The untold truth of The Simple Life

Back in the early 2000s, the unexpected success of a show called Survivor changed the television landscape forever. Featuring a bunch of non-famous everyday folks sent to a tropical island to compete in challenges while simultaneously scheming to win a million bucks, Survivor kicked off a reality TV boom that dominated network television for years. During this era, one of the most popular shows of this nature was The Simple Life, featuring hotel heiress Paris Hilton and pal Nicole Richie, who’s undergone a stunning transformation. 

Featuring a classic fish-out-of-water premise, these high society women were thrust into ordinary, everyday situations that seem totally acceptable to most people, but were alien to these two. Whether it was working behind the counter of a fast food restaurant or milking cows on a dairy farm, viewers couldn’t get enough of the wacky shenanigans that flung the stars well out of their comfort zones.

Yet there was a lot going on behind the scenes that viewers didn’t know about, especially when it came to how “real” the show really was. Keep reading to find out so much more about the untold truth of The Simple Life

The Simple Life was inspired by a 1960s sitcom

Even though The Simple Life was marketed to viewers as a reality show, the concept was actually generated by the network’s comedy department. Fox senior vice president of comedy development Brad Johnson told TV Week the idea sprang from a challenge from the network’s head brass to figure out how to create comedy shows that didn’t follow the traditional sitcom format. “The [plan] that seemed simplest and cleanest was to go back to those high-concept 1960s sitcoms and say let’s do them for real,” he explained.

One vintage sitcom the execs thought of was Green Acres, in which married Manhattan city slickers ditched their Park Avenue life and moved to a farm in the country. Originally, the idea for The Simple Life was to move a city family to a farm; however, during that same period, socialite Paris Hilton happened to be meeting with Sharon Klein, the senior VP of casting, about opportunities at the network. From there, the Simple Life concept emerged: drop Hilton and a yet-to-be-cast friend on a farm, stand back and let hilarity ensue.

Nicole Richie was only cast in The Simple Life after producers' first choice turned them down

With the concept for The Simple Life in place, the next order of business was to cast a sidekick for its star, Paris Hilton. Interestingly enough, Nicole Richie was not the first choice of the network, which originally wanted to partner Paris with her younger sister, Nicky Hilton — whatever happened to her, anyway? 

According to a report in TV Guide (via Reality Blurred), Nicky was approached about doing the show but turned down the opportunity. “She had a boyfriend at the time, and didn’t want to leave,” Paris explained of why Nicky wasn’t keen to spend an extended period of time hanging out in rural America. “She’s from New York,” Paris said of her sister.

With Nicky not willing to participate, Paris said she was given the opportunity to seek out a replacement. As a result, she told TV Guide, “I picked [Nicole], my best friend since I was two years old.”

Paris Hilton claimed she was playing a ditzy character on The Simple Life, not herself

As it turns out, viewers of The Simple Life who laughed at Paris Hilton’s vacuous antics were not seeing the actual woman, but a character created and performed by her. 

Or at least that’s what Paris said during a 2020 panel for the YouTube documentary This Is Paris, as noted by Deadline. Speaking with journalists, Paris insisted the documentary marked the first time people were seeing the real her, and that “everything I’ve done before was me playing a character.” Additionally, she “was in on the joke” while filming The Simple Life. “Sometimes it is annoying, people assuming I am the blonde airhead that I played on the show, but I like proving people wrong,” she explained.

Paris previously made similar remarks during a 2016 interview with Access Hollywood, revealing that producers instructed her to play dumb. “It was kind of the first kind of reality show out, so we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into or what a huge success it would be,” she shared. She added that she didn’t know she’d have to play that character for five long years, either.

Nicole Richie was told to play "the troublemaker" on The Simple Life

According to Paris Hilton, the producers of The Simple Life instructed her and Nicole Richie to come up with television personas. “The producers of the show told us to play these characters,” she recalled in an interview with Access Hollywood. “They said, ‘Nicole, you be the troublemaker.'”

Of course, Nicole didn’t shy away from that role in real life. As Entertainment Weekly reported, she developed a wild-child reputation that included a 2003 trip to rehab, after she entered a guilty plea to driving with a suspended license and heroin possession.

Years later, Nicole again leaned into that rep when she partnered with Urban Decay to become the face of its new Troublemaker mascara, (via Billboard). While promoting her new partnership, Nicole — who by then was the mother of two young children — told the Daily Mail she planned to tell her kids everything about her past when they were old enough. Everything [about my past] is out there and I have no choice but to be honest with them,” she explained, but admitted “we’re going to ease into it… We’re starting with, ‘Mummy got grounded a lot.'”

