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Why Recycling Reality Show Stars Has Become So Popular These Days: “There’s An Authenticity To Them That’s Really Hard To Replicate”

For years, Rob Mariano operated as a veritable Survivor ambassador, having first appeared in Marquesas before going on to compete five more times on the CBS franchise. His celebrity became so valuable to the network that he would compete twice on The Amazing Race and even allowed CBS to film his 2005 nuptials to fellow Survivor contestant Amber Brkirch.

But when NBC’s Deal or No Deal Island came calling with the chance to compete, Mariano didn’t hesitate to put CBS reality shows in the rearview mirror so he could try something new on a different network.

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“Of course, I love CBS, that’s where I got my start, and I have been loyal to ’em for a lot of years,” Mariano tells Deadline. “But throughout the years I’ve done projects for other outlets. I did a pilot for the History Channel, I worked for the Sci-Fi channel. At one point we did something with Fox Reality. This departure to NBC has been great. I kind of liken it a little bit to Tom Brady and how he spent his entire career in New England. He got to a point where he wanted to try something different. So just like Brady played for the Patriots forever and then going to Tampa Bay, you’re starting to see different players play on different networks and different shows. The personalities don’t have to be associated with one network.”

Recycling reality show stars isn’t exactly a new practice; it was always accepted on Survivor and MTV’s The Challenge (but got to be a tad tiresome on Big Brother). But it was never the norm to see some of those stars jump to competing networks and streamers — until now. Thanks to new series like Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test, The Traitors and now Deal or No Deal Island, some of the bigger stars in the reality show industrial complex are finding that loyalty to the network that first made them a household name is no longer a requirement to achieving ongoing success.

“With past reality players, especially the ones who have withstood the test of time, there’s an authenticity to them that’s really hard to replicate,” says Allison Kaz, casting director for Deal or No Deal Island. “Obviously they come with a dedicated fan base and they bring this air of nostalgia. There’s also this built-in readability in many cases, whether it’s a hero or a villain. And in today’s world, when you mix a sense of nostalgia with new people, it works beautifully.”

By far, The Traitors on Peacock is the market leader when it comes to dusting off old reality stars and turning them into masters of treachery and deceit. After recruiting the likes of Survivor‘s Cirie Fields, BB‘s Rachel Reilly and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills‘ Brandi Glanville in season one, Traitors won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program. The show, which just wrapped its second season with reality celebs like DWTS‘ Maksim Chmerkovskiy, has become Peacock’s most watched unscripted original of all time.

“I have to give it to Peacock. They thought of the idea of throwing in some celebrities and seeing how it went,” says Jazzy Collins, who works in casting on Traitors. “We didn’t know if it was going to actually work out, and it worked out really well, and now everyone loves it.”

Relying on tried and true players helps to eliminate the biggest fear in reality show casting — hiring an unknown who ends up being boring as hell. And just because someone like Boston Rob has experience in televised game play, doesn’t mean he comes into a new game with a huge advantage.

“Every game is different,” adds Deal or No Deal‘s Kaz. “They’re coming in with strategy that worked on their show, but that might not work on this new iteration. So it truly is a level playing field. It really comes down to how you read other people. Is your strategy unique? Can you build the alliances that ultimately take you to the end? What may work on one show may not work on another. Rob learned that pretty quickly on Deal or No Deal Island that he had to reinvent a new strategy.”

The trend is starting to bring more reality stars out of the woodworks. “I actually run reality TV casting calls on Instagram and Facebook and TikTok, and there’s a lot of previous contestants reaching out to try to get their next opportunity on reality TV,” says Kristen Moss, a reality show casting director whose credits include The Great Christmas Light Fight. “It’s a bug. They want to chase it. They want their next opportunity. And I think it’s really fun to see them get that because of just who they are really as a person.”

So is there a decent living to be made out of hopping from reality show to reality show? Some casting directors think so, as long as these so-called personalities maintain a dedicated following when they’re not working on the small screen. Maintaining a solid following on social media is a must.

“Get a family member to run your social media and capture those eyeballs because you will never get a chance like this again,” says casting director Asjai Lou (Making the Cut). “Figure out if there’s anything that you can sell. Anything that you can teach. Maybe you’re a fashion girl, maybe you’re a makeup girl. Whatever it is that you’re into, take that to a hundred and use that as your guide.”

“Social media is just so pervasive and so reality TV used to be our window in,” adds Alissa Haight Carlton (Project Runway). “Now social media is the window in, so it’s all blurred together.”

Mariano has a few pearls of wisdom, too, for anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps. “I think the most important thing is to be yourself and maintain that. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. I think the reason I’ve been able to exist as long as I have in the genre is because with me, people always know that what you see is what you get. I don’t have a filter. I have a no-nonsense approach. I think that consistency throughout the years has always been appealing.”

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