Amid recent chatter in Hollywood about the need to unionize reality TV — with Bethenny Frankel at the forefront championing for residuals and better treatment of unscripted performers — a number of veteran reality stars weighed in on the idea at the premiere of their latest venture, Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test, on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
“I have mixed feelings. Look, I think there should be a reality TV union. There’s a lot of like, ‘If you won’t do it, someone else will,’” said Vanderpump Rules star Tom Sandoval, noting the similarities in when he worked as a model where some newcomers would get paid $500 for a job that typically paid thousands. (He also spoke about his Vanderpump Rules return, read that here.)
“There’s no eight-hour, 12-hour shoot days,” he continued, arguing that unlike actors who benefit from their shows and movies being re-aired, he says, “when they re-show an episode of me on Vanderpump Rules, that’s not a good look and it brings up all these old feelings and old hatred of shitty things that I’ve maybe done or somebody has done in their past. So in a sense, people should be getting residuals for that because actually, if anything, reality people go through a lot worse than what actors do when they show episodes again.”
Tara Reid, who was previously on Celebrity Big Brother before her Special Forces stint, added, “I think a lot of people on reality feel the same way as a lot of people on streaming shows, going ‘Hey, if they run this show a million times, why am I not getting residuals on it, too?’ I think that’s a really fair question.”
In a video posted to Instagram in July, Frankel, who launched her TV career on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City, called for the unionization of onscreen reality talent and urged stars to participate in the work stoppage alongside striking SAG-AFTRA members, as she criticized the “mentality that we were nobodies and that these streamers and networks have given us platforms and that we can capitalize on them is also moronic.” SAG has since expressed its support, encouraging “any reality performers and/or members to reach out to SAG-AFTRA’s Entertainment Contracts Department so that we may work together toward the protection of the reality performers ending the exploitative practices that have developed in this area and to engage in a new path to Union coverage.”
Jojo Siwa, who has worked on Dance Moms, Dancing with the Stars and The Masked Singer before appearing on Special Forces, noted, “I love making reality TV and I’m along for the journey. I think the world’s ever-evolving and if that’s where we evolve to, we’ve got to lean with it and rock with it.” And Jack Osbourne, who acknowledged he’s worked in reality TV for more than 20 years, said, “I do think there is an imbalance; I don’t know if unionizing it will actually bring more work. I do support streaming services and networks sharing information because it is grossly imbalanced, but it’s my belief that they’re not [sharing] because people are not actually watching platforms as much as they’re touting.”
Longterm reality TV debates aside, Sandoval, Reid, Siwa and Osbourne are currently joining Tyler Cameron, Savannah Chrisley, Brian Austin Green, Nick Viall, Black Chyna, Kelly Rizzo, Dez Bryant, Robert Horry, Erin Jackson and Bode Miller on the second season of Special Forces, where celebrity recruits are put through real military training.
Viall, who hails from The Bachelor franchise, admitted that the experience on Special Forces was “so much harder than I expected. I knew it would be legit and I knew it would be difficult, but I don’t think anyone can really expect what they’re willing to put you through. It was truly 10 times more physical and more challenging than I would have anticipated.”
And pointing to former Bachelorette Hannah Brown, who won the first season alongside Carli Lloyd, Bachelor star (and her ex) Cameron joked, “I looked at it and was like, ‘Oh this will be easy, I got this.’ I was like, ‘Hannah Brown can do it, I can do it.’ Boy, was I wrong.”
Special Forces premieres Sept. 25 on Fox.