controversies come in very loud farts and very flippy coins, former Bachelor US contestant Olivia Caridi stopped by to chat to The Real Pod about her experience on one of America’s most enduring reality romance franchises. The notorious villain of season 20 of The Bachelor US (the Ben Higgins season), Caridi became known for her emotional cankles monologue, and being dumped on an island in the middle of nowhere.
But how much of that was real and how much was UnREAL? Listen to the full podcast below, or read on for all the ways that UnREAL is telling the absolute truth.
Real: Every producer has a few pawns in the game
In UnREAL, each producer enters a Bachelorette sweepstake, where the grand prize is a potential promotion and each contestant’s outcome depends on how good they are at their jobs. If you can get your girl to kiss the suitor at the cocktail party, throw yourself a bonus. If you can get one of them to crap themselves on camera, take a luxurious holiday. “I remember the executive producer came in on the first day of filming saying ‘trust your producers, they are here for you if you ever need to vent’” says Olivia. “Of course, I realise now that was to make good television.”
“There are five or so main producers who each have a certain amount of girls” Olivia recalls, explaining that their focus was to “make sure that they knew all of our thoughts and all of our stories.” Her producer, in the role for the first time, acted like her “best friend,” during filming. “There are people from the franchise who have remained friends with their producers, but I will never speak to her again.” Just like Rachel in UnREAL, Olivia’s producer was rewarded for her legendary vilification with a promotion. “I wonder how they sleep at night, honestly.”
Real: The contestants are kept separate
Before she began filming for The Bachelor, Olivia was sent to a hotel for a few days with 29 other contestants (things are bigger in America). “They take your phones, there’s no internet, you are basically just watching TV all day.” Just like in UnREAL, the Bachelorettes don’t meet each other, or their suitor, until the first night of filming. “You walk downstairs and there are five other girls in your limo, and you’re not allowed to talk to them until you’ve been on camera because they want those first introductions to be authentic. All you can really do is say ‘hey, are you excited?’ ‘yeah, are you excited?’ until you are on camera in the mansion.”
Real: Everyone hears and sees EVERYTHING
In UnREAL, the cameramen will go to dramatic lengths to get the shot, and the mics are always hotter than Prince Charming in a jacuzzi. On The Bachelor, Olivia found ways to ruin the take if she didn’t want something to make the final edit. “Any time you look at the camera the footage is unusable, so I’d just stare at the camera and they couldn’t air it.” She also offered a subtle “mic pat” as a way of ruining the sound forever.
If you really need to get away from it all in the mansion, Olivia suggests a shower. “The only time we weren’t mic’d was when we were in the shower, so we would go in the shower and talk.” The bathroom mayhem doesn’t stop there. What happens when you’re on the toilet? “When you’re peeing they hear everything, all of it. You’re in private when you’re in the bathroom, so I would sit on the toilet for hours… You have to get really creative on how you’re going to get a minute to yourself.”
Real: Beware the Frankenbiting
“There’s this thing called ‘Frankenbiting’; producers can put anything anywhere and it will look how they want it to look,” said Olivia, who was bitten by the Frankenbite (a portmanteau of “Frankenstein” and “soundbite”) worse than maybe any other Bachelorette in history. Her defining moment on The Bachelor came after a bleary-eyed Ben Higgins revealed to the women that he had just lost two family friends in a tragic accident. Pulling him aside after the devastating revelation, Olivia is seen to immediately start weeping about her own cankle woes instead of comforting him. See it for yourself.
Of course, this isn’t how it happened at all. “They didn’t air me talking about the death of his friends, obviously.” Some context: prior to that night, Ben had pulled Olivia aside to tell her that her legs were beautiful. “I know it sounds stupid but that meant a lot to me, as someone who has body image issues.” After she had consoled him about the loss in his family, Ben asked her to share something that hurts her. “I told him about the bullying and the body image issues and that he said something that changed my life and made me feel really special.”
“He was so into me, we were kissing and it was all great. Later that night, I got the rose second. But how did it go to air? It was me sitting down and saying ‘ woe is me, I have cankles’. They showed me getting the rose last, which is not what happened. Olivia remembers watching the scene in horror, and realising she was “fucked”. “That was like the really big moment I realised: if that’s what they did with that scene then who knows what they could do with the rest of it.”
Real: You won’t know you’re the villain until it’s too late
Olivia recalls that she was “totally unprepared” for the way she was portrayed on The Bachelor. “I thought I was just going to be myself the entire time, which is where I screwed up.” She didn’t realise she was the villain until the show went to air, and her producer stopped returning her calls. “During filming I’d always ask her ‘am I the villain?’ and she’d always say ‘no, no, no, you’re fine, you’re fine.’ Then I’d watch an episode and think ‘what the fuck was that?’ At the end of the season, she sent me a book about strong women or something. I threw that shit in the trash.”
Real: The search for true love comes with an open bar
Alcohol is frequently used on UnREAL to get the confessions and the drama a’flowin’, but do Bachelor producers force contestants to get as rat-arsed as they do on Everlasting? “They don’t force it on you, but it’s always available any time of the day. In the limo to the date, there were five bottles of champagne, vodka, anything you could want.” Olivia was sober throughout the filming, admitting to having one shot of whisky before she had to jump out of a cake in a swimsuit. “I was so nervous that I needed a shot. It might’ve helped a little, but I don’t know.”
So… UnREAL is real?
Olivia admits that watching UnREAL made her see The Bachelor differently. “Obviously it has to be hyperbolic and exaggerated because it’s a show and they’re looking for ratings, but I remember watching UnREAL two days after I got home from filming and just sobbing because I could see how many similarities there were.” In saying that, there are some dramatic differences. “No one dies on set, I don’t think anyone sleeps with producers, there was never even an opportunity for that.” She describes her experience on a dating show as less of a romantic encounter and more of a social experiment. “No TV, no phone, no newspaper, you don’t even know what’s going on in the world and you’re just forced to talk and talk and talk about someone you don’t even know, with girls you don’t even know.”
“It’s just the craziest experience ever. Ever.”
UnREAL season three returns exclusively to Lightbox on Tuesday 27 February, click below to catch up!
This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.