How to Become a Reality-TV Star: 20 Tips From '20/20'

Learn the surprising things reality-TV show casting agents find attractive.

May 27, 2011, 9:01 AM

June 7, 2011— -- Want to trade real life for reality-TV stardom? Well, here are 20 tips from casting pros Scott Salyers, Sarah Monson and Sara O'Neil for how to avoid a wipeout and be a survivor in the shark tank that is reality-TV casting:

1. Be yourself. "So many times people come in thinking, 'Oh, I bet they want me to do this.' Don't put on an act," casting director Scott Salyers said. "Just be your genuine self. That's what's going to get you further in the process.

"A lot of times … they'll start being loud and belligerent and you can tell that's not how they really are. Don't think that we need everyone to cause fireworks."

Casting director Sarah Monson added, "Everyone should come feeling good about who they are and leave feeling good about who they are. So if they are not right for this project, we'll keep their info for another project. It always works out that way."

2. Bring on the personality. "The most important thing for me is personality. You have to be interesting to watch. If you're not interesting to watch, people are going to turn the channels," Monson said.

Watch the "20/20" special, "Reality Rule$: When TV Gets Real," online here.

3. Don't be afraid of what others think. "What makes a good reality show participant is someone [who is] not concerned with how they're going to look on camera or what everyone thinks about them," Salyers said. "They literally can't help but offend you, or make you laugh."

4. It helps to have an unexpected occupation or skill. "I love casting someone [like a] tattooed guy with piercings that you don't realize is actually a phenomenal father of five who teaches kindergarten," Salyers said. "To me, that's great that you break expectations of what you're looking for."

Monson, too, was surprised by a blonde reality-TV show hopeful at a recent casting call: "I thought, 'Oh my, she might just be kind of your typical L.A. blonde,' but she spoke Japanese, she was really interesting. … We love that."

5. Be a triple threat. "You want someone who's either going to cause conflict, or they're going to be comical, or they're going to be sexy. One of those three things you really want in someone, and if you get someone who has all three; fantastic," Salyers said.

6. Make sure you're a suitable contestant for the show. This might seem obvious but don't apply for shows for which you are ineligible. "If we are looking for single people, don't be married. It's a waste of our time; it's a waste of your time," casting director Sara O'Neil said. "Just be right for what you are submitting."

7. Casting doesn't always necessarily happen at casting calls. Be prepared, you never know who's watching. Casting directors are constantly looking for potential contestants, so you might be discovered when you least expect it. Monson says she keeps an eye out for people all the time, in grocery stores, restaurants, etc.

8. Don't censor yourself; be open about your personal life. "That's what you want; the people [who] don't have a filter and they don't care. They're going to share their opinion," Salyers said. "They don't mind sharing their secrets."

9. Arrogance is a turn-off. Monson says what makes a contestant a definite 'no' for her is "if they think they are awesome," or if "they are cocky for no reason. You can't make them better no matter how hard you try."

10. For better or worse, be memorable. "I want you to remember that person whether you go, 'Wow, I loved that person,' or, 'I couldn't stand her,'" Salyers said. "That's the best reaction I can get from anyone that watches any of my shows."

How to Trade Real Life for Reality-TV Stardom

11. Embrace your faults. Monson explains that people shouldn't necessarily think their faults will be dealbreakers. "It could be the thing we love about you," she said.

12. Relax and don't let your nerves rattle you. What's the first thing that gets someone noticed? "Confidence," O'Neil said. "They are natural, they are at ease, like they are talking to a friend. They are not nervous."

13. Tons of reality-TV show experience might not be a good thing. O'Neil says that if you have done a ton of reality-TV shows, it might work to your disadvantage. "People are looking for a fresh face, somebody who hasn't been around," she said.

14. Know yourself and be proud of what you have to offer. "They need to know themselves ... know what their assets are … flaunt that. Own it," Monson said.

15. Looks do matter. It depends on the kind of show but, in general, "looks are very important," said Monson, who normally casts dating shows. "[It] would probably be No. 1."

16. If you're doing a reality-TV show because you want to be famous, casting directors can tell. Monson says she can spot the phoniness right away. "I have a pretty good eye. You can tell. You have the people who are desperate to be famous at any cost, and they will do whatever it takes," she said. "Sometimes they're good, but they also can kind of add an element of fakeness that we don't really like to put on the air, depending on the show."

17. Be persistent, but don't stalk the casting director. "On 'The Apprentice' we used to have people that would fly from city to city to city to try out and we're like, 'What are you doing?" Salyers said. "After awhile, we're like, 'We know who you are, buddy. We already have our opinion of you; you're not what we're looking for for our show." Salyers said some auditioners have reached out to him through his personal cellphone. "I'm always like, 'How'd you get my number?"

18. Know that casting directors are rooting for you. "Don't come in thinking we won't like you, because we want to like you," O'Neil said. "We're not looking to shoot you down. We want you to be a good fit."

19. If you do get cast on a reality-TV show, be prepared for what you're signing up for. "Sometimes people are great in auditions and they make it all the way up through the network and they get cast on the show, and sometimes they can't handle it, and you see breakdowns on shows because of that," Monson said. "Sometimes people think they're getting into something and it wasn't what they expected. And so that is a reality check on a reality show."

20. Know where to audition and follow instructions properly. There are many websites that list casting calls and audition opportunities, such as:, and You can also apply via the show's website. "Make sure you send your contact information as well as good, recent photos of yourself, and explain why you would be a good candidate for the show," Monson said. "And of course, be sure to follow directions -- you'd be surprised how many people don't read the instructions!"

Scott Salyers is a reality-TV casting director who has cast shows such as "I Survived A Japanese Game Show," "Wipeout," "The Apprentice" and "Shark Tank." He also cast a new ABC show premiering in June called "Expedition Impossible," with Mark Burnett.

Sarah Monson is a reality-TV casting director who has been thrusting ordinary folks into the spotlight for years on shows such as "Blind Date," "Survivor" and "The Bachelor." She is penning a memoir about her career choice and how it helped her score dates. She blogs about reality casting at

Sara O'Neil started her career, as with many casting agents for reality-TV shows, on "Blind Date" eight years ago. She did two seasons there and went on to cast a variety of shows including Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker," "Clean House" and a dating show on BET. She recently cast for a new Bravo show called "The Therapist," which is airing sometime this year.

Watch the "20/20" special, "Reality Rule$: When TV Gets Real," online here.

ABC News' Susie Whitley contributed to this story.

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