Reality TV contestants sue
IT MADE them overnight celebrities and gave them a taste of the champagne lifestyle. But now former contestants on reality television shows are queuing up to sue programmes such as Big Brother and Castaway 2000, claiming their experiences have left them emotionally distressed.
In an act of rebellion against the shows that brought them 15 minutes of fame, participants have sought legal advice, alleging that selective editing of their television antics has damaged their personal and professional lives.
Ron Copsey, a contestant on the BBC show Castaway 2000, has already won £16,000 in libel damages from the BBC and Lion TV after it stretched the truth too far in the race for television ratings.
Mark Stephens, a libel solicitor with London firm Finers Stephens Innocent, has been approached by nine participants of such shows, including at least five from Big Brother, who claim they are now prone to depression and paranoia after their experiences.
He described reality TV shows as "morally repugnant" and said the very fact that psychologists were needed on the set of such programmes revealed the trauma faced by participants.
"I have been approached by nine contestants from a range of reality TV shows, with the exception of The Experiment, which was run by scientists rather than television producers searching for good ratings," he said.
"It is clear that these people are damaged by these shows and the very fact they need psychologists and councillors on set shows the harm that participants are expected to suffer. You have to ask, is the entertainment and supposedly socially redeeming features of such programmes worth it, and the answer I would give is a resounding no.
"The complaints have two strands to them. First, that people are misrepresented as producers want to pigeon-hole each participant to consistently exhibit certain characteristics. Secondly, that in Big Brother, for example, by isolating a group of strangers, asking them to become friends and then betray each other with nominations, you are going against all normal rules of social behaviour, which is highly stressful.
"These programmes are morally repugnant, and it is high time the regulators stepped in."
Mr Stephens is not alone. Korieh Duodu, a barrister with media lawyers’ firm David Price, won the settlement for Mr Copsey and has also been approached by other participants with similar grievances.
During his stay on the island of Taransay as one of the 36 castaways, Mr Copsey was horrified to be presented with a large vet’s bill because his dog had to be put down during the show.
He let off steam by throwing a chair against a wall, but when the scene was broadcast, the viewer was given the impression the chair had been thrown at a female contestant.
But a spokesman for Endemol, which makes Big Brother, was confident it would not face any similar action from participants on its show.
"As yet, we’ve received no legal complaints," he said. "We take more care than any other reality programmes. All the contestants are assessed by psychiatrists to ensure they’re mentally robust, and we take our responsibilities seriously.
"Contestants are not typecast, as it is the only show on TV that displays its rushes, in terms of the live-streaming on the internet."
The latest reality TV show to come under similar scrutiny is ITV1’s I’m a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here, which pitches well-known personalities in a tough and remote jungle setting who can be individually "evicted" by viewers, like Big Brother.
Although used to being in the limelight, the participating celebrities have found the experience as stressful as non-famous contestants did in other reality television shows, as the programme builds up to its climax on Sunday.
Concern about the mental well-being of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was recently expressed by friends after she made an attempt to break out of the camp following a row with fellow contestants Darren Day and Christina Hamilton.
Dr Cynthia McVey, a professor of psychology at Caledonian University and a consultant on Castaway 2000, said: "Tara’s well-documented problems with drugs do make her vulnerable, and I think she and others have seriously underestimated how tough it all is."
A spokesman for producers Granada said: "There is a psychologist on hand and Tara, like all the others, is free to leave at any time."
End of the day
ITV’s I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here is a fusion of the shows Big Brother, Survivor and Castaway. Last night, overbearing actor/singer Darren Day followed Uri Geller and Nigel Benn out of the jungle when viewers voted to eliminate him from the game.
This means the veteran DJ Tony Blackburn is the only remaining male contestant, alongside Christine Hamilton, Rhona Cameron – an early favourite to be kicked out – Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Nell McAndrew. Day had flirted with Palmer-Tomkinson, then fell out with her after he rebuffed her suggestions that they should have sex.
On Sunday, two weeks of backbiting in a remote area in north Queensland, Australia will come to an end.
The celebrity contestant left standing will win £1 million for a charity of their choice.
The show has been derided as trash TV, but won audiences of eight million.