Dark side of life after reality TV
IT'S a complaint familiar to most reality TV fans by now: Contestants insisting they're not the hot-headed villains they've been presented as on television; blaming the dreaded "edit" for their sudden notoriety.
Most recently, it was Hadil and Sonya from My Kitchen Rules, booted off the show after altercations with their fellow contestants, then met with a barrage of online hate over their behaviour.
With one of the pair fleeing to Bali to escape the public battering, they have claimed that "there is more to the 'scandal' than meets the eye".
Few would agree to appear on television expecting to be loathed - but most reality TV shows need at least one villain.
It's something David Witko, a contestant on the 2015 season of The Bachelorette, knows all too well.
Witko lasted just two episodes vying for Sam Frost's affections - but three years later, he still bears the emotional scars from a brief TV stint that he says saw him inaccurately portrayed as at best vacuous, at worst villainous.
"I know the person I really am, and I was very surprised at the level of manipulation and editing," he told news.com.au.
He explained that behind-the-scenes interviews with producers lulled him into a false sense of security about how he was going to appear on screen.
"They asked me if I'd modelled internationally and I said, 'Yeah, I was very lucky to have worked overseas'. I didn't know that they were going to use that against me as 'He's an international model and an arrogant prick'."
On the first night in The Bachelorette house, as each bachelor got their moment to make a good first impression on Frost, he told her he'd donated to her charity of choice, Beyond Blue. The moment was did not make it into the episode.
"Some of those guys gave her a rose out of a napkin! Mine was actually valuable and important. It just shows their agenda of trying to portray me in a negative light," Witko said.
Witko has previously spoken in documentary film Creating A Monster about how everything from editing to music cues on The Bachelorette made him a target of derision for viewers. In that film, he joins several other reality TV cast-offs, all still smarting about the way they were portrayed on screen.
"When you realise you're going to be the villain, it makes you so upset. I was looking forward to watching with my family and friends, letting them see a bit more of who I am … That didn't happen."
Witko says the fallout from his stint on the show was immense.
"Mine was an extreme case. I was working as a model for 12 years before going on the show, and the career I forged came to a sudden halt after the show. I lost most of my clients and I wasn't making enough money to sustain a living. If you're working for big, wholesome, commercial brands, you want to keep a clean and crisp image. I really didn't think it through.
I pretty much lost my whole modelling career," he says.
From there, he started working in a "small boutique agency" in another field.
"When the first episode aired and my boss found out I was the villain, I got fired from that as well," he said.
Entering a "pretty depressed state", he found himself in debt, living off his credit card. Eventually, counselling helped him to get over the "anxiety and hurt" he was carrying from his experience.
"Whatever benefits I got from being on that show - which were very few - I paid for, through the roof," he said.
So is there any recourse for those reality TV stars who feel they've been painted as a monster to the public?
According to the experts, not really - and contestants risk facing legal action if they do speak out publicly against the shows they've appeared on.
"There is very little a contestant can do legally speaking in the event of a 'social media backlash' regarding something the contestant has said or done on the show," Shine Lawyers' defamation practice leader, Peter Coggins, told news.com.au.
Shine have been approached by more than one reality TV star seeking legal advice - but quite often, their hands are tied.
"People who sign up to reality TV shows, particularly the shows which have an enormous following, have to accept that they are agreeing to subject part of their lives to the court of public opinion," he said.
"These days, discussions about contestants on TV shows has moved from the office water cooler to social media, and that needs to be understood by the contestant when considering signing up. If there were grounds for defamation law suits then the number of potential parties to legally challenge for damaging comments would be infinite. The TV networks are experienced at this and protect themselves very well."
In fact, contestants who feel they've been portrayed unfairly are often better off staying quiet, at least in the immediate aftermath of their show airing, lest they break contract by speaking out.
"Commonly, confidentially clauses are in the contestants' contracts to prevent them from speaking out and if they do legal action can be taken against them by the TV network," Coggins said.
For those still eager to find fame, fortune, love or even just a whole lot more Instagram followers in the world of reality TV, Witko has a weary warning: Just because it's called reality, don't assume what ends up on screen is going to be your reality.
"It's reality in that they're recording real people ... but the situations and the events can be manipulated in many ways," he said.