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Reality TV is giving ordinary people the chance to become superstars ... God help us all

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But the search to cast real people in reality television can often be as hard as crafting characters from scratch. "[Some people see it as] a way to get famous, and we're constantly trying to find people who are being honest," said Cronin. "It's always a challenge for Cris [Abrego, Cronin's 51 Minds partner] and I to weed out the people who are faking."

For those who do get cast on reality shows, the experience, good or bad, has a profound impact on their lives and the way they view fame.

For McCluney and Smith, the experience was all positive, and they got nothing but love from the public. And in McCluney's case, the occasional person claiming to be a distant relative asking for a handout. They both felt like they were portrayed as they truly are because they went in with the intention of being true to themselves.

"I wanted to do something different for reality TV and I was real," said Smith. "I was going to be me even if there was a camera in my face, because I wasn't going to sell myself short or sell a false image of myself."

Overall, Nease was happy with the way she was portrayed, except that the show occasionally made her look like she should be wearing a dunce cap instead of a bandana. "I think it was accurate as far as my personality, but the [producers] kind of made me look stupid," she said. "They didn't show any of my strategies or any of my alliances. I looked like I was just in la-la land."

Maxey and Rhymes' post-reality experience is more of a mixed bag. "People can be really mean," said Rhymes. "I haven't had too many bad things said about me, but people can write some really nasty things on the message boards. I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because I keep reading it."

"It made me re-evaluate what it's like to be famous because it can be annoying," said Maxey. "I think I would be one of those celebrities who curse people out."

Even though his experience was good, McCluney has a warning to those who seek fame from reality TV. "Fame comes with a price ... it comes with a lot of hard work and determination," he said. "It's a cutthroat business, and if you're not made for it, it will show."

As reality TV becomes a damn-near permanent part of pop culture with shows like Survivor, American Idol and even Flavor of Love gaining cult followings, the stars of those shows, whether they are trying to or not, are becoming equally as popular. Andy Warhol had no clue how true his most famous quote, "Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes," would become. With a chance of fame only an open casting call away, everyone from a school teacher to a postal worker to a homeless dude on the street has a chance to capture their 15 minutes.

"Does America think that reality contestants are all just trying to be famous? Yeah, they might," said Cronin. "But that's OK ... as long as we tell a good story."

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