Paris Hilton used her "baby voice" for The Simple Life

After The Simple Life, Paris Hilton made a concerted effort to establish herself as a successful entrepreneur — and move beyond the bubble-headed character viewers saw on TV. 

As Paris told Vice, her Simple Life character had a specific “baby voice” that Paris had actually been using since childhood. “[It] developed when I was like really young, when I was a baby or a kid,” she recalled. “If I wanted to get something from my dad, I’d be like, ‘Dad, I really want this!'” She eventually used that voice to manipulate others. “If my boyfriend got mad at me and I was a teenager, I’d [say in a baby voice], ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.'” Then they’d. almost always forgive her.

When developing her Simple Life character, Paris decided that she’d once again use the voice, this time consistently. When “you’re in on the joke, you know what you’re doing, you’re aware of it, and you’re doing it purposefully, I think it’s actually smart,” she added.

Nicole had to be hospitalized during The Simple Life — but viewers were none the wiser

Nicole Richie went to her court-ordered rehab shortly before the December 2003 debut of The Simple Life. She raised eyebrows again a few years later, when E! News reported that Nicole required medical attention while filming. According to the report, she was treated for “dehydration” after expressing she “felt ill.” After being examined by a doctor, she was taken to a hospital, where she was given intravenous fluids for about 15 minutes before being released. “Nicole is home resting and will return to work this evening,” read a statement from her rep.

However, a subsequent report in the New York Daily News quoted a source claiming that Nicole’s hospitalization came after she “collapsed” on set — and that this incident wasn’t an isolated one. According to the source, Nicole’s issues during filming that season were ongoing, alleging, “she has had trouble walking and speaking clearly” while filming. This, the source added, left co-star Paris Hilton and the show’s production team feeling “frustrated.”

The Simple Life creator Jon Murray dismissed those claims, insisting Nicole “felt a little woozy” due to “a dehydration” but has since recovered.

In The Simple Life, Camp Shawnee was a fake

After The Simple Life was axed by Fox after season 3, then picked up by the E! channel, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie went to summer camp during season 5. There they spent the entire season guiding youngsters as counselors at Camp Shawnee.

In an interview with the Associated Press (via CBC News), E! exec Lisa Berger explained that forcing the pair to “survive without their luxuries at a family-run camp in the middle of nowhere takes us back full circle to the original concept that makes this show so much fun.”

However, there was one tiny detail that Berger didn’t revealed to viewers: Camp Shawnee didn’t actually exist. Reality Blurred reported the season was actually filmed at Malibu’s Camp JCA Shalom, referencing a no-longer-active blog that said the campers were not “real.” In addition, the actual camp allegedly confirmed it had been paid by E!, and they planned to use that money “to provide better services for their real campers.”

Did Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie really work at a dairy farm and funeral home on The Simple Life?

Camp Shawnee might not be the only fabrication on The Simple Life. According to Reality TV World, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton’s jobs at a dairy farm likely didn’t exist either. In an episode of The Simple Life, Paris and Nicole proved to be utterly inept at their jobs, augmenting bottles of unpasteurized milk with water in order to fool the dairy’s owner into thinking they’d met their quota. However, the dairy’s owner explained that unpasteurized milk didn’t meet “health department standards” and “was totally for the show.”

In a different episode, Paris and Nicole worked in a New Jersey funeral home, where they accidentally dumped the cremated remains of a deceased person on a carpet — and then cleaned up the mess with a vacuum. However, Deseret News pointed out that episode featured a disclaimer, declaring that no human bodies were used. Additionally, the funeral home’s owner revealed those “remains” were actually a mixture of cement and kitty litter. That’s proof that reality TV is completely fake.

Paris Hilton was only pretending when she claimed to not know what Walmart was on The Simple Life

There have been some especially notorious reality TV moments over the years, such as the time that Jessica Simpson – who’s undergone a stunning transformation — asked then-husband Nick Lachey on their show Newlyweds if she was eating chicken or tuna, since the can declared it was “chicken of the sea.”

A similar reality-show gaffe took place on an episode of The Simple Life, when Paris Hilton asked the rural family she was living with what a Walmart is, and if it sells wall items. However, Nicole Vorias, one of the show’s producers, subsequently revealed that whole exchange had been completely scripted — by Paris herself. “Remember that line when she was like, ‘What’s Walmart?’ She knew what Walmart was,” she told Vice, revealing that Paris would often come up with her own one-liners for the show.

According to Vorias, Paris came up with that particular exchange knowing it would get people talking. “She [created the line] herself and made it something that she knew [would] be like a water cooler [moment],” she continued.

Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie served jail time while The Simple Life was on the air

At the height of the popularity of The Simple Life, both Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie served time in jail. In September 2006, People reported that Paris had been charged with a DUI after being pulled over for “driving erratically.” The following January, Reuters shared she was sentenced to three years probation after pleading no contest. 

However, the next month, Paris was pulled over again, this time for driving without headlights. When the judge learned her license had been suspended, they threw the book at her by sentencing her to 45 days in jail. Paris subsequently wound up serving just 23 days.

Meanwhile, Nicole had similar issues at around the same time. According to People, Nicole pled guilty to DUI in July 2006, receiving three years probation. Then, she was arrested for DUI again that December, after cops spotted her driving the wrong way on a Los Angeles freeway. That second arrest landed her a four-day jail sentence. Ultimately, however, she spent just 82 minutes in the slammer, and was released shortly after she arrived due to overcrowding.

Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie's deteriorating relationship, not ratings, caused the cancellation of The Simple Life

After three hit seasons of The Simple Life, Fox made the surprising decision to pull the plug on the show. The reason? Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s relationship had deteriorated to the point that Paris addressed it publicly. “It’s no big secret that Nicole and I are no longer friends,” she said in a statement obtained by People. “Nicole knows what she did, and that’s all I’m ever going to say about it.”

Despite the stars’ animosity toward one another, they were still locked into contracts, and The Simple Life‘s producers were keen to keep the gravy train going. After shopping the show around to various networks, E! announced it was picking up the series. 

The Simple Life lasted two seasons on E! before the show was cancelled a second time. Prior to that cancellation, E!’s then-CEO Ted Harbert indicated the writing was apparently on the wall, admitting there was only a 50-50 chance the show would return. As he told TV Week (via TV Guide). “We all thought the publicity [about the Paris-Nicole feud] would help the show; we were wrong. It’s not doing well.”

A spinoff of The Simple Life was in the works until Kelly Osbourne bailed

Despite the fact that The Simple Life was cancelled twice by two different networks, producers of the show thought there was still life in the format. As a result, they hatched a plan for a spinoff featuring two scions of rock royalty: Kelly Osbourne — who’s undergone a stunning transformation — and Kimberly Stewart. Kelly, the daughter of Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne and manager Sharon Osbourne, had already earned her reality-show cred on The Osbournes, while Kimberly is the daughter of rocker Rod Stewart and ex-wife Alana Stewart.

Unfortunately for fans, the spinoff of The Simple Life never got off the ground. According The Sun, (via DigitalSpy,) Osbourne and Stewart (who’d been spotted hanging out together at Coachella a few months earlier) had already filmed a pilot when things went off the rails. The plan for the spinoff was to have the new Simple Life duo work in a variety of jobs, such as selling hot dogs and collecting garbage. However, when Kelly watched the finished pilot she decided to quit, finding the whole thing to be “demeaning to other people and juvenile.”

Nicole Richie revealed why a reboot of The Simple Life will never happen

In 2019, rumors began to swirl about a possible reboot of The Simple Life, indicating that this new version would pair Paris Hilton with Lindsay Lohan. Paris, however, quickly took to Twitter to shut it down, declaring there’s “no truth to it.”

The following year, Nicole Richie was asked if she’d ever revive The Simple Life – and she insisted that’s something that will never happen. “That show was what it was, and it was so much fun, but that concept wouldn’t even work in this moment,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “Remember, we’d leave our lives for a month and we didn’t have any phones. No phones in this day and age just doesn’t work!”

Additionally, Richie said that she wouldn’t want to leave her children alone for that long. “We’ve got real jobs now,” she continued. “We were 20 or 21 when we did it.” The Simple Life, she explained, was like backpacking through Europe: something you do in your twenties.”

Paris Hilton still watches The Simple Life

Even though Paris Hilton has worked pretty diligently over the years to put some distance between herself and The Simple Life, she still retains a great degree of affection for the show. In fact, she even views episodes on occasion. In a 2020 interview with Flare, she admitted that she and boyfriend Carter Reum “watch it all the time. I love that show, it’s so hilarious.”

In fact, she said that she’d “watched every season like a couple times each.” According to Paris, “there’s no reality show like it, it’s so hilarious [and] it’s so fun to watch.” Looking back on The Simple Life more than a decade later, Paris insists that the show “makes me so proud.” 

Now that The Simple Life has become firmly established as a pop-culture touchstone of its era, Paris marveled at how people still dress up like her and Nicole Richie in Halloween costumes. “It makes me feel so happy because I feel like that show [was] the first of its kind and so original,” she said.

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