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The Best Reality TV Character Bracket

It’s time to celebrate the other side of television—from the Kardashians to the best of ‘Survivor’ to the antagonists we love to hate

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A month ago, when we were assembling our Best TV Character of the Century Bracket, one of the first questions raised internally was, “Do reality TV characters count?”

We decided the answer was no; reality TV is a genre unto itself—a series of psychological experiments that double as entertainment, putting people in uncomfortable scenarios and hitting record. (Honestly, that sentence is just a wordier summary of the tagline of The Real World, a pioneer in the space: “Find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting real.”) Reality television is a world of competition, romance, and most importantly drama—a surreal, sometimes highly produced portrayal of human nature and society’s tiniest pockets. It contains multitudes, and is overflowing with its own characters: heroes, antiheroes, villains, and guys in suits who appear out of nowhere simply to point out things that may not be immediately apparent, such as whether or not the last rose on a podium is indeed “the final rose.”

And so the icons of MTV, E!, and Bachelor Nation—among so many others—were separated from the likes of Michael Scott, Tony Soprano, Arya Stark, and Cartman. (It was the right call, but in some respects it’s a shame: Cartman versus Honey Boo Boo would’ve been a matchup for the ages.) But now, it is their time: Welcome to the sequel, the Best Reality TV Character Bracket.

Before we dive in, some ground rules:

  • There were no age restrictions this time around—the entirety of reality TV was eligible for consideration. (The genre didn’t really launch in earnest until the early ’90s, so limiting the field to 21st-century entrants seemed pointless.)
  • We instituted a morality clause, and chose not to include characters who have committed or been accused of grave acts such as sexual harassment or domestic violence.
  • I suppose we should lightly define “reality TV.” By definition, the genre is television that is unscripted (to a degree) and features people—rather than actors—in unstaged scenarios (again, to a degree). You probably knew that. What’s most important to note is that there is a difference between reality TV and nonfiction programming, which also includes travel shows like No Reservations and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. All reality TV is nonfiction programming, but not all nonfiction programming is reality TV. (The travel TV bracket will come next; Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri will face off in the finals.)

From there, the process mimicked the creation of the first bracket, with Ringer staffers ranking their favorite reality TV characters. From those results, seeding was calculated from 1 to 64; characters were then sorted into four regions: the Headliners, the Antagonists, the Hosts & Judges, and the Sneaky MVPs. The lines between those four categories can admittedly be blurry, but we’ll address any instances of cross-pollination below.

With the field set, it’s now up to you. For each round, you can vote here on the website, on Twitter, and on Instagram every day till 6 p.m. ET, through Friday, when the polls will close at 9 p.m. Voting will go as follows:

Monday: Round of 64
Tuesday: Round of 32
Wednesday: Sweet 16
Thursday: Elite Eight
Friday a.m.: Final Four
Friday p.m.: Championship
Saturday: Winner revealed

[Major Chris Harrison voice.] This is about to be … the most dramatic … online bracket … you HAVE EVER SEEN.


The Headliners

(1) Kim Kardashian, Keeping Up With the Kardashians vs. (16) Dog the Bounty Hunter, Dog the Bounty Hunter

(1) Kim Kardashian: It seems unnecessary to explain Kim Kardashian’s impact—the woman took a sliver of notoriety from being the girlfriend in Ray J’s sextape and the daughter of one of the lawyers from O.J. Simpson’s murder trial and launched herself, and her entire family, to superstardom. Kim has since turned into an all-encompassing brand—and a lawyer-in-training?—but she did so on the back of her family’s reality show, which … is mostly just about the family’s ongoing existence. Through sheer omnipresence—and a really good cryface—Kim expanded the power and influence of reality TV. For better or worse, she’s a 1-seed all the way.

(16) Dog the Bounty Hunter: In 2004, a man rose to fame (well, “fame”) by being exactly as advertised: Dog the Bounty Hunter was, in fact, a bounty hunter, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t look like a dog. Duane Chapman, with his waterfall mullet and Oakley sunglasses, was too bizarre to ignore—a man with a code, a Bluetooth headset, and a penchant for rounding up criminals. He’s the logical conclusion of the American obsession with Cops. A weird treasure, but a treasure nonetheless.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    (1) Kim Kardashian, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’
    (5873 votes)
  • 42%
    (16) Dog the Bounty Hunter, ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’
    (4303 votes)
10176 votes total Vote Now

(8) Boston Rob Mariano, Survivor vs. (9) Jessica Simpson, The Newlyweds

(8) Boston Rob: First appearing on Survivor: Marquesas in 2001, Boston Rob has become one of the show’s primary heroes, displaying a sharp mind, a persistent spirit, and a beautiful, made-for–The Town accent. Of every contestant Survivor has ever cast, Boston Rob has probably been the easiest to root for; and after he won Survivor: Redemption Island in 2011—his first victory in four attempts—Jeff Probst called his performance “as close to a perfect game as anyone’s played on Survivor.” He also owns a contracting company IRL, and posts how-to videos on Instagram like a cooler Chip Gaines.

