Is Being On Reality TV Worth the Money If You Don’t Win?

I am a pretty big fan of a few reality TV shows including Big Brother, Survivor, The Amazing Race and other shows depending on the particular season and if they can hold my interest past the first couple episodes. In fact the Big Brother finale is tonight! The winner gets $500,000 and the runner up will be award with $50,000. In addition to that, the one player who receives the most votes as America’s favorite player will be awarded with $25,000. It is easy to see how awesome it would be to win one of these shows.

How Much Do Big Brother House Guests Get Paid?

There were a total of 16 contestants Big Brother this year and there is a chance only 2 will get any serious money out of it (if America’s favorite player is the winner or runner up). The remaining 13 or 14 houseguests only get paid $750 a week according to who has obtained a copy of the Big Brother contract from a previous season that the house guests have to agree to (check it out if you are a Big Brother fan).

The longest anyone can participate in Big Brother is approximately 11 weeks. If you were involved with the show for the entire season but did not win first or second place the most you could receive is $8,250 in weekly stipends (excluding special contracts for returning players). There are multiple other prizes that the house guests can win throughout the season including random cash prizes up to $10,000 per prize, vacations and experiences in the Big Brother house.

Is Being on Big Brother Worth the Money If You Don’t Win?

If you worked a 40 hour week and got paid $750 you would make $18.75 an hour. Big Brother contestants essentially “work” 24/7 as they are constantly being filmed for the show and are at the wrath of the producers. Sometimes the producers wake the house guests up multiple times throughout the night to make for some good TV. At 24 hours a day the house guests only receive $4.46 an hour for their time.

The good financial part about being on Big Brother is that you wouldn’t have any expenses! You get free lodging and food for as long as you’re on the show. Keep in mind that with good normally comes some bad. Some people quit their jobs for this opportunity while others probably take vacation and a leave of absence from their jobs. Most people aren’t guaranteed to have their jobs waiting for them when they get kicked off the show. On top of that they may lose their insurance coverage or have to pay the total cost out of pocket!

So Why Do People Go on Big Brother If the Money Sucks?

People go on Big Brother because they think they can win. Who wouldn’t want a shot at half of a million dollars?! In addition, many of the people who try out and make the show are huge fans and getting the opportunity to play the game, even if they don’t get very far at all, is a no brainer once in a lifetime opportunity for them.

Would you ever sign up for a reality TV show? Are there any other shows you want to know how much people get paid to be on? I could do some investigating for future posts!

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. My wife got me into Big Brother back in the All Stars season and we’ve watched every season and every episode since (OK, I refuse to watch the ‘clip show’ episodes like the one they showed this past Sunday). I’m rooting for Dan, number one because he’s a local guy, and number two, because he’s played an incredible game. If people are bitter because he got the best of them, that’s no excuse to give the prize to someone else, because the fact is he’s played the best game, maybe in the history of the show.

    I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Ian win either. He’s got a good heart. Danielle I’m kind of meh about. She has let herself get burned by Dan and always come back for more, and she didn’t seem to have much self respect with regards to a clearly not interested Shane.

    But as to your question, I don’t think I could do it. I always say that I could win Big Brother, but I know that I’d get frustrated and I’d probably let the backstabbing get the best of me.

    • Dan has played an amazing game but unfortunately part of the game is making sure you can get the votes. He hands down did what he had to do to make it to the end which is an amazing feat in itself!

  2. I think it’s also pretty likely that people go on those shows hoping that their “15 minutes of fame” can be rolled into paid sponsorships or a cushy acting career.
    But you couldn’t pay me enough to be a part of something like that.

  3. We applied to be on the Amazing Race. I just found our entry tape. I thought it was hilarious. The judges must have thought it wasn’t good enough because we didn’t get on.

  4. My wife and I have joked that we should apply for the Amazing Race. I think that would be an absolutely fun experience but I wouldn’t go into it assuming we’d win. I’d do it for the travel and to see the world…

  5. I have zero interest in going on a reality tv show. It’s just not my kind of thing. I don’t even really watch reality tv these days and never got into Big Brother. While most contestants don’t make much money, I could see a lot of them finding ways to leverage that small amount of fame.

