Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
If you've ever cringed at the creations on the Project Runway catwalk, don't necessarily blame the designers— according to a story in yesterday's New York Times, hangovers and producer-enforced sleep deprivation may have been responsible for more than a few "off" days in the design studio. The Times reporter spoke to several former contestants, including 2006's winner Chloe Dao, who said 18 hours of filming a day was average during her season. "We would get to sleep at 1 to 3 a.m., and wake up again at 6 or 7,” she says, adding “That’s why every season when you get to the final challenge, we’re all terrible — because we’re exhausted.” And while contestants were never directly told to drink during their off hours, Season 2's Zulema Griffin says: “When we arrived, there was liquor in the refrigerator, before we even put food in...I felt like it was a passive-aggressive way of encouraging alcohol consumption.”
The article points out that reality TV producers are able to get away with such antics—which, a psychologist says, help make the contestants "more amenable to the goals of the producers and more easily manipulated"— because there's no union that regulates the working conditions or wages for reality TV stars. Yet producers argue that contestants know what they're getting into before the cameras start to roll, and most former reality stars interviewed by the Times claim the sleepless nights and stress were worth it for the boost in their careers afterwards. After all, what's a little exhaustion and isolation when you've got a Payless shoe line to show for it?