Reality TV makes it possible for anyone to visit someone else’s life for a while, to be a fly on the wall in interesting places and become an observer in exciting situations. The reality TV genre has exploded to include shows with any subject matter you can imagine, but one popular branch of the reality TV tree continues to thrive with dozens and dozens of different shows to offer: cool jobs.
Jobs of all kinds are featured through reality cameras these days. Careers you never even imagined existed are displayed in thrilling detail, replete with a charming cast of loveable characters and a host of unusual clients. It all looks so good on reality TV, it’s not at all hard to start imagining what it would be like to have one of those really cool jobs. You know, like in reality reality.
But before you run off to join the fishing boat or the mechanic crew, take a closer look and try to see past some of that reality TV magic. There are lots of jobs you can find on reality TV that look really cool. And in actual reality, they’re really more of a drag than the TV show is ever going to want to show you.
15. Duck Hunter’s Best Friend
There’s an entire genre of reality TV shows featuring blue-collar families doing tough jobs, and Duck Dynasty set the gold standard for that genre. For 11 seasons, the Robertson family showed off their beards and their duck-hunting skills from swampy Louisiana. The A&E show finally called it quits after several scandals involving political issues. The show featured a whopping 21 cast members, some of whom became household names during Duck Dynasty’s run.
Essentially, the family business is making products for duck hunters. And on TV, it all looks really great. In reality, the niche hunting business is tough. It takes a lot of time, hard word and no small amount of luck to carve out a share of the market by forging contacts and getting sales. This type of business requires manufacturing, salesmanship and business skills. Lots of people would like to own their own business, but a lot of new businesses fail and this is by no means a guaranteed path to success.
14. Old Truck Guru
The Diesel Brothers, and the reality shows like them, fix up broken-down trucks in order to resell them. It’s every motorhead’s dream, and the focus of many a reality TV show. Working with engines and vehicles all day to turn them into something that looks cool is a lot of fun, but it’s also just one small facet of this business. Fixing up vehicles and selling them requires salesmanship, and a ton of it. That means promotion, marketing and of course, it’s important to turn a profit. That requires a lot of business sense and low overhead. It also requires a ton of start-up capital, because somebody’s got to pay for the vehicles and all the stuff it takes in order to fix them up.
There are multiple reality shows about fishing as a career, but Deadliest Catch is one of the most-watched. A cast member of the series famously died during filming. This show, and shows like it, is powerful and thrilling. The battle against the elements makes for fierce reality TV, and the people on these shows are truly everyday heroes. They also have the most dangerous job that anyone can have. Battling enormous fish and the ocean really is a battle, and it’s not always one you can win. Professional fishers are away from home for long stretches at a time, they live and work in extremely uncomfortable conditions and they genuinely risk death just to do their jobs.
12. Storage Unit Buyer
A&E has shed light on several little-known professions, and the people who practice these careers. Storage Wars is a prime example of a show about people with an interesting job. Teams of crews go out to storage unit auctions and bid on them, sometimes winding up with very valuable items as a result. Then, they sell these items for profit.
It’s all wrapped up with a bow on reality TV, but the reality of this job isn’t so sweet to look at all the time. Bidding during auctions, particularly outside in a variety of weather conditions, is usually more frustrating than thrilling. Valuable finds are very rare, and it’s not always easy to sell the stuff you do end up with in that unit. Some units are ill-maintained and require tons of cleaning; some may have toxic or illegal materials inside. Stolen items and other illegal items cannot be sold for profit. Legally, you must turn this stuff over to the local police. The items that can be sold must be sold, and that’s when the rest of the real work kicks in. Finding buyers takes a lot of work, and it’s much harder than bidding on the storage unit.
