What it's really like to be on a TLC show

There was a time when the TLC network was known as The Learning Channel, but these days you probably turn on TLC for something a bit less learning heavy. Now one of the major reality television networks, TLC still includes some arguably educational programming (assuming Dr. Pimple Popper and Extreme Couponing can be deemed educational), but most of its programming centers around the shocking, extreme, and surprising. After all, TLC gave us the Honey Boo Boo crew and the whole Gosselin gang. 

If you're a huge fan of TLC shows, you've probably wondered what it's like to be on a TLC show yourself, or maybe you've even been scouting the casting calls to find the perfect opportunity to land you in the spotlight. But it isn't all rainbows and roses once you find the perfect casting call and land an audition. Here's what it's really like to be on a TLC show.

You may be following a script if you're on a TLC show

If you're dreaming of your very own TLC show where the whole world gets to see what it's really like to be you, it may be disappointing to learn that what happens on TLC shows isn't always unplanned and off the cuff. Courtney Wright, who was a bridesmaid on Say Yes to the Dress in 2013, was asked about her experience by 417 Magazine and revealed that reality television isn't all that real at all. "Well, it's staged," she told the mag. "It's real, but it's staged." 

According to some TLC stars, even the words you say may not be your own. Chris Thieneman, who 90 Day Fiancé fans will recognize as the best friend of David Toborowsky, sat down with his wife, Nikki Cooper, and answered questions from fans about whether the show is scripted. "Well, absolutely parts of it is. No question," Chris said. "Some of it is real and then teased with, added to, subtracted from." Nikki agreed, adding, "I wouldn't say that there's a written script that's like, 'Hey, read this line, read this line.' But there [are] times where there are different people or producers that come up to you and say, 'Oh, I think it would be cool if you do this,' or 'I think you should say this.'"

Your love life may not be entirely in your own control if you're on a TLC show

Producers undoubtedly care a lot about how the stars of TLC shows are perceived by fans, which can make or break a show. So if you're on a TLC show, producers will be monitoring who you date and what it means for the show's image. Just ask June Shannon, whose love life led to the cancellation of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo when speculation surfaced that she was dating a convicted child molester, as reported by Today

If you're already in a relationship when you start the show and producers deem the relationship good for business, be prepared to stay in that relationship or face extreme pressure. The demise of Jon and Kate Gosselin's marriage while they were filming Jon & Kate Plus 8 was a long time coming,.. so what took so long? It turns out that TLC itself may have been part of the reason. Even once the couple had decided to separate, producers urged them to stay together. Jon Gosselin told Steve Harvey in 2016, "We knew we were going to get divorced, and then the network tried to keep us together for the benefit of the show, so I quit."

If you're on a TLC show, there's no such thing as privacy

If you do manage to find a healthy relationship while on a TLC show, you can forget about any semblance of privacy. In fact, that applies to every facet of life while on a TLC show. Sandy Malone, star of TLC's Wedding Island, revealed in a piece for HuffPost, "NEVER believe anyone who tells you they won't use something they're filming." 

We've all seen those seemingly private and embarrassing moments on TLC shows and asked ourselves, "Don't they realize they're being filmed?" Well, maybe they're told something won't be included in the show or they just forget the cameras are still rolling. After all, there's a lot that's filmed. Even on a show that seems pretty straightforward, a single episode can take hours upon hours to film. According to Good Housekeeping, just one Kleinfeld  appointment on Say Yes to the Dress can take up to ten hours. That's a whole lot of footage for producers and editors to go through. 

Whether or not you believe reality TV stars deserve to keep their private lives private or not, you're better off assuming nothing is private if you find yourself on a TLC show.

Producers may take your words out of context when you're on a TLC show

With all that extra footage from filming virtually all the time, producers have plenty to work with if they don't like how a situation is playing out on a TLC show. Have you ever been watching a reality TV show and thought that the audio sounded spliced together while no one's face is on screen? It's a tricky tactic used by producers to make you sound how they want to make you sound. 

