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With shows like Project Runway and Top Chef, the Bravo cable channel skillfully packages the fantasy that gifted amateurs can break into the big time. But make no mistake: It is a fantasy.

[Excerpt]

The contestants on Bravo shows are not allowed money, credit cards, cell phones, newspapers, magazines, televisions, or Internet access. They cannot make independent excursions without a chaperone; they have to schedule phone calls through the producers, who monitor their every word. They can’t listen to iPods, can’t listen to the radio (among other reasons, Bravo would have to pay for the rights to the songs). They can’t even have sex with one another to pass the time. (An STD could result in a lawsuit—unlike hookup reality shows, the contestants aren’t tested beforehand for communicable diseases.) In fact, the contestants are left with little to do on these shows except drive each other barking mad. “Plus, they’re drinking,” says Tom Colicchio, head judge of Top Chef, as he himself simultaneously nurses a coffee and margarita outside his new restaurant, Craft Los Angeles. “Not during the challenges, usually, though no one would stop them if they did.”

Sleep deprivation is rampant, especially on Project Runway, where participants usually rise at six, work until midnight, and go to bed at 1 or 2 a.m. Season Two of Top Chef was additionally complicated by the summer weather in Los Angeles, the hottest on record—the building in which they filmed had no air conditioners. There were days when it reached 110 degrees outside, and far worse in the kitchen. And that was before the contestants fired up the six double-ovens.

New York Magazine

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