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By Andrea Peyser
April 15, 2016
Did reality TV almost claim another victim?
Olivia Caridi can be a sweetheart. No, really. At the tender age of 23, the smoking-hot blonde (or is that redundant?) walked away from a blossoming career as a TV newscaster in Virginia, abandoning her comfort zone to publicly humiliate herself in a search of true love, cheap fame and great clothes.
She was a contestant on the latest season of ABC’s “The Bachelor’’ — one of 28 cuties who competed for the hand in marriage, and other body parts, of a total stranger. Not a well thought-out life plan.
Caridi deluded herself into believing that she had this covered. She thought she’d knocked out her rivals and was about to win the grand prize: a ring on it. Then, during a televised “date’’ in the Bahamas — two women, one guy — the man of her nightmares, a 26-year-old software-account manager from Denver, Ben Higgins, dumped her like trash. He left her on an island alone, unemployed, and crying like an infant (before she was picked up in a boat by TV crew members).
He soon asked another cast member to marry him.
In the carefully edited “Bachelor’’ world, Caridi had been cast as the villain. She was too confident. Too abrasive. In one scene, Higgins told her that he’d just lost two close friends in a plane crash.
Caridi obsessed about her stout “cankles.’’ (She says she merely tried to cheer him up.)
Still, nothing prepared Caridi for the bullying, body-shaming and slut-abuse she endured. Fellow contestants ripped her “bad breasts’’ and ‘”big mouth’’ on air. And then, there were the implied death threats.
“You’re the worst person, ever. You should die.’’ She told me that she received one anonymous message such as this after another on social media. “No one would miss you.’’
January to March “was a really dark time for me,’’ she said. She moved back into her parents’ house in Austin, Texas, where she stared at the walls like a zombie. “I was badly bullied as a child because I was overweight. It felt like I was in middle school again. I thought many times what it would be like if I wasn’t alive.’’
What makes seemingly sane humans risk everything for a stroll in the limelight? It’s a puzzle that has stumped many a mental-health expert:
Are unstable people attracted to these shows? Or, do the degradations inflicted on contestants sometimes push them over the edge?
At least 21 former reality-show contestants have committed suicide since 2004, The Post reported. This includes a contender from “Storage Wars’’ (killing oneself over a lack of closet space?) and a struggling New Jersey chef from “Kitchen Nightmares.’’
In 2007, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay screamed in his face in front of millions of viewers — “Your business is about to f–king swim down the Hudson.’’ Three years later, the man jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
But “The Bachelor,’’ which in March aired its 20th season finale with an average weekly viewership of around 8 million voyeurs, and its offshoot, “The Bachelorette,’’ might be the most lethal shows on television. In February, a “Bachelor’’ Season 14 loser overdosed on prescription pills; another hanged herself in 2013. Three years earlier, a 2009 “Bachelorette” contestant shot himself in the head.
I’m worried. We won’t see the end anytime soon of these wildly profitable programs that prey on the young, the foolish and the weak.
Fortunately, Caridi says that the show-makers, perhaps worried she’d become another casualty, offered her the services of a therapist.
Now 24 years old, she has just moved to New York City, and aims to resume her TV career. She has no regrets. “It was worth it,’’ she said.
“I’m one of these hopeless romantics. I thought it could happen on TV.’’
Although she says she’s done with reality shows, she still advises young women: “If you’re so inclined, go for it!’’
I’ve learned that there are two types of people attracted to the reality world. The first are vulnerable souls, who should stay away.
Then there are folks so narcissistic and ambitious, they’d chuck anything, piss off anyone, to get on national TV. Caridi seems to be a bit of both.
Hey, she makes for great entertainment.