The reality TV host Round Table participants are, from left, Adam Savage… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)
Ever wonder what goes into putting a reality show together? We here at The Envelope certainly did. From scripting out the challenges to winging it on camera, from taking a personal interest in contestants to weeding out the pretenders, reality hosts Padma Lakshmi ("Top Chef"), Phil Keoghan ("The Amazing Race"), Adam Savage (Mythbusters") and Heidi Klum ("Project Runway") covered it all when we asked them to chat with Times staff writer Amy Kaufman about their worlds.
VIDEO: Watch the discussion
Here are edited excerpts of that free-ranging conversation.
Amy Kaufman: You are all the faces of your shows, and I imagine that many people think that means your job starts when you walk out in front of the camera. But how much preparation goes into getting ready for your shows before each season starts?
Phil Keoghan: Well, once everything has been scouted, then I go through with the producers to find out exactly what's happening. I sit down and write the scripts with another producer. And that's a process of writing and rewriting because the challenges get changed. And then we present the scripts to the network. And then there's further changes. And then we leave with a script that is somewhat close to being finished. And then while we're out on the road, stuff has to get rewritten and so on. I guess it would start a few months before we leave. And then the shooting itself is around 21 days.
Kaufman: So you actually write the script in advance of the entire season?
Keoghan: Well, sometimes while we're on the road. And we'll be somewhere and the challenge will fall through, and so we have to redo it. The producers will quickly go out to scout something [new]. And then something has to be written. And so we have to do it on the fly when we're out there.
Kaufman: What about for you, Padma, do you get involved in vetting the contestants?
Padma Lakshmi: I don't. I mean, we have a great team that goes out and scouts. And we changed the show in the last season, just that we let you watch the last cut [of applicants]. And so we did have a hand in it this time. But it's better, I think, not to, for us anyway, because I'm a host, but like Heidi, I'm also a judge. So it becomes difficult. Usually, when we start the season, we know loosely what the challenges are. We have field producers who map that out. Sometimes we do have to change them, because not everything that is a great challenge works on TV. And for us, I think this is different than "Runway," you can see if a dress fits well. The audience can't taste at home. So they're really relying on us as judges to describe that experience, that sensorial experience. And so that becomes a challenge.
Heidi Klum: I think the whole year about different challenges. As one of the producers, we all think about what could be a cool new challenge. So it would be if I'm in the shower, I think about something. Literally, that's how they happen to me. And then when we all meet, we brainstorm and basically kind of sell each other the ideas that then make it onto the show. We don't really have scripts, so we just kind of do it off the cuff.
Kaufman: Adam, I know a lot of people wonder how you come up with all of the myth-busting ideas.
Adam Savage: Well, I think one of the reasons that we keep it fresh is that we're never not shooting. There's always a "Mythbusters" in production. We shoot 46 weeks a year. We usually start out a block with a planning week, where we'll go over the four main stories we'll shoot over the next eight weeks or 10 weeks. And we will rough out what we think is going to happen. And so, because our show is experimentally based, we often have no idea what the results of one of our experiments might be. So we'll have an expectation of what the result will be, and we'll book a location and a set of materials for the experiment. And then we'll do the experiment, and something totally different will happen.
Kaufman: So you never do a test run?
Savage: We will do some tests off camera, but very rarely. Most of the time it's all happening right there. And then, you know, we're lucky that you have most of the climates you need in Northern California. We've got everything from snowy mountains to desert to ocean. So if we need to change locations, we have built 10 years of relationships with people so that we can call up a bomb range and say we need to come out there. We can call up our rental place and get some large industrial equipment.
Keoghan: I love that your hands are [dirty] — you told me over there that you were working on a project just this morning.
Savage: I was gluing up some acrylic boxes. There's a myth that the shape of foxholes matters distinctly in how a bomb affects the people in the foxholes. And so we're making scale foxholes out of acrylic boxes, and we're going to put oil and water in them and see wave propagation in different shapes.