How Being a Reality Show Contestant Really Works

The Aftermath: What Happens When The Show's Over?

Kelly Clarkson sings just after winning the first 'American Idol' competition. Clarkson has gone on to a platinum-selling career, but not every winner has been so lucky.
Kelly Clarkson sings just after winning the first 'American Idol' competition. Clarkson has gone on to a platinum-selling career, but not every winner has been so lucky.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

You won your reality show! You're now $1 million (or $500,000 or $250,000) richer! Maybe you've also lost 50 percent of your body weight, snagged a Marie-Claire fashion spread or will be running one of Donald Trump's companies. In some cases, you're even on your way to becoming a superstar a la Kelly Clarkson from "American Idol." If so, fantastic! But most contestants aren't so lucky and should be prepared for some of these after effects.

One is that you'll be recognized. Some former contestants enjoy having strangers stare at them or ask for autographs or photos; others don't. Especially if you were portrayed as a villain on the show. Generally, the recognition and notoriety only last until the show's next season starts and the next crop of contestants' stars rise. But this roller coaster of "not famous-famous-not famous" can be problematic for some contestants, especially younger people, who may struggle with anxiety and depression as they ponder what's next in their lives. Many contestants quit their jobs to appear on the show, or take a hiatus from college, leaving them with a blank canvas come finale time.

However, others find they can parlay their 15 minutes of fame into something more – becoming a motivational speaker; opening a restaurant; furthering their singing or fashion careers on a modest level or at least appearing on other reality shows for cash.

Ideally, your time spent filming a reality show will be an entertaining pause in your life. Something that brought you fun and levity, maybe some new friends and definitely great memories for years to come. Just weigh all the pros and cons before you sign up.

Author's Note: How Being A Reality Show Contestant Really Works

I'm a fan of several reality shows. Despite some of the negative aspects about being on one, it just might be time to actually sit down and apply for one. My first choice: "The Amazing Race." Two teams from my home of Madison, Wis., have won the $1 million prize. Surely there can be a third ...!

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