Real or Fake? The Truth About Some Of Your Favorite Reality TV Shows

The reality of House Hunters is devastating, but it's not the only show that hasn't quite been honest

By Lauren Piester Nov 10, 2018 12:46 AMTags
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Sometimes, all you want to do is watch people walk through houses. 

There are certain reality shows that have, thanks to endless repeats 24/7, become the kind of show you can turn on at any time, especially if you're in the mood to yell at some idiot home buyers, or idiot chefs, or idiot judges with weird taste in fashion. The drama is so much fun, but as we all now, not everything we see on reality TV is actually reality. 

Some shows are guiltier than others, basing their entire premise on a lie, while some shows just fudge some portions with some scripted lines and creative editing. 

We took a few of our favorite frequent time wasters and dug into what we know about what they're actually like, thanks to accounts from people who actually appeared on them. 

So if you really want to know, scroll on down...

House Hunters

Premise: A couple tour three potential houses before choosing the one they want to buy. It's been airing on HGTV since 1999.

Most of the time, the homeowners have already bought or at least picked their house before they even consider being on the show. This makes a lot of sense, because it would take forever to film if the show had to deal with financing and eskrow and the ups and downs of buying a house. It's the same for House Hunters International, too. 

A homeowner from the show revealed this back in 2012, causing quite a scandal, and HGTV released a statement to EW at the time

"We're making a television show, so we manage certain production and time constraints, while honoring the home buying process. To maximize production time, we seek out families who are pretty far along in the process. Often everything moves much more quickly than we can anticipate, so we go back and revisit some of the homes that the family has already seen and we capture their authentic reactions."

"Because the stakes in real estate are so high, these homeowners always find themselves RIGHT back in the moment, experiencing the same emotions and reactions to these properties. Showcasing three homes makes it easier for our audience to ‘play along' and guess which one the family will select. It's part of the joy of the House Hunters viewing experience. Through the lens of television, we can offer a uniquely satisfying and fun viewing experience that fulfills a universal need to occasionally step into someone else's shoes."

In the years since, people who appeared on the show have been careful not to discuss this particular aspect, but it does sound like the show specifically wants people with sometimes insane opinions about paint colors and carpeting, and highly encourages any and all disagreements, especially if a couple already bought a different house anyway. Plus, a source tells E! News that at least one couple actually used their friend's house as the house they were supposedly buying, and had no plans to live in it at all. Everything is a lie. 

What Not to Wear

Premise: One person gets a full makeover, a wardrobe clean-out, and $5,000 for an entirely new wardrobe, as well as some self-confidence advice from stylists Stacy London and Clinton Kelly. The show ran on TLC from 2003 to 2013 (but lives forever in our hearts).

According to multiple respondents to a Reddit thread asking for people who had been on the show, participants are actually people who could use some help with their fashion and their confidence, most of their clothes are actually taken away and given to charity, and they're actually given $5,000 to spend on a new wardrobe. They don't even have to spend the full $5,000, which is encouraged because they do have to pay taxes on the new clothes, and sometimes they also have to pay for their hair services. They also had to pay for tailoring, which was the true secret to how good those final outfits always looked.  

The Reddit thread also revealed that Stacy and Clinton were accompanied by a stylist who actually did most of the styling work, and that it was kind of disappointing to have all of their clothes thrown out, but not enough money to replace an entire wardrobe.  

Guy's Grocery Games

Premise: Four chefs compete by cooking food they find in a fake grocery store called Flavortown Market, with challenges given to them by Guy Fieri.

By all accounts we could find, Guy Fieri is a delight, and while Flavortown Market is not a real grocery store, it's stocked like one. There's no fake aisles, all the food is real, and any that doesn't get used is donated to local organizations in Sonoma County, California.

So basically what we're saying is we'd like to compete on Guy's Grocery Games, please. Or at least go grocery shopping there. 

Fixer Upper

Premise: Chip and Joanna Gaines show a couple (or a single person with a typically sad backstory) around three houses in Waco, Texas that are severely in need of repair. The couple chooses one, and then Chip and Joanna renovate the house, with Jo putting her signature farm chic touches on it before the big reveal. It aired on HGTV for five seasons. 

The show is really about watching this enviable couple renovate houses seriously in need of repair, customized for individual clients. And in the end, that is what they do...even if there are a few caveats. 

Like with most house shows, homeowners have already bought the house before filming even begins, meaning they aren't really picking between the three houses at the beginning of each episode. None of the furniture or decor that Jo so carefully arranges is included in the budget, so the homeowners only get to keep it if they want to pay extra. Not all the rooms in each house get redone, and there have been unsubstantiated claims that Chip only actually works on the house while cameras are rolling.

But at least we can rest easy that the fixer uppers do get fixed up, and Chip and Joanna are a real-life couple, and shiplap is a real thing, so there's at least some reality here. 


