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Good Question: Do Reality TV Contestants Get Paid?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On reality shows like Survivor, Big Brother and The Bachelor, people have to leave their jobs, their families and their rent payments for months. So, how can people afford to be on reality shows? Do they get paid?

"You have no expenses," said Kirk DeWindt, a Twin Cities personal trainer who was on the 6th season of The Bachelorette and the most recent season of Bachelor Pad.

"I've seen a lot of roses in my day, I'm actually kind of sick of them," he laughed.

On The Bachelorette, DeWindt made it six weeks into the competition before he was eliminated. He didn't get paid a penny, he said.

"The idea is, hopefully, opportunities come afterwards. Where maybe you can get paid to do things just to take advantage of, you know, what you've just done. But when you're there, you don't make usually anything," said DeWindt, who now runs his own personal training company.

He said local clients are aware of his TV history, which he hopes will ultimately pay off.

Dating-type shows and game shows differ in their pay structure. Reality shows never reveal how much they pay, but sometimes contestants do.

On Survivor, the show talks about the grand prize: $1 million. The host, Jeff Probst, talks about the first-runner up making a "$900,000 mistake," which implies that the second place finisher gets $100,000.

However, websites like have reported a tiered pay structure for Survivor. The first one voted off gets about $2,500, while the 6th one voted off gets $10,000, according to Andy Dehnart, the site's publisher. The prizes escalate depending on how long they make it in the contest.

Shows like Big Brother pay a grand prize and then a weekly stipend. The stipend has been reported at approximately $750 a week by

"I was young and dumb," said Minneapolis business-owner Jeff Lin, who, in 2004, left his job to spend six months on a PBS reality show, Colonial House.

Lin and the other colonist contestants spent life living exactly as they would in 1628, except they were followed by cameras.

"I subletted my apartment. They basically took care of my expenses," said Lin.

"Basically, I was either ready to quit my job or take a leave of absence," he explained. "It was just something completely different, something wacky and fun."

As for the money, well, it wasn't about the money.

"There was a small stipend -- just a couple grand," he said.

Lin is glad he did it, though.

"It was a life-changing experience," said Lin.

For Britta Nordahl, her reality show experience took her to Norway.

"The total shoot was around two months," she said.

Nordahl grew up in the Twin Cities, moved to California and then moved away to be part of a show called Alt For Norge.

"It's about 12 Norwegian-Americans competing to be reunited with long-lost relatives," she said.

Every week, someone is eliminated. The winner gets to meet the relative and win $50,000.

So, what happens to the losers?

"I really don't think there are any losers in this show," she said, noting that even the first to be eliminated got 10 days of travel -- free of charge. "The production company, Monster Entertainment, gave us a stipend per day and we really didn't have anything to worry about. They paid for lodging, all our travel -- like everything."

The show has only aired two episodes, and so far Nordahl is still in the competition. She wouldn't say how far she got, but she is now living in the Twin Cities and working in marketing for Aveda.

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