A CD on What to Know About Getting Cast on a Reality Competition Show

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Photo Source: Raquel Aparicio

Competitive reality TV series like “Project Runway” and “Top Chef” are all about bringing the best of the field and promising upstarts together to duke it out for a top prize. But believe it or not, they still have to audition. When they do, it’s more than just skills with a knife or sewing machine that are under consideration. Casting director Samantha Hanks finds these series’ competitors; here, she explains how a different type of talent makes it onscreen and how you can improve your chances of getting there, too.

How would you say what you do is different from what a scripted casting director does?
Scripted shows are talent-based, so that’s the same, but somebody auditioning for unscripted [shows], as opposed to actors, just has to be themself. I think it’s a much more vulnerable position for a chef or a designer, rather than playing a part. I think it’s easier for scripted casting directors in that sense, because they are dealing with someone who has honed their craft, so they know how to make it bigger or smaller or add an accent. I can’t give notes in the same way; I can’t ask a chef to be bigger. The audition process, I think, is very different in terms of what we’re asking them to do in the room. An actor goes in really wanting the job even before the first audition. I think unscripted candidates go in more hesitant, then they get the hunger that an actor already has.

READ: How to Get Cast on a Reality Show

What can someone expect from auditioning for you?
I like it to be just a conversation. It will take as long as we need, however long it takes for you to feel comfortable or open up. I want to let them guide the conversation. We have questions we’ll ask about their backstory or career, but if they really want to focus on what they cooked last week, tell me that. If that sparks a story about, “Oh, that was my grandma’s dish,” then I hear about how your grandma taught you how to cook and I’m here for it. We want you to tell us what you think is interesting about yourself.

What advice do you have for someone who is interested in pursuing this type of opportunity?
Be yourself. If you’re really cocky, great, I can’t wait to see it. If whatever you’re coming in with is really who you are, it’s going to go well. More often than not, it’s the odd personal stuff that draws us to people. Similar to acting, if you don’t get it the first time, don’t give up. It just might not be the right time. Try again next year.

What don’t people realize about what you do, especially in the reality space?
I think there is an assumption that we produce these people and we’re looking for the people who are going to make the most waves. I’m not doing that. My company is looking for the people who are the best at what they do and have a really great story to tell. There’s so much reality television that is overproduced, so it sort of has a dirty connotation—but that’s not me.

Ready to get cast? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!