2011’s most popular reality TV stories, and your best and worst moments, shows, and stars

It’s nearly the end of 2011, and thus I’m required by media law to recap the previous year. In reality television, it was a year of ups and downs, as usual, from Jesus’ active involvement in Survivor to revealing behind-the-scenes moment

Recapping the year is an exhausting, daunting challenge, however (and something I just don’t have time for this year, for reasons that will become obvious shortly). That’s in part because I have a terrible memory, but even reviewing just my posts isn’t comprehensive, because I don’t write about every moment on every show. When I mentioned this on Facebook, a suggestion from commenter Nels Highberg caught my attention, and I’m taking his advice and asking you for help.

So, you tell me: What stood out to you this past year, both good and bad? That could be a moment, a trend, or an entire season. E.mail me or comment below, and I’ll update this post with my favorites. (Links, such as clips on YouTube, are welcome, even encouraged.) I’m interested to see what stood out to you.

First, here are the most-popular stories published on reality blurred from the past year, which you can compare to last year’s most-popular stories:

  1. Dustin Zito’s Fratpad gay porn past revealed on first episode of The Real World. We love our reality TV stars, even ones on The Real World, and we love them even more when they are naked and doing things with other people’s naked parts.
  2. Video of Real World Dustin’s gay sex removed; bloggers asked to remove images. Yes, more Dustin.
  3. Ozzy, Coach, Cochran, Brandon, and that other Hantz dominate, but Sophie wins Survivor. The best Survivor in years ended with an odd finale.
  4. Dustin Zito explains why he lied about gay sex, Fratpad explains why images disappeared. I should really just run a gay porn blog. Wait, maybe I am.
  5. Dustin Zito’s homophobia flares, ironically; Real World producer discusses Dustin’s gay sex past. See?
  6. Coach, Ozzy returning for Survivor South Pacific People are interested in returning players. Don’t tell Jeff Probst or CBS. Please.
  7. Survivor South Pacific: two returning players and Redemption Island, again, in Samoa, again. In retrospect, this post seems pretty pessimistic about a season that ended up being pretty good. Then again, we’d just come off of a flat season and repeating the same elements didn’t seem like a promising way to improve.
  8. Rulon Gardner explains why he quit Biggest Loser.
  9. Rob Mariano’s win: the most satisfying, well-deserved, obvious victory in Survivor history. I still think Rob deserved to win, but two seasons of returnees marching easily to the end (minus Russell, of course) dampens it a bit. It’s just easier for all-stars.
  10. Survivor recaps the season, gets dirty with Coach and Cochran. The popularity of this post, about a recap episode, probably owes to it being published on Black Friday. Or it explains why CBS still airs these dumb things.
  11. Chad Rogers insists his decision to leave Million Dollar Listing wasn’t “mutual” by having his lawyer threaten a TV critic. This story still makes me laugh.
  12. CBS confirms, explains Dick Donato’s departure from Big Brother. One of 2011’s biggest reality TV mysteries, still unsolved.
  13. What happened to Shay Sorrells’ Biggest Loser Subway marathon challenge? Another mystery, only partially solved by the answer NBC gave me.
  14. Ozzy sacrifices himself after God intervenes in Survivor again. God was very popular this year. Jesus.
  15. Big Brother cast contract: the agreement houseguests sign.
  16. Survivor’s merge brings bad acting, big moves. Cochran may not have won, but his move was the biggest the show has seen in years.
  17. Survivor One World: men vs. women on one beach for the show’s 24th season. I’m really, really looking forward to this.
  18. Evidence that Dick and Daniele have seen each other in the last six months? One of my biggest reality blurred fuck-ups ever. Alas.
  19. Jennifer Hudson pisses off Oprah by being late.Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes was definitely one of the best shows of 2011.
  20. Survivor’s Jessica “Sugar” Kiper in Celebrity Rehab. Sugar’s time in rehab revealed some horrifying things about her time on Survivor Heroes vs. Villains.

Update: Thanks for your submissions. Here are a few highlights from the comments and e.mail messages, but read the comments below for a good overview of the best and worst.

Nels Highberg, who inspired this feature, picks Top Model and Top Shot as highlights of the year because of their winners. Top Shot remains one of the strongest competitions on cable, perhaps because of the way producers respond to a surprising challenge they face.

Bob Karp picks Bravo’s Flipping Out (because it “is about someone actually working for a living”) and Oxygen’s The Glee Project (which he calls “clever and quite moving”). Both are great shows, but the latter was a surprise hit even if it cheated the ending. (To get a sense of the best parts of the show all at once, watch this music video produced as one of the challenges.)

Melissa points out that Deadliest Catch‘s long-overdue Emmy was a highlight, and also mentions “the downfall of the CBS reality shows,” including that other ridiculous Emmy winner.

Libi notes Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Russell Armstrong’s suicide as a noteworthy event, and says that his death “because he was afraid of how he would be portrayed is pretty memorable.”

Damien Washington identifies Top Chef All-Stars as a highlight of the year, and I absolutely agree, just as I agree with both him and Bob that the Masters and Just Desserts spin-offs this past year were very disappointing, in large part because they stuck to such a rigid and boring formula.

Other highlights for people: Meaghan Lane says Dancing with the Stars “was great this year” because of its winner and things like “Derek not winning again.” Clifford O. notes cable series that “seem relatively fresh and vibrant” like Gold Rush, Storage Wars, and Hoarders. Neil echoes Chuck in disagreeing with me that Survivor South Pacific was “not the best in ‘years'” and calls Boston Rob’s win and returning players to be low-lights, but liked Big Brother and its winner, bitches, among other shows.

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.