UnReal‘s tagline could be: “Money. Dick. Power.” It’s the phrase that Rachel (Shiri Appleby) and Quinn (Constance Zimmer), the producers of Everlasting, a Bachelor-style reality show, get tattooed on their wrists in the second season’s opening scene. To them, it’s the holy trinity—”in that order,” Quinn quips. It’s the motivation for every move they make in their professional and personal lives, which carry over to the contestants, who are just hoping to find love.
UnReal‘s cocreator, Sarah Shapiro, knows a thing or two about what really goes on behind the scenes of such a show—she used to be a producer on The Bachelor. Onetime Reader staffer and current UnReal writer Gina Fattore says that every story line goes through Shapiro, who then decides how realistic each one is.
That context makes everything on UnReal seem all the more chilling. The show is on Lifetime and comes on immediately after The Bachelorette airs on ABC on Monday nights. Sure, Chad, one of this year’s Bachelorette contestants, may be a crazed lunatic who pounds plates of lunch meat and physically threatens other contestants; there’s likely still a producer poking and prodding an already mentally unstable man for the sake of good TV. But how does someone like that even get cast? According to UnReal, the people who do the hiring have mental issues of their own. They thrive on manipulation, and need weak people to manipulate—even the on-set therapist uses blackmail to ensure that she’ll be on camera.
In season one, the viewers’ entry point into this twisted world is Rachel. She woefully returns to the show after comparing her job as a field producer to “Satan’s asshole” and having a complete mental breakdown on camera. She tries her best to maintain some moral high ground by protecting certain contestants’ secrets and acting regretful every time she tricks them into catfights. In season two, she’s high on power (and cocaine) and returns to the set as the head bitch in charge. It’s a change that highlights Appleby’s impressive range as an actress—she believably shifts between the two extremes while staying true to the character.
This season UnReal does something that The Bachelor franchise has yet to undertake: cast someone of color as the main contestant. Unfortunately, Rachel employs this as a means of convincing herself that she’s using her power for good. Who cares if she forced a girl to drop out of college, or made one of her employees cry until she vomited? She’s making history!
But nothing can hide the evil core of her job. “We’re not camp counselors,” Rachel shouts at a new, naive producer. “We don’t solve problems, we create them and point cameras at them.” There’s no telling if Rachel will return to her more well-intentioned ways. Maybe this new, heartless Rachel is forever, just like the three words inked onto her wrist.
UnReal Mondays at 8 PM on Lifetime.