A Reality TV Casting Director on What Makes a Good Contestant

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.

S2: But there are hundreds of thousands of people that are dying to be on TV. OK, but our job, the hard part, is finding the stars among all of those hundreds of thousands and reading through and really finding those ones that will touch the hearts of Americans. I want to watch a show and I want to relate to someone on that show.

S1: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host, June Thomas,

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S3: and I’m your other host, Isaac Butler.

S1: I’m going to ask someone else to identify the voice we heard at the top of the show, and that is our fearless producer, Cameron Drus, who did this week’s interview. Cameron, who will we be hearing from this week?

S4: Hey, June, thanks for including me. In this week’s show, The voice we heard belongs to Erin Tomasello. She is the casting director for the Netflix reality show This Circle. And that’s what I talked to her about, mostly because I’m a fan of that show. But Erin has been in casting for around 20 years. She has worked for a lot of shows that listeners are probably familiar with, like The Bachelor, Fear Factor, America’s Got Talent and many, many others.

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S1: This circle, which we’ll hear more about over the course of the episode, it’s a reality competition show that airs on Netflix. Now, reality TV has gotten a bad rap, in part because some critics claim that Donald Trump would not have been our president if it hadn’t been for a chunk of the country seeing him on nearly 200 episodes of The Apprentice. So no pressure. When I ask you, are you a big reality TV fan, Cameron?

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S4: I don’t watch a ton of reality TV, but there are some shows I like and that hopefully won’t lead to any threats to democracy down the line. Fingers crossed. For example, every week I end up watching an episode or two of house hunters on TV, which I think qualifies as reality TV because it’s unscripted and it has real people, not actors. And that’s a show where two people, usually a couple decide which house to buy. But I would argue that it is really a show about how couples communicate and make decisions and compromise. So that show has value, I think. But my journey with reality TV really started in the early 2000s when my whole family really liked the popular CBS reality shows of the time, Survivor and The Amazing Race, which are both about teamwork and communication and strategy. So I guess I just really like to watch, quote unquote, ordinary people solve problems and communicate and make decisions. All of these shows sort of have, like the people on them are from all walks of life. They have all different jobs and backgrounds. So that’s what I mean by ordinary people. And that’s what the circle is to. It’s lots of different people in a specific scenario, solving problems and communicating a lot.

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S3: Got it. OK, so at the beginning of the pandemic, I was living with my mother in law and writing my book or watching my kid basically all the time. What what things on screens I did watch were movies I needed to see for research. So I actually missed the circle in its entirety. What is it? How does it work?

S4: It’s interesting. You mentioned the pandemic. It came out like right at the beginning of the pandemic, which, as Erin mentions in the interview, is really interesting because all of these contestants communicate virtually so. The show starts with eight contestants. They’re all in different rooms of a big apartment building and they communicate with each other via social media using these TVs in their rooms. And they talk to the TV in order to communicate with each other. And they say stuff like this circle message, hey, y’all, I can’t believe we made it. Hands up emoji and then send a message circle message.

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S5: Khloe and Kourtney, so happy to have you here. The more the merrier with a little red heart.

S3: Send hashtag. Love you, bro.

S4: Yeah, exactly. Send. And this is important. Some of the characters are playing as themselves, so their online profiles are accurate. But some players are catfish. So they’re pretending to be someone else, someone they think the other contestants will like. So they might pretend to be like a cute blonde woman or a super muscular guy like the people who you think of as being popular on Instagram. And so everyone chats with each other and they make friends and they kind of form alliances. And then every once in a while they have to rank each other. And the top two players in the rankings get to decide to block one of the other players so they kind of vote someone out.

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S3: So in a given episode, are they literally just sitting there chatting with each other all the time, or are there like things they do?

S4: They are mostly chatting. So a lot of watching the show is like you’ll just see like a guy sitting on the couch talking to his TV and then it’ll cut to some woman lying on her bed talking to her TV. They can start chats with anyone, they can start group chats and they communicate that way every once in a while. There is sort of like a challenge, Michelle. Bhutto narrates the show and she’ll sort of like pop in and be like

S1: now that the players have all met, it’s time to, for real, for real, get to know each other in their very first circle game.

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S4: But there are also other little curveballs like new contestants are added every once in a while. But the reason I think this show was really popular is because the contestants seem to be very genuine and kind, even when they’re playing a strategy game, even the ones who are catfish. And I should mention that if you’re the last player standing, you do win one hundred thousand dollars. So they’re playing for money. But when I watched this, I felt like I could easily be friends with a lot of these people, or I could at least tolerate their company, which, I’ll be honest, is not the case for every reality show. So that’s why I wanted to learn about the casting process for the show where they found these people.

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S3: And Kameron, I believe our Slate plus subscribers get a little extra bang for their buck this week. What bonus tidbits do we have for them?

S4: Yeah, so in our bonus segment, I asked Erin how she got into casting and she talks about her career journey a little bit. She also talks about what it is like to work as a freelancer, like a lot of people in film and TV do, and how the work sort of comes and goes.

S3: Amazing. Well, I cannot wait to hear that. And listeners, if you would like to hear that, along with all sorts of other extra tidbits, you should go ahead and subscribe to Slate. Plus, if you enjoy this podcast and the rest of Slate’s journalism, you’ll be supporting everything we do here. And sleepless members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Danny Liveries. New podcast, Big Mood, Little Mood. It’s only one dollar for the first month to sign up. Go to Slate Dotcom working plus. All right. Now let’s hear Cameron’s conversation with Erin Tomasello.

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S4: Aaron Tomasello, welcome to working. Thanks for being here.

S2: Thank you so much for having me.

