Emmys: RuPaul and Tim Gunn Share Hosting Tips for Reality Shows

Survivor” host Jeff Probst won the Emmy for hosting a reality or reality competition program the first four years of the award’s existence, but he hasn’t been nominated since his last win in 2011, leading to speculation he took himself out of the running.

“That’s a funny story that has continued to circulate, but has absolutely no truth to it,” he says. “I assure you I never pulled myself out of the running; maybe I just overstayed my welcome!”

Last year’s nominees in the reality host Emmy category included Tom Bergeron (“Dancing With the Stars”), Steve Harvey (“Little Big Shots”), Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn (“Project Runway”) and winner RuPaul Charles (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”). Two of last year’s nominees — Ryan Seacrest for “American Idol” and Jane Lynch for “Hollywood Game Night” — won’t be back for eligibility reasons.

With the strong season “Survivor” had with Probst navigating one cast member outing another as transgender at a tense tribal council, this could be his year to return to the nominations. That ability to navigate pivotal moments may be a key to the category.

“A good reality host is someone who can respond extremely well and in the moment to whatever is happening, especially when that stuff is unexpected,” says Andy Dehnart, creator-editor of realityblurred.com. “A host who just reads the TelePrompTer over and over … is less interesting.”

Probst agrees that being present is a big part of the job.

“Those moments are the magic of what makes any show great,” he says. “Without moments, a format can quickly become stale and that is very had to sustain.”

On NBC’s “The Wall,” host Chris Hardwick says it’s important not to get in the way of a show and also to be invested in what’s happening.

“Rather than just disappearing into what the TelePrompTer says, it’s about being engaged in the moment and being present with what’s happening and having a real conversation,” he says. “Every show is a different organism and you have to be flexible and open to listening to whatever it is the show needs and wants from you.”

For “Project Runway’s” Gunn and Klum, who have submitted as a pair since 2013 (they won that year), the hosts’ role includes an emphasis on authenticity.

“You want to be sure people understand what the challenge is about,” says Klum. “It’s just about being you and fun.”

Gunn brings his background as a teacher to bear, offering truth-telling, empathy and coaching to contestants before ultimately letting go: “I can’t want you to succeed more than you do,” he says.

The challenge of the host category is the breadth of types of reality shows it encompasses, from cooking competitions (think: “Top Chef” and “MasterChef”) to endurance tests (think: “Running Wild With Bear Grylls”).

“What makes a good host is putting your heart and soul into what you do, really going the extra mile,” Grylls says. “It’s the unseen stuff often, especially in
‘Running Wild,’ where so much of it doesn’t get caught on camera.”

Alfonso Ribeiro, coming off his second year as host of ABC’s stalwart “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” says the format of any show is the most important element.

“On a show like ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos,’ the star of the show is the videos,” he says. “In my career I’ve been a really good second to a great first, with ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ being a prime example,” he says, alluding to co-star Will Smith. “On this show I’m supporting the videos.”

Last year’s winner, RuPaul, says the job of a reality show host is to lean into the word “host.”

“The people who are on reality shows aren’t necessarily show business people,” he says. “They’re really civilians and the host’s job is to bridge the gap between show business and real-life people, so that person should be a host in every sense of the word as someone who is a liaison who can help contestants navigate a world they are not used to.”

But RuPaul says he’s also game to host a series that involves less nurturing and more lecturing.

“I would love to host a show like ‘Judge Judy’ where I could set people straight,” he says. “I do have an opinion about lots of things and I would love to do something like that.”

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