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Reality TV Jobs and the People Who Do Them

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Depending on who’s counting, there are as many of 500 reality TV shows out there, from the So You Think You’re America’s Next Top Broadway Star competitions to the Who Wants to Marry the Girls Next Door dating shows.

In addition to the squabbling housewives and larger-than-life celebrity families, you’ll also find plenty of shows following more relatable people and everyday workers, like personal trainers, architects, and chefs. But how close to “real life” is that reality show?

The Biggest Loser

The Job: Personal Trainer
For personal trainers, working out, eating right, and maintaining perfect abs are tax-deductible business expenses. Dressing for work means grabbing your favorite LYCRA shorts and lacing up your sneakers. Sweat equity is measured in actual sweat. You get paid to scream “Focus!” at clients while thinking up ever-more-elaborate ways to motivate them through their emotional and physical battles with weight loss.

On The Biggest Loser, people with weight problems move to a workout campus to train with workout gurus Bob Harper, Jillian Michaels, and new trainers Brett Hoebel, Alison Sweeney, and Cara Castronuova. It’s their job to inspire, teach, coach, and motivate contestants, or “clients,” through a complete physical and mental transformation. Contestants check into a secluded environment and are offered expensive prizes to do crazy workouts trainers dream up. In the real world, you have to go to the clients and persuade them to pay you. How do you get that job?

“I train people in their homes,” says J. J. Flizanes, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and author of Fit 2 Love: How to Get Physically, Emotionally and Spiritually Fit to Attract the Love of Your Life. Ask clients to push your truck the way Jillian and Bob did in one episode, and you’ll probably get fired. “This is about teaching and encouraging—not torturing,” says Flizanes.

Motivate yourself to motivate others
You need to know more than a few good workouts to run a successful personal training business. The Biggest Loser attracts contestants with the TV show and cash prizes. Starting your own career in personal fitness takes marketing, outreach, and brand development to bring paying customers your way. Flizanes has written two books to build the muscle of her business’s brand.

Does this sound like something you want to pursue? Pay attention in science class. “I wish I’d known I wanted to do this when I was in high school,” says Flizanes. “It would have made anatomy class loads more interesting.” She suggests you study the essential sciences, like anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, biochemistry, and psychology, so you can design your own fitness philosophy rather than learn someone else’s training plan. There are many types of personal training certifications available, and you can study physiology, dietetics, and clinical nutrition at a number of colleges and universities.

Since a lot of clients choose trainers because they want to look just like them, keep doing those crunches, and make sure to focus on your own fitness and nutrition regime to inspire others!

America’s Next Great Restaurant

The Job: Restaurateur
This show dangles the American dream in front of its contestants. The chance to own a chain of restaurants in three major cities (New York City, Minneapolis, and Hollywood) goes to the contestant who convinces investors his or her idea has legs. From developing the concept to designing the look, brand, and even a child’s toy to go with meals—not to mention actually cooking—participants take their ideas into sit-down eateries, all under the brutal scrutiny of highly esteemed investors in the restaurant industry and celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay

Can you handle long hours under pressure, juggling menu planning, temperamental chefs, and food disasters, all while your career gets decided by the fickle palate of a 12-year-old? Sounds tough. . . .

“The restaurant business is a lot like that,” says Eric Clark, COO of Tossed, a chain of quick, fresh food restaurants. “They get right to the meat of it. You have to have the right concept and great food. But you also need a great name, color scheme, and story behind what you are doing.” And the real world of restaurants is just as harsh, grueling, and likely to reduce you to tears. “The pressure is constant,” says Clark. “It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You never have enough time to get everything done. And you have to do it all in a small, often hot, space. [The restaurant business] is a pressure cooker where you are ready to break down and cry a dozen times a day. But at the end of the day, when everyone loves what you did, you get immediate gratification. It’s a blast!”

Your own pressure cooker
The one thing that’s unrealistic about the show, says Clark, is the lack of restaurant experience among the contestants. “If it wasn’t for all the coaching they get on the show, none of them could pull it off.” It’s no wonder there is such a high failure rate in restaurants (roughly 60%, though the common myth is closer to 90%). “People think they can do it because they have chairs and food,” he says. It takes a lot more than that.

“First of all, you need passion and a phenomenal work ethic,” Clark says. If you want to be chef, go to a reputable culinary school, he advises. If you hope to own the restaurant, study business too. Whichever way you go, get a job in a restaurant before you commit to this industry as a career. Work your way up the ladder to get as much experience in as many areas of the field as possible and—most of all—to find out if you enjoy it.

The work is long and hard. “It starts early in the day with mental work,” he says. “And it ends late at night with hard physical labor. I have never known a successful restaurateur to ever say at the end of a 15-hour day, ‘I got everything done.’ You never get everything done. But it’s never boring.”

