Welcome to reality TV, where the stars schtoop at their own risk.
A formal editorial director for TVGuide.com is claiming that Snooki, the Situation and the rest of the Jersey Shore gang were required to sign a so-called VD clause, presumably intended to absolve MTV Networks of any responsibility should the cast members catch sexually transmitted diseases while shooting the program.
Seth Kaufman, whose new novel, The King of Pain, takes a fictionalized look at the sketchy business of reality television, says such contracts are pervasive in an industry where producers and TV networks benefit greatly from the outlandish, and often risky, behavior of reality stars.
Honest to God, there's even a VD clause in most reality show contracts, the book's protagonist bellows. If anyone gets dosed from a co-star during filming, you can't blame the production company or the network.
Kaufman claims to have received information about the clause directly from someone who works on Jersey Shore. International Business Times reached out to Jersey Shore senior publicist Michael Fabiani, who said that MTV Networks does not comment on the specifics of contracts. However, the network would neither confirm nor deny the existence of a VD clause.
Admittedly, it's difficult to muster much sympathy for cast members who are paid upwards of $2.5 million a year to urinate in public and mangle the English language. However, the alleged VD clause raises an important question about how much TV networks should be allowed to divorce themselves from the physical and mental well-being of their cast members and contestants. Moreover, for every Snooki and Bethenny Frankel who become well-paid celebrities, reality shows spew out countless one-timers who make it on the air just long enough to be humiliated during a botched audition or endure a few harsh words from a grouchy chef.
For those contestants, 15 minutes of fame (or five minutes, in some cases) may not be worth the mental anguish that follows their moment of public disgrace. Many health care professionals have voiced concerns in recent years about the number of former reality show contestants who have committed suicide. The list is substantial: Julien Hug of The Bachelorette, Paula Goodspeed of American Idol and almost a dozen others since the genre became a television mainstay in the late 1990s. Then there was the case of Joseph Cerniglia, a 39-year-old restaurateur who leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge after receiving a verbal flogging from Gordon Ramsay on the Fox's Kitchen Nightmares.
More recently, Russell Armstrong, the estranged husband of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Taylor Armstrong, was found dead of an apparent suicide by hanging after the couple's relationship troubles were made public on the Bravo series. In August 2011, Armstrong's family threatened to sue the cable network, arguing that pressure from his participation in the show directly contributed to his state of mind at the time of his death. Nearly a year later, though, there are no reports of the lawsuit having been filed.
Dr. Jamie Huysman, a psychologist who founded the post-TV counseling program Aftercare TV, said networks have a responsibility to perform more rigorous background checks to ensure that their reality show participants are mentally fit to appear on the air. If you have a mental health problem like an addiction, some of these shows stir up the issues and bring them to the forefront, she said in an interview with the Canyon Treatment Center. When the show ends, you're left alone to deal with them, and some people aren't prepared for that.
Just how far networks should be forced to go to ensure the mental stability of their reality stars is open to debate, but if rigorous background checks were to become the norm, it could spell the end of the genre as we know it. After all, you'd have to be a little bit crazy to call Snooki mentally fit.