(9) Jessica Simpson: “Is this chicken, what I have? Or is this fish?” Jessica Simpson pondered over a bowl of tuna while her new husband, Nick Lachey, looked on in speechless amazement. With that one sentence, Simpson launched herself into the reality TV hall of fame. Sure, Simpson is famous for a host of other reasons, but we can’t discount her contributions to the genre as one of the founding mothers of “Can you believe she just said that?” gold.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    (8) Boston Rob Mariano, ‘Survivor’
    (5257 votes)
  • 46%
    (9) Jessica Simpson, ‘The Newlyweds’
    (4518 votes)
9775 votes total Vote Now

(5) Paris Hilton, The Simple Life vs. (12) Nicole Richie, The Simple Life

(5) Paris Hilton: In 2003, reality TV legends Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray (the duo behind The Real World) decided to take two rich girls—an heiress to the Hilton hotels fortune and an heiress to … “All Night Long”—and forced them to see how the other half lives. Square pegs into circles—a time-honored reality TV tradition. Paris was, to keep the metaphor going, the quintessential square peg—amusingly, continuously willing to ask questions like, “What’s Walmart, a place that sells, like, walls?” As the perfect point of contrast on The Simple Life, she was supremely unapologetic about her privilege, and therefore the perfect person to laugh at.

(12) Nicole Richie: Richie, on the other hand, surprisingly became the heart of The Simple Life. She was clearly smarter than Paris—or at least less willing to play dumb—and shockingly adept at empathizing and relating to the poor, salt-of-the-earth souls upon which this Hollywood duo had been foisted. She was also legitimately funny—you’d find yourself laughing with her almost as much as you’d laugh at her. I know it’s unfair to pit the stars of The Simple Life against each other—but it’s also deliciously fun, so why the hell not?

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (5) Paris Hilton, ‘The Simple Life’
    (5774 votes)
  • 37%
    (12) Nicole Richie, ‘The Simple Life’
    (3443 votes)
9217 votes total Vote Now

(4) Nene Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta vs. (13) Kate Gosselin, Jon & Kate Plus 8

(4) Nene Leakes: An all-time character. A bona fide star. Nene Leakes is the most delightfully vicious reality star to ever exist. She has bars for days, and no filter whatsoever. Her savagery is a spectacle, and a gift. Nene Leakes said, “I’ll snap your neck and pop your eyeballs out at the same time,” and then made a sound effect: “Boop boop!” Nene Leakes said, “Your c**t has left your body.” This isn’t that complicated: Real Housewives of Atlanta is the best of the Bravo franchise, and Nene is its best character.

13. Kate Gosselin: God bless anyone who has to raise eight children. And—I guess?—god bless Kate Gosselin, who, for years, provided entertainment as a mother exhausted by both her many kids and her idiot husband. Her greatest (worst?) contribution to society, however, is the developments she made in the may-I-speak-to-your-manager hairstyling field.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    (4) Nene Leakes, ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’
    (4622 votes)
  • 42%
    (13) Kate Gosselin, ‘Jon & Kate Plus 8’
    (3437 votes)
8059 votes total Vote Now

(6) Lauren Conrad, The Hills vs. (11) Kelly Clarkson, American Idol

(6) Lauren Conrad: Look, I will go to my grave with the take that LC was the real villain of The Hills, and that most of society’s problems can be traced back to MTV convincing us that she was a hero. (Just look at this!!!) But her contributions to the genre can’t be discounted. LC was our window into “the real Orange County” and then “the real Los Angeles,” she was part of several iconic love triangles, she interned at Teen Vogue, she skipped the trip to Paris, she delivered the iconic “You know what you did!” line and also perfected the single teardrop. I’m Team Heidi until I die, but LC deserves her due.

(11) Kelly Clarkson: Does American Idol become what it did without the undeniable star power of its first winner? Does the show bomb if the nation picks Justin Guarini instead? Clarkson is a three-time Grammy winner who has gone platinum multiple times and successfully transitioned to hosting daytime talk shows; Guarini does weird Dr. Pepper commercials now. So … I’m gonna go with “no.”

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (6) Lauren Conrad, ‘Laguna Beach’/‘The Hills’
    (4298 votes)
  • 53%
    (11) Kelly Clarkson, ‘American Idol’
    (4928 votes)
9226 votes total Vote Now

(3) Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Jersey Shore vs. (14) Kaitlyn Bristowe, The Bachelorette

(3) Snooki: There aren’t many stars—in reality TV and beyond—who have earned the right to be known by a single name. Leo, Madonna, Snooki. The diminutive highlight reel almost immediately became a reality icon after the premiere of Jersey Shore. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why: Her mix of reckless behavior, devotion to YOLO philosophies, and devout tribal loyalty is a blend that makes her easy to watch but also easy to care for. She’s the little sister you wish you had … even though you know you’re lucky to not have to chase her around a beach boardwalk.

