Carly Reeves Explains ‘Claim to Fame’ Meltdown, Tom Hanks

Photo-Illustration: Vulture ; Photo: ABC

Carly Reeves broke into America’s collective consciousness with a bang — or, rather, a bench. The first contestant eliminated in the most recent season of Claim to Fame — the ridiculous reality show in which contestants suss out each others’ famous relations — made headlines not just because she was Tom Hanks’s niece but because of the way she admitted to their connection. In the viral clip of her elimination, Reeves both effusively praises her uncle-by-marriage (Reeves’s mother’s sister is Rita Wilson) and stomps and screams insults around the competition house as she packs up.

Grousing about the presence of a miniature bench on the show’s clue wall (“WHY A BENCH? THERE’S LITERALLY NO REFERENCE TO BENCHES IN ANY OTHER MOVIE!”), Reeves’s hot-mic moment accused production of sabotaging her chances at victory while simultaneously boosting her own ego. (“I don’t deserve this. I should have more camera time. I should be here longer.”) But this wasn’t just your standard reality-TV car crash. To see an attitude so diametrically opposed to Hanks’s whole thing — bosom buddy, platonic crush, surrogate dad — coming from someone so close to him felt like an affront.

As Reeves tells it, though, her uncle wasn’t all that pressed. (Given that one of Hanks’ sons, Chet, is a problematically accented anti-vax rapper who once announced the onset of “White Boy Summer,” Reeves’s bad press borders on charming.) She says she did text her uncle to apologize after the show aired, but he shrugged off the whole affair. “He didn’t even address it publicly,” Reeves tells Vulture. “I don’t think he wants to be connected with the reality-TV world. When I told him I was thinking about going on the show, he just said, ‘You do your thing. I hope it works for you.’”

How did you end up on Claim to Fame? Were you approached or did you apply?
I applied because I just really love reality TV. I don’t think a lot of contestants applied except me.

How exactly are you related to Tom? 
My mom’s sister is Rita Wilson, so he’s been in my life since I was 4 years old. I was a flower girl in their wedding. I’ve grown up with him, so we’re probably closer than he is with some of his blood relatives.

You know, Tom was happy for me. He just hoped that our relationship helped me in terms of getting on the show.

Let’s talk about the elimination. Did you think you were on the chopping block?
Going into the elimination, Shayne Murphy, Eddie’s daughter, said to me, “aren’t you nervous?” and I was like, “No, why would I be nervous?” I was trying to act like, “Sure, you could pick me, but you’re going to be wrong.” In hindsight, there was a lot of discussion behind my back that I did not know about. A lot of people were talking about the possibility of me being related to Tom. When I voted for Hugo to guess, I was hoping he wouldn’t bring me up. But given what I know now, either J.R. or Hugo would have.

I was definitely shocked. When you’re up there, you don’t expect to go home first. I was devastated. I wasn’t ready to leave and I didn’t feel like I got a chance to really play the game.

Can you talk about the emotions you went through after you were eliminated? 
I was trying to be strong, but as soon as the countdown started, I could feel my eyes start to well up. It felt like a panic attack. My breathing was short. I was hyperventilating and I couldn’t speak clearly. I don’t even know what the Jonas brothers said because I couldn’t hear anything after Tom’s picture came up. I didn’t even say good-bye because I didn’t hear them telling me to do that. I just wanted to get off the stage because I was so upset.

I felt like they made it easy to find me. I think they knew how much I wanted to play and that I might have this strong reaction. I didn’t even know where I was supposed to go so I ended up going upstairs. I was yelling all those things because I wanted production to hear that I was mad. It’s not like anyone in the cast did anything wrong; I was yelling at them for no reason because I was upset.

Did you think they’d use your outburst?
I had a feeling it would air. I tried to reshoot my exit but I knew they were going to keep the original. Then I tried to tell myself, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I knew it was bad. When I saw it, I just had to laugh. I know it triggered a lot of people into hating me, but it’s very funny to me.

Why do you think it made people hate you?
I got a lot of hate DMs and comments that were not very nice. Because I said I should have more camera time, people interpreted it as, “I should have more camera time because my uncle is Tom Hanks and I’m special.” But that’s not at all what I was going for. I said it because I felt like I would have been really good on the show. I’d be really funny and really competitive.

Did you think about how you’d be perceived? It’s not like the stories read “Carly Reeves melted down.” They said, “Tom Hanks’s niece melted down.” 
That’s why I apologized. I was like, “I’m sorry if you’re getting a lot of attention now,” and he said “We’re good.” He didn’t care. He doesn’t like to involve his kids or family in his life. Even with Chet’s problems, he’s done a good job of keeping it about Chet and not about Tom. It’s very sweet. It’s just our family. We’re not all crazy, but we are all very expressive. We’re actors so we’re very emotional.

There have to be both perks and drawbacks to having a famous relative.
It’s one of those things that come in extremes. I get to experience extraordinary things like a yacht in Greece and traveling around with the Spielbergs and the Springsteens, which is all very bizarre. Once I met Hillary Clinton, but that’s not my normal life. We’re all adults now, so we provide for ourselves and we do our own things.

I’m an actor myself so people are always like, “Why doesn’t he help you?” But it’s not his job to help me. If anything, he’s taught me to work harder and do it on my own because I’ll feel better about it. People assume that rich family members should provide for their family but that’s not the case. I live in a very basic apartment in Hollywood and I work as a server and sometimes as an actor. Everything I’ve ever gotten I’ve worked for pretty much on my own.

How did you prepare to go on the show? Did you have lies planned out?
I actually wanted to use my Aunt Rita as my celebrity relative and so I prepared for that, then I ended up being asked to use Tom so I had to reevaluate.

I felt that if Tom was the first revealed celebrity, it would be a big deal for the show because he’s so massive. Since he’s not in the reality-TV world at all it would be a big shocker. I did think of some clues they might put up for him so I could try to pivot the guesses to another relevant celebrity. I was prepared for a volleyball and chocolates but I did not think for one second about a bench. That bench really threw me. There was no escaping once I saw that bench. Everyone knew he was in the house somewhere. I was the easiest target because I had made my two truths and a lie pretty obvious.

The bench could have pointed to Johnny Bench, the famous baseball player, but not with all those other clues.
I could think of 20 different clues they could’ve used that probably would’ve been harder. I was hoping they would do some of his older movies because a lot of the younger generation doesn’t know Big or Turner & Hooch or any of those old ’80s movies. I was like, “Couldn’t they start there and use Forrest Gump later?” Every single person knows Forrest Gump.

You were the only person who said you were related to an actor and an Oscar winner. If you asked the average person on the street to name a Best Actor Oscar winner, nine out of ten would probably say Tom Hanks. In hindsight, was giving that clue a mistake? 
I would have changed it. I would have still said Oscar but changed either the award or our relationship. I would have tried to change the gender because a lot of people thought I was related to a female celebrity. It was hard. I definitely struggled trying to deflect once those clues were out there.

Did you know who other people were before you were eliminated? Did you have anyone else figured out?
I knew Dolly Parton was in the house because I saw the nine-to-five timecard on the board. I probably would have figured out her relative if I stayed a little longer too.

Do you have any regrets? 
I don’t regret my outburst. I don’t hold back and I speak my mind. I think a lot of people who watched thought, “Well, maybe what she said was warranted,” because they agreed that my clues were too easy.

It’s all a mixed bag. Some people agreed with me, but then others were like “you’re spoiled.” I had a great experience overall, though, and once I calmed down, everything was fine.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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