Wedding Island star Sandy Malone explained in a HuffPost piece, "Even when they're not filming you (that you're aware of), they're taping every word that comes out of your mouth." She explained, "There is a group of producers and assistants sitting in a control booth or a van taking notes on every word you mutter, every phone call you make, and what time you sneezed." 

If you think it won't matter because what you're saying doesn't have anything to do with what you're shooting, think again. Malone continued, "The things you say when you think nobody is listening often make the best voiceovers in edit." There's even a term for it in showbusiness — frankenbiting.

You won't be able to sing your favorite pop song or listen to the radio if you're on a TLC show

Have you ever wondered why the stars of your favorite TLC shows don't jam out to the latest hits while they're getting ready for a night out or why you never see someone break into spontaneous song? Wedding Island star Sandy Malone explained in a piece for HuffPost that there's a very good reason for that. "It makes perfect sense because the network cannot use commercial music without paying for it," she wrote, "and if you're a baby reality show, nobody is paying royalties to Pink or Rihanna so that you can jam out to 'Perfect' or 'Umbrella' to get psyched up in the car on the way to a wedding." 

As we know, the cameras are pretty much always rolling, so chances for an off-camera sing-along are rare if not nonexistent. Malone added, "If you have a good relationship with your producers (as I eventually did), you might get a one song break..."

TLC will know all your secrets if you're on one of their shows

In recent years, there's been a lot of scandal surrounding the past behavior of some TLC stars that could lead you to think the network doesn't look into your past when you're hired. But that's just not true, and if you're keeping skeletons in your closet, you may not be able to keep them secret if you're on a TLC show. 

While it's true that background checks don't always uncover everything, according to 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days star Paul Staehle in a now-deleted Facebook live video reported by InTouch, extensive background checks are par for the course with TLC. He revealed that his own TLC background check led to some questions on the part of the network, so they did even more vetting. "They asked me a lot of questions in regards to it, they did their own investigation — I think it was like a week [that] they had to go through everything because it takes a little bit of time to actually pull up court documents and see exactly what happened, statements from people, what happened with situations," Paul, who's been a part of some of 90 Day Fiancé's most awkward proposals, said. "So TLC especially takes that very seriously."

You might be made out to be a TLC show villain

Think being on a TLC show will reveal to the world just how great of a person you are? Better hope the producers agree with you or else people could think you're the villain. Just ask Leida Margaretha and Eric Rosenbrook from 90 Day Fiancé

In an interview with The Domenick Nati Show, Eric revealed that the bad blood on the show is all because of what the producers want to see. "It starts on the show, and it starts with portrayal," he said. "In our season, between us and Tasha, they just removed the context completely, and they put in their own narrative. They edit it in a way that explains ... the way they want it displayed." Eric noted that if producers had shared entire conversations, viewers would have formed a different opinion about them. 

It isn't easy to see yourself portrayed differently than how you see yourself. Former Return to Amish star Kate Stoltz revealed in a now-deleted tweet (via Us Weekly), "Doing a reality show was one of the worst decisions I made in my life. Everything on the show is so edited and out of context."

If you're on a TLC show, you may remember your experiences differently from what's shown

Even if you aren't exactly made out to be the villain on a TLC show, you'll probably remember things happening quite differently from how the final cut looks on television, for better or for worse. On the first season finale of Welcome to Plathville, for example, viewers saw Olivia Plath buy her young sister-in-law Moriah Plath a one-way plane ticket to Minnesota, seemingly without the consent of the then-16-year-old's parents. Moriah's dad went so far as to say on the episode, "Olivia is an accomplice to ambush."

However, Olivia was quick to point out that this wasn't how things actually went down. "Thanks to those who were concerned about my character, calling me a witch [and] poison. Truth? I'd never buy a plane ticket for a minor without asking their parents, regardless of how I feel about said parents," she tweeted in December 2019. "I had permission. But I guess that's not a dramatic enough storyline."