(14) Kaitlyn Bristowe: The most compelling leads on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are the ones who bend the show to fit them, like Colton Underwood, who gamed the producers’ system and then jumped over a fence to escape them. But even before Colton questioned the show’s rules, Kaitlyn looked at years of tradition and formality and asked, “Why?” Knowing that leads aren’t supposed to have sex until the Fantasy Suites, Kaitlyn flouted the rules and took Nick Viall to bed in Week 6. “That’s something I don’t think I should be ashamed of,” Bristowe said after her season wrapped, responding to the backlash generated by her choice. “I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. Because, what? If I had waited 10 days to do it in the Fantasy Suite and not talk about it, would it have been better?” Kaitlyn wanted to do something—something that is usually very normal to do in a relationship—and so she did it. And in questioning the strictures of The Bachelorette, she made it a better TV show.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    (3) Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, ‘Jersey Shore’
    (8049 votes)
  • 14%
    (14) Kaitlyn Bristowe, ‘The Bachelorette’
    (1368 votes)
9417 votes total Vote Now

(7) Bethenny Frankel, The Real Housewives of New York vs. (10) Flavor Flav, Flavor of Love

(7) Bethenny Frankel: It’s hard to explain just how much of a hurricane Bethenny was at the beginning of RHONY. She came into the show knives out—full of real talk that was impossible not to enjoy—and she came out of it a brand unto herself. I know you’ve had a Skinnygirl martini in your lifetime; don’t lie. But perhaps Bethenny’s greatest power is her ability to imbue reality-TV-style savagery with an air of class. It’s a real feat.

(10) Flavor Flav: Oh, Mr. Flav—what to say about him? There are perhaps too many things to mention about his rom-competition show, likely the only one to be infamous for incidents involving spit and indoor defecation. But, in terms of evidence of his reality greatness, we can stick to the main point: There were multiple seasons centered on the idea that 25-plus women wanted to marry this guy—a frail-looking man in his late 40s who wore giant clocks around his neck and frequently yelled out his own name—and we were all like, “Well, yeah, of course.”

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    (7) Bethenny Frankel, ‘The Real Housewives of New York’
    (2650 votes)
  • 69%
    (10) Flavor Flav, ‘Flavor of Love’
    (5944 votes)
8594 votes total Vote Now

(2) Cardi B, Love & Hip-Hop: New York vs. (15) Honey Boo Boo, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo

(2) Cardi B: Before she had red bottoms (and straight teeth), Cardi B was an indomitable figure on reality television. Cardi turned reality stardom into an art form, as much a performance as a portrayal of real life—watch the way she pauses before “forever” at the beginning of this clip. Hindsight is 20/20, but rewatching Love & Hip-Hop, it’s not all that surprising that Cardi is now the most popular female MC on the planet. She was a singular character: endlessly entertaining, genuinely funny, and unbelievably singular. A regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx.

(15) Honey Boo Boo: I certainly can’t explain the rise of Honey Boo Boo, a meme who transcended TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras to become a household name. But do I really have to? It’s Honey Boo Boo. That’s about all I can say!

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    (2) Cardi B, ‘Love & Hip-Hop: New York’
    (4678 votes)
  • 45%
    (15) Honey Boo Boo, ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’
    (3859 votes)
8537 votes total Vote Now

The Antagonists

(1) Spencer Pratt, The Hills vs. (16) Sanjaya Malakar, American Idol

(1) Spencer Pratt: At one point in 2009, Spencer and his then-girlfriend Heidi Montag were, per a USA Today poll, the third-most-popular couple in America—behind Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Barack and Michelle Obama. Such was the power of Spencer, or rather, the power of hating Spencer. He was the perfect MTV villain, a blond schemer who was into crystals and who allegedly broke up LC and Heidi’s idyllic Hollywood friendship. And he welcomed all the smoke in a way that only made people hate him more. But they LOVED to hate him. And almost a decade removed from The Hills, Spencer has gotten the last laugh: the relationship with Heidi, which was overwhelmingly thought to be DOA, is still going strong.

(16) Sanjaya: In the sixth season of American Idol, the chaos agent known as Sanjaya splashed into the Top 12 with beautiful, luscious locks and a just-OK singing voice. And then he just … kept advancing, even though he clearly didn’t deserve to. It was a gag orchestrated by the website Vote for the Worst that started out funny, got funnier, and then turned sour as the legitimacy of Idol began to be threatened. Sanjaya himself wasn’t a troll, but his extended presence on the show foretold the rise of them—if you look close enough, Season 6 of Idol is the story of the internet in the 2010s.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    (1) Spencer Pratt, ‘The Hills’
    (5309 votes)
  • 34%
    (16) Sanjaya Malakar, ‘American Idol’
    (2807 votes)
8116 votes total Vote Now

(8) Teresa Giudice, The Real Housewives of New Jersey vs. (9) Paul Hollywood, Great British Baking Show

(8) Teresa Giudice: Have you ever seen the video of Teresa flipping a table? I’m sure that’s a stupid question, but just watch it again. Such ire, such power, such … Jerseyness. There are few reality TV characters who have been as dangerously unpredictable as Teresa—which is, of course, what made her such a great reality TV character.

(9) Paul Hollywood: “But Paul Hollywood is a judge!” some inexplicable Paul Hollywood loyalist is likely yelping right now. But listen: While he may, in fact, be a judge on Great British Baking Show, that doesn’t mean he’s not also a villain. The way he toys with the emotions of those sweet British people, the way he metes out handshakes with tyrannical glee, the way he wears shirts with goofy cuffs. The man is an enemy of the state, not to be trusted. (He’s also perfect at his job.)

