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The Best Reality TV Character Bracket: Kim Kardashian Finds Herself in a Dog Fight

The UMBC Golden Retrievers took down Virginia as a 16-seed two years ago. On Monday, a different sort of canine was nipping at the heels of one of the most famous people on earth.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On March 16, 2018, the University of Maryland–Baltimore County Golden Retrievers waltzed into the NCAA tournament as a 16-seed facing off against the Virginia Cavaliers, the tournament’s no. 1 overall seed. After a close first half, the Retrievers destroyed Virginia in the second, winning by a final score of 74-54 and becoming the first 16-seed to ever beat a 1-seed. It was a night of sublime joy on one side and utter embarrassment on the other.

On April 27, 2020, Duane Chapman—a different kind of dog—waltzed into The Ringer’s Best Reality TV Character Bracket as a 16-seed facing off against Kim Kardashian, the bracket’s no. 1 overall seed and, by all accounts, one of the most famous people on earth. Things looked bizarrely good for Dog the Bounty Hunter throughout the day, even though his most notable achievements are: having a cool mullet and apprehending a criminal in 2003 (in that order). On Twitter, where the most votes were cast, he earned 57 percent the vote. He was actually getting better social engagement than Kim Kardashian.

Alas, in the end, Dog the Bounty Hunter could not do what his canine brethren did a couple of years ago.

Off the strength of a resounding win on Instagram—poetic, considering it’s the app on which her power was amassed—Kim K defeated Dog. But it was far closer than the seeding would’ve suggested: Across all platforms, Kardashian earned just 51.3 percent of the vote. (The other 1-seeds—Spencer Pratt, Jeff Probst, and the Situation—advanced with an average 77.3 percent of the vote.)

Honestly, you’ve got to chalk it up as a moral victory for Dog. Kardashian has nearly 10 times as many Twitter followers as Dog, has been on the cover of Vogue, and probably has enough money to buy Oakley, the sunglasses company that Dog is such a loyal customer to. But money doesn’t buy you votes (at least not on The Ringer, and at least not yet; Kim, my Venmo is public). For one day, Dog the Bounty Hunter was a reality TV David who aspired to take down Goliath. He didn’t win—and to be clear, in no rational world should he have—but he showed up. Dogs (and bounty hunters) everywhere should be proud.

Elsewhere, it was a great Round 1 for characters from The Challenge, The Hills, and Vanderpump Rules—even TJ Lavin prevailed, ousting HGTV mega-couple Chip and Joanna Gaines. On the other end of the spectrum, it was tough sledding for all characters from the Real Housewives franchise: Out of four, only Nene Leakes advanced to the round of 32, and only by a slim margin. As for the closest matchup of the day, Tim Gunn defeated Padma Lakshmi by just 0.6 percent, a total of 194 votes. I guess you could say he … made it work?

Let’s get to the Round 2 matchups. For Round 2, you can vote here on the website, on Twitter, and on Instagram till 6 p.m. ET.

The Headliners

(1) Kim Kardashian, Keeping Up With the Kardashians vs. (9) Jessica Simpson, The Newlyweds

(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 OJ 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.

(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%
    (1) Kim Kardashian, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’
    (4505 votes)
  • 46%
    (9) Jessica Simpson, ‘The Newlyweds’
    (3904 votes)
8409 votes total Vote Now

(5) Paris Hilton, The Simple Life vs. (4) Nene Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    (5) Paris Hilton, ‘The Simple Life’
    (5530 votes)
  • 29%
    (4) Nene Leakes, ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’
    (2274 votes)
7804 votes total Vote Now

(6) Lauren Conrad, The Hills vs. (3) Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Jersey Shore

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    (6) Lauren Conrad, ‘The Hills’
    (2044 votes)
  • 75%
    (3) Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, ‘Jersey Shore’
    (6149 votes)
8193 votes total Vote Now

(10) Flavor Flav, Flavor of Love vs. (2) Cardi B, Love & Hip-Hop: New York

(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 forties who wore giant clocks around his neck and frequently yelled out his own name—and we were all like, “Well, yeah, of course.”

