There’s something about watching people compete for love that draws viewers. Over 6 million people tuned in to last week’s The Bachelorette, and that’s nothing compared to the numbers the show will draw when this season’s queen of the manse, Kaitlyn Bristowe, chooses between oafs (lovable and non-) who have clawed their way to her final rose ceremony. The drama on The Bachelorette will be quite familiar for those tuning in to what we consider summer’s best TV show, Lifetime’s scripted comedy/drama series UnREAL. The series takes us behind the scenes of a reality dating competition show called “Everlasting” in which a male “suitor” must choose from the dozens of leggy women elbowing each other out of the way to get to know him on camera. The shy teacher, the weary MILF, the Latin sexpot – the spotlight on these reality TV tropes will be familiar, but what’s equally interesting are the lives of the show’s production crew, who break laws and conscience to manipulate these women into “making moments” on camera.
UnREAL‘s creators should know what they’re talking about: Sarah Gertrude Shapiro was a former producer on The Bachelor, which just adds another layer to the drama. For sharp wit, we also have Marti Noxon, who’s written and produced on gems like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Glee. And for empathy, we have the actresses playing our not-quite-innocent contestants, who bend to the producers’ wills and leave you screaming at the screen exactly like you do during The Bachelor. We chatted with Natasha Wilson, who plays Maya, a contestant who needed a little drawing out and got more than she bargained for when she reached for the spotlight.
Read on for her take on reality shows, beauty standards in Hollywood, and the pro-woman story that needed to be told.
YouBeauty: I hope you heard we’re huge fans of UnREAL! Firstly, what drew you to the show?
Natasha: At first, it was a huge question-mark. The casting call was really specific, so I knew going in that it was a behind the scenes look at a dating competition show. I hadn’t read anything quite like it before.
Were you a fan of “The Bachelor” or dating competition shows beforehand?
I tuned in to “The Bachelor” along with everybody else. The show has been on for 10 seasons or something, [Ed. Note: 19 seasons!] How can you not over the last 10 years have watched or known people who have talked about it? It became a social environment thing, where girlfriends hang out and watch it together. We would root on our favorite contestants and look forward to the dramatic moments. We wanted to see who was going to react in what way.
How has the show changed how you view “The Bachelor” and other dating competition shows?
Honestly I had no idea of the degree of abuse and manipulation that goes on. I’m one of those optimistic and naive types that really believed in people being good and doing good. I didn’t even know that reality TV was scripted! In that sense, I really had no idea. Everything was a huge education for me. It’s not that I judge reality TV, but now I understand it. It’s intelligent TV because it’s scripted in such a way that it appears to be real. It’s the highest sense of manipulation, when you really don’t know you’re being manipulated.
Obviously your character Maya just had a very dramatic episode. How did you react when you first read the script? How was it on set?
I know, poor thing. A couple of the actors had read it prior to me in the makeup trailer and they’d walk by me and go “Aww” and I had no idea what they were talking about. It was a deep thing for me. I’m a woman who appreciates the freedom and the rights that other women have. I’ve an advocate of fair behavior and fair treatment. In an environment like [the Everlasting world,] sexual abuse and rape is a valid thing to bring up. During the taping of the episode, when we were shooting, we had several discussions with directors and producers about the importance of bringing something like this to fruition for audience members to understand what may occur during a show like this. It was a really important thing for me to portray as a human being. This is why I love acting, to get to bring to life these things that people don’t talk about. We shot it several different ways, and they decided to go with an implied way of storytelling. I think everyone pretty much understood that she was obviously taken advantage of sexually.