S4: So you are a casting director for the Netflix reality competition show The Circle. And that’s what we’ll be talking about a lot. But you’ve also been the on the casting team for other reality shows like America’s Got Talent, The Bachelor, MasterChef. I read somewhere that you worked on MTV’s Next, which was a very fun show to watch when it was on. I remember. So tell me, what does a reality show casting director or producer do?

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S2: Yeah, so we’re behind those lovely personalities and faces that you get to see on TV. So a casting director kind of runs the team on the team. We have recruiters and those are people that are out on the streets meeting people, handing out flyers, talking to people, you know, hey, you’ve got a great look or a great personality. Have you heard of the show? And that’s where I actually started my career on Next. I think that was my very first job was next with MTV and it was all boots on the ground. I think it was 20 years old handing out flyers, I, I made them all myself. You know, it all came out of my own pocket to hand them off. And I would just tell everyone was drunk. I’d like to show up for a dating show. So that’s kind of the it’s recruiters. And then we have casting associates, casting producers and then the casting director. And that’s kind of how the team works.

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S4: Well, let’s start with where. The contestants come from. Sure. Is it a mix of finding people where they are and having people come to you?

S2: Absolutely. So season one, no one really had heard of the circle in the United States. We had an example from the U.K. It was a hit show in the U.K. There was a huge fan base around Season one, U.K. that aired on Channel four. And so what we did was lead people to the UK’s website and say, hey, look at go watch this show. This is what it’s about. You know, we had our real’s were the UK version, you know, to kind of check it out. And then for our version, we just kind of put our website out there, try to get people to apply. And then most of it is just cold calls. Right. So when I worked on The Bachelor, I literally would spend my day on the phone calling up lawyers offices. You know, I’m looking through I found Dr. Andy Baldwin, Lieutenant Andy Baldwin. I was so proud of him in a Marathon magazine. So just the the weirdest places or sometimes they just fall into your lap and it’s someone like yourself that’s a big fan of the show. And they go search us out and they go apply online and and their application comes in. So it’s a little bit of both.

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S4: I’m sure it varies from project to project. But what is it like when you do find someone, like, out in the world who you like for a particular show? What is it like to sort of pitch the idea of them being on a reality show to them?

S2: Yeah, well, the cool thing about the circle is we take all walks of life. So as long as you’re 18 years and older, you can apply. I mean, you don’t have to be single. You don’t have to be a size zero and gorgeous. You don’t have you could be 90 years old. You know, we want it all, you know. And that’s what I love about working on the circle, which is different from The Bachelor was very you know, you had to be a certain age. You had to be have a certain look. You had to be single. And it’s a lot harder to talk people into doing those shows, you know, like, hey, come on in and kiss on TV or show us, you know, that you want to fall in love. And and that’s what’s so great about the circle. And I think that’s what’s so magical about it. On my end, too, is there’s no rules. You know, it’s just like as long as you’re eighteen and up and you live in the United States and you want to be on the show, we’d love to have you

S4: as part of your job to make sure they are actually available for everything you would need them to do where they cast on the show. I always wonder, especially with regular people who are applying, do they have to take time off work? Do they have to maybe walk away from their waiting job for a while?

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S2: Sure, sure. Yeah, usually that’s on the website. So on the website it’ll say, like, are you available these dates to these dates? Because that’s when we’re filming. And sometimes people are like, no, I’ve got my wedding. Or, you know, it’s something that they can’t cancel for the most part. You know, their jobs have really cool about getting them time off, you know, or they take sick leave, you know, if it’s a really important job. I’ve had people, you know, The Bachelor really for The Bachelor. I’ve had people like sell their cars or do things like that. And, you know, to get on the show, to have money, to buy all the dresses and stuff. But for the for the circle, we don’t really see that, you know, it’s just a short amount of time that we get them and they have a blast over there. And so it’s really I guess it depends on the person’s job and then their commitments that they have

S4: to contestants on reality shows typically get some sort of per diem or.

S2: Yes, we would never ask people to, like, leave their day job and or spend really anything out of pocket, you know, to come be a part of our show. So there’s a stipend that people get per day. And then we also take care of food, travel, lodging, and then give them a little bit of money also, even on top of all that, to go out to eat and stuff like that. So they’re definitely taking care of.

S4: So this is a podcast about creative work and creative challenges and problem solving. 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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S2: You know, listen, there are hundreds of thousands of people that are dying to be on TV. OK, there’s tons of people that are just dying to be on TV. But our job, the hard part, is finding the stars among all of those hundreds of thousands and reading through and really finding true. Great. You know, Shubham, for example. Right. Shubham, who would expect shoe bombs not applying to every reality show? He’s at his desk job. You know, he’s he’s working in it or whatever he’s doing. And and that’s the magic that happens. And that’s when the cast in the shows are really fabulous when we find those hidden gems out there. Chris Saffire 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 and, you know, all of that. And so it’s really about weeding through. We get hundreds of thousands of applicants and it’s really about finding those ones that will touch the hearts of Americans relatability. Right. Like you want to watch I want to watch a show and I want to relate to someone on that show. You know, for me, watching The Bachelor, I don’t relate to those girls. I don’t look like those girls. You know, I want to watch a show and have something in common with them, you know, and and relate to them and, you know, have a little heart as well, you know, and and I think that’s what’s special about the circle. And I hope our cast can relate to any American out there, you know, for and there’s a little bit of everything for everyone.

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S4: Yeah. For listeners who have not seen the circle. I will talk about Shubham later. Shubham, as a contestant from season one who is like a sweetheart and sort of an unlikely reality star, and I will talk about him a little later. I wonder what when you have this giant pool of people who want to be on TV, as you just mentioned, like, what do people get wrong during that time? Like what do they think that you want and where do they miss the mark?

