TLC’s 90 Day Fiance, Happily Ever After, and Before the 90 Days are three of cable TV’s most highly rated shows, trouncing the viewership of competitors like Keeping Up With the Kardashians and the entire Teen Mom franchise. So why is it that the 90 Day Fiance cast members don’t seem to be paid very much — AT ALL — especially in comparison to some of these other shows?
In just the past week, multi-season veterans Danielle Jbali and Paul Staehle have both been forced to admit they are having serious money issues. And I’m not talking about being behind on the mortgage of a $450,000 house or being at risk of having a Mercedes G-Wagen repossessed, I’m talking about being evicted from a mobile home park and not being able to afford plane tickets (and baggage fees) to Brazil.
Before I go on, I feel I should head off the knee jerk reaction that so many people have when it comes to reality stars making a lot of money — namely that they shouldn’t make a lot of money because they “don’t do anything” or “don’t have a real job” or whatever. That’s just flat out bullsh*t, I don’t know what else to say. These people share their lives on television and millions of people tune in each and every Sunday (and throughout the week via reruns, online, and network apps), generating millions of dollars for show producers and the networks. They should be fairly compensated, plain and simple — just like Logan Paul, the stars of Jackass, and Vanna White are compensated.
It has been reliably reported that the 90 Day Fiance franchise pays couples roughly $1000 per episode for their first season, which seems about right for an unproven show. At this point, both Before the 90 Days and 90 Day Fiance (the two shows that feature first-time cast members) are established brands with an established audience, so clearly producers could safely pay a lot more initially.
The same logic continues for cast members the network invites back, knowing that their stories resonated (for good or bad reasons) with viewers. Take Paul Staehle for example. He and wife Karine returned for a second season of Before the 90 Days, a show that nearly doubles the ratings of Teen Mom OG, which reportedly pays the moms over $300,000 per season and the dads more than $250,000 per season. It’s our understanding that cast members who are invited back are offered the original $1,000ish per episode and that they have to negotiate if they want more — which some couples were reportedly better at than others.
That already seems absurdly low to me, but then you factor in TLC going with two-hour episodes instead of one-hour episodes and it just gets worse! (I should point out that cast members reportedly do get a little extra for the Tell All and for any “special” episodes they film for.)
One viable argument in favor of underpaying these cast members is the basic economic concept of supply and demand. The cast members can simply opt to not return, and eventually producers would have to pay more. They’re just paying market value, right? That is fundamentally true, and producers are clearly not doing anything illegal here. Even so, I do sincerely believe that they are taking advantage of their “workers” in this situation.
Perhaps the solution will be the inevitable rise of reality star management firms, or perhaps even a union similar to the Screen Actors Guild for cast members of reality shows returning for another season? Normally, I’m not a huge fans of those sorts of distortions in the marketplace, but I do believe their initial impact would be positive as far as making sure cast members are being fairly compensated. Of course, this is a bit of a naive notion because managers and even a union could just as easily take advantage of these folks as producers can.
At the very least, the cast members of the various 90 Day Fiance shows should band together and present a united front when it comes to contract negotiations. But, as we have seen more this season more than any other, getting these folks on the same page with ANYTHING would be like herding Cookie Doughs!
OK, I will get down off of my soap box now and update you on Danielle and Paul. Here are all of Danielle’s recent Facebook posts detailing her current financial situation, which has resulted in the launch of a GoFundMe campaign:
I feel like no matter what I do , I can never get ahead. I am trying to go to school to better myself and get a better job. I have even had to get another job because my employer I work for now cut my hours to 20 hours. I can only work certain hours due to my classes. I bought this trailer hoping it would be a home for me and my girls. I will probably have to leave my home because I have had some financial issues the last few months and got behind on my lot rent. The trailer park I rent my lot from won’t take partial payments, charges me to have our dogs and has harassed my guests all summer when they park on the road. They took me to court and I managed to come up with lot rent and the past due amount, the court costs and more unlikely they won’t accept it. I worked my tail off doing cameos, what hours I work, promoting products and selling autographs to come up with money. We will probably have to leave my home till I can come up with the money to move it. Please pray for me and my girls.
