The idea of reality TV is that it’s supposed to be real. When you watch a show like Survivor or the Bachelor, you’re supposed to feel like these people are your friends and neighbors and co-workers (even if they’re not). But there’s one thing about reality TV that never seems very real: the contestants’ bodies. On every single show, no matter how many calories they eat or how much time they spend at the gym, nearly all of the contestants seem impossibly thin. So what gives?
Not everyone who appears who appears on Survivor, Big Brother or Great British Bakeoff is slender so we want to provide some tips to help everyone at every fitness level prepare to be on the show.
As a reminder, we are not professional trainers. We are regular people who really like reality shows, and we’re sharing our thoughts on that topic. This post is for entertainment and information purposes rather than educational purposes.
If you are accepted as an applicant for one of the major shows, we highly suggest working with a personal trainer who can provide a program specifically for you.
Why get in shape before going on a reality show?
Contestants who arrive to a reality show have a decided advantage over those who do not. The reason that so many of the finalists are slender or athletic is a combination that there are more people who begin the game this way and the fact that they have an advantage in the physical challenges.
Think about all the challenges on Survivor, Big Brother or Amazon Race where the contestant has to balance on something. The small female contestant will have a far easier time doing this than a large 300 pound man.
To be fair being smaller isn’t better for all the challenges. There are some team challenges that require moving an object to opposing poles sort of like a tug of war. In these cases, the extra mass from the larger participants does give them the edge. These are far less common than the smaller is better type challenge.
Another reason to get in shape is that there are many team challenges at the start of the season. Many teams have voted people off simply because they couldn’t run or swim fast enough. The opening challenges will often tether the team together meaning they can only go the speed of the slowest player.
If you are a larger person like me, it can be a challenge to safely keep up with someone who moving a third of your body mass. If I were to ever appear on a reality show, I do a “couch to 5k” app to get in shape where I could complete the 5k in less than 30 minutes. This isn’t a stellar time, and the goal is simply to be in good enough shape that the team doesn’t deem you a complete obstacle to their winning.
This advice holds true for contestants on cooking shows like Great British Bake Off, Chopped or my favorite Cutthroat Kitchen. Each of these shows has filming that can last for 8+ hours, and it can be tiring to be on your feet cooking at maximum output for that long.
I get tired after doing holiday cookie day so there’s no way that I’d be in shape to compete in a cooking show even though the seem less physically demanding than some of the bigger adventure shows.
Should you build muscle or build stamina?
In my opinion, it’s far better to have stamina for days while just being strong enough. I can’t recall an individual competition was a pure strength test whereas there are so many that are based solely on stamina.
For the challenges that are strength related, these are always on teams. Due to casting and teams being balanced, most teams will have someone who has physical strength. They could be a former professional or Olympic athlete. They may just be someone who enjoys going to the gym, but you can be assured that each team will have people who have invested a lot of time and energy in being physically fit.
That’s ok. Even at my peak physical ability, I would never be that person. Because of this, I would go into the game knowing that I need to maximize my stamina doing long stings on a treadmill, elliptical, or rowing machine rather then trying to use a lot of heavy weights.
Another great tip is to do laps in the pool each day so that your muscles feel comfortable swimming. Swimming is a great way to get in shape that is low impact on your joints. You don’t want to risk injuring yourself before going on the show so I really like swimming.
Advantages of weighing Less
The previous section included some reasons to lose the extra points, but I really want to drive the point home. As someone who has a desk job carrying an extra 10 or 20 pounds isn’t the healthiest life choice, but it doesn’t impact my daily life. I have plenty of comfortable chairs to sit in. I have a soft mattress, and after work I sit on a large couch often watching TV.
Other than the occasional stairs in my home and walking from room to room, there isn’t a lot of stress on my joints. Furthermore, it’s very easy for me to sit and rest after doing anything demanding. The risk of pulling a muscle is mimal.
