Ethan Miller/Getty Images; VH1
Ethan Miller/Getty Images; VH1
What kind of background check do they do on the reality-star wannabes? How could VH1 allow a wife beater on a dating show?
—Robyn in Santa Monica
You speak of Ryan Jenkins, the young man who was wanted in the murder of ex-wife Jasmine Fiore earlier this month. He has since been found dead of an apparent suicide. Jenkins was all set to appear on not one but two VH1 reality shows, Megan Wants a Millionaire and I Love Money 3.
Now, Jenkins had a criminal past—including a Canadian assault conviction and a domestic violence arrest in Vegas—but those never showed up on his background check.
How can this be? Well, you might want to read this before applying to appear on a reality show with strange men...
Even hiring a respected background-check company can't guarantee that criminals won't slip into a reality-show cast. 51 Minds, the production company behind Megan, released a statement saying it outsourced the vetting of its contestants. But the Canadian conviction still slipped through the cracks via an "error by a Canadian court clerk."
Criminal background checks in Canada are actually conducted by local cops, not courts, so if you're looking for a conspiracy theory, there you go. Have at it. Meanwhile, know that riffling through someone's past isn't as easy as it might look. For one, although some counties put their criminal records online, others don't.
"There is no one comprehensive system" that lists all criminal records, says Elaine Carey, whose company, Control Risks, conducts background checks for reality-TV producers.
And only convictions—not arrests or charges—become accessible public record in the U.S.
"You can do a news database search on the person to see if they were arrested," says Ron Williams of the security firm Talon Companies. "But the arrest would have had to be newsworthy."
And remember, not everyone can spell.
"At the end of the day you have a human entering information," says Edward Petersen, an executive at the background-check service Intelius. "And there is always some room for error."
Reality star Leilene Ondrade has appeared on two reality shows produced by 51 Minds, and she tells me she'd do it again. She defends the company's security measures.
"I've had to go through medical testing, psychological testing, a ton of phone calls," she recalls to me. "They call your friends, and you have to fill out a psychological questionnaire with like 500 questions on it.
"I remember one question asked, 'Do you hear voices?' They wanted to know whether you were insane," Ondrade says. "And every time you go on a new reality show, you have to get a new background check all over again."
As for your last question, VH1 has canceled Megan and I Love Money 3. But the reality dating genre is here to stay.
"The industry will not suffer," says reality producer Tracey Baker-Simmons (Being Bobby Brown). "Mainly because he did not kill Megan."
So if you were dreaming of a future where our children are free from bikini hot-tub makeout scenes, I am so terribly sorry.