S2: I totally have an answer for that because I’ve actually done it myself. I was asked once and as a casting producer, I was asked to go interview for this company to be on a Kirstie Alley show, and they wanted me to be on an episode of Kirstie Alley. I think it was a competition show. I think it was a weight loss competition show.

S4: OK, that sounds familiar.

S2: Yeah. I don’t know what ended up happening with it. And I got so excited, you know, 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 play. 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 airing. I wasn’t myself. I was putting on a show. I was telling them everything I thought that they wanted to hear. Right.

S4: And so based on your knowledge as someone who does this.

S2: Yeah. So my biggest advice to your listeners out there is don’t pretend to be anybody but yourself. Don’t put on a show. Don’t say things you think that 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. And I know that if I just would have spoken from the heart and just been real and you know that they would have seen that me. And so I can tell when I’m interviewing people when 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.

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S4: So your job is definitely like recruiting people. Your department gets the pool of applicants and stuff. Who makes final decisions about who actually makes it on the show? Is that your department?

S2: Oh, sure. OK, no. So my department finds the people. We go through all the applications that are coming in naturally, you know, sifting through all of that. And then the executive producers with Studio Lambert, you know, they have a big hand in it from the production company. And then we also pitch to the network, Netflix. So my team, we put together pitches and we’ll send it over to the network and we’ll send it over to the production company. And they all watch our edits and everything that we put together. And then that’s when we start nailing it down to our finalists.

S4: So let’s talk about the circle. For listeners who don’t know. This is a show on Netflix. It was developed in the UK. We will be talking about the American version. That is what I have seen. There have been two seasons of that season two just got done. And this is not a typical reality show where characters interact face to face, is it, Aaron? Do you want to describe for the listeners who haven’t seen the circle what the circle is?

S2: It’s so funny because it is so similar to what we lived in the pandemic. It kind of was before its time with all of this. But basically, it’s a social media platform. That’s how I describe it. Each contestant is living in their own apartment. And in that apartment there’s a form of communication that they get to, you know, chat with the whole group and it’s called the circle. And that is their form of communication. And they can build a profile, the profile. They can be honest. So they can pay authentic and play 100 percent themselves, so they’ll put up their own photo, they’ll build a bio, they’ll have a hashtag, or the twist is they can catfish or embellish that. So it’s really like, you know, the old school when you had a MySpace or when you first created your Facebook and you were building your profile. Like, for me, I know I like skinny pictures up or my good angle, you know. Right. Like, I’m not posting my double chins or where I look ratty in the morning. So it’s kind of funny. It’s like we all can kind of relate to it. It’s a show about communication and honestly, the best communicator wins. And that’s how I like to describe it.

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S4: Yeah, one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you is because the contestants on the circle seem more polite, considerate, trusting of others than the people I think of when I think of reality show contestants like I have not heard the reality show phrase, I am not here to make friends from anyone on the circle. Like they kind of seem like they’re here to make friends, even though there is a prize money of one hundred thousand dollars, they’re playing a game. But I want to queue up a couple of clips for the listeners so they can see, like, how these people are so different from other reality show contestants. This is a clip of Joey and Shubham interacting in season one. I have two clips. Here’s the first one.

S6: Let me ask you, dude, how was your relationship with your parents?

S7: Sent a message out. Joey, they’re my best friends. I drive every other weekend from L.A. to S.F. to be with them. I’m an only child, so I think that’s what made it extremely strong.

S4: Send and here’s another clip where Joey is professing his love for his friend Siobhan.

S6: Buddy, I love you with all my heart. And I know you’ve always had my back. We’ve made it through this thing together. And should you win, I would have nothing but pure happiness for you hashtag friends till the end. So.

S4: So, Erin, did you know that these lovable softies would make good TV like, why didn’t you cast obnoxious, cruel people? Isn’t that what Americans want from their reality TV? We want people throwing wine in each other’s faces and stuff.

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S2: That’s so funny. Well, season one, like these guys, we threw them in there and they didn’t really know what they were doing. Right. So they did that. All they knew was that this game is about popularity and being on top of the ratings. And how are you going to build alliances by getting people to trust you, by by getting people to like you, by sharing something that makes you vulnerable. Right. Like think about it. Even if in your everyday life, it’s if it’s someone that you normally wouldn’t be friends with, the minute someone puts their guard down and starts to share something vulnerable, that that shows a little softer side of them. That’s when I want to immediately now put my guard down and be their friend. And, you know, and it does it’s just a natural human instinct. And I so I think that Joey did that so well. I mean, Shubham was just it comes naturally from Shubham. Right. But Joey actually was very and liked by a lot of people in the beginning. People thought he was arrogant, loud, cocky, you know, stereotypical. But the magic of Joey that grew throughout the season was just like that when he showed his true heart and self and talked about family. And I think he really got to know people and their their soft sides, you know. And so that was kind of cool.

S4: Everything you said about Joey and Shubham and their authenticity and stuff. How much of that? Was by design, I mean, did you set out to cast a. TV show that will like warm people’s hearts, as opposed to when I was younger, I watched a lot of survivor and it seems like Survivor deliberately casts difficult people. Sometimes there are villains in that show. There aren’t villains really in the circle. What was your what were your goals for the tone of the show?

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S2: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, remember, I’m just the casting director, so I’m not really setting the tone of what the show is.

S4: You’re populating the world. I think those people contribute to the tone.

S2: You know what? I like to think of the circle as an escape. Right. So we’ve got enough going on with the news, with, you know, all of that. It’s like we kind of I like to go turn on the circle to escape, enjoy. I want to relate to them. I want to laugh with them. I want to cry with them. And you don’t want anything really too heavy, you know, but but it’ll come. I mean, you might get a feeling. I’m not saying that that’s not going to mean you know, it’s it just depends on the people and who we ended up going with. So I don’t think there’s a black or white answer there, you know, like it might be coming down the line. But you just I think that all of our people do. I’m glad I’m glad that relatable. And I’m glad that they have big hearts. And I’m glad that that you think that of all them.

