Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Five Greatest Reality TV Stars of the Decade

When we were asked to come up with a list of the Five Greatest Reality TV Stars of the Decade we were frankly overwhelmed by the possibilities. Since the new wave of unscripted shows started with 1992’s “The Real World,” every day people like AIDS Activist Pedro Zamora, fitness gurus like “The Biggest Loser’s” Jillian Michaels, and home remodelers like “Designing for the Sexes’” Michael “May I interest you in a third color” Payne have held us captive in front of our TV sets. But to pick five stand-outs was no easy task. We finally had to set aside our favorite freaks like “Showbiz Moms & Dads” ultimate stage father, Duncan Nutter, and “Flipping Out’s” obsessive compulsive Arnold Palmer ordering Jeff Lewis, for a handful of stars we thought changed the face of the genre in some way. So with that we give you the Five Greatest Reality TV Stars of the Decade.

Richard Hatch on “Survivor”
It’s hard to remember a time before “Survivor” was on the air but the series that brought reality to prime time, network television, premiered on May 31, 2000. Now in it’s 19th season, we contend that every contestant owes a debt of gratitude to the original villain, game player, and winner Richard Hatch. The first million-dollar prize recipient outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted the original cast of fierce competitors (if only he had paid taxes on the purse, his future would have been a little less rocky). Yes, Hatch paved the way for future bad guys like Jonny “How’s Grandma“ Fairplay and the sock-burning, immunity idol finding manipulations of Russell Hantz. Nor would there have been extreme strategists like “Boston” Rob Mariano and Rob Cesternino. He may not be our favorite “Survivor” (Ethan Zohn will always hold that place in our hearts) but he certainly will go down in reality history as the man who set the tone.

Kathy Griffin on “My Life on the D-List”
Lots of celebs have gone the reality route but none have done it with as much class as Kathy Griffin. Some may not think of the take-no-prisoners, trash-talking comedienne as classy but those people clearly haven’t seen a few of the more special episodes of “My Life on the D-List.” More than just a star basher, Griffin has entertained the troops in Iraq, visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, mourned the loss of her beloved father, and marched in protest of the passing of a ban on gay marriage, dubbing herself “Norma Gay.” It’s no wonder her smart and funny show has won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Reality Program and Bret Michaels and Christopher Knight have never tasted Emmy gold.

Tim Gunn on “Project Runway” and “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style”
There are few reality TV stars that stand the wear and tear of the weekly grind as well as Tim Gunn. The king of “make it work” has served as the kind hearted mentor to wanna-be designers on “Project Runway” since 2004. His comments are always insightful and challenging and his plea to “use the Macy’s accessory wall thoughtfully” is always heartfelt. On his spinoff series “Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style” he managed to gracefully persuade even the most fashion challenged to give up their favorite sweatpants or dated fringe enhanced suede jacket for the “ten essential items” that would make their wardrobe, and their lives, complete.

Gunn has become so synonymous with reality mentoring, producers on every new show must be asked, “Who’s your Tim Gunn?” Good question, they are after all, very big designer shoes to fill.

Simon Cowell on “American Idol”
Simon Cowell has come a long way from his humble beginnings in the music biz – when he founded E&S Music in a converted men’s room in a London parking lot. These days “American Idol’s” toughest judge inspires a lot of potty-mouthed responses to his no-holds-barred critiques of the show’s emerging singing talent. Simon, and his refusal to sugar coat the truth, keeps the competition honest on “Idol” and the other head-to-head battle shows by extension (at least until the always kind Ellen DeGeneres brings her niceness to the gig on next season’s “AI”). And, he’s spun his “Pop Idol” and “American Idol” success into an industry of his own in various roles producing, writing, and starring on shows like “Cupid,” “American Inventor,” “America’s Got Talent,” and “The X Factor.”

Joey Greco on “Cheaters”
There are lots of sleazy dating shows on television and very few deserve any accolades whatsoever. But those series do not have a secret weapon known as Joey Greco. The “Cheaters” host busts those who are unfaithful in their relationships with an earnest calm that cuts through the chaos of hustling cameramen and bar brawling soon-to-be exes. Somehow Joey manages week after week to calmly deliver the bad news in a Shatner-like cadence, “You can see he moves in for… a little nuzzle” or “I know it’s not what you hoped for… She’s with this gentleman… Again.” All the while showing surveillance footage to the betrayed lover and often adding a surprisingly compassionate, “I’m sorry you had to see that” before leading a videotaped ambush on the guilty cads (or cad-ettes).

But what really makes Joey Greco list worthy is his dedication to the craft of Reality hosting. In 2003, Greco was stabbed on the job. Yes STABBED on a boat while confronting a cheater face-to-face. Reports have surfaced as recently as November of this year that the show is entirely fake, including the knifing of Greco. But we don’t care. We’ll take a made-up hero like Joey any day. He’s good TV.

Written by Amy & Nancy Harrington
Originally written for

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