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (8) Teresa Giudice, ‘The Real Housewives of New Jersey’
    (3504 votes)
  • 53%
    (9) Paul Hollywood, ‘Great British Baking Show’
    (4089 votes)
7593 votes total Vote Now

(5) Tiffany “New York” Pollard, I Love New York vs. (12) Sandra Diaz-Twine, Survivor

(5) New York: Once just “the one that Pumkin spat at in Flavor of Love,” New York took that infamy and built a career out of it. She was a villain, yes—somehow even as the star of her show—but above all, a can’t-miss character. If the best way to gauge a character’s permeation into popular culture is by looking at the volume of memes they’ve spawned, well, New York seems to have sunk in more deeply than most characters in this bracket.

(12) Sandra Diaz-Twine: Sandra burned Russell’s hat. We could fly through many more words on Sandra’s ruthless gameplay and conniving charisma, and how she’s one of Survivor’s all-time antagonists, but what’s the point? On an island where people don’t have many personal possessions, she turned a man’s hat to ash. Incredible!

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    (5) Tiffany "New York" Pollard, ‘Flavor of Love’/‘I Love New York’
    (3975 votes)
  • 47%
    (12) Sandra Diaz-Twine, ‘Survivor’
    (3567 votes)
7542 votes total Vote Now

(4) Kristin Cavallari, Laguna Beach vs. (13) Jake Pavelka, The Bachelor

(4) Kristin Cavallari: Because of her flawlessly blond hair and her unbelievably symmetrical face, Kristin was cast into villainhood from the get. She was a daunting foe for Lauren Conrad in the Laguna Beach battle over Stephen Colletti (say it in Kristin’s voice: Steeeephaaaaan). And though Kristin was never that bad—most of her actions on Laguna and The Hills are entirely defensible if you care to defend them—she was perfectly cast as a mean girl, and she did play the part well. Moreover, she’s a reality TV legend whose work has spanned three decades, and she’s the reason Reality TV Jay Cutler exists. We owe her a great debt, for several reasons.

(13) Jake Pavelka: Just rewatch this video from when The Bachelor aired a special couples therapy sesh after Pavelka’s relationship with Vienna Girardi turned very publicly nasty following their season. The smugness is astounding! What a monster! What an undeniably watchable character!

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    (4) Kristin Cavallari, ‘Laguna Beach’/‘The Hills’/‘Very Cavallari’
    (6596 votes)
  • 15%
    (13) Jake Pavelka, ‘The Bachelor’
    (1225 votes)
7821 votes total Vote Now

(6) Dr. Will Kirby, Big Brother vs. (11) Jax Taylor, Vanderpump Rules

(6) Dr. Will Kirby: “I’d like to speak to the house as a group,” Kirby said in the seventh season of Big Brother. “This is truly an all-star season, because I’m astonished by your gameplay here. Now, a lot of you have come up to me and said, ‘Will, you don’t really seem like you’re into it. You don’t really seem like you wanna play.’ And you said, ‘Why? What was the reason for that?’ And I said to myself, ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t know why—I don’t understand it. So I had a heart-to-heart with myself and I said, ‘Will, what is the reason? Why are you having such a hard time playing?’ And this is the truth: Season 2, the season that I won, there was a lot of people I hated, and it was easy for me to motivate and find individuals that I disliked. And it gave me power; it gave me a reason to wanna play; it gave me a reason to wanna fight; it gave me a reason to wanna remove people from the game. Then I thought, ‘So why haven’t I had that motivation?’ And I thought it was because I really liked everyone here. But then I realized it was the opposite of that: I can’t find an individual to hate, because I hate you all.” This speech deserves to be in the Villain Hall of Fame, right next to Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech from Wall Street.

(11) Jax Taylor: A captivating figure if there ever was one—a reality TV character who is almost pure id, full of blustering machismo, deceit, and bad decision-making, and not a shred of shame. Behold his chaotic reign over SUR.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    (6) Dr. Will Kirby, ‘Big Brother’
    (3423 votes)
  • 48%
    (11) Jax Taylor, ‘Vanderpump Rules’
    (3251 votes)
6674 votes total Vote Now

(3) Omarosa Manigault Newman, The Apprentice vs. (14) Jessica Batten, Love Is Blind

(3) Omarosa: Let’s put the whole “was part of the Trump administration” thing aside and focus on the reality TV villainy. On The Apprentice—and in subsequent appearances on other reality programs—Omarosa built the formula for modern reality TV antagonists. Her brand of unapologetic scheming, unabashed egotism, and undeniable magnetism set the mold for countless reality TV characters to come. She may have let her TV persona bleed too far into real life, but her contributions to the genre can’t go unnoticed.

