The biggest stars in reality TV gathered to talk about the changing landscape.
The Hollywood Reporter released its Reality Roundtable for 2022, featuring Lizzo, Jonathan Van Ness, Padma Lakshmi, Will Arnett and Nicole Byers.
The stars, who all host or feature on their own reality shows, shared their love of the genre and how they feel reality television has evolved.
When asked whether they believed working in reality TV might have cost them jobs, Byers answered that she believed the culture around the genre has become more accepting.
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“I don’t think there’s a stigma anymore. I feel like people have stopped pigeonholing people. You can host, act, do music, everything. Sometimes casting directors will be like, ‘My kid f–king loves you. We don’t know if you’re actually right for the part, but we’re calling you in anyway,’” she shared. “I’ve never gotten a part that way, but I’ve gotten a different part because of those readings. I love that kids like me. They’re getting me some jobs.”
Arnett wouldn’t have been able to imagine himself hosting his own Lego competition show years ago.
“I didn’t really think that I could do it. And it’s super hard. But it’s also fun,” he admitted. “When the people who are on it are having a good time or feel a sense of accomplishment, that feels good in a really real way. That part of it was a surprise and very gratifying. It’s also really nice when you hear people say, ‘We watch it together as a family.'”
Lakshmi initially joined “Top Chef” in hopes it could help boost her own career and never imagined it would become the behemoth it is today.
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“I had no idea it would turn into this cultural phenomenon. I had pitched another show to Bravo, and they thought that it was too highbrow, but they were developing ‘Top Chef’ and asked me if I would come on. I was publishing a cookbook at the time and thought it’d probably give my cookbook a little boost,” she recalled. “I’m very thankful for ‘Top Chef’. And I’m proud that we have changed the way a whole generation of society thinks about food.”
Something that the celebrity chef didn’t expect to encounter as she traveled to Houston for the show, however, was the clash of politics invading the genre.
“It was hard to film in Texas. I still get a lot of comments on my Instagram like, ‘How could you go there?’ But there are a lot of people in Texas. I don’t think that you can penalize all the people of the state because of its legislators. Houston is a really diverse place,” shared Lakshmi. “The way that I dealt with it personally … there was a huge march going on while we were filming ‘Top Chef’. I wanted to participate in it on behalf of the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Bravo was very supportive.”
Adding to the topic, Van Ness, who is an outspoken activist for social issues, expanded on what they believed needed to change.
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“Representation’s important, but what’s the correlation between representation and legislation? Is it that when representation is better, we get more protective legislation? No,” they said. “As we’ve had more representation, more anti-women, anti-LGBTQI+, anti-choice, anti-freedom-of-speech laws keep happening. We need to do a better job of explaining context and where representation doesn’t really necessarily make people’s lives better day-to-day.”
Lizzo thought that while her show “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” aimed to change cultural perceptions around body image, it was up to legislation to enact real change that affected people’s lives.
“I wish that they could watch our shows and be inspired and say, ‘These people need protecting, and that’s my job.’ But, far too often, we see that it’s quite the opposite,” she explained. “I think that as long as people are inspired, they’ll continue to seek their personal freedom. And I think the more free we are, the more we can fight. It sucks that we have to fight, but this is just where we’re at.”