The family featured on American Hoggers delighted TV audiences for 2 seasons from 2011 to 2013, but basically their job is chasing pigs around in fields. They work around Brown County, Texas chasing feral hogs that are bothering the local farmers. The wild hogs actually are bad news; they can harm livestock and they will spread disease around domesticated animals. However, the Campbell family doesn’t have careers to glamorize. Head of the family Jerry Dean’s main ambition was to parlay his wild hog-catching business into a wild hog sausage empire. Catching hogs for a living is fine when you have a producer and an editing team, but the reality is that you’re going to be running around fields in all kinds of weather conditions literally wading through pig — well, you can use your imagination.
10. Gator Hunter
Slogging around the swamp beating up gators looks like the coolest stuff in the world on the TV screen. Swamp People appeals to the most primal of senses, and it tackles the most elemental battle of all: man vs. beast. Gator season lasts just 30 days in Louisiana. If your career was condensed into 30 days, it would probably look pretty great on TV, too. People hunt alligators for their skins, which are made into high-end leather. However, the market is always in flux when it comes to gator skins. And since the season lasts 30 days, serious gator hunters have to make a whole lot of loot within this narrow window. The rest of the year, they’ve got to do whatever it takes to supplement their income and stay busy. Meanwhile, the gator market might crash at any moment so the future is always uncertain.
9. Tow Truck Driver
Yes, there are even reality TV shows that follow tow truck crews. And if you watch South Beach Tow, then you know that everything does look more glamorous in South Beach. But even when you’re surrounded by lively colors and a great scene, you’re still at work and working is rarely fun — particularly when you’re towing cars for a living. Towing is easy enough to take in half-hour segments, but an 8-hour shift requires a lot of labor, a ton of driving and customer service, too. Tow truck drivers average $30,000 to $40,000 a year, depending on where you live. You’ll get more if you own the company, but if you own the company you’ve got to worry about maintaining trucks, insuring your drivers and all the other stuff that goes with running a business.
8. Cruise Ship Worker
The cast of Below Deck Mediterranean is young, hot and interesting. Shove a camera in anyone’s face, and they’re likely to do something interesting or run away. Reality TV cameras make sure they’re pointing toward someone who isn’t going to run away. And while it looks totally glamorous to live aboard a cruise ship, to sail into exotic ports and to hang out with attractive people, working on a cruise ship is a tough gig. You’ll be away from your family for long stretches at a time so you’ll rarely feel at home. Workweeks are long and many staff members are revolving doors, so it isn’t easy to forge lasting friendships with coworkers.
Also, the crew decks aren’t as nice as the guest decks. Quarters are cramped, and pay for many positions is relatively low. Cruise ship workers don’t get to eat passenger food, and regulations prohibit staff from mingling with guests. This job is a lifestyle, and it’s not a lifestyle that a whole lot of people really love.
7. Comic Book Store Owner
Who wouldn’t want a job where you can hang out all day talking comic books? This is essentially the life painted by the reality show Comic Book Men on AMC. Kevin Smith, of View Askew fame, takes viewers into his own comic book shop. Here, he sits around discussing things important to fans with his buddies. Stars from comic book-themed TV shows and movies may even drop by, on occasion. And if you’re a famous writer/director, this might happen for you. But if you’re just a regular person running a comic book shop, this experience is far from likely.
Comic books are a niche market and running a business is never easy. You’ve got to identify your market and know how to connect with them, and then make the sale. You’ve got to maintain your business property, staff and of course, buy stuff for the collection. That takes capital, and that means you’d better get to selling books pretty quickly. Just don’t expect someone who played The Flash to walk through the door any time soon, no matter what reality TV might tell you.
6. Gold Miner
Lots of people think this profession went out of fashion at the turn of the 19th century, and they’re mostly right. However, there are some people out there who want to be or try to be professional gold prospectors and gold miners. Discovery takes viewers right into the nitty gritty of the gold mining career with their Gold Rush series, where every find looks like a windfall.
Mining is a labor-intensive, very hard job that requires working in dangerous conditions, in all types of weather, around heavy machinery. Mining for gold can be an incredibly thankless task, as actual nuggets are few and far between.
