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The Best Reality TV Character Bracket: The Sweet 16 Is Full of Perfect Matchups

A war of ‘The Hills,’ a Battle of the Brits, and Kim Kardashian versus Paris Hilton. Let’s go!

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As a rule, the later rounds of a bracket never match the chaos of the first round. The Best Reality TV Character Bracket was no exception: After Dog the Bounty Hunter nearly upset 1-seed Kim Kardashian and after a matchup was decided by just 194 votes, Round 2 was defined by blowouts. Jeff Probst prevailed over Tim Gunn in a walk; CT put Joe Budden in a backpack; Snooki demolished Lauren Conrad. There were still upsets—11-seed Johnny Bananas over The Bachelorette’s Tyler C. and 10-seed Flavor Flav over Cardi B—but those upsets weren’t close at all. Bananas pulled in 71.5 percent of the vote, while Flav pulled in 61.9 percent.

But heading into the Sweet 16, things will stop being polite and start getting real. Only heavy hitters remain, and this latest round features a series of deliciously loaded matchups. First, there’s 1-seed Kim Kardashian against 5-seed Paris Hilton. It’s a perfectly paralleled faceoff—in many ways, Hilton was the beta version of the sort of celebrity Kardashian would later perfect. Not only that, Kim’s reality TV career technically began thanks to Hilton—never forget her cameo on The Simple Life:

Yeah, yeah, I know—those aren’t the actual quotes. Sometimes, though, you just gotta print the legend. The question now is: Will the current, unstoppably famous Kardashian show up in the Sweet 16, or will Paris bring us back to 2006 and reduce her to a closet-organizer?

Elsewhere in great matchups, there’s Spencer Pratt versus Kristin Cavallari, two alumni of The Hills. Spencer and Kristin never went head-to-head on The Hills—their roles as little blond disruptors found them aligned more often that not—so instead of settling a score, this matchup is settling who the show’s most indelible character is. Both Lauren Conrad and Heidi Pratt, Spencer’s wife, fell in Round 2. After Round 3, only one character from The Hills will remain.

And then there’s the Battle of Great Britain in the Hosts & Judges Region: 3-seed Simon Cowell versus 10-seed Gordon Ramsay. What a duo, the two meanest Brits to ever break through American television. Cowell once said “If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning”; Ramsay once said, “I wish you’d jump in the oven.” They are both terrific, legendary jerks. I wish this matchup wasn’t determined by a vote; instead, I wish we could lock Cowell and Ramsay in a room and make them insult each other for 10 straight minutes. Now that would be great reality TV.

Here are the rest of the Sweet 16 matchups:

For this round, 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. (5) Paris Hilton, The Simple Life

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    (1) Kim Kardashian, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’
    (4342 votes)
  • 52%
    (5) Paris Hilton, ‘The Simple Life’
    (4787 votes)
9129 votes total Vote Now

(3) Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Jersey Shore vs. (10) Flavor Flav, Flavor of Love

(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.

(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.”

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 70%
    (3) Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, ‘Jersey Shore’
    (6443 votes)
  • 29%
    (10) Flavor Flav, ‘Flavor of Love’
    (2749 votes)
9192 votes total Vote Now

The Antagonists

(1) Spencer Pratt, The Hills vs. (4) Kristin Cavallari, Laguna Beach

(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.

(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

  • 34%
    (1) Spencer Pratt, ‘The Hills’
    (2904 votes)
  • 65%
    (4) Kristin Cavallari, ‘Laguna Beach’
    (5476 votes)
8380 votes total Vote Now

(3) Omarosa Manigault Newman, The Apprentice vs. (2) Chris “CT” Tamburello, The Challenge

(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.

(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

  • 33%
    (3) Omarosa Manigault Newman, ‘The Apprentice’
    (2885 votes)
  • 66%
    (2) Chris "CT" Tamburello, ‘The Challenge’
    (5843 votes)
8728 votes total Vote Now

The Hosts & Judges

(1) Jeff Probst, Survivor vs. (5) Tyra Banks, America’s Next Top Model

(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.

(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.

Poll

Which character should advance?

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    (1) Jeff Probst, ‘Survivor’
    (6445 votes)
  • 28%
    (5) Tyra Banks, ‘America’s Next Top Model’
    (2621 votes)
9066 votes total Vote Now

(3) Simon Cowell, American Idol vs. (10) Gordon Ramsay, Hell’s Kitchen

(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.

(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

  • 50%
    (3) Simon Cowell, ‘American Idol’
    (4660 votes)
  • 49%
    (10) Gordon Ramsay, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’
    (4582 votes)
9242 votes total Vote Now

The Sneaky MVPs

(1) Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Jersey Shore vs. (4) Jay Cutler, Very Cavallari

(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.

(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

  • 63%
    (1) Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, ‘Jersey Shore’
    (5807 votes)
  • 36%
    (4) Jay Cutler, ‘Very Cavallari’
    (3323 votes)
9130 votes total Vote Now

(11) Johnny Bananas, The Challenge vs. (2) Kris Jenner, Keeping Up With the Kardashians

(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.

(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

  • 65%
    (11) Johnny Bananas, ‘The Challenge’
    (5696 votes)
  • 34%
    (2) Kris Jenner, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’
    (3016 votes)
8712 votes total Vote Now
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