Move over JoJo: The Bachelorette isn’t the only place where you can get to a dose of Monday night dating drama. Lifetime’s UnReal, an addictive series about the behind-the-scenes chaos of a fictional reality dating show, is back tonight for a second season and delivering just as many watercooler moments as ABC’s long-running rosefest.
Co-created by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (a former producer on The Bachelor) and Marti Noxon, the show has everything that Bachelor Nation craves—awkward conversations, teary eliminations, and the promise of a fairytale ending—coupled with an insidery look at the puppeteering it takes to actually create those GIF-worthy reality show moments.
This season, super producers Quinn King (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) are back and ready to manipulate their way to ratings gold (“We don’t solve problems, we create them, and put cameras on them,” says Rachel in episode two). But there is a different cast of characters including a new suitor, Darius Beck (B.J. Britt), a pro quarterback who is making history by being Everlasting’s first African-American lead, something that The Bachelor itself hasn’t done in 20 seasons.
There’s also a whole new crop of ladies looking for love and their 15 minutes of fame. One of the standout contestants this season is Yael, played by actress Monica Barbaro (below), who is quickly deemed the “Hot Rachel” by the Everlasting crew because she looks like Rachel, but is “hot and not crazy, and takes showers from time to time.” We caught up with Barbaro to get the scoop on season two of UnReal and find out what it’s like to dip a toe in the fictional reality dating pool (or should we say hot tub?).
How did you prep before joining the cast of UnReal? A Bachelor marathon, perhaps?
Since Sarah [Gertrude Shapiro] worked on The Bachelor, she is the ultimate resource for us. We asked her everything we wanted to know about it. I’m actually not a Bachelor-watcher myself, but I did see a few episodes before we filmed. It’s interesting because what you see on that show is often a manipulation of those people—you just don’t get to see what really happens behind the scenes.
The show gives viewers a peek into how emotionally taxing it can be to film a reality show like this. Do you think it’s similar to what it’s actually like?
I can’t imagine what it’s really like to be on a show like this! You’re holed up in a mansion with no phone and no access to the Internet. You don’t get much food, apparently, either—just a lot of alcohol. Plus, there are a bunch of girls competing for the same man. It’s our job on UnReal to figure out exactly how that plays out. In this season, it definitely gets to the girls.
Since UnReal is a TV show within a TV show—does that ever get confusing on set?
Absolutely! At any given time, there are probably six cameras pointed at us and at first it was hard to remember which were actually filming and which were fake. There are also actors playing crew members on Everlasting, in addition to UnReal’s actual crew. I would go up to someone and say “I don’t mean to offend you, but are you an actor or are you a crew member?” Sometimes we film scenes with our real crew members around us.
Your character Yael is nicknamed the “Hot Rachel.” How does that affect her dynamic with the actual Rachel?
In season one, they established that Rachel has a lot going on psychologically and she is really fighting for her soul while she works for the show. The difference is that my character, Yael, doesn’t have much of a complicated background. She’s a fashion blogger and she’s competitive, but she’s just doing what she needs to do. At first, Rachel doesn’t like the comparisons and she’s pretty avoidant of it all. You’ll have to wait and see if it stays that way!
Tell us about the contestants this season. Is anyone there actually looking for love?
It’s interesting because a lot of the contestants on reality dating shows like this are looking for love, but they’re also looking for some sort of recognition and fame. I think that plays out in different ways for each character this season. Yael’s deeper desires come out, as they do with all the other characters as the season progresses. There is always the question of “Why are all these people here?”
Darius is the first African-American suitor for Everlasting. How does that affect the show and the storylines?
Race is such a complicated issue and it carries throughout every single episode this season. It even creates tension between contestants. There's no denying that elephant in the room, so it’s constantly talked about. Darius is a much different suitor than Adam (Freddie Stroma) was last season. He’s a famous football player and had a much different upbringing.
There is so much drama on the show—what’s the mood like on set?
It’s a lot of fun! We like to say that we could film a show about the show within a show. It’s the coolest group of people, but sometimes it’s complete chaos. I have a photo of us lying in a pile on the floor because we had been shooting at night for hours in bikinis and it was below 30 degrees. We just threw our cozy coats on and huddled together, so obviously, we got along really well.
What’s it like to work with Constance Zimmer and Shiri Appleby?
Their characters know exactly what to do to manipulate people, but it’s hilarious because they are nothing like that in real life. Constance is the nicest person. She’s very direct and sometimes she will speak in the tone that Quinn speaks, but everything coming out of her mouth is supportive. Shiri is such an inspiration because she wears so many hats. She just had her second baby and she directed an episode this season too.
What else can we look forward to this season?
The premiere is exciting because it starts out in a place that looks almost nothing like UnReal from the first season. The camaraderie between Rachel and Quinn is strong in the first episode and they’re being pretty wild. Then, there is also the reveal of Darius and the network’s reaction to the fact that he is black. Later, you’ll see how the contestants react to Darius and to each other. I think with every character, including mine, there’s more than meets the eye, and it will be entertaining to watch each one show more sides of themselves.
UnReal is on Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime. Check out the trailer above.