(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 unique. A regular, degular, shmegular girl from the Bronx.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    (10) Flavor Flav, ‘Flavor of Love’
    (5327 votes)
  • 32%
    (2) Cardi B, ‘Love & Hip-Hop: New York’
    (2571 votes)
7898 votes total Vote Now

The Antagonists

(1) Spencer Pratt, The Hills vs. (9) Paul Hollywood, Great British Baking Show

(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.

(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

  • 54%
    (1) Spencer Pratt, ‘The Hills’
    (4134 votes)
  • 45%
    (9) Paul Hollywood, ‘Great British Baking Show’
    (3405 votes)
7539 votes total Vote Now

(5) Tiffany “New York” Pollard, I Love New York vs. (4) Kristin Cavallari, Laguna Beach

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    (5) Tiffany "New York" Pollard, ‘I Love New York’
    (2068 votes)
  • 72%
    (4) Kristin Cavallari, ‘Laguna Beach’
    (5470 votes)
7538 votes total Vote Now

(11) Jax Taylor, Vanderpump Rules vs. (3) Omarosa Manigault Newman, The Apprentice

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    (11) Jax Taylor, ‘Vanderpump Rules’
    (2701 votes)
  • 62%
    (3) Omarosa Manigault Newman, ‘The Apprentice’
    (4454 votes)
7155 votes total Vote Now

(10) Joe Budden, Love & Hip-Hop: New York vs. (2) Chris “CT” Tamburello, The Challenge

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    (10) Joe Budden, ‘Love & Hip-Hop: New York’
    (1181 votes)
  • 83%
    (2) Chris "CT" Tamburello, ‘The Challenge’
    (5893 votes)
7074 votes total Vote Now

The Hosts & Judges

(1) Jeff Probst, Survivor vs. (9) Tim Gunn, Project Runway

(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.

(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

  • 72%
    (1) Jeff Probst, ‘Survivor’
    (5679 votes)
  • 27%
    (9) Tim Gunn, ‘Project Runway’
    (2192 votes)
7871 votes total Vote Now

(5) Tyra Banks, America’s Next Top Model vs. (4) RuPaul, RuPaul’s Drag Race

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    (5) Tyra Banks, ‘America’s Next Top Model’
    (4088 votes)
  • 44%
    (4) RuPaul, ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’
    (3242 votes)
7330 votes total Vote Now

(11) TJ Lavin, The Challenge vs. (3) Simon Cowell, American Idol

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    (11) TJ Lavin, ‘The Challenge’
    (3021 votes)
  • 62%
    (3) Simon Cowell, ‘American Idol’
    (5014 votes)
8035 votes total Vote Now

(10) Gordon Ramsay, Hell’s Kitchen vs. (2) Chris Harrison, The Bachelor/The Bachelorette

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    (10) Gordon Ramsay, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’
    (4633 votes)
  • 40%
    (2) Chris Harrison, ‘The Bachelor/The Bachelorette’
    (3184 votes)
7817 votes total Vote Now

The Sneaky MVPs

(1) Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Jersey Shore vs. (8) Heidi Pratt, The Hills

(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.

(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!”

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    (1) Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, ‘Jersey Shore’
    (6525 votes)
  • 13%
    (8) Heidi Pratt, ‘The Hills’
    (1061 votes)
7586 votes total Vote Now

(12) Stassi Schroeder, Vanderpump Rules vs. (4) Jay Cutler, Very Cavallari

(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.

(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.)

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    (12) Stassi Schroeder, ‘Vanderpump Rules’
    (1735 votes)
  • 76%
    (4) Jay Cutler, ‘Very Cavallari’
    (5697 votes)
7432 votes total Vote Now

(11) Johnny Bananas, The Challenge vs. (3) Tyler Cameron, The Bachelorette

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    (11) Johnny Bananas, ‘The Challenge’
    (5052 votes)
  • 28%
    (3) Tyler Cameron, ‘The Bachelorette’
    (2015 votes)
7067 votes total Vote Now

(7) Christian Siriano, Project Runway vs. (2) Kris Jenner, Keeping Up With the Kardashians

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    (7) Christian Siriano, ‘Project Runway’
    (2796 votes)
  • 59%
    (2) Kris Jenner, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’
    (4080 votes)
6876 votes total Vote Now
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