UnREAL Recap S1E1: Let’s Get UnReal

UnReal Recap: Series Premiere

If you’ve watched an episode of reality TV, you probably know that every detail is manufactured to create the most drama and hence, high ratings. You gobble it up as if it was, well, reality. But have you ever been curious to know what was left on the cutting room floor?

Lifetime’s newest show, UnREAL, takes us behind the scenes of reality TV as we follow Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby), a producer for Everlasting, a Bachelor-esque reality dating competition. She must juggle the demands of her ruthless boss, Quinn King, and the show’s bachelor, Adam Cromwell (Freddie Stroma) while trying to exploit as many contestants as possible to get the big ratings Quinn demands.

I will be doing the normal recapping while TV Juriste herself, who still works in reality TV, will provide us commentary on how real UnREAL truly is.

UnREAL opens on a romantic evening, with horse and carriage trotting up to the waiting suitor. The carriage door opens to reveal a beautiful black woman who plays a complicated violin piece as she approaches the suitor, Adam.

“I’m Shamiqua,” the woman says.

“CUT!” orders the executive producer, Quinn King. Shamiqua is black, and therefore cannot be the first contestant the audience meets. “It’s not my fault that America’s racist,” Quinn shrugs before she orders another contestant – preferably a blonde, blue-eyed Aryan-looking girl to subconsciously dispel America’s fear of interracial relationships – to replace her.

Reality Reveal No. 1: Are producers that discriminatory?

TV Juriste commentary: Hahahaha, Susan, you are so adorable. This is an easy one. No. Comment. 😀

Quinn checks on Rachel, who is escorting contestants to the set. Rachel informs them that this season’s suitor is Adam Cromwell, the heir to the Cromwell hotel fortune, much to their gold-digging delight. As Rachel walks amongst the crew to report to Quinn, the other members eye her with suspicion and shock. “Yeah, be afraid! Crazy’s back!” Rachel says sarcastically to the unwelcoming crew. We soon learn that Rachel had a mental breakdown during Everlasting’s previous season and had to be hospitalized. The show’s creator/Quinn’s boyfriend, Chet Wilson, checks on the show after Adam goes missing between filming. Rachel is ordered to find Adam and make him sign his contract. “So I have no leverage?” exclaims Rachel.

Reality Reveal No. 2: How crucial are contracts?

TV Juriste’s commentary: Production 101: No one appears on camera without a signed contract. Production 201: What do you do when you’re dealing with producers who flunked Production 101?

The drama about signed contracts is all too real to TV Juriste. However, it would have been the Executive Producer, network executive (and their stressed-out lawyers) having meltdowns upon learning that the primary talent hadn’t signed a deal.

Rachel finds Adam, who is ready to quit the circus-like show. “And? You’ve seen the show, right?” scoffs Rachel. “They told me this season was going to be different,” mumbles Adam. Rachel reveals that she knows Adam isn’t here to find love; he wants to rehabilitate his bad-boy image so investors will take a chance on his business again. Still, Adam is reluctant to sign the contract, so Rachel pretends there’s a back-up guy and re-joins the crew.

She bumps into her ex-boyfriend, Jeremy, who is annoyed that Rachel is back on staff. He reveals that his fiancé, Lizzie, is the show’s new makeup artist and asks Rachel to stay away from them. Thankfully, Adam returns to the set and agrees to continue filming if one of the dates can take place at his family’s hotel.

Next, we meet some of the contestants: overly sexual Britney (who, to be fair, was coached by Rachel to French-kiss Adam at her introduction); single mother Mary (whose past with an abusive husband Quinn hopes to exploit); awkward virgin Faith; and Brazilian swimsuit model Grace (who apparently is not “too black” for Quinn’s liking, even though her skin is about the same color as Shamiqua’s).

Reality Reveal No. 3: Are contestants really groomed and coached by producers for ratings?

TV Juriste’s commentary: Good reality shows are made during casting. If the casting team doesn’t get enough people with big personalities, then the producers may end up “suggesting scenarios” to generate “good TV.” I’m in a tricky situation because I still represent producers who create reality shows, but just Google “reality show contracts” if you want a better sense of how close UnReal is to reality. 

As the contestants mingle, Quinn demands “nudity, 9-1-1 calls, and catfights” but has to settle for tears when a producer makes Faith cry by mentioning her virginity. Adam notices the tears and is sweet to her for the cameras. Quinn isn’t interested in sweet. She asks the producers to get Adam one-on-one time with Grace, the Brazilian bombshell. The two kiss, which delights Quinn, until their make-out session gets too heavy. “She’s supposed to be marriage material!” shrieks Quinn, so Rachel takes Adam aside and tells him he can’t bang the contestants on the first night. “I’ve never followed the rules, and I don’t plan on following these ones either,” smirks Adam. He points out that the producers have no right to get prudish when they’re planning to use Faith as a joke.

Rachel offers him the chance to truly blow the lid off on the show, even though it means he won’t get his lid blown off.

When Adam chooses awkward Faith and eliminates mean girl Brittney, Quinn tells Adam that Brittney was her villain and he can’t cut her. Adam claims he was only following his heart. Quinn suspects that Rachel had a hand in it, but she can’t do anything.

Reality Reveal No. 4: Do producers dictate who stays and who goes–not the bachelor?

TV Juriste’s commentary: I’ve never worked on The Bachelor. When watching a show like The Bachelor, just remember that #1 – the goal is to make “good TV,” not to be a replacement for Tinder or OKCupid and #2 – if you want proof of this point, look at The Bachelor’s track record: in 19 seasons only 4 couples were still together as of January 2015.


Rachel must coax the spurned Brittney to give a juicy soundbite before she leaves. The standoff between Rachel and Britney is similar to Sequin Raze, the short film that inspired the show: she takes Brittney aside and pretends to be a friend, while slyly exploiting details from the psychiatrist’s report to break Britney down. Britney delivers the desired tantrum, much to the staff’s delight/relief. “Rachel’s back,” whispers one.

Rachel is ready to clock out after a long day of manipulation and deception, but Quinn informs her that her court-required therapy sessions will be conducted by the show’s psychologist and an intern will substitute for Rachel. Disappointed, Rachel settles in to watch the camera feeds on the contestants: Faith prays, while Anna struggles with bulimia. Adam, true to his word, sneaks off with Grace.


Watch UnReal

Mondays, 10 p.m. on Lifetime