(14) Jessica Batten: Even streaming reality TV shows need antagonists, and Jessica Batten—a pot-stirrer who was easy to dislike—was the perfect one for Love Is Blind. The moment she said, “I don’t,” is the moment she joined an esteemed group of legends.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    (3) Omarosa Manigault Newman, ‘The Apprentice’
    (4798 votes)
  • 35%
    (14) Jessica Batten, ‘Love Is Blind’
    (2663 votes)
7461 votes total Vote Now

(7) Juan Pablo Galavis, The Bachelor vs. (10) Joe Budden, Love & Hip-Hop: New York

(7) Juan Pablo: My guy JP holds the distinct honor of being the only Bachelor to get dumped by a contestant during Fantasy Suites week. For contestants, the whole point of the show is to make it to the end—Juan Pablo was so unlikable that inches away from the finish line, Andi Dorfman begged to be sent home. And her breakup performance was so well-received that she then became the Bachelorette! (The next Bachelorette, Clare Crawley, also got a bump in popularity by telling off JP.) Most seasons of The Bachelor work because the lead is compelling, or at least blandly likable; Season 18 worked for the opposite reason.

(10) Joe Budden: Before he was the Stephen A. Smith of hip-hop, he was … the Stephen A. Smith of hip-hop reality TV. Some reality TV characters just want to watch the world burn—Budden is the best of these. He is a walking powder keg, and what makes him great is that he knows it.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    (7) Juan Pablo Galavis, ‘The Bachelor’
    (3982 votes)
  • 38%
    (10) Joe Budden, ‘Love & Hip Hop: New York’
    (2513 votes)
6495 votes total Vote Now

(2) Chris “CT” Tamburello, The Challenge vs. (15) Nick Viall, The Bachelor

(2) CT: CT isn’t mentioned in Brett Martin’s Difficult Men, the seminal book about TV’s modern antiheroes—but he very well could be. He is The Challenge’s answer to Tony Soprano, a physically imposing figure who’s quick to violence and irrational behavior, and so much charisma that you end up rooting for him despite his oft-despicable actions. CT has recently morphed into a big softie—quite literally, as Jay from this most recent season can attest—but never forget Peak CT, a true monster who wreaked havoc on Challenge houses.

(15) Nick Viall: Viall was first a villain on Andi Dorfman’s season of The Bachelorette, and then, somehow, he returned in the show’s next season and was the one who had sex with Kaitlyn. (The nail in the coffin for Viall’s villain status was his asking Andi, “If you weren’t in love with me, how come you made love to me?” on the season’s “After the Final Rose” episode, as if women aren’t allowed to have guilt-free sex; he later apologized for the comment.) Nothing about Viall has ever been truly devious or repulsive—he merely earned this distinction by speaking his mind, being good at the game of The Bachelorette, and having a mildly punchable face. But, when it comes to watching reality TV, that’s enough.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    (2) Chris "CT" Tamburello, ‘Real World: Paris’/‘The Challenge’
    (5608 votes)
  • 25%
    (15) Nick Viall, ‘The Bachelorette’/‘The Bachelor’
    (1899 votes)
7507 votes total Vote Now

The Hosts & Judges

(1) Jeff Probst, Survivor vs. (16) Randy Fenoli, Say Yes to the Dress

(1) Jeff Probst: For 20 whole years now, Probst has anchored Survivor as both a bastion of rugged integrity and a bemused bystander. He somehow imbues the show with a feeling of legitimacy—as if he’s an expert on living on remote islands—and also acts as the voice of the audience, expressing bewilderment and sass when necessary, and prodding contestants with a deft hand.

(16) Randy Fenoli: Don’t hate on Randy—the Mayor of Kleinfeld’s, who can find a dress for the biggest of bridezillas. No challenge is too big for this guy—toss him a woman who wants a black dress and in mere seconds he’ll be knocking on her dressing room door with four options. The man is a legend, and Pnina Tornai owes him at least $5 million for native advertising.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    (1) Jeff Probst, ‘Survivor’
    (6892 votes)
  • 14%
    (16) Randy Fenoli, ‘Say Yes to the Dress’
    (1126 votes)
8018 votes total Vote Now

(8) Padma Lakshmi, Top Chef vs. (9) Tim Gunn, Project Runway

(8) Padma Lakshmi: I could listen to Padma talk about food for days. Graceful, authoritative, warm, funny, inexplicably intimidating—she’s everything you want in a host. (She’s also way cooler than Tom Colicchio, and if you ask him, he’s the coolest.)

(9) Tim Gunn: Just peruse this bracket for a second—take a look around. Do any of the other characters have a catchphrase as iconic as “Make it work!”? No? That’s what I thought.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    (8) Padma Lakshmi, ‘Top Chef’
    (3785 votes)
  • 49%
    (9) Tim Gunn, ‘Project Runway’
    (3755 votes)
7540 votes total Vote Now

(5) Tyra Banks, America’s Next Top Model vs. (12) Carson Kressley, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

(5) Tyra Banks: We could go on and on about Banks’s inimitable performance as the host of ANTM—about how she was exactly what the show needed, about how she approached the job with a grave seriousness, about how she literally brought “fierce” to the competition. But nothing I say could be a better justification for her seeding than just linking to the “We were all rooting for you!” video. So that’s what I’m gonna do.