The same cannot be said for reality shows. During the challenges there is limited seating. The challenges can often require jumping down which multiplies the force on your joints. Climbing or pulling yourself up by a rope is also far more difficult as you weight more.
Another factor has to do with falling. When a 100 person lands wrong on a jump and turns their ankle, it’s likely to cause little to know energy. However, the same landing for a 300+ pound person would turn the ankle far more has the potential to cause a game ending injury.
For the average person, I think going into the game as lean as possible is a strategy that will maximize the chances for winning. This doesn’t mean to starve yourself, but really work hard to build as much stamina as possible while eating healthy.
Advantages of weighing More
Over the years, there have been some players who prepped for the games doing the exact opposite approach. They’ve strategically purposefully gained weight and put on many excess pounds before going on the show.
This approach makes the most sense for hyper athletic males who are already at very good physical ability. Their idea is that they’ve spent years and maybe decades building muscle. They will be able to perform any physical challenge, and they have utterly no chance of being the person deemed to physically unfit to doom their team to failure.
The reason they choose to put on the extra pounds it to create a fat reserve before going on the show. Many of the contestants have shared about the devastating impact to their bodies being on the show has. They are in a calorie deficit starting on day one, and by the end of the competition all the contestants have lost significant mass.
For the hyper athletic contestants who come in with a very low body fat percentage, they have less fat to burn meaning that the body is cannibalizing the muscle mass. This will cause more fatigue than burning excess fat stores.
I’m not suggesting that contestants try to put on 50 extra pounds, but an extra 10-15 pounds of mass for an already healthy person could make a major difference near the end of the game.
If they are voted off early on then it’s just a matter of hitting the gym and burning through their calorie store.
Be able to run or at least jog
I often chuckle at the start of the season when the contestants have to run as a team as invariably there seems to be someone who hasn’t done any sort of running or jogging since their time in high school.
They just flail their arms around and clearly haven’t let their bodies get comfortable with the motion. If you are going to appear on a reality show, it’s best to start at a reasonable pace and work your way up from walking to jogging to running assuming your physician will approve. Because people who get on the shows have to pass a medical review, I’ll assume that most people should be able to run and it’s just a matter of their bodies not being familiar with the movement any more.
As a mentioned before doing a couch to 5k is a perfect way to train yourself get in good enough shape so that you can be part of the team. Let’s face it, you’re never ever going to win a race against a retired NBA or MLB layer, and that’s ok. You just need to be in good enough shape that the team isn’t constantly dragging you along.
Be able to swim
Every year I am astounded people apply to be on Big Brother, Amazing Race and Survivor who don’t know how to swim. There are challenges that require swimming literally every season, and I just don’t know what they are thinking. Immediately, this lets me leads me to think they have a target on them.
Just like in the section on running listed above, you don’t need to be a competitive racing swimmer. You don’t need to know multiple strokes. You just need to be competent so that you aren’t at risk of drowning and you can get from one point to another.
If you don’t know how to swim, I’d suggest hiring a swim teach for a lesson or two. You don’t need to learn perfect form or how to really go fast. Just the ability to stay afloat and move in the correct direction.
Everything will be filmed
When you are on a reality show, there will be challenges when you will be in a swimsuit. This means there will public record of how you appear when your not wearing a lot of clothing.
Getting in shape will help you blend in more when you are doing the water challenges. This is strangely a bigger issue for guys rather than gals in the current reality show system. It’s grown acceptable to compete with a shirt over their swimsuit; however, I can’t recall a guy ever competing in anything other than his trunks.
To be fair, I don’t know if any guy has ever requested to wear a shirt during the water competitions. I wonder how he would be seen by the production staff or viewing audience if he were to do ask for this. I’d love to hear in the comments if you can think of a male contestant who wore a shirt during the water challenges.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this articles on 7 reasons to get in shape before going on a reality show. I totally accept everyone has a right to choose how they live in their body, and I am in no means try to tell anyone how to live.
This is simply a thoughtful academic exercise on using your body shape and size to maximize your chances of winning an adventure reality show. Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.