With the possible exception of Bethenny Frankel, who’s managed to parlay her “Real Housewife” status into a lucrative brand name, and the Kardashians who originally became famous for an entirely different kind of reality programming from sister Kim Kardashian, reality TV celebs’ fame rarely outlasts the shows on which they get their big break. Hugh Hefner’s most recent ex, Crystal Harris, is auctioning off her engagement ring from the media mogul to make ends meet. Onetime reality superstar Heidi Montag has little to show for her years of reality fame beyond an unrecognizable face and a host of medical bills.
Without a staff of producers and a television show to propel them, many reality TV stars become what they were before their shows — average citizens. The lucky ones still have that average life ahead of them; unluckier reality celebs are ruined for anything but their unreal reality lives.
Kate Gosselin and her brood made headlines recently when she declared ex-hubby Jon’s construction work was beneath her in her present status as a reality-show celebrity. In People magazine, she was scathing about Jon’s post-television life: “Jon may be acceptive of mediocre for his kids. I want the best for my kids.” Considering the kids are their kids, not his or hers, Kate may wish to re-think her position on accepting “mediocre” work if it means putting a roof over their heads. Eight pairs of shoes can’t be cheap.
The problem that Kate and her ilk face is that once they’ve been smeared all over the small screen, it’s hard to see them in any other context. Like onetime “Joe Millionaire” hunk Evan Marriott who also had a construction job to return to, Jon Gosselin can remain relatively removed from the public eye. In Kate’s previous life, she was a nurse. After seeing altogether too much of her life, how many patients would feel comfortable in her not-so-tender care? Reality television has rendered her unfit for daily life without the glare of the television cameras on her.
The paradox in Kate’s case is that the same cameras that made her famous now turn their gaze away. She’s no longer a useful commodity. She lost her distinctive hairstyle and even changed her face to look more like other celebrities, but she isn’t truly one of them. Whether actors, musicians and models deserve their degree of fame or not, they put out a product of some kind — movies, scripted television shows, pop songs — and get some measure of recognition in return for their efforts.
Reality TV stars don’t put out a product; they are the product. When that product goes stale, no one wants it. Kate Gosselin is realizing that now, but she’s neither the first nor the last reality TV celebrity to find that a “mediocre” life may still be preferable to one in which no one has a use for you at all.