Tim Gunn, Padma Lakshmi, and Rachel Zoe are among the channel's breakout reality TV stars

By Ari Karpel and Lindsay Soll
Updated November 14, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST

Some we love to hate, and some we just plain love. But either way, we’re always transfixed by the outlandish personalities on Bravo. The home of must-see reality TV has made watching the behind-the-scenes worlds of fashion, cooking, real estate, and the high life an experience that Rachel Zoe would describe as ”bananas!” This year, thanks to these wild souls, the network with the spirited name truly made us stand up and cheer.

Tim Gunn, Project Runway
After five seasons, the fashion guru continues to bring panache to his role as a mentor. He judges decisively and bluntly — yet remains witty, endearing, and accessible.
The Most Unruly Contestant: ”Kenley [from season 5] was aggressively rude,” Gunn says. ”For a while, I thought she was just an attention hog, and then I realized the poor thing can’t help herself!”
Expertise On-Call: ”A man came up to me on the subway and said, ‘I have a terrible time finding suits that fit.’ I said, ‘Do you mind if I touch you?’ I squished his shoulders back and voilà, the suit fit! It was all about posture.”

Nene Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta
The Southern socialite is — we’ll say it — a bitch with a big heart. When she’s not talking smack about her friends, she’s helping them raise money for charity.
Self-discovery: ”I didn’t realize we were such drama queens until I saw the show. I can’t wait to get my tape every week because I’m like, ‘She said that? Wow. She thought that about me?”’

Jill Zarin, The Real Housewives of New York City
She may be the prototypical wealthy Manhattanite, but we still root for this mother hen who has an opinion on everything — and everyone.
The Politics of Reality: ”One week I’ll hate someone, the next week I’ll love someone. They talk behind my back, I’ll talk behind theirs. And at the reunion we get to battle it out.”

Tom Colicchio, Top Chef
The show’s experienced head judge commands attention with his deadpan stares and brutal honesty.
Gut Reaction: ”During season 2, I spit something out [off camera]. It was a clam dish, and it was supposed to be cold, but I think it was room temperature and had lychees in it. It was really disgusting.”

Padma Lakshmi, Top Chef
Okay, so she’s major eye candy, but as host and a judge, the model-turned-foodie also serves up a down-to-earth take on culinary culture.
A Sliding Scale: ”After I finish a season, I have to go into food detox because I gain weight. You can’t see it on camera because I have dresses in two sizes, so the second half of the season I’ll wind up wearing things that are bigger.”

Vicki Gunvalson, The Real Housewives of Orange County
The easily excitable blond momshell from the first series in the franchise shows that Real Housewives are just like us: They work hard for the money, they fight with their friends, and they smother their kids.
Adjusting Her Image: ”The show has allowed me to look at myself from a different perspective, to tone it down a little bit. To be more softhearted, less controlling, and I think I’ve accomplished that — at least with my kids.”

Jeff Lewis, Flipping Out
The Los Angeles real estate speculator with a short fuse brings new meaning to the show’s title while flipping very pricey houses.
Funny Business: ”Most of the time I’m joking, and the people that work for me know I’m joking, so they don’t take it personally. I mean, sometimes they do.”
Change Is Good: ”The show’s humbled me. Some people end up becoming huge egomaniacs. Well, I was already a huge egomaniac.”

Zoila Chavez, Flipping Out
Lewis’ full-time housekeeper remains stoic in the face of her boss’ frequent outbursts. But in her subtle way, Chavez dishes it out as well as she takes it.
Employee Evaluation: ”You were so mean before, Jeff. Now he’s very nice. Yesterday he made me cry. Don’t make me cry again.”

Rachel Zoe, The Rachel Zoe Project
We knew that the stylist to the stars could pick a perfect red-carpet gown, but who knew she could also play doting wife, referee to two sparring assistants (Taylor and Brad), and savvy businesswoman — all while keeping her composure, and her mane perfectly coiffed?
Who’s the Boss?: ”Taylor is quite controlling, so I think that she takes on that role because I don’t. You just can’t script the dynamic that occurred between [her and Brad]. But now they’re great friends.”

For exclusive video and interviews with the Bravo stars, go to ew.com/entertainersvideo