(12) Carson Kressley: The fashion savant from the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Kressley was clearly a star from the second the show launched on Bravo—and he’s continued to be to this day. But his sterling personality and charisma did more than just make him an all-time reality star. It also, in 2003, raised the visibility of gay people in America, and likely proved to many that gay people were as approachable as anyone.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    (5) Tyra Banks, ‘America’s Next Top Model’
    (5416 votes)
  • 25%
    (12) Carson Kressley, ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’
    (1871 votes)
7287 votes total Vote Now

(4) RuPaul, RuPaul’s Drag Race vs. (13) The Property Brothers, The Property Brothers

(4) RuPaul: Sashay away and allow me to introduce one of TV’s—not just reality TV—greatest icons. While he’s not the only host in this region to win multiple Emmys—damn you, Probst!—he’s certainly the only one to ever host Saturday Night Live. He’s a national treasure, and as far as competition television goes, RuPaul’s Drag Race remains the cream of the crop.

(13) The Property Brothers: I’ve gotta be honest: Jonathan and Drew Scott scare me; there’s some uncanny valley stuff going on here. (Which is also why they’re one of two pairs in this bracket to be entered as a duo; they just can’t be separated.) But any hosts who’ve built an audience big enough to launch an entire themed cruise deserve to compete here. Also, they did just help Brad Pitt remodel his makeup artist’s shed (and let him touch a bunch of materials). That was pretty dope of them.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    (4) RuPaul, ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’
    (4319 votes)
  • 42%
    (13) The Property Brothers, ‘The Property Brothers’
    (3158 votes)
7477 votes total Vote Now

(6) Chip & Joanna Gaines, Fixer Upper vs. (11) TJ Lavin, The Challenge

(6) Chip & Joanna: The lords of Waco; the patron saints of shiplap; the honorable defenders of word art. Say what you will of the Gaines’s extremely specific taste in interior decoration, the couple is at the very forefront of home improvement TV. Their schtick is adorable, their banter impeccable—they are an ideal. And in case you don’t believe in their immense power: When it came time for Discovery Inc. to reinvent the DIY Network, they were basically like, “Uhh, why don’t we give Chip and Joanna an entire network?” That is power.

(11) TJ Lavin: It’s difficult to imagine what The Challenge would be like without TJ (or “Teej”), who has been hosting the show for the last 26 seasons. Presumably, in the absence of Lavin’s shaming and psychological manipulation, contestants would be quitting left and right. The contestants on The Challenge give it its drama, but TJ Lavin gives it its heart and sense of purpose.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    (6) Chip & Joanna Gaines, ‘Fixer Upper’
    (3704 votes)
  • 51%
    (11) TJ Lavin, ‘The Challenge’
    (3873 votes)
7577 votes total Vote Now

(3) Simon Cowell, American Idol vs. (14) Jon Taffer, Bar Rescue

(3) Simon Cowell: For years, millions of people flocked to their TV sets twice a week for the privilege of watching Simon Cowell absolutely dunk on people. That was really it—he was so good at mocking bad singers that watching him do so became appointment TV. From “It says here you worked as a wedding singer? How many ended in divorce?” to “It sounded like you’d been punched,” there was nobody better at delivering a takedown.

(14) Jon Taffer: YOU CALL THIS A F**KING BRACKET? LOOK AT THIS S**T, ARE YOU JOKING? DO YOU THINK THIS IS VIABLE INTERNET CONTENT? YOU REALLY READ THIS OVER AND DECIDED TO PUBLISH IT ONLINE. I’M ASHAMED TO BE A PART OF THIS BRACKET AND ASHAMED FOR YOUR PARENTS THAT YOU WERE EVER BORN. SHUT IT DOWN!!!

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    (3) Simon Cowell, ‘American Idol’
    (5794 votes)
  • 28%
    (14) Jon Taffer, ‘Bar Rescue’
    (2342 votes)
8136 votes total Vote Now

(7) Ryan Seacrest, American Idol vs. (10) Gordon Ramsay, Hell’s Kitchen

(7) Ryan Seacrest: Aside from being the longtime host of one of the most successful reality programs of all time, and the one host from Season 1 smart enough to stay on (sorry, Brian Dunkleman), Seacrest makes the list for his contributions to the greater reality TV universe. The man is the creator of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and all of its subsequent spinoffs; his impact is indescribable.

(10) Gordon Ramsay: The same that was said for Simon Cowell can be said for Gordon Ramsay—except instead of calling you “off-key,” Gordon Ramsay will put a piece of bread on either side of your face and force you to call yourself an idiot sandwich.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    (7) Ryan Seacrest, ‘American Idol’
    (2575 votes)
  • 68%
    (10) Gordon Ramsay, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’
    (5500 votes)
8075 votes total Vote Now

(2) Chris Harrison, The Bachelor/The Bachelorette vs. (15) Abby Lee Miller, Dance Moms

(2) Chris Harrison: Only my man Chris Harrison could build an entire career out of hosting a show that, for all intents and purposes, does not need a host. But The Bachelor and The Bachelorette aren’t what they are without him—without the stray heart-to-hearts between him and a lead, without the “this is the final rose” pop-ins. One moment that speaks to Harrison’s hard-to-explain genius: When Colton jumped over that fence, Chris merely, with plain amazement, stated, “He just jumped the fucking fence.” Again, it’s hard to explain why, exactly, that was the perfect reaction—but it was. And on rewatch, it’s still the funniest detail of the scene.

