It sounds like a classic recipe for disaster. Imagine embarking on a new relationship or the next big step in your shared lives, with all the stresses and issues that stem from that setup. Now add television cameras taping your every move to the mix.
At this point, the demise of reality TV relationships is almost as common as the shows themselves. That doesn’t make the outcome any easier to accept or to watch, though some reality stars actually end up upping their fame factor as a result.
The latest example includes the collapse of the ten-year marriage of Jon and Kate Gosselin, who gained fame literally on the strength of their family bond with their eight children, only to have it fall apart on national television.
Last month, clinical psychologist Jeff Gardere said on CBS’s The Early Show that it’s likely to do more harm than good to the Gosselin children by keeping them on camera in light of their parents splitting up. “It’s going to be hard for them to live out these issues on the world stage, and I just think, as a psychologist, it is much too much pressure,” he said. Yet, the show returns in August with all-new episodes.
That kind of pressure has bled over into a variety of relationships tapped for reality entertainment, often leading to their failure. Here are a few significant shows featuring families and friends that suffered spectacularly under the curse of the reality lifestyle.
Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica
When Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson kicked off their MTV reality show in 2003, they were little more than B-List singers who had recently tied the knot. Thanks to Simpson’s endearing naiveté and Lachey’s ability to roll with his wife’s every quirk, the couple shot to reality TV stardom. But after filming their “salad days” of marriage over the course of four seasons, the twosome called it quits roughly nine months after their last episode aired in 2005. Simpson and Lachey later found other mates and success outside of their show, but neither of them has yet to regain the popularity they shared as a pair. Their split triggered what would later be dubbed the “MTV couple’s curse,” referring to celebrities showcased on the network whose relationships eventually ended.
Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag, The Hills
Proving that MTV doesn’t just thrive on documenting broken romantic relationships, the “music” channel hit the reality jackpot with the breakup of BFFs Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag. The two friends embarked on the Laguna Beach spinoff together, relocating from San Francisco to make their way in Los Angeles. But no sooner had they gotten settled in than the drama began. Heidi started dating Spencer Pratt, pitting boyfriend against best friend, with Lauren ending up on the short end. And MTV bilked their every trial and tribulation for all they were worth, dragging it out season after season. With Lauren bowing out for the sixth season, show producers managed to stage an act of good will by her, when she decided to attend Heidi and Spencer’s marriage ceremony. But instead of birthing a real reconciliation, MTV just managed to spawn yet another fifteen minutes of fame for the duo known as “Speidi,” making everyone sorry Lauren didn’t win the battle for Heidi’s soul.
Hulk Hogan and Wife Linda, Hogan Knows Best
It isn’t so much that this VH1 show broke new ground as it is the fact that this family imploded in such a public and catastrophic way. In 2005, pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and his family were tapped for a reality show that placed Hogan in the role of the “ultimate dad” trying to keep his family—Mom, Linda; daughter, Brooke; and son, Nick—on track while his kids sought to make names for themselves professionally. By 2007, the show was cancelled following turmoil among the clan that included Nick’s drunk-driving arrest and Hulk Hogan’s (real name Terry Bollea) alleged affair with his daughter’s friend. Hulk and Linda Hogan filed for divorce shortly thereafter. In typical VH1 fashion, however, the network managed to squeeze out a spin-off for Brooke titled Brooke Knows Best, making the cable channel one of the more notorious for never knowing when to say when. (See: anything involving Flavor Flav and Bret Michaels.)
Kate and Jon Gosselin, Jon & Kate Plus 8
Sadly, this tale could go down as one of the most tragic public breakups in reality TV history. The TLC show began as a sweet-natured spotlight on the Gosselin family—which included parents, Jon and Kate; their twins, Mady and Cara; and sextuplets, Aaden, Collin, Joel, Alexis, Hannah, and Leah—and their day-to-day efforts to keep their large brood in order. But what initially seemed like a balanced relationship between a Type-A mom and a laid-back dad tackling everyday issues soon gave way to what ended up coming off as a nagging woman harassing her spineless husband every week. And those who followed the Gosselins from the get-go found themselves witnessing the eventual breakdown of a family unit. Now tabloid targets, Jon and Kate still insist “the show must go on,” turning a once-charming program into a now often painful look into a broken home.
Hugh Hefner, Holly, Bridget, and Kendra, The Girls Next Door
This E! show might be a better example of coming out ahead in the face of a separation. The program managed to do what any publicist could only dream of accomplishing—turning legendary Playboy founder Hugh Hefner into a doting paternal-like figure. It premiered in 2005, documenting the unconventional home life of Hefner and his three girlfriends, Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson. Fans were treated to an inside look at the famous Playboy Mansion while primarily following the silly antics of the girls themselves, but ultimately it has served more as a kick-off point for the blondes. Since the show’s debut, the foursome has split up, but Bridget and Kendra gained spin-offs. On June 29, Kendra married NFL star Hank Baskett at the mansion she once called home, proving that Hefner holds no hard feelings and remains, surprisingly enough, ever the gentleman.
Yes, it now seems that a lot of people are willingly putting their lives on display, but what that overall cost is worth is up to them. For viewers, following the ins and outs of reality relationships can be comforting in their familiarity (“Celebrities: they’re just like us!”), but also very jarring to see end. I mean, where’s the real joy in watching Jon and Kate separate their play dates? Guess we’ll find out in August.