Reality TV's Biggest Stars
It’s all about making a strong impression! These are the personalities we loved — and the ones we loved to hate.
Want more? EW has detailed the best in movies, TV, music, and books for 25 years with the Must List, and in celebration, The Must List: Ranking the Best in 25 Years of Pop Culture is out now. This gallery is an excerpt from the book. The Must List: Ranking the Best in 25 Years of Pop Culture is in stores now, or available for order online.
Bethenny Frankel, The Real Housewives of New York
She wasn’t a housewife, but reality never needed to be real. Her terse sarcasm made her breakout, but Bethenny’s no-bull professionalism infused <em<housewives with Lean-In aspiration. </em<housewives
J.R. Martinez, Dancing With the Stars
A wounded Iraq vet who became a motivational speaker, an actor, and one of the most inspiring human beings ever to grace a dance floor.
Lisa Vanderpump, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
The glamorously British SoCal entrepreneur brings trashy class to 90210. She’s even more fun on Vanderpump Rules, playing a gossipy queen to her beautiful-idiot minions.
"Boston" Rob Mariano, Survivor
Too charming to be a bad guy, too nefarious to be a good guy, the one-time Survivor winner is the rascal antihero we deserve.
Charla Baklayan Faddoul, The Amazing Race
A lovably tough player with enough heart to dominate competitors.
Juan Pablo Galavis, The Bachelor
A sex-idiot supervillain and an emotional terrorist, Juan Pablo set a new standard for mesmerizing narcissism.
Nicole Richie, The Simple Life
Paris Hilton got the headlines, but her Simple sidekick gave the rich-kids-go-country reality-sitcom its goofy, oddly endearing heart.
Simon Cowell, American Idol and The X Factor
They called him acerbic, mean, an elitist Brit picking on try-hard American dreamers. Reality’s first great judge told the truth: brutally, hilariously.
Nene Leakes, The Real Housewives of Atlanta
The High Priestess of Telling It Like It Is, NeNe redefined sass into alpha-female heavy artillery. Watching someone argue with her is like watching an ant pick a fight with the God of Thunder.
Kate Gosselin, Jon & Kate Plus 8
She was the housewife reimagined as a battalion commander, mothering her children the way Patton marshaled his troops. There followed fame, fortune, divorce, desperation — and Dancing With the Stars.
Jonny Fairplay, Survivor
Sure, Fairplay didn’t rally play fair. But give the devil his due: The creator of the innovative “Dead Grandmother” strategy was uniquely good at playing bad.
Brandi Glanville, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Her onscreen origin was tragic, but Glanville’s ensuing Housewives arc is variously infuriating and train-wreck fascinating.
Sam Talbot, Top Chef
Talented, beloved by fans, dominant in challenges: Chef Sam was the full package.
Kim Kardashian, Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Reality TV’s greatest creation transformed selfie-age vanity into a boundlessly (and endlessly monetizable) resource. Kim invented a world where her personal life was the brand.
Uncle Si Robertson, Duck Dynasty
Everyone’s got that one uncle: the weirdo, the kookbat, the guy who might be just a little insane. But no way your uncle has a beard half as impressive.
Tyra Banks, America's Next Top Model
We knew she was a supermodel. But it took Top Model to reveal that Tyra was a maniacal space alien sent from the heavens to give you beauties their won Full Metal Jacket.
Carla Hall, Top Chef
Hootie hoo! In a genre that trends toward big-ego melodramatics, Carla was a rare bird: a fierce competitor with a cheerful, light attitude.
Dr. Will Kirby, Big Brother
An unapologetic cad with a nigh-telepathic gift for gab, Dr. Will defined Big Brother‘s unique strain of mustache-twirling vanity. At least he always stabs in the front.
Pedro Zamora, The Real World
American television had never seen his like: a proud gay man living bravely (and openly) with AIDS. Reality TV is still waiting for someone half as real.
Teresa Giudice, The Real Housewives of New Jersey
Conspicuous consumption personified (and later convicted). The docusoap genre begins and ends with Teresa’s table-flip freakout.
Lauren Conrad, The Hills
The Laguna Beach everygal spun off her own big-city adventure, becoming the island-of-sanity Gallant to frenemy Heidi’s bad-decision Goofus.
Richard Hatch, Survivor
The Great American Reality TV Big Bad. Survivor‘s first survivor brought the world “alliance” into the lexicon and earned attention for his plotting — and his no-clothes policy.
Puck, The Real World
The sacred requires the profane, so the season of Pedro was also the season of Puck. The snot rockets, the peanut butter: Wouldn’t you evict him from your house?
Christian Siriano, Project Runway
The youngest Runway winner — and the show’s best argument for itself — Siriano’s legitimate talent was matched only by his talent for catchy one-liners.
Omarosa Manigault, The Apprentice
Is Omarosa a villain? Or just the perfect capitalist? We can all agree that Omarosa set a new standard for reality amorality, invigorating the genre with a Game of Thrones mentality.