A former Australian reality TV show contestant has won a compensation claim brought against the network responsible for the show, for psychological injury suffered during filming.
Nicole Prince starred in the 2017 home renovation show House Rules, in which six couples renovate each other’s homes and then rate one another.
Prince brought a workers’ compensation claim before the New South Wales Workers Compensation Commission in relation to her treatment during filming and its aftermath, claiming she had suffered adjustment disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
The tribunal heard that Prince and her team-mate were “essentially told to be as negative as possible surrounding the efforts of other contestants” during their appearance.
She alleged they were subjected to harassment and bullying during filming and this was “not only condoned by the producer,” but “encouraged”.
Prince also claimed she subsequently received threats of physical abuse on the network’s social media channels, after the show portrayed her as a bully.
“I feel devastated and worthless about the loss of my career and working life,” she said.
“After my episode aired I wanted to kill myself and I started drinking more alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate my injury.”
The network’s insurer initially denied liability on the basis that Prince was “not a worker” and Prince then made an application to the Compensation Commission.
The network argued that Prince did not have employee status, relying on the fact that she was a contestant vying for the show’s $200,000 prize, and on a contract which said that appearing on the programme “does not create an employer/employee relationship between Seven and you”.
However, the arbitrator found in favour of Prince, holding that the network “derived benefit from the applicant giving her time and engaging in the home renovations for the television show” and that it would also benefit from advertising revenue.
He also found that factors such as remuneration, “exclusive use of the applicant for every hour of every day during which the show was being filmed”, and the network’s ability to veto the wearing of particular clothes, pointed to employee status.
There was “little doubt”, said the arbitrator, that Prince was placed in a “hostile and adversarial environment” during the show.
He also found in relation to Prince and her team-mate that the show had been edited “in such a selective manner as to portray them in a certain negative light” and that it was “extraordinary” that Seven had not removed “hateful comments” about Prince from its social media.
“The failure to do so represents, in my view, a factor to which the applicant has reacted and which has contributed to her injury,” he said.
The arbitrator made an order for compensation and Prince has been referred to a medical specialist to determine the level of permanent impairment arising from the injury.
Australia’s legal system is very similar to that of England and Wales, and the ruling has potentially far-reaching consequences for reality show franchises across the common law world.
Recent deaths related to reality TV, including those of two Love Island contestants and a participant in The Jeremy Kyle Show, have brought the approach by the TV industry to those who sign-up to such programmes into the spotlight.
The Jeremy Kyle Show was cancelled and is currently the subject of an investigation by a Parliamentary committee.
This decision is a further indication that the legal and regulatory framework within which reality shows are made may have to be re-drawn.