S1: We’ll be back with more of Cameron’s conversation with Erin Tomasello after this. Do you have questions about the creative process, big or small, whether you’re trying to write a novel or need help turning off the TV so you can focus on creative work? We would love to help. You can drop us a line at working at Slate Dotcom or give us an old fashioned phone call at three or four nine three three work. That’s three or four nine three three nine six seven five. We really, really like phone calls. OK, let’s rejoin Cameron’s conversation with Erin Tomasello.

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S4: So let’s talk specifically about recruiting people for the circle. Where do these contestants come from

S2: so the contestants can come from anywhere? Like I said, there’s a there’s a whole bunch of different processes when we’re casting. So a lot of times they come in naturally. You know, they’re fans of the show. As soon as that show starts airing, people are on Google. They’re looking for our website and they’re applying for us. We’re making cold calls. We’re sending out our flyers. I like to do it all over the United States. So I get all kinds of different personalities. Right. There’s there’s Reno, Nevada. There’s New Yorkers, there’s, you know, cowboys and you know all of that West Virginia, you know. So we like to blanket the United States to make sure that we’re getting a variety of people before covid casting seems to have open casting calls. Have you ever heard of those? Yeah. So we would do a huge open casting calls and that would be like 10 of my team there and hundreds of thousands of people would show up depending on the show. I had some with like Fear Factor. We’re like 30 people would show up. But so it just depends on the show. Biggest Loser used to have massive ones for tons of people would show up. And then it’s a very quick interview. So if you set up camera and I give you a minute to get to know you and I’d say, tell me about yourself. Tell me your name, your age, tell me where you grew up. And in that short couple of minutes, I’m going to see how your personality is. I’m going to see if you tell me anything that’s interesting or that grabs me or wants me wants to get to know you. And I will say it is a short amount of time. So sometimes people don’t get the chance to, you know, like I said with myself, like, you walk out, you’re like, man, I blew that, you know, or I nailed it, you know? And so really, our our talent is casting directors is to be able to see that light in others and that talent and others or something inside there that that’s watchable, that people can relate to that that they would enjoy watching and see on TV.

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S4: Yeah. Tell me about what makes a good circle contestant. What are you looking for. What are you not looking for sure.

S2: Well, the circle is very different from shows like The Bachelor or those other kinds of shows because they have other people to lean on. Right. So if you’re kind of the quiet shy when there’s the other girl that’s crazy and drunk or, you know, whatever is going on, but on the circle, you are alone in an apartment. So it is really important to have a big personality. You know, not everybody has to be Joey screaming, bouncing off the walls. You know, you saw the Shubham, he’s he’s not that type at all, but he still works and he’s still talkative. Yeah, exactly. With love people that talk things out and give us narration and and then have fun. Like, I get excited when they get really competitive about the games. You know, I think that’s really fun when they’re like competitive and they’re jumping and they’re truly wanting to win this silly game that, you know, and they get really into it. I love a competitive person, big personalities, lots of energy and relatability. You know, I just really relatability. And I think that touches on what you were going for, with why you were saying, like, everyone’s so nice to everyone. That’s hard, but really they’re relatable, you know, and they do they share their stories with others that make you want to like them and root for them. I think Sammy was a perfect example of that, like when Alana started talking a little bit about, you know, oh, skinny girl chat or whatever. And when Sammy was like, oh, that’s not you know, I’m not digging that. All of us as viewers were like, oh, my God, I feel that same way, you know? And so that was so cool about that.

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S4: Communication is not just part of the game, like it’s a game about strategic communication, but they are also there talking the whole time. From the viewer’s perspective, it looks like they’re talking to no one or they’re talking to the wall. There’s probably a crew in there taping them and stuff, but there’s not.

S2: There’s a crew in. There are the cameras. Yeah, it’s all cameras. Yeah.

S4: Yeah. I’m wondering, as a casting director, are you specifically looking for people who who seem like they will have those communication skills or have are you judging for social media savvy? I guess there was an example in season two. There was Lee who admitted that he doesn’t know the emojis, he doesn’t know the slang. So I was like, you know what? Maybe they’re not really filtering for this.

S2: We’re not. And, you know, Shubham hated social media. I don’t know if you remember that he despised it. I think he called it Medusa, sir. I mean, he thought it was just the worst. And now he’s live on Instagram. Live with it, right? Yeah. So, no, that is not a criteria to be on our show. We want it all. Do you remember Tammy would call it a mojo like that was brilliant. I loved when she called him a mojos

S1: mojo or just said

S2: Amodio. You hate to see it. Send that Tregear with some of the contestants that aren’t social media savvy. And for season one, because they circle message and learning how to talk to the circle opposed to season two. You can see these guys have it down now, right? They circle message. They’re giving those emojis, you know, they know what to send. And that’s kind of the fun of it.

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S4: Yeah. So. Some of the contestants players themselves, some people play as catfish, at what stage of the casting process do they decide to be catfish? And is that like how does that affect your casting process?

S2: They’re playing like that. You know, they’re coming to us with all of these great catfish strategies and stories. And it’s just fun for us. It’s so exciting when I go on and I log on to my computer and I’m going to look through all the applications and I couldn’t make this stuff up with these catfish ideas. So it’s exciting. You know, we loved Alex Lake. I mean, his catfish, Adam was so fun because, you know, he felt like he’s a nerd and he’s had trouble making friends. And he wanted this was his chance to be the cool, hot guy. And, you know, even though his flirting was crazy.

S4: So these are this is part of the application you’re partially judging. That right, that story is interesting.