For what it's worth, Moriah seems to really appreciate that Olivia can serve as a role model to her even if her beliefs don't align with Moriah's strict, conservative parents, and that has nothing to do with TLC editing.

You may be asked to lie if you're on a TLC show

If you're thinking TLC shows can't all be the result of producer manipulation and the magic of editing, you're right. Sometimes, people on TLC shows are reportedly asked to lie outright. Lisa Selip — a corporate spokeswoman for Lowes Foods, which was featured on TLC's Extreme Couponing – told the Charlotte Observer that the company didn't like the experience of the show, in part because of misrepresentation. "It was all staged," Selip said. 

When it comes to staging things that aren't exactly true, TLC seems to be at the top of the game, at least according to Priscilla Kelly, who was on the first season of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. According to her, aspects of the gypsy culture that are featured on the show are entirely made up. She revealed on Facebook, "...they're offering people to get married but without even paperwork just to have something to put on the show basically fake marriages fake engagements and of course no gypsy I have ever known knows of any annual gypsy ball." She claimed it was fabricated to get high ratings. She added in a comment that she and her family "were supposed to keep it hush hush it being made up," but she just needed people to know.

You may be manipulated by the producers and directors on a TLC show

Surely some of the reactions you see on TLC shows have to be genuine, right? It depends what you mean by genuine. In a now-deleted tweet by former Return to Amish star Kate Stoltz (via Us Weekly), she revealed that while her tears in a promo for the show were real, they were actually caused by producer manipulation. "I was upset because the producers keep us in a room for hours and ask the same questions over and over — they're relentless," Stoltz said. "If we don't give them the answer they want, they keep us in there until we cry or give them the answer they want." 

It seems TLC producers (and directors) know what they want to see on a show and will do what it takes to get it. Speaking about her experience on TLC's Say Yes to the Dress, Courtney Wright told 417 Magazine, "You can tell that they want to stir up some drama. If someone says something that could potentially cause a disagreement, the director asks you questions about it."

You may not have time for your friends and family if you're on a TLC show

If you think that your friends and family will all have your back while you're on a TLC show and will be able to support you when things are taken out of context or when you're made out to be a villain, don't be so sure. In fact, you may not get to see much of them at all. 

A star of TLC's Wedding Island, Sandy Malone opened up about the actual realities of reality television in a HuffPost piece and shared that there are real-life consequences to your relationships. "For the time you're in production, you won't have normal time with your friends, you won't have your regular daily phone conversations, and the only alone time you will have is in the bathroom," she said. "If your show is about your business, you may have to push off clients who aren't being filmed. If you are on a contest show, you may be sequestered and have little outside world contact. Be prepared. Warn your family and your friends." 

So unless you can figure out a way for your BFF to be on a show with you, à la Khloé Kardashian and Malika Haqq or Snooki and JWoww, don't count on spending much time with them.

Being on a TLC show doesn't mean you'll get paid

With all of the seemingly negative aspects of being on a TLC show, there have to be some good things. Becoming a television star certainly has its perks: national recognition, your own catchphrase, and big bucks. Wait, scratch that last one. In 2012, Radar Online reported that the toddlers on Toddlers & Tiaras didn't make any money off the show. According to an unnamed inside source, "They don't even pay for the families' entry fees into the pageants. But the moms do it because it's good exposure for their little girls and that's exactly what they want." 

If you think that's the exception rather than the rule, consider that the cast of 90 Day Fiancé isn't exactly rolling in the dough from their appearances either. In their 2018 YouTube Q&A video, Chris Thieneman and wife Nikki Cooper revealed they "didn't get a single dime" from the show. Notably, the main cast members on the show reportedly receive between $1,000 and $1,500 for each episode they're in, according to Radar Online. Not a lot of money for hundreds of hours of filming and the end of your privacy as you know it.