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Lions, Tigers, and Confidentiality Agreements

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Today, all the big networks continue to have multiple reality shows in their lineups. With such a high demand for reality TV comes a higher demand to outdo competitors and take this "real-life craze" to a level where no one else has dared to go. As season two of The Real World led to seasons three, four, and five, other reality shows began to blast off. Today, reality mania is officially on.

"The Amazing Race, Big Brother, and Survivor—three of the best-known and most popular CBS reality shows—exemplify America's fascination with and addiction to reality TV," stated Tobi Elkin at mediapost.com. "These shows got us hooked. Fox's megahit, American Idol; NBC's Apprentice; and ABC's catfight drama The Bachelor have just as surely reeled us in. The voyeur in us wants more, more, more."



Now, here comes the tricky part. How do you have a show that follows people around with a video camera as they live somewhat dangerous lives by drinking heavily, feuding, and performing high-risk stunts, etc.? What if someone gets hurt? How do you keep participants from giving away the show's outcome?

More specifically, how do viewers not discover who the winner is before the final show airs? Because many of these shows, such as The Apprentice, are filmed months before they are broadcast, the risk of letting the cat out of the bag is high. However, the secret to continuously crowning reality TV as the king of the entertainment jungle is through waivers and strict confidentiality agreements.

"Producers try to ensure surprising conclusions for their series by building a financial penalty into the contract that cast members sign," said MSNBC.com. "If they reveal anything, they're liable. For Survivor, the fine is $5 million more than the prize the sole survivor takes home."

"Crew members and others who come into contact with the production also sign confidentiality agreements. For The Amazing Race, the fine specified in contracts for the cast and others is $10 million. Creator and executive producer Bertram van Munster told Reality Check magazine last year that 'we have actually had people sign confidentiality papers in countries where $10 is a fortune.'"

According to MSNBC.com, "In some cases, producers resort to deception and other tactics to keep results secret. Survivor and Amazing Race losers don't head home immediately; they're sent to an undisclosed location to wait out the length of the production, so their early return doesn't spoil too much.

"In the finale of Bravo's Project Runway, producers filmed a fourth runway show at New York's Fashion Week, even though there were only three finalists. That was necessary because the episode during which designer Austin Scarlett was eliminated had not yet aired by the time Fashion Week rolled around. Therefore, Scarlett presented a decoy collection and pretended as though he were a finalist, even though he had no chance of winning."

On the show Fear Factor, contestants compete with each other in extreme ways. Stunts usually reserved for the pros are performed by college students, sales clerks, hairdressers, and accountants. Just watching the show is painful, especially when these folks have to choose between eating gnarly bugs, slugs, and other vile creatures or dropping out of the competition.

In order to reduce the risks of injury and secure the validity of waivers, insurers like Jon Paulsen, Chief Underwriting Officer of the entertainment division at the St. Paul Travelers Cos., Inc., are greatly needed in the production of reality shows. In one Fear Factor episode, the competitors dipped their heads in melted animal fat and grabbed cow tongues with their teeth.

"Three weeks before that show aired, Paulsen and his team of risk-control analysts questioned, analyzed, and triple-checked every detail of the stunt," reported insurancejournal.com. "The cow tongues had to be certified as safe to eat by the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the lard had to be fresh from a supermarket freezer."

"Before Fear Factor contestants can leap from helicopters or Survivor participants can paddle up a muddy jungle river in Brazil, producers must find companies to insure them in case someone breaks a limb, returns home with mental scars, or worse."

"The potential rewards are high for insurance companies," said Paulsen at insurancejournal.com. "Insurance rates on a reality TV show with physical stunts can be 20 to 50 percent higher than a standard program shot in a studio. Last year, St. Paul Travelers collected about $110 million in premiums from its entertainment unit, with a portion of that from reality programming. For now, reality TV is the fastest-growing segment of the entertainment insurance industry."

As reality mania escalates, more lawsuits seem as if they are just waiting to happen. However, the waivers make it incredibly difficult to win cases against these reality shows. Proving that producers were negligent in attaining insurance companies that took all precautionary measures in protecting the contestants is the only way to bypass the waiver and take on an entire network. Still, with the waivers intact, producers often retaliate by filing countersuits.

In 2001, former Survivor contestant Stacey Stillman filed suit against CBS and Survivor producer Mark Burnett claiming the reality show is fixed. According to Stillman, Burnett "manipulated" two other contestants to vote her off the show. However, Stillman, along with her castmates, signed an 83-page highly restrictive confidentiality agreement with CBS stating that if they reveal anything about their Survivor experiences without permission from Burnett or the network, they could be sued for $5 million, which did in fact happen.

"On May 17, 2001, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge threw out Stillman's motion to dismiss CBS' and Survivor's countersuit against the former castaway, after hearing testimony from executive producer Mark Burnett and six former members of the Tagi tribe, who contradicted Stillman's claims," according to E! Online. The judge also ruled that there was "no admissible evidence" to support Stillman's manipulation claims.

"When reality shows began to bloom, some media analysts predicted its early demise because it would be too difficult to insure," said insurancejournal.com. "This, however, has not occurred, thanks to insurance companies willing to work behind the scenes to remove potential risks."

"One death, one dismemberment. That's all it could take to end reality television," said Kenneth Wefer, owner of LMC Group, an engineering company that helps insurers evaluate stunts. "That's why it is crucial that insurers are involved…. Without them, reality TV might not exist."


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