S2: Yes, absolutely. I mean, we can get some great catfish stories and then the contestant doesn’t have the chops, you know, or they’re not big, loud, boisterous, bubbly or fun. So that’s when you’re like, oh, man, this is such a great idea. But the person is a little bit shy or introverted or maybe not right for the show, but yes, for the most part, you know, yeah. It’s a lot of fun to see what these guys come up with.

S4: Obviously, different players have different strategies, some of them decide they are going to be as genuine as possible and make as many connections as possible and hope that takes them far. Other people are a lot more calculated and they’re playing this chess game. Is strategy something that you are evaluating in the casting process?

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S2: Sure, yes, absolutely. You want game players. You want people that have thought it out and have a clear strategy. You know, I think people watch the show and they see they see where people fall short, like, hey, they didn’t write everybody. They didn’t build relationships with everybody. And that ultimately cost them their game, you know? So each season is going to get a little bit more strategic where people are learning from past mistakes, just like how we see on other competition shows. Right. So that’s that was something that I touched on earlier. I just I’m so excited to see what’s next strategically like things that we couldn’t even think of but that fans are going to bring to the table.

S4: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like a big part of your job is. Sort of imagining how people will do in a game play scenario and gazing into the hypothetical future, you are looking at an application, let’s say, or you or you encounter someone in your research who who would be good for the show and you’re imagining how they will do on this game show type thing.

S2: Well, you know, I I think the imagining comes when I’m looking at the application and I’m watching their video and I’m reading their application. But once I get on an actual call with them and I’m getting to know them a little bit better, that’s when we really get to find out. Is this person gullible? Right. Is this person have they been catfish in the past? Have they are they going to fall for it? You know, are they going to fall in love right away, you know, or are they going to get duped right away and, you know, whatever it is. So every contestant is different, you know, and everybody’s going to come in with a different strategy. And so, of course, yes, I see the ones that are very strategic and have a plan. I see the ones that I think are pretty gullible and that might fall for those catfish or I see the really smart, witty ones that that think they’re going to be able to know it all and have their finger or be able to manipulate and, you know, all that. And so we get an idea on the first initial phone call when they tell us their strategy of who they’re probably going to be on that show. So my job is to meet them, give them the best interview I could possibly give, you know, give them my heart to get to know them a little bit better. I’ll make myself vulnerable. I’ll share stuff about me so that they feel comfortable sharing stuff about them. And then and then the rest is history of who actually makes it on. But that that’s past what I do.

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S4: In season two, we saw some familiar faces. There was Chloe Veach, who was on Too Hot to handle, which is another Netflix reality show. She is really funny and just excellent TV.

S5: Hi, I’m coming. I’m twenty one and I’m from Essex in England.

S4: Sargsyan, there was also Lance Bass from In-Sync personal assistant who was cat fishing as Lance Bass, and then there was a contestant named Mitchell who is related to two contestants from season one. His mom and brother were on season one. He was cast for season two. Those are all sort of different examples. But did those cast members sort of come from the usual channels or what went into the decision to have those people?

S2: Yeah, I know all three of them. So you have to apply. I mean, it’s a game. It’s a competition show. Like, we’re not going out there saying, hey, you know, so Khloe was a big fan of the show. She didn’t win any money. And people think that, oh, she was already out. She didn’t win. And I think she won ten dollars or yes.

S4: She said she won like ten dollars and fifty cents.

S2: So when she applied for our show, you know, every single one of those people have to go through the same application process as everybody else. So they have to fill out the application. They have to make a video. They have to go through all the vetting and and everything that goes into it. And so, yeah, those familiar faces all applied and we got them on just like everybody else.

S4: You’ve been casting for reality shows for so long and reality show personalities have changed a lot like people, because people can make a career on social media. If they don’t do well on the show, they can still have like a job endorsing products and stuff. How do you think? The personalities and the goals of people who want to be on TV have changed since you’ve been doing this.

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S2: I will tell you something, even back then, 20 years ago and now the people that are like dying to be on TV never work out. I take talks a new thing for me. Right. So I we never had to talk before. And so I’m so excited. I’ll get this guy to take talking is a million followers. I can’t wait to interview him and he’s got the worst personality ever. And I was

S1: like, how do you have

S2: a million followers? But the reason given is because they get to edit little short snippets of them, like shaking their butt or something. Right. And then so they get all these followers, but they don’t cut it for an actual conversation, you know. And so that’s the difference with like the ones that are dying to be on TV are never the greatest. You know, it’s usually the people that are unassuming that that, you know, just have those natural big personalities. A lot of places where, like, I’ll send my flyers are people that have natural jobs with personalities. Right. Like, are you a horse trail guide? And you have to talk to strangers all day long. Are you a charter boat captain? And and you’re used to like having big personality, you know, stuff like that. Flight attendants, you know, people that are naturally talkers, radio host, you know, things like that. So I’m opposed to those YouTube stars, which I’m not putting the YouTube stars down. And I know that a lot of our cars do have large social media followings and stuff, but sometimes they can’t carry an actual conversation because they’re so used to just editing their own little snippets that put out that like for them dying to go viral or something. Right.

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S4: If you were on the circle yourself, would you play as yourself? Would you be a catfish and what would your general strategy be?

S2: OK, I’m glad you asked this, because you know what? If you would have asked me season one, I would have said I’d absolutely catfish. I’m I’m a little bit overweight. I’m a little bit older. I’m a little bit this. I’m a little bit that I would probably go for the smokin hot girl that I try to pretend like I am on social media, you know, size zero, this and that. But now, if you would ask me, Cameron, I would I would be myself. You know what I’ve learned that works on the show and I’m not saying don’t be a catfish because catfish can totally work as well is just being true to yourself and playing with your heart. And, you know, and the cool thing about the Lisa is she catfish, but she played with her heart. Yeah. So I think I play myself personally.

