Michael Nance, Chris Soules, Maci Bookout, Ryan Edwards

ABC/Instagram/Buchanan County Sheriff's Office

Reality TV stars entertain us with their drunken antics on camera. They shock us with their erratic outbursts. Their dysfunctional relationships make us feel better about our own. Their emotional breakdowns suck us into their drama.

But sometimes the suffering has barely begun until after their shows end and they've headed back to actual reality. A sampling of the latest round of troubles and tragedy involving former reality stars:

• Former Bachelor hunk Chris Soules was arrested in April for allegedly leaving the scene of a fatal vehicle crash in Iowa.

Michael Nance, an alum of The Bachelorette, was found dead at age 31 on May 29. On the show he had talked about a past struggle with prescription drug addiction.

• Teen Mom OG's Maci Bookout recently urged ex Ryan Edwards to get help amid disturbing substance abuse allegations. "Ryan's f--ked up. I watch it, I see it, I know it. Where he's at right now, when I see him, I know where he's at and I'm like, 'Wow, he needs some guidance,'" Maci was seen lamenting to her cast mates on an episode this week. Meanwhile, co-star Catelynn Lowell entered treatment for anxiety and depression last year.

The subjects might be new, but this troubling trend is not. From the 2013 suicide of Bachelor alum Gia Allemand to the post-show arrests and rehabs of scores of old-school reality stars going back to The Hills' Stephanie Pratt and Jason Wahler, to the imprisonment of first-ever Survivor winner Richard Hatchfor tax evasion and the recent sentencing of Dance Mom's Abby Lee Miller for bankruptcy fraud, the post-reality-TV-meltdown pattern shows no sign of waning.

Stephanie Pratt Mug Shot

Honolulu Police Department

But why? Is there something so unhealthy about appearing on reality shows that a percentage of participants inevitably get pushed over the edge? Or do producers manifest the very problem by casting people who are more prone to lead troubled lives in the first place?

Clinical psychologist Trevor Small, who treats high-profile clients at Bridges to Recovery, a private residential psychiatric program in Los Angeles, isn't surprised that many reality stars struggle after the cameras stop following them around.

"These people often have serious challenges going into these shows, which is why they were probably cast in the first place, and sometimes having their problems shared so publicly doesn't help matters," Small says. "It is interesting for us to watch their struggle. It's like when you see a couple fighting at a restaurant and you want to watch. But when it appears on reality TV the problems can be exacerbated even more."

The tried-and-true reality TV production formula that often features plenty of alcohol, intermingling of explosive personalities and setting up situations that encourage conflict among cast members is entertaining for viewers, but it also can be damaging to the participants.

Dr. Small says the exploitative spectacle that has become much of reality television can indeed trigger many participants with pre-existing emotional issues. "Whenever we have an overwhelming emotional situation we do what are called regressive behaviors, those behaviors that we use to cope with things that probably aren't very healthy for us—things like drugs, sex, gambling, those impulse control disorders," Small explains. "The impulse control disorders become exacerbated when we're put in an overwhelming situation."

But Bachelor franchise alum Ashley Iaconetti doesn't blame the shows for the problems some contestants have developed "after the final rose."

Bachelor in Paradise, Ashley Iaconetti, Jared Haibon

ABC/Rick Rowell

"When you get a population of people such as the Bachelor family, there's gonna be alcoholics in the bunch, and there's gonna be people who have depression issues," Iaconetti tells E! News. "But I don't necessarily think it's related to the show itself."

Iaconetti (aka "Ashley I") believes the public scrutiny and shame that can come from appearing on a show is difficult, but she says it's too easy to blame shows for the issues people already had going into them. "Getting media attention and being a public figure can damage your psyche a little bit, yeah," she says. "But the bottom line is that I really don't think that the show is responsible for any of the bad things that have happened to these people."

Ashley I is among the more experienced reality TV daters. Not only did she appear on Chris Soules' season (she tells E! News that she saw "no signs of trouble" for Chris during the taping), but she had memorable stints on two cycles of Bachelor in Paradise. She offers the example of last year's infamous Bachelorette villain Chad Johnson as an example of how producers will deliberately cast people who clearly have issues going into it. "They're always going to cast a few people who probably aren't the most balanced because they're often good TV," she admits. "But I definitely don't think that the show is responsible for their downfall post-show."

Bachelor in Paradise, Chad Johnson


"At the end of the day, it is a show so things are amplified," Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live  last year after viewers finally got to watch JoJo Fletcher send him packing. "We try to be ourselves and we try to be who we are, but at the same time, whoever you are is amplified up about a million times."

Dr. Jenn Mann, host of VH1's Couples Therapy With Dr. Jenn, has witnessed many cautionary tales. "Many reality stars do not come to the table with a specific skill," Mann observes. "Often times they are young and have not yet found their passion in life beyond being on TV. Being a reality star becomes their identity. When that title and attention is taken away it can lead to depression and anxiety. Oftentimes people feel like they don't know who they are once that goes away."

But Mann says there are examples of former reality stars who have learned how to transition better. "In order to thrive after a reality show, people have to know how to reinvent themselves," she says. "A great example is Angelina Pivarnick, who was on Jersey Shore (and Couples Therapy, in 2012). "She is now a paramedic, saving lives and doing amazing things."

If you are among the legions of viewers who apply to appear on reality shows, Dr. Small has some advice to consider before signing up: "If you don't have a thick skin, I'd argue you should probably stay away from those shows."

Dr. Mann offers another bit of insider advice: "Many reality shows look for train wrecks. They also look to create train wrecks where they might not otherwise exist. They often create environments perfectly catered to specific personalities on the show that they know will trigger them or upset them."

For those brave (or, perhaps, misguided) souls who do get cast on one of these styles of reality show, Small suggests: "Take 4 to 6 weeks of working with a mental health professional to really delve deep into what things might be exposed in that show and develop some coping skills as to how to deal with those things when you're off the show."

The psychologist adds, "It's important to stay grounded, it's important to have a sense of reality and that's the difficulty because reality television is not reality."

  • Share
  • Tweet

We and our partners use cookies on this site to improve our service, perform analytics, personalize advertising, measure advertising performance, and remember website preferences. By using the site, you consent to these cookies. For more information on cookies including how to manage your consent visit our Cookie Policy.