On Season 10 of America’s Got Talent, Leroy Patterson went out on stage, stripped, and proceeded to body/face-slam a huge pile of 5,000 thumbtacks he scattered on the floor. Three judges sent him to the next round because while AGT might be full of evil dicks, they do recognize greatness when they see it. And so do I – although Leroy was later cut from the show (see: evil dicks), he was still a winner to me and I desperately wanted to talk to this professional “pain junkie.” This is what I’ve learned about reality TV in the process:
5. You HAVE To Make An Ass Of Yourself To Succeed On Reality TV
Reality TV audiences don’t want to watch actual reality; they already have to live in that depressing pit of suck and discount ramen every day. What they really want is mind-numbing entertainment, and producers understand that, as does Leroy:
“The real normal me is a little goofy but really chill and has no business being on reality TV. The On Camera version of me is a psycho who does horrible things to himself. During auditions, I usually ask if they have a stapler, and if they do, I ask to borrow it, then staple gun myself to their shock and amusement. If not, I usually jump into the air and slam myself onto the ground.”
It’s essentially a matter of branding, both literal and figurative in Leroy’s case given his history with sharp objects. “I know that these poor casting people have looked at 1000s of people. I also know that ‘That staple gun guy’ stands out much more than ‘that kinda funny, hairy, fat dude.’”
And it works. A few years back, Leroy auditioned for Solitary, the Fox reality show where contestants were kept in solitary confinement for weeks at a time.
This is how he got on the show: “One of the questions they asked me was ‘What three personal items would you bring in with you?’ They were tired of hearing about books or iPods so I randomly came up with throwing knives, a pair of nunchucks, and a straight jacket. They said ‘Why the straight jacket?!’ I said ‘If I am gonna be locked in an asylum style room, I want to go the whole way’. I quickly got cast on the show, and had to race out and buy those things, as I did not have them and was making it up on the spot!”
None of this stops once the cameras start rolling, too. “When I appeared on Wipeout [the ABC obstacle course reality show], I knew that in order to get as much screen time as possible, I would need to play up the crazy. Slamming myself on the ground right before my run was not helpful at all to my performance on the actual course, but it helped get me more air time! In most cases, I really intend to win a show but I also know I’m there to be entertaining, so I try to do both!”
In which case: mission fucking accomplished.
4. TV Stations Will Craft Whatever Damn Persona They Want For You
Whenever you see a reality show contestant coming off as total dick-shaped boob, it’s possible that the station arbitrarily decided to make that person the show’s resident idiot/villain by skillfully editing their lines. Leroy learned that many years ago.
“In my Backyard Wrestling days, we would frequently have our responses altered, or sound bites taken out of context. For example, me saying ‘The common misconception of how we approach backyard wrestling is ‘ha I love to hit people with chairs and barbed wire’ but that is the farthest from the truth. We actually work together to make sure it’s as safe as possible’. Then they edit out the beginning and the end, leaving only the ‘ha I like to hit people with chairs and barbed wire’ and comment on how horrible we are.”
Everyone loves a villain (Jared Leto’s Joker notwithstanding), and in the absence of one, it’s remarkably easy to make one up.
“When I meet with casting people,” Leroy says, “they love the Backyard Wrestler angle, and use it both when pitching me, and during the show I am on. This causes problems because despite being a professional, on multiple shows, I have been labeled as a Backyard Wrestler, which is a major negative in the Pro Wrestling world.” And this is a place where crashing a funeral is considered acceptable behavior.
“I have seen wrestlers get beat up by other wrestlers once they found out their backyard wrestling past. I’ve been lucky enough to not be the victim in the situation, but it’s always a possibility!”
3. Unscripted/Unpredictable Reality Shows DO Exist
Most reality TV might be faker than the vagina Piers Morgan assaults/cries into every day, but some shows do cut through the bullshit and focus on what reality TV should be about: The non-scripted suffering of innocent people for our sick entertainment.
“On the show Solitary,” Leroy says, “we were put through actual solitary confinement: 24/7 surveillance, no breaks, no human contact, very little food and water, frequent tests and treatments, harsh living conditions etc. It’s 100% legit,” as were the hallucinations that Leroy experienced.
“I was trying to stay awake, and I heard the robot ‘Val’ who speaks to us and sets up the events, tell me to write the name Johnny on the wall. So I got up, noticed I didn’t have a pen on me, so I looked around the room for it and realized what I heard was a hallucination. I sat down and started to privately freak out.”