5. Professional Lifeguard
What if Baywatch was real? You need to see Bondi Rescue, a popular reality TV show in Australia. This series shows viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the pros who safeguard Bondi Beach, one of the busiest beaches in the world. Being a professional lifeguard is not like that summer job you had at the YMCA. Lifeguarding at a beach as a professional is a tough gig, and you’ll get paid big bucks for it.
Some California lifeguards earn $100,000 a year on average. That’s because they’re risking their lives to save yours. Lifeguards have to retrieve people and dead bodies from the ocean waves, and they go out into the water when everyone else is running away. Lifeguards work long hours under the sun and must keep their bodies in peak physical condition, which requires a lot of work even after-hours. This job requires a lot of running and swimming, and it’s hard on the body so professional lifeguards end up with a pretty short shelf life as a result. Either have a backup plan ready to go, or be prepared to retire at a relatively young age. This job looks great on TV, but the reality of squinting against the sun and guarding the waves is a difficult, sometimes very thankless career.
4. Bounty Hunter
Dog the Bounty Hunter was reality TV famous almost before that was even a thing, rising to the top of the reality heap to stay on television for 8 seasons, from 2003 to 2012. He looked cool, he worked with cool people, he had a cool job. But being a bounty hunter is also an incredibly dangerous job, and not as lucrative as you might want to believe. Bounty Hunters make around $50,000 to $80,000 a year, working for 20 percent of the bonds they’re collecting. For this, bounty hunters risk life and limb hunting down fugitives from justice. The bigger the bounty, the more dangerous the person you’re hunting. That makes it safer to take the smaller jobs, and that means doing a whole lot more work to make this career work financially.
Some of the manliest men you’re likely to see on reality TV are on Ax Men. The show is enjoying 9 successful seasons and it’s as exciting as ever. These guys do hard work in a hard environment, and they deserve to be glorified on television. But they also deserve to be looked at honestly before anyone attempts this as a career. Logging is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, with workers constantly facing injury and even death. The weather conditions can be brutal, the work is labor-intensive and hard on the body and loggers are always a slave to the market as it rises and falls at will. All this, for a median income of about $33,000 a year. No wonder these guys have to supplement their income with a reality TV paycheck.
2. Professional Pickers
The History Channel’s American Pickers is just pure fun. It revolves around two guys who liken themselves to comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, it’s full of intriguing information and it features all sorts of interesting places and faces. These two travel around the countryside together looking for places that have a lot of junk. They sort through the junk to find hidden treasure in the form of old signs, machinery and promotional products that can be sold to collectors.
It all looks like gravy on reality TV, but take a long moment before you consider this as a career. This job essentially requires digging through trash and then finding people to sell it to. You’ll need to forge a lot of contacts and you’ll need a working knowledge of how much things are worth, so you don’t pay too much. You’ll have to haggle and travel and do a ton of legwork to make this career happen, so if you don’t like spending time with your family and constantly wheeling and dealing then this might be ideal for you. Just don’t expect to make a whole lot of money at it, because those big, expensive finds are going to be pretty rare.
1. Body Painter
There’s just no denying that Skin Wars is a great show. It’s been bringing viewers to GSN since 2014 and it’s featured some truly amazing skin artists. Using airbrushes and pure talent, these artists paint intricate and unbelievable designs on silent models who do exactly as they’re told. Wouldn’t it be nice if this were the reality of the job.
Being a body painter looks amazing, but this job requires a great deal of stamina and skill. Body painters have to stand, squat, bend, stoop and hold their hands and arms in weird positions for hours at a time as they create detailed body paintings. The demand for this job isn’t exactly universal, either. It’s a very specialized career and it’ll require you to have a lot of specialized contacts. This is a gig-based career where you’ll find work through photographers, promotional professionals, movie and television studios — depending on where you live. It’s a wildly unsteady job for many, and annual pay can run anywhere from $18,000 to $100,000 a year.
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