It looks like contestant NDAs are expiring for America’s Next Top Model, the show where everyone cries after getting their hair chopped off and has to subject themselves to insane conditions for elaborate photoshoots, including but not limited to getting wrapped in corsets so tight you can’t breathe and scaling the edges of buildings.
Like all reality shows, Tyra Banks’ long-running competition show subjected its contestants to grueling conditions, and every few months, we collectively recognize just how twisted the show was to its models. Now, more than a decade later, former contestants are speaking out about the show’s treatment of its models on TikTok and Twitter. One of these former contestants is Sarah Hartshorne, who was in the series’ ninth cycle in 2007, which is when the show felt like it was at its cultural peak.
ANTM was mesmerizing because you had the emotional and financial stakes of people fighting for a dream, along with peak 2000s fashion. Like all reality shows, ANTM was heavily edited but it didn’t feel like it relied on psychological manipulation and extreme isolation from friends and family like other reality shows do (looking at you, Bachelor!). On ANTM, models could have their phones and bring people back to their apartment to hook up with, which felt huge for reality TV. But of course nothing is as it appears, and Hartshorne recently shed light on what the experience was really like.
Hartshorne made waves with the show’s payment process, which was a meager $40 per day, excluding meals. For reference, $40 per day is what you make each day on a New York City jury. Pennies!
Hartshorne frequently talks about ANTM on TikTok, explaining what elimination was like, producer manipulation, and how Tyra Mail worked. In one video she talks about the day a board room of suits intimidated the cast, telling them if they broke their NDAs they’d be sued for $10 million — and if they didn’t have $10 million, the company would sue their parents, grandparents, children, children’s children, etc. forever, until it was paid.
“They wanted to make their power seem larger than life,” Hartshorne explained. “They seemed like the dang Illuminati to me.”
Hartshorne described the experience as “like being at a traumatic sleepaway camp,” one where she and the girls “had a lot of weird shared experiences.”
There’s obviously layers of emotional baggage to unpack here, but the nitty gritty details of the day-to-day logistics are fascinating. Every five days, someone would go grocery shopping with a list the contestants gave them. Hartshorne got flack for losing weight during the show, which she says was because, “I basically lived off iceberg lettuce and refried beans.” They never got residuals, though some days they’d have craft services on set. She says most of the girls didn’t know how to cook and there wasn’t a microwave, so most of the day they ate oven Hot Pockets and tater tots. Dark!
On another note, Lisa D’Amato from the show’s fifth cycle, who famously peed in a diaper, also talks about the seedy underbelly of ANTM on TikTok and even explains why she did in fact pee in the diaper. (Spoiler: She wanted to “piss on the show,” for all the ways it manipulated her.)