  6. Do you even get that money up front or is it in an annuity for $20K a year for the next 20 years? We got into America’ Got Talent last season and it seems like a life changer if you win a million dollars, but I did some checking and it is paid out over 20 years. I’ve never seen the winner do anything else. So if he gets $40K a year, that’s a great baseline, but he had several kids, so that might be hard to live on.

    • Interesting question. I would hope you’d get paid up front for these shows and I think you do. I’d have to double check the contract to make sure though.

  7. I think the wise move is to go on the show and be a personality that people gravitate towards. If you have a BIG personality, you could get TV, commercial or other advertising deals after your stint. Especially if you throw some kind of ginormous fit of ridiculousness…

  8. Veronica @ Pelican on Money says:

    Jessica at Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses recently posted an article about this very same issue. She asked if you would embarrass yourself on national TV for 250k. I think most people will do anything for a chance to be on national television even if there’s no money in it.

  9. The only show I have ever considered being is Who Wants to be a Millionaire – usually I know all the answers (after the two very first ones that are culturally specific). Frankly, I have seen only about 15 minutes of Big Brother but think that the contestants (and the producers of the show) should be punished publicly for crassness and stupidity – not paid. Sorry, if some find this a worthy way to spend their time – just my opinion.

  10. I’ve never even seen Big Brother and have no desire to watch it. I do LOVE the Bachelor/Bachelorette shows, though! Too bad I’m happily married…lol. I just want to live vicariously through them and watch them go on amazing dates that Jefferson and I can’t afford. I’m surprised the house guests in Big Bro don’t make more. That doesn’t seem worth it to me at all.

  11. I’d consider trying out for The Amazing Race. I would love to have the opportunity to see so many places around the world, especially the ones they tend to pick. Problem is though, I’d never win because I am crazy, crazy scared of heights and they always have at least 1 or 2 of those types of challenges.

  12. I think people do these shows for the fame and they think they will win. Personally, I don’t think it is worth it no matter how big a prize.

  13. I applied for that reality show on MTV where they ride around in an RV back in college. You could get a future job out of being recognized…IF you played nice.

  14. If you calculate risk/reward of being on Big Brother, it definitely is worth it for many people. Those are relatively good odds of getting 1/2 million (a lot better than the lottery, casino, and most other contests) and at worst you will receive $750/week. I think the money isn’t terrible for most people, and that’s worst case scenario!

  15. I used to love Big Brother but haven’t watched it in several years. It is interesting and feels like a big social experiment. I was unaware of the financial provisions for non-winners.

    Would I do a show like this? I couldn’t rule anything out. Currently, it seems very unlikely though. Although I think the producers would have an easy time framing my character in a particular way to fit particular plot lines, I’m not convinced that this kind of show would be advantageous to me. I also wouldn’t want to miss that much time away from work/life. I admit it would probably be fun though.

  16. Ummm…yes…yes I would try out for Survivor…and I will again:)

  17. I would definitely NOT sign up for a reality show, but I do understand why many do. Not only do you have a chance of winning, but also opportunity can arise from this even if you don’t. A few in the UK have gone on to forge reasonable TV careers afterwards.

  18. That’s really ALL they make? That’s really lame. Even the winning prize isn’t that great. People that do these shows are after the fame more than anything. I’m convinced they all just want to be the next Kim Kardashian.

  19. I think most people do it to get on TV. I’m not sure how much money plays into the decision.

    You do have to keep in mind that getting paid $4.40 an hour to sleep 8 hours a day is pretty awesome even if the rate doesn’t wow.

  20. Okay, it may not seem like much money, but $750 a week for someone whose regular job is bartender or barrista or lifeguard might not seem like a bad deal. (No need to tell me how much a bartender can make in tips–I’d bet many don’t make that much.)

  21. I don’t really think you can say they are working 24 hours a day because they’re on cameras the whole time. It’s easier to just assume an 8 hour work day to differentiate between working normally and being on big brother. If you were on big brother for an entire year it’d be like having a 40,000 dollar salary. I’d say the money is pretty decent for getting to play a game all day and having the possibility of winning a grand prize of 25,000, 50,000, or 500,000.

    • The thing to remember about Reality TV is you have to be on guard 24/7 because there are cameras everywhere. You have to make sure you don’t say or do anything you’ll regret around the clock. I’d imagine that gets quite exhausting for some people.

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