The “Naked” Truth Of Reality Television
The majority of us indulge in reality television as our guilty pleasure. We come home from our busy lives and click “power,” looking for an hour or two of distraction. For me, any night of The Real Housewives of Orange County or The Rich Kids of Beverly Hills will suffice. All I need is 60 minutes of drama and unfathomable wealth to escape from the stresses of my life. For others, entering the world of reality television becomes less of a break from reality and more of a fantasy. For some, the appeal of reality television stems from the burning desire to take the main stage and enter the public spotlight.
As fun and thrilling as staring in one of these shows may seem, the reality behind reality television reveals a shocking and disturbing truth. Jessie Nizewitz discovered this reality the hard way, when her once-in-a-life-time opportunity to break into the entertainment spotlight turned into a nightmare, leaving her naked, in the most literal sense, and vulnerable for the world to see.
Jessie’s Nude Debut
As a former actress and model, Jessie always dreamed of her big break; so when VH1 approached her with an opportunity to participate in its new program, Dating Naked, she immediately entertained the idea. As you may assume from its title, Dating Naked is premised on the concept of one man or woman going on a date with two different suitors, all of whom are naked, in a remote and exotic location. Despite Jessie’s consent to the nude filming, she was absolutely mortified when episode three of the show finally aired.
You see, VH1 allegedly assured Jessie that all of her private body parts would be appropriately blurred when the program aired. But despite their assurances, the episode aired showing Jessie in full-uncensored nudity. To make matters worse, producers thought it would be great to have Jessie wrestle her eligible bachelor in the nude. But when Jessie was bent over in a rather X-rated pose, VH1 seems to have “forgotten” to press the censorship button, giving the whole world a first row seat to the viewing of Jessie’s vagina and anus.
Jessie told Entertainment Weekly, “”Although I went on this show knowing that I would be nude while taping it I was told that my private parts would be blurred for TV. If you watch an episode, you will see that the blur actually makes it less revealing than a bikini would. Obviously, I did not expect the world to see my private parts, this is not what I anticipated or what any other contestants on the show anticipated.”
The $10 Million Lawsuit
Needless to say, Jessie was humiliated and furious. She immediately contacted counsel and filed suit in New York against VHI’s parent company, Viacom International Inc., Firelight Entertainment Inc., and Lighthearted Entertainment Inc., seeking $10 million in damages for emotional distress. Jessie claims that she “has suffered and continues to suffer severe extreme emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment.”
However, Viacom strongly asserts that it was completely entitled to show Jessie in the nude. According to the show’s producers, Jessie assured the Network that nudity wasn’t a big deal to her. In fact, she was quoted stating, the “nude thing isn’t a big deal to me, I’m very comfortable being naked and with my body in general.”  Viacom also pointed out that during one of the show’s episodes, she mocked another participant’s coy demeanor, commenting, “Honestly, being naked to me really means absolutely nothing.”  At this point, you may be thinking, so what? Just because she agreed to film in the nude doesn’t mean they can just broadcast her vagina for the world to see. Right?
Wrong. Like most reality television debacles, this story centers around a hard to grasp contractual concept. Jessie, before she was allowed to appear on the show, was forced to sign a 33-page formal agreement. Little did she know that not only did the contract bind her be filmed in the nude, but also allowed the Network to telecast the footage without any restrictions. Within her contract, Jessie also waived any right to assert claims against the Network for any issues related to her appearance on the show. Perhaps most egregious, the contract obligates Jessie to pay defendant’s attorney fees and costs if she ever decided to bring a lawsuit against the Network and could face up to $2 million in liquidated damages for breaching the contract.
In Viacom’s view, Jessie’s contract waived all of the claims she is currently asserting in her lawsuit. Additionally, it argues that the producer’s promise to keep everything censored was nothing more than a mere oral contract. And, of course, Jessie’s contract disclaimed future “reliance on any extraneous oral representations.”
The Naked Truth
You may think that this is completely outrageous and that no judge will ever enforce a contract like this in court. However, this is the standard for reality television contracts and the like. For years, lawyers have argued that these sorts of contracts are unconscionable and should not be enforceable. But cases are consistently decided with the opposite outcome. Remember Borat and the not-so-happy college students that were filmed acting in a less than favorable light in their RV? Well, they sued and lost on the grounds that they waived those rights by contract. Unfortunately, the guys from Borat and Jessie are just two of many average people taken advantage of while caught in a moment of pure excitement by the prospect of appearing on TV.
Networks are notoriously known for their unreasonable contracts. For example, did you know that standard reality TV contracts obligate the contestant to sign a waiver of any claims for defamation, libel and sometimes even sexual harassment? Other contracts even entitle the Network to a portion of the contestant’s current and future business, regardless of whether it was ever featured on the program. The reality is that some people are naturally desperate to make it on camera, and the people that begin to contest the outrageous terms in these contracts are quickly dropped and replaced. While it’s not always fair, the Network will always maintain the power in those relationships and will never be short of wide-eyed contestants who will do anything to make their debut on national television.
 ABC Action News, ‘Dating Naked’ Contestant Sues For $10 Million After Un-Blurred Scene Airs, available at http://6abc.com/entertainment/dating-naked-contestant-sues-for-being-shown-naked/276441/.
 Eriq Gardner, ‘Dating Naked’ Producers Tell Judge They Have Right To Show “Unfettered Nudity”, available at http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/dating-naked-producers-tell-judge-741653.