In 2005 British television aired a reality show called Space Cadets. The show put out ads for “thrill seekers” and then ran them through a process to identify the most gullible individuals with the least knowledge of spaceflight, science or (it would seem) any form of common sense.
The individuals were told they were going to be part of the first reality space tourist television show. They were flown to Russia and launched into space and spent five days aboard the Space Shuttle.
In reality they were flown over the ocean for several hours and landed right back in England where they were surrounded by actors pretending to be Russians. They spent their space time in a mockup of the Space Shuttle that was used in the movies Armageddon and Space Cowboys. The shuttle was set inside a simulator showing views of earth.
After five days they were to go on a space walk at which point the hoax was revealed and the door opened up into the studio where their family and friends were waiting.
Obviously the simulator wasn’t able to recreate weightlessness so they were told that they were in a very low orbit where they had only 70% gravity, but the Space Shuttle had gravity generators that made up for the other 30%. Actually any object in orbit is going be weightless because orbiting is simply falling fast enough that you never hit the ground. (The ground curves away before you hit it.)
From the clips I’ve seen, the producers seemed to have pulled it off incredibly well. They put a lot of effort into the simulator in making it as realistic as possible–well other than actually being weightless. In one scene before they were “launched” they were interviewed by members of the press. However, to make sure no one was caught smiling, the “press” all had to wear face masks presumably to keep them from spreading germs to the cadets.
The show’s selection process along with the actors playing the pilots and even a planted “cadet” who was in on the hoax helped insure that their suspicious were minimized.
Another show that used a similar technique of duping the participants was Superstar USA. With a format and style similar to American Idol, it attempted to find the worst singers possible while telling them that they were talented.