Dom Joly: The rules of reality TV: seduce and betray

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The Independent Online

It's my last week as a paparazzo and also, hopefully, my last week ever in a reality show (Deadline, ITV2). Don't get me wrong - it's been fun, in parts. I've loved the adrenaline of being a "snapper" and, in my last week, I actually had quite a run, what with being one of only four "paps" to find Beckham's hotel on his birthday night and then managing to get a decent shot of his new Nazi hairdo. I also had a weird 10 minutes with Lily Allen. I followed her through the streets of east London in a bizarre re-working of the Verve's "The Drugs Don't Work" video, cajoling her into doing something interesting for my camera. She eventually acquiesced and threw a couple of mean left hooks my way. All in a day's work...

It was the "reality" part of the experience, however, that didn't sit comfortably. Firstly, it's no big secret that reality TV is anything but reality. In fact, it's about as far removed from that particular condition as I have ever been without the help of some decent hallucinogenics.

The "editorial team" of judges had clearly been tod to act as though they'd just taken control of a classroom of window lickers and boy, did they love it. It was big-swinging-dick time from day one. The fact that no one with an ounce of grey matter nor a shred of dignity would remain in any "real" magazine that functioned in this sub-soap-opera manner didn't deter our troika of "experts". For instance, it was somewhat odd to be scolded for the quality of a one-line caption for a photograph of troubled glamour-bint Jasmine Lennard, on the same day that I had a five-page spread in The Independent.

But the real problem was with the way the production team pretended to be all friendly while deep down actually longing for car crashes. This was despite the production company (Tiger Aspect) being better than other, more well-known, makers of reality TV who will stop at nothing to get their programmes made.

One day, one of the location directors seemed in a depressed mood. We were sitting in a pub waiting to try to snap Erik Estrada from CHiPs. I asked him what was wrong and he told me that his girlfriend had just been for an interview to work on Wife Swap, one of the very worst offenders of the genre. I didn't see why this should be a particular problem. After all, didn't we all work in telly and have our crosses to bear? I'd been on The Wright Stuff for God's sake...

"They basically asked her whether she was happy to move in with a family, gain their trust, become their friends and then shit on them from a great height." Apparently his girlfriend had decided that she would not be able to lower herself to the required deviant level to do the show. This had left my maudlin director worrying about his own moral standing in doing this show.

"Reality TV is basically seduce and betray," he said as I bought him another double brandy. "We give you celebs limos and fancy hotels, stylists, food and alcohol and then we stitch you up to look like morons for telly." I sat there stunned. No one had ever offered me a stylist. Was it too late for me to blag some free clothes and a decent haircut?

"I think I need to get out of telly," he continued. "Move to Italy, write a book, grow some lemons... " The demons were powerful and I wondered what terrible things he'd had to do in the name of reality?

"I've worked on Temptation Island, Strictly... (Come Dancing, hardly anyone can bring themselves to call it by its full name) and now this... it's not what I dreamt of when I left Balliol."

"Don't worry," I whispered soothingly. I tried to look concerned but, if the truth be told, I didn't give a shit. We were all engaged in a violent dog-eat-dog struggle to get what we respectively wanted on to the screen. He wanted me to have a breakdown, get really drunk and, ideally, punch someone. I wanted to come across as intelligent, cool and... to have a stylist. Who did I have to speak to about that?

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