January 11, 2005 -- The people who cast reality TV shows have seen it all - from naked women jumping out of airplanes to old men running around in yellow underwear.
But if you want to get on their shows, they say, you don't need a gimmick - just a personality.

"We are looking for that special someone with the charisma and genuine character that America can relate to," says Lynne Spiegel Spillman, casting director of "Survivor" and "Amazing Race."

"It's not a skit where they're in a costume and trying to be the Energizer bunny. It's them showing us what they do, who they are and what they represent."

For Rupert Boneham, everyone's favorite "Survivor" winner, that meant filming himself in a swamp, catching a baby crocodile; for Shannon Stewart from "America's Next Top Model," it was putting up signs all over her hometown.

A slew of reality shows - "Big Loser," "The Apprentice," "Fear Factor,""Survivor," "Amazing Race," "America's Next Top Model," "Nanny 911," "Trading Spouses" and "Renovate My Family" - are currently seeking contestants. Here's how to win a slot on one of them.

Don't just sit there



"The worst thing you can do is turn on your camera, sit on your couch and read your resume," says "Apprentice" casting producer Scott Saylers. "You're better off juggling. At least we'll watch the balls."


One of the best videos Saylers has ever seen - one that snagged its maker a slot on the next season - was an original musical.

"He wrote songs and lyrics about how he wants to be on 'The Apprentice,' " says Saylers. "We probably showed it to everyone in the building."

As Tyler Ramsey, casting director for "Trading Spouses," puts it: "You are marketing yourself." So put your best foot forward, and do it in style.

"Survivor" contestant Rob Cesternino waited until his parents were out of the house to make his video, where he set up lights in the basement and filmed himself for hours.

"The trick is to give them a snapshot into your personality that could be summed up into a couple of words," he says. "This is the single cop, or this is the funny kid who lives with his parents."

Make a quick impression

Showing what makes you stand out from the rest will be your golden ticket. The trick is doing it in 30 seconds.

"Everyone loves a fireman," says Ramsey. "If you're a fireman, wear your fireman hat."

If you're female and attractive, dress to impress: Wear a bikini. Or, if you're gay, Ramsey says, "tell them you're ready to come out of the closet.

"These people are watching thousands of tapes and they get bored," he explains.

"These shows involve drama, conflict and excitement. You have to bring the game. Tell them your back-story."

Be a character

"I know the right people instantly when I see them," says veteran "Survivor" executive Spillman.

Among those she chose was Big Tom, the goat farmer from Virginia, who charmed audiences with his overalls, cowboy hat and hardee-har-har attitude.

Another bigger-than-life contestant was Troy McClain from last season's "The Apprentice," a country bumpkin who gushed at every opportunity Donald Trump gave him.

"We build the show around these Type A personalities, the Ruperts, the Big Toms," Spillman says.

"The huge characters - there's something about them."

Allison Kaz, casting producer for "The Biggest Loser," says the first thing she looks for is someone who "pops out on screen.

"It's not necessarily a look, but it's the way they exude a personality," she says. "Everyone says they have 'it.' Show me what 'it' is, whether it's running naked through the streets of New York [or] standing on a bathroom scale and talking and being real."

Shoot for the show

Casting directors can spot a mass mailing a mile away. So don't even think about sending the same tape to "The Bachelor" that you would for, say, "The Apprentice."

"You can tell it's their reality television audition tape," says Spillman. "For 'Survivor' and 'Amazing Race,' we are looking for specific people for these shows. It's not going to be someone that transfers over easily from 'Big Brother' or the guy who didn't make 'The Bachelor.' "

If the sound or the lighting is bad, kiss your chances goodbye. But if you do hire someone to film you, make sure it's not the guy who specializes in testimonial dinners or weddings.

"We get tons of submissions by the wedding guy," Ramsey says. "We laugh at the music and how cheesy everything looks."

Instead, find someone who can work a video camera - even if it means heading to the nearest high school and paying one of the students a hundred bucks to film you.

Make sure you rehearse what you plan to say, and enunciate your piece so everyone understands you. And don't feel duty-bound to shoot everything around you:

"Unless you have a mansion that rivals 'The Beverly Hillbillies,' don't spend too much time shooting your house or surroundings," says "Trading Spouses" caster Ramsey.

"Many people will spend 10 minutes taking video of their house and it's pointless."

On the other hand, he says, "Mom making pecan pie is folksy."

Grab a nickname

You're more likely to be remembered if you come up with a cool handle.

"If someone has a nickname, they're easy to define," Ramsey says. "It gives people an easy hook, like 'People call me T-Bird because I had a Thunderbird in college.' "

Your nickname can also be worked into the show. On "Survivor," John Dalton liked to call himself Johnny Fairplay. Then he lied about his grandmother dying - and became Johnny Rotten. Viewers loved it - even if they hated him.

Ditch the stereotypes

Don't pretend you're the "religious one" or the "blond bimbo" if you're not.

"We're looking for genuine realness," says Kaz, of "The Biggest Loser."

"Sometimes people will overact . . . We see thousands and thousands of tapes. We look for people who are real and genuine and reliable. If you're faking it, we'll find out very quickly."

Then again, if you've got it - flaunt it. Sex does sell.

"You can overcome a lot of flaws if you're really good-looking," concedes former "Survivor" contestant Cesternino.

Still, he added: "I would rather see a 'Survivor' with 16 personalities than with 16 good-looking people."

Be colorful

With thousands of applications piling up, casting agents are more likely to pull the neon pink one.

"Some people color their application with crayons, or spray perfume on it, or print it out on yellow paper instead of white," says Saylers, of "The Apprentice."

"Do little things to make it stand out. Anything."

You can also shock them with your words.

"The trick is to say you do have a temper," Cesternino says.

"Be honest if you smoke pot. Go with full disclosure on drugs. If you're an old dude, you want to say you get mad about politics, [so] portray yourself as Bill O'Reilly.

"They make you think of it like a job application, but it's just the opposite," he says. "The producers want people that don't get along well with other. They want controversy."

Know the show

Don't apply to a reality show you've never seen - it's nearly impossible to land a spot that way. "It's really hard to get on the show without ever seeing it," says Spillman.

But don't overdo it, either.

"Don't tell them Mark Burnett is your hero," Cesternino suggests. "It helps to see that you're a fan, but not an obsessive fan. It's not OK to say, 'I've been to every 'Survivor' Web site there's been and how come on episode six in season five they did this?"

Crime can pay

If you were cuffed for having a fake ID or got busted shoplifting when you were 12, it can make a great story.

"It's not a beauty pageant," says Kaz. "We're not looking for the most political answers. We want people who aren't afraid to take a stand or voice their opinions." Just don't lie.

"The network will take extensive measures to track everything that has ever been done in your history," says Kaz.

"When you go onto a reality show, they learn everything about your life and past. I know more about these people than I know about myself. It sounds comical, but it's true."
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