* * * * * * * *
Well I need to address something. I shared something on my private Facebook and it got out. People are judging really hard and don’t know the whole story. So I will set the record straight. I work two jobs and go to school full time trying to better my self so I can get a better job. One job I work 8 hours as a home health aide and the other job I take care of mentally handicapped adults and that job cut my hours down to 20 due to only 1 client being at the house and a full time staff came back to work from medical leave. My two older daughters were working full time during the summer and that ended due to summer ending. My oldest daughter goes to college full time and she as dealt with some medical issues for the last two months. She just finally got another job and as been working it two weeks. My middle daughter is a senior in high school and works two days a week. My youngest daughter is in high school and does not work.
I got behind on lot rent for my home that I own. I have had to replace one of my bathroom floors due to black mold, I had two water line breaks, and then my hours got cut. The mobile home park took me to court and I came up with the money but it is a matter of them accepting it or not. If they don’t accept it, I will have to leave the home I own and find a way to move my trailer out of the park. I found a place to put it but it is coming up with the money to move it. I did not ask for money in my original post, I asked for prayers. I had a friend approach me to see if she could start a GoFundMe. People are judging before they know all the facts.
Danielle’s GoFundMe description:
Danielle joined 90 Day Fiancé and became an unlikely celebrity. We have all watched her ups and downs, and have also witnessed some internet bullying which is unfortunate because if you are now an adult and think it’s still okay to bully, that reflects badly on you. Danielle went back to school, took on a second job and is trying to do the right thing and rise above her past troubles and should be applauded for that.
I truly believe that the real friends she’s made along the way, myself included, would be willing to help a friend in need. Let’s all get together to help her a little so that she will be able get her head above water once again.
Danielle was on one season of 90 Day Fiance and two seasons of 90 Day Fiance: Happily Ever After. She and her relationship with Mohamed are unarguably one of the single biggest reasons that the show’s ratings exploded as quickly as they did. She’s now working two part-time jobs, doing Cameos, and selling autographs (the latter two of which the internet mocks constantly), and she cannot afford rent on a mobile home lot. If you are a producer or executive for Sharp Entertainment, and you are enjoying the success of these shows in the form of big fat paychecks, then you seriously need to head over to GoFundMe and give this woman a Christmas gift! Of course, I’m imagining that their response will be to offer Danielle $2,500 an episode (two-hour episodes of course) for a makeover and/or dating spin-off series.
Meanwhile, Paul Staehle is trying to return to Brazil to be with his pregnant wife Karine before then returning to the United States. Paul, who has been featured on two seasons of Before the 90 Days, has sent mixed signals as far as whether or not he will be back for a third season — but his signals have been anything but mixed as far as his dire financial situation. He recently began offering signed photos for any size “donation” in hopes of getting some extra money to pay for his return trip to Brazil, but the backlash was so huge that it appears as though he has once again deleted his Twitter and Facebook pages.
On a slightly different note, why is it that people get SO DAMNED angry whenever a reality star launches a GoFundMe or tries to sell something? As long as the fundraising campaign isn’t deceitful or misleading in any way, and as long as the product(s) isn’t fraudulent or unhealthy, why do people get upset?
One great example from the 90 Day Fianceverse are Before the 90 Days husband and wife Jon and Rachel, who have tried raising money to help pay to bring Jon over from England to the United States. If people want to send them money to help out, then more power to them! Maybe I’m just hardwired differently than some folks, but I just don’t see what the big deal is? I’m not one to ask anyone for money, especially if it is aggressive and intrusive, but I have ZERO issue with a situation like Jon and Rachel’s. 🤷♀️
I will wrap up this post with a theory. I believe lots of people enjoy watching some reality shows like 90 Day Fiance because they are able to feel superior to the people on screen — their decisions, and their lots in life. So, of course there is a backlash at the possibility that these people that are “below you” would be making as much, if not a lot more, money than you and your family. (Case in point: Teen Mom 2 star Jenelle Eason.) Personally, I think having a compelling story that people want to see is at least as valuable to society as being able to hit a small ball going 90 miles an hour with a wood stick — and I can guarantee you that a lot of people getting paid millions to hit a small ball with a stick (or to do anything else for that matter) are not very admirable people. A Lot of people suck, and a lot of them make more money than you or me.
Just like professional athletes, car salesmen, factory workers, or any other employee, reality stars should be fairly compensated for the amount of revenue they generate — regardless of their poor decisions, or how messed up their lives are, or how annoying they can be. Period. It’s unfortunate that some of them not only have their bosses working against them in this regard, but also a large chunk of society.
[Of course, it could just be that people like to tune in to reality TV to watch other people struggle, and they think that cast members getting paid a lot will reduce their struggles. After watching and writing about reality TV for a decade, I know that is rarely the case.]