How to Get on a Reality Show

By Irene Starygina

In response to criticism that its reality TV couldn’t be further from “real,” MTV handed the cameras to its newest crop of guinea pigs: college freshmen at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. On College Life, students do their own filming, sans double-takes, heavy editing and favorable lighting. Aside from the ability to hold the camera steady at crowded parties, what else did MTV producers look for when casting the show? Here are highlights from our exclusive interviews with the cast of College Life


AndreaAndrea, 19: “There was an application, I believe, but I went in for a walk-in audition”

When did you apply to be on the show? What do you think set you apart in the application process?

A: I applied about 2 weeks into school, and it wasn’t really an application. There was an application, I believe, but I went in for a walk-in audition, told them, you know, what I stood for, who I am. I’m a Christian; I have really strong beliefs: I don’t drink, I’m saving myself for marriage, and I really live my life for Jesus Christ. That’s different than a lot of other students.

How did MTV contact you?

A:  About 3 days after my walk-in, I had a call saying, “We want you to come in and get a camera.” It was really last-minute—I had to call my parents, and talk to my roommate and everything.

So you had already started school when you applied?

A: Yeah, about 2 weeks into my freshman year, so I came here with no idea that this would be happening or that they were even doing this show.

What was your first reaction when you found out that you were picked for the show? 

A:  I was ecstatic. I was avoiding the call because they said they wanted me to get some paperwork in after my walk-in audition, and I hadn’t gotten it done because I had a lot of schoolwork. So I kept ignoring their calls thinking they were gonna ask for paperwork and I didn’t have it yet. Finally, my roommate and I were at Jamba Juice, and I decided to call them, expecting they were going to yell at me, trying to come up with excuses about not having the paperwork in. But instead they were like, “come get a camera,” and I was so excited.

Did the MTV crew ever interrupt you filming or do the filming for you?

A: No. They had field producers on campus to get us tapes and stuff. Like if we needed new batteries, they’d be there. They were never there to film. Sometimes I wish they were, though. Like at parties and stuff it would have been way easier having a camera crew around at some points.


Kevin College LifeKevin, 19: “In the beginning it was still a joke”

Why do you think you were chosen for the show?

K:  I have no idea. My buddies and I all interviewed together, we thought it was a joke. We were bored the first couple of weeks before classes started, we thought, “why not?”

What was your first reaction and who was the first person you told when you found out that you were picked for the show? 

K: Hahaha! That’s the big thing, even when they gave us the camera there was no idea if it was ever going to be on the air. In the beginning it was still a joke to us, so we didn’t filter anything and we might have shown some regrettable things. We partied pretty hard on it. I think the first person I called was my roommate.

According to MTV, students do their own filming. How did you manage to film yourself while you were out? 

K: Honestly, it was really, really awkward! You had to hold it up in front of you, and try to film yourself by flipping the screen over. Or you could give it to a buddy sometimes, but it was really weird and awkward. For the most part I had no idea what I was doing.

What was your main reason for doing the show? Would you do it again?  

K:  Definitely the financial situation, you get a TV and stuff just for carrying around a camera all the time. It was a different experience, a rare opportunity and before I knew it I was shirt deep and there was no turning back.

So they paid you?

K:  I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about the money.

Did the MTV crew ever interrupt filming, have you repeat scenes differently or do the filming for you? 

K:  No, it was like, “Drop off your stuff.” Sometimes they might give us a ride, or take us out to dinner. It’s a real pain in the ass to self-produce your own show with all the other college stuff going on; you get busy.


Josh College LifeJosh, 20: “Everyone thinks I’m carrying alcohol in my backpack, but it’s just a camera”

How did MTV contact you?

J: Well, actually, my ex-girlfriend Andrea was on the show and I was on her camera a lot and once our story got complicated they asked me if I wanted one.

Did you receive any monetary compensation from MTV? 

J: It’s decent.

Did you carry the camera with you all the time?

J: Besides when I go to class, yea. Everyone thinks I’m carrying alcohol in my backpack, but it’s just a camera.

How often did you ask your friend(s) to film you? Were people psyched to get on camera? Did they act differently around it?

J: There’s definitely, like, a bunch of mixed reactions. I know, like, a lot of people when I first started filming at parties and they were, like, ‘oh look, the MTV camera,’ and then they got used to it. Once people started finding out about the show then it got better. At the beginning of the year that was different.

Did the MTV crew ever interrupt filming or do the filming for you?

J: They uh, all they do is pick up tapes. The only thing they ever do is to capture something to make sense of something. They give us guidance but do not tell us what to do at all. Make sure when we’re going out to say what we’re doing for the night. To say, “I’m about to go to this party,” that sort of stuff to give context. Most people just leave the house and go out.


Jordan College LifeJordan, 19: “I’ll get random text messages every once in a while”

Did you or your friends censor what you said on camera because you knew the whole world will see it? 

J: Oh, did we like check ourselves? Of course, you are always conscious about the camera, and my mom, she’s all about “I don’t want to hear you cursing on TV!” so maybe I’ve turned down the cursing a little bit, but we don’t check ourselves too much.

Has anyone come up to you so far and said “Hey, I saw you on TV!”

J: I get kids in my smaller classes that will come up to me after class and I’ll get random text messages every once in a while.

How did you manage to film yourself while you were out? Did you just, you know, hold the camera up a lot?

J: He-he, yeah. It’s great because my friends, like, they film too, so you know, if I can’t like hold the camera up or whatnot I can just hand it off to one of them.

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