Wide Angle

Searching for Reality TV Diamonds in the Rough

The Circle casting director Erin Tomasello explains what makes a good contestant.

A white woman with long hair and a big smile.
Erin Tomasello Courtesy of Erin Tomasello

On this week’s episode of Working, producer Cameron Drews spoke with Erin Tomasello, a casting director for reality TV who has worked on shows like The Circle, America’s Got Talent, The Bachelor, and Master Chef. They discussed what she looks for in contestants, how The Circle is different from other reality shows, and how the genre’s style has changed over the years. This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Cameron Drews: What are some of the biggest creative challenges of working in casting, whether you’re at the director level or the recruiting level?

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Erin Tomasello: There are hundreds of thousands of people that are dying to be on TV, but the hard part of our job is finding the stars among all of those hundreds of thousands, and weeding through and really finding true great ones. Who would expect Shubham Goel [a contestant on Season 1 of The Circle], for example. Shubham’s not applying to every reality show. He’s at his desk job. That’s the magic that happens. That’s when the cast in the shows are really fabulous, when we find those hidden gems out there. Chris Sapphire [from Season 1 of The Circle] was found after a drag show in Dallas. One of my producers was walking down the street and saw him, and he was just fabulous and glowing. So it’s really about weeding through.

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We get hundreds of thousands of applicants, and it’s about finding those ones that will touch the hearts of Americans. Relatability, right? I want to watch a show, and I want to relate to someone on that show. For me, watching The Bachelor, I don’t relate to those girls. I don’t look like those girls. I want to watch a show and have something in common with them and relate to them and have a little heart as well. I think that’s what’s special about The Circle. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone.

When you have this giant pool of people who want to be on TV, as you just mentioned, what do people get wrong during that time? What do they think you want, and where do they miss the mark?

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I totally have an answer for that because I’ve actually done it myself.

Really?

As a casting producer, I was asked to go interview for this company to be on a Kirstie Alley show. They wanted me to be on an episode—I think it was a weight-loss competition show.

I got so excited. I was like, “Oh my gosh, my chance to be in front of the camera. I’m going to love this. I’m going to go apply. I’m going to nail this.” So I went down, and for the first time, I was in front of the camera instead of behind the camera, and I wasn’t Erin. I wasn’t myself. I was putting on a show. I was telling them everything I thought that they wanted to hear.

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Based on your knowledge as someone who does this?

Yeah. So my biggest advice to your listeners is don’t pretend to be anybody but yourself. Don’t put on a show. Don’t say things you think we want to hear because you think it’s going to help your chances. The magic happens when you’re speaking from the heart and you’re just truly being yourself. I walked out of that interview, and I knew I blew it. I know that if I just would’ve spoken from the heart and been real Erin that they would’ve seen that in me. I can tell when I’m interviewing people when it’s real and they’re really speaking from the heart, or when they’re telling me what they think I want to hear.

To listen to the full interview with Erin Tomasello, subscribe to Working on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or listen below.

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