The Psychological Screening Behind Reality TV Casting

Have you ever watched your favorite reality TV show and wondered, “Where do they find these characters?” It may surprise you to hear that MHS has been directly involved with candidate selection for more than 20 reality TV shows in the United States and Canada. According to the New York Times, 15 of the 20 most popular TV shows on air are reality TV. Many iterations and versions of the most popular shows are produced in more than 50 countries around the world.

MHS’s founder and executive chairman Dr. Steven Stein has been working with reality TV production companies as a psychology consultant and casting advisor since 1999. He has worked on shows ranging from social competitions (like Big Brother Canada and Survivor) to skill competitions (MasterChef Canada and From the Ground Up with Debbie Travis) and scare shows (Panic Button and Scare Tactics). Each show looks for something different from the people they cast, which means Stein and his team of experts need to identify different areas to assess and the best tools to use.

Using MHS’s wide range of clinical, public safety, and talent assessment tools, I work with Stein to put together a collection of assessments to create a psychological screening that will help him inform the show’s producers who the best candidates for the show are. The results of the candidates psychological screening may be used to determine who can manage the high-pressure circumstances of being on the show and unique challenges they may face when the show is over depending on whether they win or lose. Some producers are even able to use the information we provide them with to go as far as predicting who will enter a “showmance" (a romantic relationship while being on the show).

Working with reality TV shows goes beyond seeing interesting applications for our existing tools at MHS. It also allows us to dig deeper into how our assessments can practically be used with clear measures of success. It can help us answer questions like, “How does emotional intelligence play a role in a person’s social game?”, “Are more resilient people going to win more competitions under high-stress conditions?”, and “What social and emotional skills can predict success?”

So, you’re probably wondering, what is one of those special characteristics that predicts a successful contestant on reality TV? The answer is flexibility. People who are more flexible are able to change their strategy and attitude depending on the unique challenges and curveballs the producers throw at them and are more likely to succeed on a show. This also holds true in the workplace, as employees who can be flexible based on their changing work environments and the people they work with are more successful.

We also go beyond looking at the effects of a single assessment on success in reality TV by discovering the best ways to predict success using various assessments and deciding which ones work together best. Answering questions like this helps us better understand the psychological concepts we are measuring and learn new and creative ways to help organizations select and develop the right people.

So, the next time you’re watching your favorite reality TV show and wondering why these individuals were cast, remember it took a strategic collection of assessments and a handful of experts.

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