S4: OK, Aaron, Tomasello, thanks so much for joining us on working.

S2: Thank you so much for having me. And go check out the circle. We’re streaming on Netflix worldwide. We’ve got season one and season two app. And check out our casting website right now. If you heard all about the show and you want to apply, it’s w w w the circle casting dot com.

S1: Cameron, I was really interested in Erin’s diagnosis of what makes a good reality show contestant. She talked a lot about authenticity and relatability and I’m sure that’s true. But I had a feeling she was downplaying the importance of the heel. Like, as you mentioned, many of the most memorable reality TV contestants have been villains. I’m thinking of like Richard Hatch from the first season of Survivor Puck from the San Francisco season of The Real World. And she also seemed to suggest that contestants who were cat fishing in the circle aren’t necessarily villains. Is that true? Explain it for a know nothing like me.

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S4: That’s a great question. And I think it kind of is true. And this is one of the things I really like about the circle, which is that even the players who are being deceptive and strategic are still not villainous. Like I’m thinking of two separate contestants in season one who decided to be catfish because they didn’t feel like they would be popular and succeed on the show if they presented their true selves. They felt like they didn’t really meet the beauty standards that society has set and that social media has reinforced. And that’s a really understandable reason to be a catfish on the show. And I sympathize with those characters and rooted for them, even though they were lying through their teeth for the whole episode strategically. The other thing is to win the circle, at least so far, there have been two seasons of the American version. Everyone kind of has to like you on a personal level for you to succeed. That that has been the pattern. It’s like it is a popularity contest. So I think it’s hard to be like Richard Hatch on Survivor and be kind of a jerk, but make up for it by being really good at fishing or something. Like, if I remember correctly, Richard was very good at the survivor element of Survivor. That doesn’t work on the circle. If you’re a jerk, everyone will turn on you. So you have to at least pretend to be super nice. And so far the winners of the circle have seemed genuinely, really nice. The other contestants are good at sort of sniffing out people who are pretending to be nice. But I did read an article that said the UK version of the show is not quite as heartwarming as the US version. And so maybe there’s more than one way to win the game. We’ll see what happens in future seasons.

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S1: Well, maybe I’m just being cynical. I mean, like the Great British Bake Off is really successful because there really aren’t rivalries. The contestants seem to be in the tent as much to make friends as they are to make crazy bits of Vasari. Is there actually a whole world of friendly competition reality shows out there?

S4: You know, I think you’ve really touched on something there by mentioning the Great British Bake Off cooking shows. Those cooking competition shows in particular tend to feature way more sportsmanship and politeness than other reality shows. In fact, if you want to crank the politeness all the way up to 11, I would recommend watching a cooking show that features kids, something like Chopped Junior MasterChef Junior or the Kids Baking Championship on the Food Network is another one that I have watched. The kids are so nice to each other and whenever someone gets kicked off of the show, everyone hugs them. It’s heartwarming.

S3: You know, I’ve been a big fan of Top Chef since the very beginning and it’s now on its seventh season. I think, you know, in part because it is a show about the creative process. They’re given constraints and creative prompts and they have to respond to it. But it used to be a show where they drew on the kind of nastiness of reality TV to make it compelling, where it was edited to emphasize the fights. There was usually at least one heal. You know, every season the feedback was really brutal, etc.. And one of the things that’s happened with that show over the past few years, and I suspect it’s because of the success of Bekoff, is that it’s a very kind show now to such an extent that there’s actually one contestant this year that no one likes, but they’ve edited out whatever it is that makes him unlikable. So they keep talking about like, oh, I’m paired with whatever this guy’s name is. Again, I really don’t like him, but but I’m sort of lost as to what he just he’s kind of uptight, like an uptight perfectionist, you know what I mean? But not like not history’s greatest monster. Whereas in the past, even like, well, this person’s crazy, this person’s evil, this person’s it’s all gamesmanship, but it’s become much more genuine and kind. And I actually enjoy watching it a lot more as a result. Huh. It was funny to hear Erin say that they look for people who can narrate their lives, who can, you know, effectively offer color commentary on their thoughts and feelings as they are experiencing them. And I will admit, part of me feels very cynically towards this idea. Reality TV arose when it did, in part as a response to looming fights with actor and writer unions about wages and residual. And what reality TV allows them to do is to use non-union actors and writers and pay them very bad wages, right. And so, of course, you need a person who can both act as themselves and write about themselves in heavy quotes. But at the same time, now that I watch reality television, you know, you can see that there is kind of an art to playing yourself in that way. And there is an art to kind of narrating and writing yourself in that way. That is actually a distinct thing from what an actual actor or writer would do. Yeah, I

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S4: think the absence of writers is a big part of the challenge of creating these shows, and that falls to producers, editors and the contestants themselves. The contestants are not actors or writers. They are reacting to scenarios that are designed by producers and they have to be good at describing their reactions to those things and thinking out loud and explaining their strategies. And then, of course, an editor later cuts everything together and makes sort of a narrative arc. Like I think the producers and contestants and editors are all kind of writers. In a sense, the producers are creating the scenario, the contestants provide dialogue and the editors create a structure. But you’re right, I think it’s totally different from the process of making scripted stories, which requires really top notch expertise from writers and actors. And I don’t think reality shows could ever replace good sitcoms or dramas. But I am curious to know how TV executives think about this stuff. If you can create a show like 90 day fiancee, a lot of people will watch it. I might watch it and you can make 20 spinoff shows and people will watch those. Is that an easier way to make money than making The Sopranos? Does that employ fewer people? I am not sure. But luckily, I think scripted content does still exist right now and seems to be somewhat healthy. But I don’t know. What do you think about that?

