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The Best Reality TV Character Bracket: MTV’s Powerhouses Take Over

Half of the Elite Eight consists of characters from ‘Jersey Shore’ and ‘The Challenge.’ But Jeff Probst awaits.

MTV/Ringer illustration

At the beginning of this tournament, 46 shows were represented by the 64 entrants. Now, two shows account for 50 percent of the Elite Eight. The voting public is quite fond of Jersey Shore and The Challenge. (In all, MTV is responsible for five of the eight finalists.)

Not only have Snooki and The Situation advanced to the quarterfinals, but they’ve done so while breaking less of a sweat than one does in a tanning booth. In matchups against The Bachelorette’s Kaitlyn Bristowe, Lauren Conrad, and Flavor Flav, Snooki hasn’t earned less than 70 percent of the vote. It’s been blowouts all the way through. The Situation, meanwhile, skated against a 16-seed, easily defeated Heidi Pratt with a shocking 83.5 percent of the vote, and then beat Jay Cutler 66 percent to 34. Jay Cutler couldn’t win a tournament held by a website that’s devoted an entire weekly column to him for the past three years—that’s how impressive The Situation has been.

As for the all-stars of The Challenge, CT and Johnny Bananas—two men who will forever be linked (by the back)—have similarly been bracket bulldozers. CT averaged 74 percent of the vote in two favorable matchups against Nick Viall and Joe Budden, but it turns out he wasn’t just winning by default: Up against a reality stalwart in Omarosa, he won 73-27. But Johnny Bananas’s run has been even more stunning. He’s taken down a handful of reality legends: Lisa Vanderpump, Tyler Cameron, and Kris Jenner. And he’s done it in convincing fashion.

These results say a lot of things—about The Ringer’s audience, and Bananas’s ability to activate his fan base, sure, but also about the shows themselves. Jersey Shore and The Challenge are two hallmarks of the genre that have lasted long past their original expected expiration dates, delivered indelible moments—The Note and The Bananas Backpack, just to name two—and featured characters who have become more like family members.

But tough times lie ahead: Bananas and The Situation are set to face off while CT draws Kristin Cavallari, who took down a 1-seed last round; meanwhile, Jeff Probst is waiting in the wings in the Hosts & Judges region to extinguish any challenger’s flame.

We’re on to the Elite Eight. 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. (3) Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Jersey Shore

(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.

(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

  • 25%
    (1) Kim Kardashian, ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’
    (2136 votes)
  • 74%
    (3) Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, ‘Jersey Shore’
    (6284 votes)
8420 votes total Vote Now

The Antagonists

(4) Kristin Cavallari, Laguna Beach vs. (2) Chris “CT” Tamburello, The Challenge

(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.

(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

  • 35%
    (4) Kristin Cavallari, ‘Laguna Beach’
    (2904 votes)
  • 64%
    (2) Chris "CT" Tamburello, ‘The Challenge’
    (5266 votes)
8170 votes total Vote Now

The Hosts & Judges

(1) Jeff Probst, Survivor vs. (10) Gordon Ramsay, Hell’s Kitchen

(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.

(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

  • 54%
    (1) Jeff Probst, ‘Survivor’
    (4650 votes)
  • 45%
    (10) Gordon Ramsay, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’
    (3858 votes)
8508 votes total Vote Now

The Sneaky MVPs

(1) Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, Jersey Shore vs. (11) Johnny Bananas, The Challenge

(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.

(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

  • 57%
    (1) Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, ‘Jersey Shore’
    (4948 votes)
  • 42%
    (11) Johnny Bananas, ‘The Challenge’
    (3647 votes)
8595 votes total Vote Now

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