Premise: Four chefs have 20 or 30 minutes to create delicious dishes from a basket full of weird ingredients. The show has been airing on the Food Network since 2009.

The time limits are real, the food is real, the backstories are encouraged, and filming takes forever. Since judging often takes 90 minutes for a round, the judges can taste the food right after it's made instead of waiting for it all to go cold or for the ice cream to melt by the time they get to taste it on camera.

Sometimes, the reactions to the basket ingredients are actually just the contestants making a face, because they will film basket openings multiple times with the ingredients still covered up, just to get the perfect shot. And yeah, sometimes, contestants are kept because they're good TV, and not necessarily because their food was up to par.

The pantry has gotten to be a little bit less of a problem over the years, as contestants are now given the chance to walk through and look for ingredients before each round, but producers used to hide things or put out only one stick of butter, for example, to cause problems among the contestants.

Beachfront Bargain Hunt

Premise: With help from a real estate agent, people tour bargain beachfront homes before deciding which one they want to buy. The show airs on HGTV. 

One realtor who was offered the chance to film an episode was told she needed a client who was already under contract for a home or had already purchased one, and it had to be waterfront or with a water view, and had to be under $400,000. The realtor couldn't find any actual clients, but she had just recently bought her own house with a water view, so she asked if she and her husband could be their own clients. It was March, but they had to pretend it was the middle of summer, wearing swimsuits while shivering. So basically not a single bit of it was real other than the fact that they owned the house they chose, but at least she had fun.

Love It or List It

Premise: A decorator redecorates a homeowner's current house while a realtor finds them a new one, and then the homeowner has to choose at the end whether they want to stay in their house or list it. It aired new episodes from 2008 to 2015 on HGTV. 

It's apparently not very realistic at all. The show was sued in 2016 by a North Carolina couple who claimed the series hired a contractor they didn't agree to, didn't use their deposit for the repairs, and left their home with holes in the floor, spots missing paint, and multiple windows painted shut. 

In a Reddit thread asking for people who had been on reality shows, one user claimed their aunt and uncle had been forced to record both endings for their episode of Love It or List It, so the show could choose which one they liked better. They stayed in their home, but in the episode, they listed it. Another user said that a friend whose home was on the show discovered that the producers did whatever they felt like to the home, ignoring the homeowners' wishes. 

Say Yes to the Dress

Premise: With help from a consultant and input from family and friends, a bride picks a dress from a boutique in New York. The show has aired 16 seasons on TLC. 

SYTTD makes shopping for a wedding dress seem dramatic and glamorous and somewhat life-changing, and brides really do get to work closely with the show's consultants and pick a dream dress. Unfortunately, the show makes shopping at Kleinfeld look like a much different experience than it actually is.

The store is much smaller than it looks on TV (as are most things, TBH), and not nearly big enough for all the brides who now want to go there because of the show. Appointments are 90 minutes long, and brides are not allowed to look through most of the dresses, which are stored out of sight. Consultants also appeared to be pulling the same dress for every bride, regardless of their wishes, just to make a sale. So just don't head to Kleinfeld expecting the true Say Yes to the Dress experience, because you will not get it.

Property Brothers

Premise: After touring their dream home and being told they can't afford it, buyers are shown around potential fixer uppers by Drew Scott. They choose one, and Jonathan Scott leads renovations to turn the fixer upper into the dream home. It airs on HGTV. 

The Scott brothers are truly charming and delightful in person, as we can whole heartedly confirm, and they've got some serious house-flipping skills. The problem is that like with most other house shows, homeowners have to "be buying or renovating a fixer upper" to be eligible to be on the show, which invalidates that entire beginning of the show where they're supposed to fall in love with a house only to discover they can't actually have it, and doesn't actually give the real estate brother a ton of stuff to actually do. 

The show also films in multiple states, and the Scotts are not licensed as realtors or contractors in every state, meaning they sometimes can only serve as a face for the show, and Jonathan can't actually act as lead contractor on every project. But that's actually pretty understandable (and typical for reality stars), since the Scotts do have like 5 different shows on the air and multiple projects in the works at once. 

Project Runway

Premise: A group of amateur fashion designers compete in timed design challenges. The show is heading into its 17th season, currently on Bravo. 

Being a contestant on Project Runway sounds like quite the grueling experience, in the workroom until 11 p.m. with a wake up time of 5 a.m. and pretty much non-stop work. Even judging takes about seven hours. In the end, while only three or four designers are considered actual finalists, nine or 10 of them get to show at Fashion Week as a way of preventing spoilers.

While some contestants, like season four's Jack Mackenroth, have accused the judging of being more about good TV (helped by manipulated editing) than the actual designs (which we've totally suspected just from watching it), no one can deny that the work is incredible and the designers are legit, even with so little time to get things done.  

Be sure to stay tuned for updates as we dig even further into the world of reality television, whether it's good for us or not. 

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