The Reality of Reality TV Stardom

We’ve all had the reality star fantasy.

Sure, you’d need a suit of armor to defend yourself against any one of “The Real Housewives”—and there’s that nightmare about munching toddler-sized insects while waiting to be voted off the latest island on “Survivor.” Yet, deep down, we all think we could do it better. Maybe, as it did for Bill Rancic from “The Apprentice,” a few weeks on a reality show would secure us a lifetime of television opportunities and even a spouse.

The Gaynor sisters—all 5 of them, from the North Shore—were slated to be stars of Bravo’s new series, “Thicker Than Water.” After weeks of taping, and reviewing a proposed schedule for the first season, the Gaynors refused the contract and decided the price was too high for this dose of reality fame. Melissa Gaynor Mastros shared some of the realities they learned about reality TV.

You’re not an actor, but you play a character

“We were actually given characters to portray,” Melissa says. “Pink Sneakers (the production company) gave us all roles. My husband was “Funny Guy” and I, the only married sister with kids, was to play “Nagging Housewife.” The taping was unscripted, but scenes were pitched, choreographed and often re-shot. The Gaynors began to grow concerned about how playing characters such as “Party Girl” and “Worry Wart” might affect their careers and personal lives. They imagined their employers, students and clients reading harsh critiques of their portrayals, in blogs and gossip magazines.

Celebrity doesn’t pay the bills
Each of the girls would receive just $10,000 per season, so they clearly couldn’t give up their day jobs. Unfortunately, the contract also required that they remain available to fly across country at a moment’s notice for TV appearances and promotions. The Gaynors asked about securing more money to offset possible threats to their current livelihoods, but their requests were refused and they were told plenty of families were willing to do the show for free. The family quickly deduced that the only draw to reality stardom is the allure of fame.

Drama isn’t discovered—it’s created

Before Pink Sneakers arrived with their own cameras, microphones and crew, they sent the 5 sisters a list of more than 100 questions that the family was to answer on film. Questions included:

  • Which sister is the biggest drama queen?
  • Which is the worst at keeping secrets?
  • Who gets the most money from your parents?

Naturally, it wasn’t long before old grievances resurfaced and tears were shed. One of the first scenes the producers filmed was Melissa and her husband debating whether or not to have a fourth child. “It’s clear that they wanted us to get in a fight about it,” she recalls.

When they look back on it, the Gaynor sisters love having such a fun story to tell, but have absolutely no regrets about keeping their reality out of America’s living rooms.