I’m sitting in a room of nine other people, two casting agents and myself, waiting my turn to answer one of 20 questions one of the casting agents will ask me. It’s, for me, the third round of auditions to make in on a rather prestigious reality show (that I can’t mention because I’d get sued up the ass if I did), and it’s the first casting call I’d ever been invited to. Most people showed up because they heard about it on their university’s campus, but I was asked to venture out after filling out a very extended questionnaire and sending in a few photos of myself.
I showed up not sure what to expect. I was a little excited because I’d always wanted to be on reality television ever since I saw Coral from the Real World on the Real World/Road Rules Challenge stand up for herself, her womanhood and against the obvious racism throughout her time on the shows. At first, I only wanted to be “reality television famous,” and I felt like reality television was what I was made to do. But now I realize my story deserves to be told.
And I could go on forever about my life, and people who know me know that I do, but here’s the short story version: I grew up in a Catholic household as gay, didn’t come out until I was nearly 21, fell in love with too many unattainable men, battled depression and suicidal thoughts, dealt with OCD my entire life, and recently began identifying as asexual. Any casting agency could see the story arcs from a mile away. Little did I know, that was the problem.
But back to the casting call. I was in the first 100 people to show up, and I remember thinking immediately that I didn’t belong there. It was a massive group of people who I thought were much more attractive than me, skinnier, and seemed to fit the stereotypical mold you see in the media. But then, I sat in a room with these people for hours… I realized slowly that I was by far the most entertaining person in the room simply because I was being myself. I didn’t try to grab unnecessary attention or do anything other than try and be honest about who I was. Meanwhile, the entire group went on and on about “turning up” and the last time they woke up drunk in a dumpster. It was like sitting in a room of people thinking that they could just “perform” reality television. It was unbearable.
After a few hours of standing around, a group of 10 of us were called into a room with two casting agents. Each one of us was expected to answer some sort of question posed by the agent holding our applications in her hand. She went around the room, asking questions like, “Are you in a relationship?” “What’s something I wouldn’t know about you from just looking at you?” and “What do you want to be?”
Answers vary from genuine people talking about their career interests and love life. And then, the ass-hats show up, talking about turning up and creating a spectacle. And I roll my eyes thinking, “Do I really want this if this is what the show is gonna look like?” The agent is on the guy right before me, and I start thinking about what to say until the guy stops her and asks her if he can get comfortable. Confused, she says yes. He strips down to his underwear. And I could tell you how much of a joke it was, but you probably get the point. It’s a spectacle. He wants to be the spectacle, and that type of person deserves to be on reality television because it’s the only thing he could ever accomplish. They talk about his underwear choices. I’m rolling my eyes.
She gets to me. In the midst of underwear man’s big reveal, I forgot to think about what to say. We talk about little things like being a student and what I study, (I slyly avoid mentioning that I’m in grad school studying queer representations in the media in hopes to avoid coming off as media savvy as I am). She gets to the main question: “What’s something I wouldn’t know about you from just looking at you?”
Without thinking, I say, “Well, a lot of people assume I’m gay, but I actually identify as asexual.” We start talking about sex and how I’m a virgin and how I’m not embarrassed to admit it anymore. I almost forgot that I was auditioning to be on reality television because it was just a natural conversation… but that was until some asshole yelled, “You should try sex. Vaginas are great.” Everyone laughed, but I don’t acknowledge his presence. I’m done talking now, and I’m convinced that it was over.
To end the casting call, the agent asked everyone, “Why do you want to be on this show?” She goes through everyone except me and underwear man. As everyone leaves the room after answering the question, it’s me, underwear man, and the two casting agents left. They don’t ask us the question. They just tell us that they may call us later and that they want to take photos of us.
Later that night, I got the illustrious call-back. They want me to come back and do a 45-minute one-on-one interview. I’m ecstatic… until I remember that I hated the entire experience because it made me feel terrible about myself. But I say yes, and the next day, I show up to a hotel, sit in a waiting room with an assistant and other hopeful people who received a callback… one of them being underwear man.
After waiting for about an hour, I’m finally called to do my interview, and it’s with the casting agent from the day before. We talk about the things I filled out on the questionnaire I did about a month prior. She keeps telling me to start sentences with the question she asks me because otherwise the video won’t make sense after they edit her voice out. I try my best, but it’s a lot more difficult than it seems. The interview is great, and I feel like she’s my best friend. She tells me I’m fantastic. She wants to see more. I have to send in an audition tape of me in my hometown.
But that’s where things get complicated. Before I leave, I have to answer legal questions about myself. She asks me if I’ve thought about suicide, what my life is like, if I’m mentally capable of handling the situation. So I tell her the truth: I suffer with depression, I take an anti-depressant daily, I’ve written a suicide note before. And it’s all true. I’m not ashamed of the person I am because that person is a warrior. He’s fought for every bit of life, but they don’t know that. They see a liability.
So she asks me, “Have you beaten depression?”
I say, “You can’t beat depression. It’s something you live with, and you learn to cope with. Somedays it sucks, and other days, it doesn’t. You make it work.”
But I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t make it on the show. They asked me to sign a contract, which, if I made it on the show, allowed them to have me medically examined, and confidentiality laws do not apply. Whatever happebs gets reported directly to the casting agency.
I go home, and in two days, I make the best audition tape I can possibly make. I show them my apartment, introduce them to my best friend, try to take them to karaoke, which turns out to be me singing in my car because karaoke is cancelled for the night. I send it in, and they want more, specifically videos of me drunk, my hobbies and my family. They want to know who I can be when a camera is following me. They want a spectacle. And I’m not the guy to give it to them. They should call up underwear man.
But I still try my best. They get staged videos of me playing terrible drinking games at a bar, staged videos of me dancing on top of tables to Rihanna’s “Work” and Danity Kane’s “Showstopper,” and one real video of me teaching my students all about journalistic credibility. I send in that video, and to this day, I haven’t heard anything. With mention of filming taking place in June and one final round of auditions to be held in the first week of May, I knew I didn’t make the cut.
I acted like I was okay with not making the show because of the foolishness I experienced the whole way through, but I really wanted to make it. I wanted to show people what a real sufferer of depression looks like. We have ups and downs; our lives are rollercoasters, and that’s okay. I wanted LGBTQIA+ representations to start showing more than just stereotypes (and to get more than just gay, lesbian, bi and trans representations). I wanted to make history as the first openly asexual person on reality television. But through this process, I learned two undeniable truths.
As we all know, reality television is staged. People are put into uncomfortable situations with obnoxious people to capture dramatic moments for entertainment purposes. But more than that, people have to sell themselves extremely short to make it on these shows. I’m sure underwear man was a nice guy, but we don’t get to see that. I’m sure everyone in that room at the casting call was great, but we won’t see that. The show wanted a spectacle, and our youth is naïve enough to give it to them.
In my opinion, you have to be willing to lose yourself. Reality shows are designed to frame you as one specific type of person. They could make me the flamboyant, bitchy gay guy or the person that everyone loves to hate all by editing. Reality shows are designed to change other’s perceptions of you, and it eventually makes you question your own self-perception as well. After fighting like hell over the past year to make sure I found myself, I wasn’t going to compromise. My momma taught me better than that.
This experience was eye-opening. It may not have changed my life in the way I expected/wanted it to, but now I have a fun little fact to tell people: I was one round away from making it onto a very prestigious reality television show (maybe I’ll let them know the name of it, too). And I can’t wait for the show to air to see if underwear man made it.
And for the record, I still believe that I’d make great reality television, but that requires reality television to start getting real.