(15) Abby Lee Miller: Look, of course it’s not enjoyable to watch an adult woman humiliate a bunch of 10-year-olds and their mothers. Ah, what the heck—I’m sorry, it’s pretty enjoyable. Reveling in the bad behavior of others is often the main point of reality TV, and no one on reality TV behaves worse than Abby Lee Miller.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    (2) Chris Harrison, ‘The Bachelor’/‘The Bachelorette’
    (5951 votes)
  • 17%
    (15) Abby Lee Miller, ‘Dance Moms’
    (1239 votes)
7190 votes total Vote Now

The Sneaky MVPs

(1) Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Jersey Shore vs. (16) Kendra Wilkinson, The Girls Next Door

(1) The Situation: “My abs are so ripped up, we call it the situation.” With that one line, Mike Sorrentino waltzed into our hearts. Every character on Jersey Shore has their merits, but Mike remains the best, and most compelling; a tragic figure hidden underneath hair gel and a spray tan. On the brink of a physical altercation, Mike once knocked himself out. But despite his insecurities and always-simmering misogyny, Mike was the glue, the one who kept the family together—and family was the most important part of Jersey Shore.

(16) Kendra Wilkinson: Remember how there was a reality show about Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends? The 2000s: what a time to be alive. Kendra was the standout of the trio, a brash, loud, semi-tom-boyish character who shattered the general perception of the Playboy Bunny. After The Girls Next Door, Kendra went on to star in several of her own reality shows, which proved her staying power in the genre.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    (1) Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, ‘The Jersey Shore’
    (6309 votes)
  • 20%
    (16) Kendra Wilkinson, ‘The Girls Next Door’
    (1609 votes)
7918 votes total Vote Now

(8) Heidi Pratt, The Hills vs. (9) Fredrik Eklund, Million Dollar Listing New York

(8) Heidi Pratt: Heidi’s journey from friend to the other half of The Hills’ evil couple remains one of reality TV’s most iconic turns. She started out as LC’s shy friend and blossomed into her enemy, a character with agency who wasn’t afraid to do what she wanted. (This, by the way, was portrayed as villainous behavior at the time, even though it was, you know, a person living their own life.) She’s an iconic figure in the reality world, if only for being the “you” in Conrad’s “You know what you did!”

(9) Fredrik Eklund: No one is a bigger fan of Fredrik than our own Mallory Rubin, so I asked her to sum it up: “He’s a total dynamo. Charismatic, unapologetically weird. He really leans into his style and his affectations and tries to make everything a signature, like his high leg kick when he lands a deal. He has a SUPER (I mean SUPER) hot husband. He’s always been the best at showing us his personal life on the show, from his family back in Sweden, to meeting/marrying Derek, to their struggle to have kids (they do now and they’re beautiful). And he’s the absolute best at the actual real estate side of it. No. 1 in the No. 1 city.” And then she added: “TL;DR: awesome at his job; funny/weird; charming family guy, all in one.” And then on top of that, she added: “good hair, bad tattoo.”

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    (8) Heidi Pratt, ‘The Hills’
    (4662 votes)
  • 27%
    (9) Fredrik Eklund, ‘Million Dollar Listing New York’
    (1766 votes)
6428 votes total Vote Now

(5) Stevie J, Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta vs. (12) Stassi Schroeder, Vanderpump Rules

(5) Stevie J: Stevie J has a certain power that’s especially useful on reality TV: by merely existing, he attracts drama. Sure, most of the time he finds himself at the center of controversy due to his own actions—he once asked both of his girlfriends if they would consider throuples therapy—but other times it seems to just knock on his door. But no matter the situation, he often reacts to it in an unbelievably charming way: with a bemused shrug and a sly smile. He’s a perfect reality TV character.

(12) Stassi Schroeder: Speaking of attracting drama! Stassi is yet another Vanderpump character who seemingly lives and breathes off the stuff. But what separates her from the rest is her sharp wit. She’s funny when it comes around; vicious about it. She’s more or less the Cersei Lannister of reality TV.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    (5) Stevie J, ‘Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta’
    (1948 votes)
  • 65%
    (12) Stassi Schroeder, ‘Vanderpump Rules’
    (3643 votes)
5591 votes total Vote Now

(4) Jay Cutler, Very Cavallari vs. (13) Jonathan Van Ness, Queer Eye

(4) Jay Cutler: To find out why Jay Cutler is one of the best reality characters of all time, please read the … approximately 100,000 words I have written about him. It boils down to this: If you thought it was funny watching him not care on the football field, watching him not care in retirement is a million times funnier. (Sadly, Jay and Kristin Cavallari announced their divorce on Sunday, leaving Jay’s reality TV career in doubt; we should let him win this bracket as a going-away present.)