No script, no direction, just a real person slowly losing his mind in front of thousands of people.
But just because a reality show fucks with you doesn’t mean you can’t fuck it right back. “I was in danger of being eliminated from Solitary as an eating challenge made me vomit (Fucking spicy breakfast burrito!)” That’s when the same drunk muse that inspired Jackass visited Leroy.
“I looked with regret at the bucket I held in my hand, and asked: ‘So because this stuff in the bucket left my body, I might be eliminated?’ The robot Val said ‘Correct.’ So I countered with ‘So, if this stuff in the bucket went back into my body, would I remain on the show?’ There was silence, I could tell they hadn’t thought of that as a possibility. Val came back and responded with ‘The answer is, maybe’ I said ‘Look, If I’m gonna drink my own vomit, I need more of a guarantee than maybe,’” which is a great rule not just for reality TV but life in general.
In the end, Leroy didn’t get a definitive answer so he left the show, but for one glorious moment, he had the show’s producers stumped. The word “hero” gets thrown around a lot these days but I think it applies here.
2. It Pays To Have A High Pain Tolerance
Appearing on reality TV can be dangerous, and not just because you risk eventually running into Ryan Seacrest and having to look into his dead, emotionless eyes. Leroy elaborates:
“In some of the crazy competition shows like American Ninja Warrior and Wipeout, the body goes through some hits and slams. Every show I’ve ever been on, even the tame ones, always have clauses in the contract about signing away the right to sue them in case of injury or death. It’s usually just bumps and bruises, though, sometimes a twisted ankle occurs, but nothing crippling or life threatening.”
That being said, you have to remember that Leroy is like a bearded lovechild of Wolverine and a crash test dummy. What hurts Leroy could probably kill a regular man. Also, don’t judge Wolverine too harshly. He drinks and gets lonely.
“I tend to have cuts, small punctures, and bruises from these stunts, but I heal rather fast, and am ready to do it again a day or two later! My friends and I come from a very tough stock, stuff we are able to do shouldn’t be performed by most people anyway, but after doing crazy and insane stuff for the last 20+ years, a mixture of skill, luck, and tough genes are responsible for me being in rather good health, despite the years of trauma we have put ourselves through. My friends and I often get cast because we are tough bastards who can take a beating.”
However, it is possible to be too tough for reality TV. “AGT is a family show,” Leroy explains, “which is why I was shocked that not only did my thumbtack stunt get aired, it got me through to the next round. They were worried about blood, so I settled with diving onto mousetraps for my round 2 appearance.”
Leroy was eliminated after that because the judges were obviously terrified of what he would do if he made it to round 3, and they were naturally TOTALLY RIGHT to worry: “If I had made it to round 3, I had ideas involving running through a path lined by weedwhackers [which he DID end up doing on The Gong Show] and then diving off a stage into a trampoline, where the stretchy segment was replaced with barbed wire. Another idea I had involved being crushed between two walls of light tubes, delivered like pendulums from each side.”
1. It’s Insanely Hard To Make A Career Out Of Reality TV
With reality shows like American Idol or The Voice, it doesn’t matter if you win. If you can sing and have good stage presence, chances are you will be discovered, get a recording contract, and eventually die in an expensive hotel from a cocaine overdose. You know, the American Dream.
But with almost every other show, second place isn’t worth shit. “The only way to make a living off reality TV is by winning a game show,” Leroy says, “which is a very rare thing to do. I won Hole in the Wall and received 25,000 dollars, but that was split 3 ways amongst our team. Local shows will usually give you anywhere between 20-50$ for gas and provide food while on set, but that’s it. AGT flew me out to New York and paid for our hotel” but, again, no other compensation to speak of.
Still, though, you don’t get into reality TV for the money. You do it so that people will recognize you on the street and drag you into the nearest public toilet to give you a quick genital hug. You can’t put a price on that. Well, you can, but it differs from city to city.
I asked Leroy how his massive fame changed his life, and after he stopped laughing he said: “When a show airs, depending on how big it is, you get a massive influx of fans, people running up to you on the street, tons of ads and messages on social media etc. It’s overwhelming in the best way possible… And it lasts for a month, tops, and then you are forgotten and replaced by the next group of contestants. You might have the occasional superfan stick around for a while, but even that dies out.”
You simply can’t make a living from reality shows. That’s why Leroy’s primary occupation nowadays is working as the Senior Video Editor for Giphy. It’s like the old saying goes: Do what you love, and you’ll have to take on like 2-3 extra jobs to make ends meet.