The Amazing Trace: Do Reality TV Shows Do Background Checks?

When I was a kid, Sunday nights were reserved for The Amazing Race. After a nutritious dinner, my family would squeeze onto the couch with a few blankets and watch everyday people compete in wild competitions around the world. As we watched, I thought: I can totally do this too! We loved to joke about auditioning for the show ourselves, playfully fighting over which family member would be our teammate. 

While TV and social media aren’t always fun and games, it’s fun to think about being on a reality TV show like Survivor or Big Brother. After all, you don’t have to be a wealthy celebrity or world-famous musician to get cast on reality television. The contestants are regular people like you and me!

But did you know that applying is a pretty intense process? Back in 2004, the New York Times posted a story about how the reality TV casting process changed from an art into a science. And in 2021, we see this has become a reality—largely due to background checks.

What is a reality TV background check?

As part of the application process for many reality television shows, applicants fill out an evaluation form and agree to a vetting process, or background check.

But what’s a vetting check? According to Indeed, vetting is “the process that employers use to perform a background check, verify the truth and accuracy of documents and information, or otherwise perform some type of fact-checking into a candidate’s background before making a hiring decision.”

Just like a potential employer might go through your social media before they hire you, reality television producers hire external companies to run background checks on hopeful contestants to ensure they’re a good fit for the program.

Why does reality TV require social media vetting?

Why do reality TV shows do background checks? There are a few reasons for this deep-dive into contestants’ lives, including:

  • Finding interesting people that audiences want to cheer for. Reality shows have an exciting aura to them, and the contestants are often just as exciting! Producers want to find entertaining people for their shows. Your social media presence says a lot about that.
  • Avoiding potential scandals. Reality television fans love to deep-dive into contestant’s social media presence. If you have said or Tweeted anything questionable in your past, fans won’t be shy to call you out for it!
  • Avoiding harmful situations. Reality show contestants often find themselves in stressful spots. If a contestant doesn’t handle stress or nerves well, the situation can easily escalate into something dangerous or even harmful. The vetting process helps producers find people that do well in these situations. This ultimately protects crew and cast alike.

Now you’re probably wondering, “how long do vetting checks take?” On average, vetting can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks. You might have to exercise some patience though. Due to the high volume of applicants, reality show vetting can take quite a bit longer! 

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How do you fail vetting?

Whether we like it or not, there are plenty of reasons you may not pass a background check. This includes:

  • Inconsistencies in personal history. Make sure you’re honest about who you are! A background check will open your closet door wide open, so make sure no skeletons are hiding there.
  • Your criminal history might affect your background check success-rates. If you were convicted of a crime in the recent past, or if you were convicted of a crime relevant to the competition in question, you might fail the vetting process.
  • If you fail a drug test. Why do reality shows do drug tests? If you are applying for a series that features athletic competitions, like American Ninja Warrior, contestants that take performance enhancing drugs are at an unfair advantage. 
  • You simply aren’t a good fit. If your history and social media presence don’t align with what the production company is looking for, you may not pass the background check. Don’t take it personally: reality TV shows get hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants. Keep trying—you never know when your luck will turn around!