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How Much Do You Get Paid for Being on House Hunters?

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A massive amount of people aspire to conduct their search for a new home on HGTV's House Hunters: The reality show gets 100 to 200 applications per week. Couples and families who appear on the show are rewarded with a chance to find their dream home, not to mention a shot at reality TV fame. But is there money in it for them, too? The answer is yes—although the sum is probably much less than you think.

Would-be homebuyers are paid a mere $500 to appear on House Hunters—not even $500 each, but $500 per family. The budget per episode, on the other hand, is $45,000 to $50,000. Yup. The $500 stipend gets even more depressing when you think about how much time these couples have to put into the show: Each 23-minute episode takes about 30 hours to film, spread out over three to five days. Prospective homeowners spend six hours at each of the three houses. The rest of the time goes toward before-and-after interviews and footage capturing their daily life, from spending time with family to going to work. The Things broke the $500 payout down and found that a couple who films eight hours a day for five days makes a paltry $6.25 an hour per person. And speaking of work: People usually have to take days off from their jobs to film, so they potentially lose money by being on the show.

And we haven't even gotten to the time you spend applying before you even get cast. If your online application is selected to move forward in the process, next up is a phone interview, lots of paperwork, and shooting a 10-minute audition video. That's a lot of work. At least your meals are paid for when you're in production. One contestant revealed that the director paid for her family's lunch every day and even took them out to dinner one night. Plus, they got access to those sweet, sweet craft services snacks.

There is actually a contingent of onscreen personalities that get paid even less than the homebuyers: the realtors. But while they don't get that cold, hard cash, they get a ton of publicity.

It's common for reality show contestant stipends to be low. Of course, if it's a competition show, there are big payouts for the winners. Big Brother pays a weekly stipend of about $750 and then shells out a grand prize to the champion. American Ninja Warrior contestants don't get paid a penny if they lose.

So, what have we learned? If you're looking to make a fortune, don't bank on a career in reality television.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Causes Sinkholes?
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Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

This week, a sinkhole opened up on the White House lawn—likely the result of excess rainfall on the "legitimate swamp" surrounding the storied building, a geologist told The New York Times. While the event had some suggesting we call for Buffy's help, sinkholes are pretty common. In the past few days alone, cavernous maws in the earth have appeared in Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and of course Florida, home to more sinkholes than any other state.

Sinkholes have gulped down suburban homes, cars, and entire fields in the past. How does the ground just open up like that?

Sinkholes are a simple matter of cause and effect. Urban sinkholes may be directly traced to underground water main breaks or collapsed sewer pipelines, into which city sidewalks crumple in the absence of any structural support. In more rural areas, such catastrophes might be attributed to abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns that can't take the weight anymore. These types of sinkholes are heavily influenced by human action, but most sinkholes are unpredictable, inevitable natural occurrences.

Florida is so prone to sinkholes because it has the misfortune of being built upon a foundation of limestone—solid rock, but the kind that is easily dissolved by acidic rain or groundwater. The karst process, in which the mildly acidic water wears away at fractures in the limestone, leaves empty space where there used to be stone, and even the residue is washed away. Any loose soil, grass, or—for example—luxury condominiums perched atop the hole in the ground aren't left with much support. Just as a house built on a weak foundation is more likely to collapse, the same is true of the ground itself. Gravity eventually takes its toll, aided by natural erosion, and so the hole begins to sink.

About 10 percent of the world's landscape is composed of karst regions. Despite being common, sinkholes' unforeseeable nature serves as proof that the ground beneath our feet may not be as solid as we think.

A version of this story originally ran in 2014.

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Big Questions
How Are Speed Limits Set?
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When driving down a road where speed limits are oppressively low, or high enough to let drivers get away with reckless behavior, it's easy to blame the government for getting it wrong. But you and your fellow drivers play a bigger a role in determining speed limits than you might think.

Before cities can come up with speed limit figures, they first need to look at how fast motorists drive down certain roads when there are no limitations. According to The Sacramento Bee, officials conduct speed surveys on two types of roads: arterial roads (typically four-lane highways) and collector streets (two-lane roads connecting residential areas to arterials). Once the data has been collected, they toss out the fastest 15 percent of drivers. The thinking is that this group is probably going faster than what's safe and isn't representative of the average driver. The sweet spot, according to the state, is the 85th percentile: Drivers in this group are thought to occupy the Goldilocks zone of safety and efficiency.

Officials use whatever speed falls in the 85th percentile to set limits for that street, but they do have some wiggle room. If the average speed is 33 mph, for example, they’d normally round up to 35 or down to 30 to reach the nearest 5-mph increment. Whether they decide to make the number higher or lower depends on other information they know about that area. If there’s a risky turn, they might decide to round down and keep drivers on the slow side.

A road’s crash rate also comes into play: If the number of collisions per million miles traveled for that stretch of road is higher than average, officials might lower the speed limit regardless of the 85th percentile rule. Roads that have a history of accidents might also warrant a special signal or sign to reinforce the new speed limit.

For other types of roads, setting speed limits is more of a cut-and-dry process. Streets that run through school zones, business districts, and residential areas are all assigned standard speed limits that are much lower than what drivers might hit if given free rein.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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