Obsessing Over Lifetime’s UnREAL and the Books that Expose Reality TV

I’m always on the hunt for a new TV obsession, and this summer I found it in Lifetime’s UnREAL. I’d been hearing buzz about the show for months, and when I saw that season 2 premiered on June 6, I knew it was time to take the plunge. Luckily, the whole first season is available on Hulu, so I set myself up with some snacks and settled in for a weekend-long marathon.

Holy. Crap. This show is soooo good. It’s dark and funny and tragic and everything I wanted it to be. It stars Shiri Appleby as Rachel, an emotionally unstable producer on the set of a reality show (ala The Bachelor) who seems to both enjoy and be tortured by the manipulation her job entails. She orchestrates meltdowns, convinces the girls that their “suitor” is in love with them, and even helps drive one contestant to suicide. It’s the dark, behind-the-scenes drama of reality TV and it’s so juicy that I actually gasped out loud on multiple occasions.

Rachel works for Quinn (Constance Zimmer), the badass executive producer who keeps Everlasting running and who routinely takes Rachel under her manipulative, morally-ambiguous wing. Everlasting is a hilariously on-the-nose rip-off of The Bachelor, and UnREAL offers an inside look at just how un-real (get it??) reality shows can be. Sweet girls are edited to look like monsters, everyone is constantly force-fed champagne, and the “suitor” is busy hooking up with anyone with a pulse — including Rachel. I haven’t started season 2 yet, but I assume it’s just as scandalously awesome (Editor’s Note: We have started season 2 and it’s i-n-s-a-n-e!).

As a HUGE fan of The Bachelor (and the currently airing The Bachelorette) I’m sort of hoping that it’s not quite as fake as UnREAL makes it out to be. After all, there have been some real marriages to come out of the husband/wife-hunting reality empire. But I’m not naïve, and I’m sure that the fame-hungry, easily-manipulated contestants are much more common that I’d like to admit. Still, there’s something so delicious about seeing the behind-the-scenes working of reality TV, which is why UnREAL is my current favorite show. I’m gearing up for a season 2 marathon, but in the meantime I’m turning to books to fill my craving for reality TV exposed. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), there’s more out there than you’d think.

Here are four books based on reality TV drama that I can’t wait to dive into:

I Said Yes: My Story of Heartbreak, Redemption and True Love, Emily Maynard Johnson with A.J. Gregory (Thomas Nelson, March 1, 2016)

i-said-yes-coverI was OBSESSED with Emily’s season of The Bachelorette, especially considering she kicked former Bachelor contestant Brad to the curb after winning his season. She had some great candidates – Ari! Sean!! – but she ultimately went with adorable hipster Jef. The two didn’t make it, of course, but they did give us some pretty cute TV. In her tell-all memoir, which came out this March, Emily opens up about her experiences with both Brad and Jef and how she eventually found true love after The Bachelor. The memoir seems a little religion-heavy, but if that’s not your thing then just skip around to all the juicy reality show tidbits.

 

 

 

Taste Test, Kelly Fiore (Walker, 2013)

taste-test-coverIf UnREAL has taught me anything, it’s that I love fictionalized accounts of reality TV. Which is why I’m dying to get my hands on Fiore’s adorable young adult novel about a reality cooking competition. Nora grew up working in her father’s bbq joint, so she’s excited and optimistic when she’s chosen for a reality teen cooking competition called Taste Test. But nothing could have prepared her for the high level of competition, especially when mysterious accidents start eliminated contestants off screen too. Now Nora has to try and stay in the game while solving the mystery of who’s out to get the teen chefs. Oh, and there’s also bad boy Christian to contend with…or maybe just makeout with instead.

 

 

I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends: Confessions of a Reality Show Villain, Courtney Robertson with Deb Baer (Dey Street Books, 2014)

I-didn't-come-here-to-make-friends-coverCourtney was the girl we all loved to hate on Ben’s season. The fact that she won was even worse – we were all screaming at our screens by the time Ben handed out his final rose. But since then Courtney has claimed that she was only misunderstood and that it was actually her snarky humor shining through and not an inherent evilness. Who’s to say for sure (though after watching UnREAL I’m inclined to side with Courtney), but Courtney fully embraces her inner villain in this tell-all account of both her life and her time on The Bachelor. Watch out Ben, because Courtney is out for blood. Is it any shocker that these two kids broke up almost as soon as the show ended?

 

 

Reality Boy, A.S. King (Little, Brown & Co., 2013)

reality-boy-coverReality TV isn’t all fun and games as we clearly see in King’s Reality Boy (as well as UnREAL!). At five-years-old, Gerald became a reality star as the problem child on a parenting show in the vein of Supernanny. But the show didn’t capture the way his psychopathic sister truly acted or how his parents enabled her abuse. As a teen, Gerald is still trying to escape the anger, shame and injustice that his brush with fame brought. Will he be able to reconcile with his family, fall in love, and finally deal with his sister? You’ll have to read this engaging young adult novel in order to find out.

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