Elyse Sewell (elysesewell) wrote,
Elyse Sewell

on ANTM, at length

Someone posted an interesting question about ANTM in the "comments" section. What follows is the text of the question and my ridiculously lengthy and digressive answer. Proceed at your own risk.

"Ok so I noticed that the first season of ANTM, a lot of the interviews with you and Adrianne had very specific looks -- you with the sunglasses on your head and the strung out messy hair, A. with the bandanna, and you were both talking about things that happened pretty late in the competition. BUT! The show used those interviews in earlier episodes, too; i.e. from my pov, it looked like you were talking about week 2 stuff, but your hair/makeup/clothes indicate that at that point, it was week 9. The question: do you know if mussing up chronology this way is common in reality series, or did ANTM v.1 just not know what it was doing and scrambled to get your reflections near the end?"

As you've probably gathered from watching ANTM or other reality shows, there are two common ways for producers to get first-person narration from contestants about events in a show: the first is the self-recorded "confessional booth;" the second is taped one-on-one interviews with the contestant, edited so the contestant appears as a "talking head."

A quick aside about the confessional booth: it was a little room with a pre-set video camera and a separate camera for the monitors in the upstairs production offices. On ANTM, every contestant was required to film herself in the confessional room for a minimum of five minutes per day. The producers said, "Even if you just go in there and stare at the camera in silence, you must stay for five minutes." I know that Robin Manning (for one) did exactly that every single day, but for me it was difficult to sit in the room in silence when I knew the camera was rolling and a bunch of people were watching me on the monitors. The monitors made it impossible to just escape into the booth and slouch against the wall for awhile: if I took more than a few seconds to turn on the camera, or leaned too far off-center, a producer would materialize outside the door and reprimand me. Because the confessional room was the only private place in the house (even the bathrooms were within limits for cameramen), AND it was soundproof, I was usually pretty happy to take my turn in there and eventually became quite comfortable with staring into the camera, jabbering away (ahem).

The taped interviews were the source of most of the show's narration. Every four days (always the day before an elimination session), each contestant in turn was separated from the pack and interrogated about all of the "week"'s events as well as opinions on the other girls, the coming elimination, and whatever sundry topics the producers thought might be relevant to the story arcs in the final edit. Incidentally, these interviews were a reliable means for me to predict the final show's subplots, as well as one of the major ways in which the production crew manipulated the contestants. I remember one interviewer asking me question after question about Nicole Panattoni and her relationship with her boyfriend. I didn't have a damn clue about it, but the interviewer pressed so much that, upon finishing the session, I mentioned to Nicole, "Is something going on with your boyfriend, because I think they're trying to make that a subplot in the show." She immediately knew what I was referring to (a fight she'd had with her boyfriend over the phone that no one else saw until it was aired) and frantically asked every girl who hadn't yet done the interview to decline to comment on the situation. Confidential to ANTM producers: If you haven't already, I would suggest forbidding future contestants from discussing their interviews with one another.

The natural structure of a conversation or interview is incongruous with the narrative phrases we uttered on the show: we were asked to provide answers in "complete sentences" that included the interviewer's question. In this way, the producers were able to record usable audio snippets and also subtly influence the content of our answers. Sometimes, I was able to catch myself before I parroted something that wasn't exactly true, but more often than not realized too late that a statement such as "I was shocked when John the Trainer told Tessa to tone up" wasn't something I would say under normal circumstances. Incidentally, that's not a real example; though I'm sure they exist, I can't think of one. If you're listening for it when you watch the show, the producer's words can often be detected in a contestant's narration (mine included).

