Why Do Wrongdoers Risk Their Freedom On Reality TV?


Convicted felon Tyler Smith appeared on National Geographic Channel's “Doomsday Preppers,” shooting a gun. Kody Brown and his four wives starred on TLC's “Sister Wives” knowing that polygamy was illegal. Real estate heir Robert Durst agreed to do hours of interviews for HBO's documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” even though he knew the filmmakers were digging into his connection to three murders. Thanks to damaging evidence revealed in the season finale, Durst was charged with murder. The Washington Post says the media spectacle brought up many questions, among the most puzzling: Why do people go in front of the camera when they know the exposure could ruin them?

Durst's attorney, Chip Lewis, recalled advising him there were serious risks in participating in the documentary. “You run the risk of pissing people off — and people that have intentions contrary to your liberty,” he told Durst. “Don't forget that.” Psychology experts say it boils down to one thing: the chance to become a star conquers all other thinking, even legal consequences. This happens repeatedly in reality TV, where people see fame and dollar signs and disregard that there could be serious repercussions for outrageous behavior. “Ironically, the consequences of 'reality' TV don't seem real to the people who risk being caught at something,” said Los Angeles psychiatrist Carole Lieberman. “It's as though they believe the TV world doesn't intersect with the real-world consequences. They are too caught up in thinking that once they become celebrities, these minor nuisances won't matter.”

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