(13) Jonathan Van Ness: We could do a whole blurb about how JVN has the best hair of every character in this entire bracket—but let’s also talk about his skill as a host, an entertainer, a wordsmith, and a person who is patient enough to explain the ingredients of shampoo to men who have seemingly never showered.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    (4) Jay Cutler, ‘Very Cavallari’
    (5082 votes)
  • 34%
    (13) Jonathan Van Ness, ‘Queer Eye’
    (2645 votes)
7727 votes total Vote Now

(6) Lisa Vanderpump, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills vs. (11) Johnny Bananas, The Challenge

(6) Lisa Vanderpump: The matron atop Bravo’s food chain (well, just below Andy Cohen), Lisa is the definition of a boss, and not just because she’s featured on a show about the employees of her restaurant. She’s classy, imposing, and willing to go toe-to-toe with any of the Bravo heavy hitters. She also has one of the most endearing, compelling marriages on reality TV. (Love you, Ken.)

(11) Johnny Bananas: “John,” as he was called then, was basically a nonfactor on his season of The Real World. But that just wasn’t the right atmosphere for him—he needed competition. Since joining The Challenge, Johnny Bananas has been its most prominent ambassador and one of its greatest champions. (There’s nothing better than a Bananas toast.) He’s a lifer on the show, and while other competitors might be more popular, none cast a longer shadow than he does; just watch this most recent season, when he goes full Logan Roy and turns an elimination vote into a boardroom meeting straight out of Succession.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    (6) Lisa Vanderpump, ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’/‘Vanderpump Rules’
    (2341 votes)
  • 65%
    (11) Johnny Bananas, ‘The Real World: Key West’/‘The Challenge’
    (4512 votes)
6853 votes total Vote Now

(3) Tyler Cameron, The Bachelorette vs. (14) Maci Bookout, Teen Mom

(3) Tyler C.: It’s this simple: No Bachelorette contestant has ever been so hot, so magnetic that the season became about him rather than the lead. Such was the power of Tyler C. in 2019. I mean, the man frickin’ parlayed a finals run on The Bachelorette into dating Gigi Hadid! He’s one of the most important figures in the show’s history.

(14) Maci Bookout: Believe it or not, the Teen Mom universe—which began in 2009 with 16 and Pregnant—has been chugging along for over a decade. During that span, the show has seen its fair share of wayward, sometimes altogether bankrupt, characters whose antics have gone far past the line between entertainment spectacle and real-life spectacle. Maci’s been the best of them, a charming character not bereft of drama—but also with the heart needed to make a show like Teen Mom work.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    (3) Tyler Cameron, ‘The Bachelorette’
    (4087 votes)
  • 34%
    (14) Maci Bookout, ‘Teen Mom’
    (2127 votes)
6214 votes total Vote Now

(7) Christian Siriano, Project Runway vs. (10) Hannah Elizabeth, Love Island

(7) Christian Siriano: The breakout star and winner of Project Runway’s fourth season, Siriano was hilarious, adorable, and really good at making clothes. With a vaguely Hoobastank-ish haircut and a fierce attitude, he wormed his way into viewers’ hearts. His impact still echoes today—he’s now a member of the prestigious Council of Fashion Designers of America, and also a mentor on the revamped Project Runway.

(10) Hannah Elizabeth: Love Island isn’t exactly a show full of iconic characters, but we had to pick one from the series, and Hannah—from the series’ first season—was as good a candidate as any. With her thick Scouse accent, no-bullshit attitude, and attraction to schlubby men, Hannah in part of what made Love Island what it is: an unabashed, sexy, wild reality show.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    (7) Christian Siriano, ‘Project Runway’
    (3434 votes)
  • 37%
    (10) Hannah Elizabeth, ‘Love Island’
    (2055 votes)
5489 votes total Vote Now

(2) Kris Jenner, Keeping Up With the Kardashians vs. (15) Captain Lee Rosbach, Below Deck

(2) Kris Jenner: “The devil works hard but Kris Jenner works harder,” the saying goes. It’s really true: While her efficacy as a supportive mother is up for debate, her business savvy and ability to craft a narrative—on TV and IRL—can’t be denied. She’s seen one daughter become one of the most famous people on earth, another become a billionaire, and another become a supermodel—all from the launching pad of a measly reality show. But Kris’s biggest contributions to society—especially for this bracket’s purposes—are the memes, from “You’re doing amazing, sweetie” to that one where she’s holding a gun.

(15) Captain Lee: The calmest part of a hurricane is the eye, right in the middle. As a ship captain, Captain Lee Rosbach of Below Deck clearly knows this. But that’s the key to his greatness: While hopped-up stewards from across the globe and needy VIP guests wild out, Captain Lee comes through with the spot-on one-liners and the much needed moments of Zen. He’s one of the dad characters on reality TV.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    (2) Kris Jenner, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’
    (4050 votes)
  • 39%
    (15) Captain Lee Rosbach, ‘Below Deck’
    (2643 votes)
6693 votes total Vote Now
Bachelor Party

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‘The Velvet Underground’ Documentary, ‘The Batman’ Trailer, and the Cancellation of ‘Y: The Last Man’

The Pod Has Spoken

‘Survivor,’ Season 41, Episode 5

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