It’s not hard to guess that the creator of Lifetime’s UnREAL must’ve brought some real-world experience from The Bachelor to her show. Sarah Gertrude Shapiro was a producer on the long-running reality show for three seasons, and much like UnREAL protagonist Rachel, her feminist morality was in constant conflict with her job demands. Her fascinating story is chronicled in D.T. Max’s New Yorker profile on Shaprio, who speaks candidly on her experience working in reality TV, the high highs of excelling at her job and the low lows that came with manipulating women, and how she turned the experience into UnREAL.
Common themes in Hollywood—especially a sexist culture that keeps female producers like Shapiro from reaching the apex of their male counterparts—mingle with ghastly details—like how Shapiro kept jalapeños or lemons in her pocket to irritate her eyes to cry on demand, which helped elicit tears from contestants on The Bachelor. To add another layer of metatext to the realities of crafting a scripted drama out of a reality show, the deeply complex relationship between Rachel and showrunner Quinn sound similar to the antagonistic relationship between Shapiro and the veteran showrunner Lifetime paired her with, Marti Noxon. Says Noxon: “I don’t think I’ve had as contentious and fruitful a collaboration since I worked with Matt Weiner on Mad Men.”