The Suze Orman Show

The Job: Financial Advisor
Okay, this isn’t your typical elimination-style, life-documenting reality show, but it’s a great example of a real financial career unfolding in the public eye. In every episode, Orman dishes on money. Viewers watch in awe (or horror) as she saves people from squandering their savings on crazy purchases and investment schemes, debunks what she deems slippery advice from other pundits, and cuts through the hype. Orman also isn’t shy about how much personal wealth her financial wisdom has enabled her to amass. How do you get her job?

“The best thing about Suze is that she is beholden to no one,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit counselor for Mint.com. “So she can be very honest—and theatrical. Whether you love or hate her, you are watching.” Orman makes it look easy, but her honesty comes from a credibility she had to earn through years of experience.

Many jobs in the financial industry put you in an awkward position when it comes to telling it like you see it. “When you are representing a financial services company,” explains Ulzheimer, “they give you strict talking points. You have to stick to those to keep your job, no matter what you think. If you are your own person like Suze—or me—you’re concern is only with the person paying for your advice.”

Paying your dues
Becoming a financial adviser might be a long(ish) journey. “I am not aware of any academic program you graduate from and become a certified financial advisor,” Ulzheimer says. “That’s something you earn.” However, you can become a Certified Financial Planner after meeting a number of education and professional requirements (visit www.cfp.net for more info). It’s a good idea to study some economics, finance, and accounting but majoring in something else is not a deal breaker. If you are a math nerd, for example, and determined to study pure math, this would be a great career choice. Even studying biology (or criminology as Ulzheimer did) won’t get in your way too much. “Most of what you learn will be on the job,” he says.

Get a job in the industry as soon as you can. “Good financial advisors tend to be busy,” Ulzheimer says. “That means there are internships.” Think about passing up a more lucrative summer job waiting tables to pick up some on-the-job experience as an intern, unpaid if necessary. And before you get too set on this future, ask yourself what your biggest fear is. Is it public speaking? Do you have social anxiety? This job may not be for you.

“Drumming up business means giving presentations and speaking at events,” Ulzheimer says. That is, unless you are tech-savvy. “A lot of the people in financial services are old school,” he says. “There is a lot of room for that go-getter with 15 websites who is killing the SEO and can bring in business from states he will never visit.”

If you’ve read the news, you know these are tough times in the financial industries. “Banks are laying off,” says Ulzheimer. “And that affects the industries banks drive—such as credit reporting and mortgages. But these things occur in cycles. So if you won’t be hitting the work force for four or five years, this could be a good time to think about [a career as a financial advisor].”

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

The Job: Home Designer/Architect/Project Manager
On this reality show, a team of designers, architects, and carpenters sweep into the homes of deserving families in need, tear down crumbling wall and rusty plumbing, and replace them with their dream house—if the family knew enough about houses to dream in that sort of detail.

Are you able to see through ugly, old, and dilapidated structures to the potential beauty underneath? Can you wield a hammer and saw to turn the ordinary into something amazing? Do you have the skills to direct a team that can create paradise from raw materials? There might be a career out there for you in home design or architecture.

Lead by host/project manager Ty Pennington, the show’s core crew is a team, and that team brings in a construction crew to get the job done. That’s how they manage to finish houses that could take months in just a weekend. “Ty’s job—if you had to give the show’s host a title in the real world—is a project manager,” says DeAnna Radaj, owner of Bante Design LLC, an interior design company in Milwaukee. Pennington’s background is in design and carpentry, but once he comes up with the vision, the houses are built by architects, interior designers, contractors, and builders. This is an industry of specialists, and often they focus exclusively on their own specialty, says Radaj. “I know one designer who does only lighting.”

What houses are you dreaming up?
If this is the job for you, try to first decide what part of the house you might specialize in. “If you want to focus on the outside of the house,” Radaj says, “study architecture.” Or does interior decorating spark your imagination? Radaj recommends pursuing design. But it’s okay if you aren’t ready to pick a specialty; there are plenty of foundational skills all specialists need. “Hang out in home improvement stores,” she says. “Immerse yourself in the fixtures and terminology. And learn everything you can about furniture and architectural styles so that when someone is talking about ‘arts and crafts’ you aren’t thinking glue and paper. No matter what direction you go, you will need to know this stuff.”

And work on your organizational skills. “You have to be highly organized and detail oriented,” Radaj says. “You don’t want the sink to arrive before the plumbing is installed, and that’s all about coming up with a plan and following it.” So make lists and plans, get organized, and follow through. “Organization is a skill that will serve you well no matter what career you choose.”

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