Another place I got into trouble in the interviews was with the questions that weren't so leading- questions more like, "What do you think of John the Trainer" instead of, "Were you shocked when John the Trainer told Tessa to tone up?" I was crippled by conceit and the perception that the interview was an epic battle of wits in which my ability to provide quick, complete (structurally), and correct (gramatically) replies was on trial, so I didn't take any time to choose my words carefully. I also loved to catch the cameraman suppressing a snigger at something I'd said. I was (am) also arrogant and held (hold) a low opinion of most of the show's activities and personalities. A combination of these circumstances- the rapid-fire interview pace I set for myself, personality flaws, and the objective and subjective stupidity of some of the stuff I was commenting on- meant that the bulk of my narration soundbytes were derogatory in nature. From many, many hours of derogatory comments by me, the producers were able to air a selection of real doozies that had even MY jaw dropping when I watched the show.

Now I can actually answer your question, anonymous poster. The inconsistencies you noticed in the show were indeed the result of the producers asking questions in later interviews that pertained to events that had happened weeks earlier. This is almost certainly because, once the first few episodes' story arcs were cemented and editing was underway, the crew realized they had either neglected to ask pertinent questions in their original interviews, or everyone's soundbyte was unusable. During the third-to-last week of filming, I remember, Tyra was conspicuously absent for several days and a producer told us that she was in LA overseeing the editing of the first couple of ANTM eps. When you see me or Adrianne in a later episode rocking an interview outfit that you remember from earlier in the show, it means that segments of the later interview were used to narrate the earlier shows in which narration gaps existed. I also believe I remember noticing a snippet of me that was taped early and aired later (if I'm correct it was the one with the wild hair, which was taped after the photo shoot from Ep#2).

As to whether this phenomenon is unique to ANTM, well, I would guess that you're correct: it's a result of poor planning and inexperience making this type of show. I bet if you watched other reality shows very carefully, you could detect other inconsistencies like this, but they would be less frequent and less obvious than those on ANTM. Executive producer Ken Mok does have other reality shows on his c.v. (Making the Band; a wrestling show), but I don't think he's a reality-show-makin' machine like, say, the producers of The Real World. Also, I think that the prominence and plot-relevance of hairstyling, makeup, and wardrobe on the ANTM contestants make this kind of error more noticeable to the viewer, whereas on a wrestling reality show, hairstyles and outfits would blend into the background.

Another topic that may be relevant to your paper, anonymous poster, is the sheer volume of recorded matter that is edited down in the manufacture of a reality show like ANTM. When ANTM began taping with ten contestants, it was common for THREE camera crews at a time to be rolling throughout the "penthouse." During downtime, we typically weren't saying or doing much of anything, and yet the crews didn't stop rolling from several minutes before we woke up until bedtime (or after bedtime, as I've mentioned before: sometimes, we would fall asleep with the cameras in our faces and wake up in the night to the gentle touch of an audio dude peeling back our pajamas to remove the microphone waist strap). When something was happening- runway lessons, an elimination session- it would happen in a disorganized and unwieldy manner: Tyra would flub her lines, a light would pop out, an ambulance would go by and pollute the audio track, someone would realize the music that J Alexander was playing was copyrighted...and still the cameras never stopped. I was actually surprised, with so much stopping and starting of the action, that the show gave as much of an illusion of continuity as it did. I think that this perception of temporal continuity is aided as much by our own minds as it is by the editors of the TV show we're watching. An error has to be really egregious- a wacky bandanna from the early in the show popping up during Adrianne's narrations in the last episode, for example- for us to notice it.

I'm reminded of an example from the first episode: the first elimination session, in which Tessa "got the boots," took more than six hours to film. As Tyra congratulated whomever (Giselle?) and gave her condolences to Tessa, it was four o' clock in fucking morning. Lighting snafus, copyreading errors (oh, the copyreading errors), disorganization in the proceedings, and countless other production flaws meant that an eternity intervened between the time we were shown filing into the judging chamber and Tessa packing her suitcases at the end of the show- but this was edited to five minutes of airtime. While watching the episode, I expected a glaring contrast between the freshly-made-up contestants at the beginning of the scene and the wilted and crabby girls at the end, but even though I was looking for it, I couldn't detect any discontinuity.

Anyway, anonymous poster, I hope you can find a useful quotation or two somewhere. Consider posting some or all of your finished paper in my livejournal when you're finished with it!
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