S3: I think you’re going to be fine with the 90 day fiancee until one of your competitors releases 89 day fiance. And then this is like a race to the bottom until eventually it’s like 12 hour fiance hosted by Jeff Probst.

S4: Well, there is married at first sight already, so they’ve got everybody be incredible.

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S3: No, I mean, I think if you look at it, you know, historically, like an old man like myself would, you can see that there was a period when reality shows really were replacing normal scripted programming. And it looked like we may be entering a period where they completely took over and scripted programming was was going to become this sort of niche thing. And that did not actually happen, I think in part because we now have 7000 television channels and streaming platforms. We’ve reached peak TV where nothing has a big audience. And so but it turns out people wanted scripted programming more than I think the networks thought. And so as a result, that has kind of come back and we’re sort of in this weird equilibrium now. That’s the sense I get. It’s also hard to know exactly what’s going on because there is simply so much television being produced when there’s more just in scripted programming, more than 450 original shows a year. You know, it’s hard to even keep track of anything, really. You know, Cameron, I believe that you have an advice question for us.

S4: Yes, I do have an advice question. I know we’re always answering questions from listeners, but I had to use this opportunity while I have your ears to ask a genuine question of my own.

S3: So you’re not pretending to be Lance Bass asking us for advice. This is genuinely a problem you are having and we’re going to help you with it. Yes. Listeners, this is an exciting moment. All right. Sock it to us, Cameron.

S4: So in January, around the time of our New Year’s resolution episode, I made my own New Year’s resolution to read and write more fiction. This year, I used to write short stories in college. It brought me a lot of joy and creative fulfillment. And so far my resolution is going really well. I read every day and lately I’ve been doing these little short writing exercises in the morning. The problem is I’ve fallen way behind on news consumption. I like. It turns out that the best time of day for me to read and write fiction is the same time of day that I used to spend reading the news. But I’m wondering what the two of you decide to take on a new creative project for work or for pleasure. Is there something you give up, intentionally or unintentionally, to make time for that extra work? And how do you decide which thing to cut out of your life to make room for the new thing?

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S1: This is. This is getting down to the nitty gritty, I would say, yeah, unless there’s a chunk of time every day where you are literally doing nothing or you’re just kind of looking around, what can I do right now? Every time you add a new habit or you decide to spend a chunk of your day doing a certain thing, you have to give up something else. The 24 hour clock is kind of a zero sum situation, and I think it’s useful to accept that rather than trying to just, like, shoehorn a new thing into your day. I mean, you can’t do that short term. You can, like, sleep for an hour less or not take your daily exercise if you have to focus on something for like a week or less. But that’s really counterproductive. If you’re trying to make a long term change, you just can’t do creative work if you haven’t slept properly or you’re missing all the benefits of exercise. Right. So what I do and what I would recommend that you do is to like make a list of your priorities and figure out what are the things you have to do and what are the things you’re OK with giving up, at least for a while. And then there might be some small adjustments you can make. So, for example, if your peak creative hours are in the morning, as it sounds like they are, can you get up a little bit earlier to do your reading and writing and keep up with the news? And if that’s not possible, but it might not be, can you shift some of your news consumption to the end of the day, like we’re no longer in that era where where we get our news by reading the newspaper first thing in the morning? I know that, you know, publications like New York Times and Slate, they go live with their stories as soon as they’re ready. So you can get tomorrow’s news tonight. You don’t have to wait till the morning. So your mind might not be as sharp at eight p.m. as it is am, but it’s better to listen to what next at a slightly suboptimal time than not to listen at all. But I think you’re really smart to just be making this calculation, because I do think that, yeah, you probably need to make some tweaks to your schedule if you want to do this thing that is bringing you creative satisfaction. And I think it’s good that you’re being very clear eyed about that.

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S3: Yeah, June covered a lot of it. So I will try to be brief before I have a kid to answer your question. The thing that I just gave up is leisure time, right? I mean, like, it’s it’s like, oh, I’ll just relax less or, you know, whatever. Right. That’s not possible now because what used to be leisure time is parenting time now. So, you know, you I know. Have a have a full life. You, I’m sure for your job here at Slate, have to keep up with the news to a certain level that maybe a civilian does not. And so there’s probably more anxiety about not keeping up with the news. Like I’m going through a period right now where I’m actually not paying as much attention to the news as I used to because I’m sort of needing to creatively recharge just for example. And so I think everything Joon said is really smart and right on. But the other thing that I would say is this. I think you’re maybe, at least in the way you’ve described it, approaching things here as a bit of a false binary. Like it’s not only that there’s 24 hours in a day, there are seven days in a week, and there’s, you know, 365 days a year. And so it could be that it’s not the smartest thing in the universe for you to focus on reading and writing fiction every single day. Right. But it could be that you do it four days a week and you catch up on news three days a week or, you know, whatever it is. And by viewing the different days of the week differently, you may open up some new possibilities so that you can kind of do both things at once or eat your cake and have it to whatever, whatever added you want to use and that you’ll discover some new possibilities. And it could be that through doing that, you also create a certain amount of good pressure on yourself to use the creative time you have that will help, you know, at least if you’re anything like me will help resist the urge to procrastinate. Yeah. The other this is the this is sort of the weirdo out of left field idea I have. You know what? If occasionally you catch up on the news and create a writing prompt for yourself based on the news you’ve just listened to. Right. And then that way you can maybe do the once. Who knows.

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S4: I like that. I like

S1: that. Yeah. And also, obviously, you just need a bullet journal.

S3: Yeah. Jun are you sponsored by bullet journals. You should really get like you know athletes get their you know endorsement from Unical or Nike or whatever. You should really be endorsed by a bullet journal.

S1: I know. Right from your mouth Isaach. Yes. To bullet journals here’s. All right, listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s show if you have. Please remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Oh, and I want to share an important piece of information. The Waves, Slate’s podcast about gender and feminism is back from hiatus.

S3: I’m so excited about this is awesome.

S1: You’ll find the waves in your feed every Thursday morning. And yes, I’m going to give you a slate plus picture slate. Plus members get benefits like zero odds on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and any Labrys new podcast, Big Mood, Little Move. And I’m Not Going to lie. It’s also good for us if you support the work we do here on working. It’s only a dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to Slate Dotcom Slash Working Plus.

S3: Thank you so much to Aaron Tomasello for being our guest this week into our amazing producer and interviewer Cameron Drewes. Look forward to the next time you get to sit in the host chair and interview. Someone will be back next week with Remon Alarms conversation with literary editor Bridget Hughes. Until then,

S8: get back to work.

S4: Hello, Slate, plus, listeners, thanks so much for your support. We really, really appreciate it as a token of our appreciation. I asked Aaron a couple of extra questions just for you. Hope you enjoy it. Can you tell me why you decided to get into television casting?

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S2: Absolutely. So I’ve always had this larger than life personality. So when I was little, I grew up in a little town in Lake Tahoe called Truckee, California. And I always knew, like I would tell my mom, I’m like, I need to go to Los Angeles. I did. I just I knew I wanted to I don’t know if I wanted to be like a kid actor. What I wanted to do, I remember I think it was sixth grade. I wrote a letter to Steven Spielberg and I was like, I’m a star. Bring me to Los Angeles. So I always kind of had it in the back of my head, like did school plays and stuff like that. My senior year of high school, we had to write a paper about what we wanted to do for a living. And I had no idea. I had no idea. I was like, you know, marine biologist, all those things that people think they want to do but like would never do it. And it was an elective class and it was a TV class. It was called community calendar. And no one would volunteer to be the host. And I was like, all right, I’ll be the host, you know? And I loved it. Kameron, I loved it was just local news. And I was I was bossy and, you know, and I just loved it. And I loved being on Channel eight on my local town. And I just had so much fun with it. And so I wrote my paper about going into the television business, and that’s what my student, my senior year paper was about. So that year I went to junior college to Questa College in San Luis Obispo, and I started taking broadcasting classes. And that’s where I started. And I will tell you guys that are listening, that are communication majors are into broadcasting or they want to do what I do or get into something in TV and they don’t know where to go. Started a junior college. I that’s my biggest advice because it’s cheaper. You’re not getting all the student loans and all that and you could find out which area you really like. So in junior college, I then went to Aloni, which was another junior college in the Bay Area, Fremont, California. And this junior college was amazing for broadcasting. So I did editing. I learned how to edit on Avid, I did news, I got to be an anchor and then did camera work directing. So I learned every aspect of broadcasting and I found out, you know what I loved, what I was good with all of that kind of stuff. And actually, one year in college, we decided that we wanted to make our own reality show. And so we did Quester College against Cal Poly and we made a reality show called Rush and we got a local production company to film. It aired at one o’clock in the morning after Saturday Night Live. And it was it was just this show. And we we that we cast it at Farmer’s Market in San Luis Obispo. We set up a booth with a camera and just interviewed people. And so when I moved to Los Angeles after junior college, I was thinking, oh, I’ll come down, maybe finish, get my four year degree. And that never happened because I saw it opening it next for a recruiter. And I, I put on my resume that I had a casting experience because of casting, you know, kids for a college project. And that was how I landed my first casting job. And I it fit in naturally for me because I love meeting people. I love talking to people. I was the kid at the parties that literally brought a camcorder around with me. Did you just see that Punky Brewster documentary? Have you seen it? Seeing it? Go watch it. It’s really good. But I was like, OK, I’m not Punky Brewster, but I lived like her where my friends were famous either. But I brought a camera to parties like this so Chieko I would interview kids the whole night at the party. How’s it going. Tell me how you. So it was just natural. It was a natural thing for me to step into. So I worked my way up the ladder. I said I’ve been doing this for twenty years. I started as a recruiter. I finally got my first desk job working at an office, which was so cool because once you’re hitting the street, stuff like that, it’s nice to get a desk job and just so cool to work on the shows and see them come to life. And the small town girl with huge dreams finally got to be living it.

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S4: You know, we have heard from a lot of different people on this podcast who work in film and television behind the scenes, and they sort of act as independent contractors and they get jobs through referrals and stuff. I mean, how does it how do you get work as a as a young casting director or a casting producer?

S2: I’m glad you brought that up because, yeah, I you’re freelance. You know, for the most part, there are some corporate jobs. But when my very first job I’m freelance and when the show’s over, the job’s over. Right. So I felt like I was getting fired. Like, what do you mean? Like I’m packing up my little desk with my box. And I did. I felt like I swear I remember crying. And now when I get it, when the show’s over, I go on vacation. I could take a couple of months off. And that’s, you know, you learn to save as a freelance worker. You you make a name for yourself now. Now that you’ve made a name for yourself, you’ve got people one wanting you, right? So, hey, are you available? When do you rap? I’m looking for a great person on my team. Anyone listening? That’s an editor, which we always need, like casting editors. We need associates. We need these kids fresh out of college to come and get into this industry. I will tell you, I had one corporate job and that was for three years at BBC Studios, and I was their head of casting for their development department. And each year or each semester we’d get four interns and these interns were film students or communication majors. And they would come and and we would teach them, you know, and they’d have projects and this and that. And one of my editors right now was my first intern over at BBC, and he’s he’s amazing. And now he’s making really good money. And he was fresh out of college. So that’s really exciting to I love doing that. I love finding kids that are hungry, ready to work and that that want to work just as hard as I did to get into it.

S4: OK, that’s it for this week’s Slate Plus segment, thank you all, Slate plus members for your support. We’ll talk to you next week.

S3: So.