The first winners of 16 reality TV shows

Side by side of younger Bianca singing into a microphone in a purple dress next to and older Bianca in a red coat. There's a circle with the "America's Got Talent" logo.

The first winner of “America’s Got Talent,” Bianca Ryan, then and now.Mark J. Terrill/AP Images; Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

  • Reality TV winners can become highly successful, fall out of the limelight, or something in-between.

  • While “American Idol’s” Kelly Clarkson has an empire, “The Voice’s” Javier Colon does not.

  • Here’s where some of our favorite singers, dancers, cooks, and creatives are today.

Richard Hatch won the very first season of “Survivor” in 2000.

Shirtless Richard with a beard looking into the distance outside.

Richard Hatch on “Survivor” in April 2000.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

“Survivor” drops strangers onto a deserted island to test their survival skills, like finding food and shelter, as well as competing in challenges. Contestants then vote out one person, or castaway, per week. It’s a formula that’s worked for 42 seasons and counting on CBS, as well as for many international versions.

Hatch became both one of the first villains of the show and the first winner. He wound up winning the title of Sole Survivor with a $1 million prize in August 2000 at the conclusion of season one in Borneo.

Hatch has since appeared on several other reality TV shows … and also spent several years in prison.

Richard flexing and smiling in a red shirt.

Richard Hatch on “The Biggest Loser” in February 2016.NBC/Getty Images

Since then, Hatch, 61, spent 51 months (a little over four years) in jail for tax evasion after not paying taxes on his grand prize. He went back for another nine months after violating his probation, according to ScreenRant.

Hatch has also continued to appear on reality TV. He’s made several more appearances on shows like “The Apprentice,” “The Biggest Loser,” and the Australian edition of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

Today, Hatch still has strong ties to his “Survivor” days. Besides his appearance on “Survivor: All-Stars” in 2004, he uses his Instagram platform to sell his own “Survivor”-themed merchandise and autographed objects.

Eddie McGee won the first season of “Big Brother,” also back in 2000.

Eddie walking out a door in a baseball hat, tank top, and crutches.

Eddie McGee leaving the “Big Brother” house on September 29, 2000.Lucy Nicholson/Stringer/Getty Images

“Big Brother” is an international phenomenon that follows strangers living in a house under surveillance while they form alliances and compete in challenges. Each week, a houseguest is evicted until there is a final contestant, who wins $500,000.

The American version is based on the original Dutch version that began in 1997. To date, there have been 23 seasons of “Big Brother” in the US on CBS and countless international versions and spin-offs, like “Celebrity Big Brother.”

McGee won the very first (American) competition after lasting 88 days in the house.

McGee went on to act on TV and film, including on his own show.

Eddie smiling in a leather jacket and crutches in front of a backdrop.

Eddie McGee attending “The Life of Lucky Cucumber” release party in March 2009.Valerie Macon/Getty Images

McGee, 43, who lost his leg to cancer at 11 years old, has since become an actor. He has portrayed amputees in shows like “Law and Order” and movies like “God’s Pocket.”

“If you are disabled, there is no one you can say, ‘Hey, I can be like that character or that actor,'” he told Living with Amplitude in 2017. “So I struggle and strive every day and hope to one day be that guy who can inspire.”

He also had his own show, “Eddie’s,” where he played himself, supported by characters who work at his LA restaurant, which lasted for one season in 2020.

Best friends Brennan Swain and Rob Frisbee were the first winners of “The Amazing Race” in 2001.

Brennan smiling with his arms crossed and Rob smiling with his hands in his pockets, both standing in front of a map of the globe.

Brennan Swain and Rob Frisbee in March 2001.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

“The Amazing Race” follows pairs as they travel the world, attempting to get to a final destination while overcoming physical and mental challenges.

The show has been going strong with 33 seasons of the original American version on CBS and several spin-offs. There have also been several international editions.

The season one winners were best friends Frisbee and Swain, who shared the grand prize of $1 million in 2001.

Today, Swain and Frisbee work in law and are still best friends.

Former contestants Rob Frisbee and Brennan Swain

Rob Frisbee and Brennan Swain in 2005.Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Frisbee, 49, has been working as an attorney and also started writing for TV and movies. Swain is a lawyer specializing in copyright and intellectual property, according to NewsWeek.

Swain, 50, reminisced on their win in an Instagram post in 2021, writing, “20 years later I can look back and realize what a life-changing experience it was,” adding, “I’ve been able to use my small dose of celebrity to raise money for many great charities and I’ve been able to continue to travel the world.”

“I’m still best of friends with Rob and was honored with being the best man at his wedding and the godfather of his son,” Swain wrote.

In 2002, Kelly Clarkson was the first-ever winner of “American Idol.”

Kelly smiling with brown curly hair and blonde highlights on a red carpet.

Kelly Clarkson arriving at the “American Idol” finale in September 2002.Steve Granitz/Getty Images

“American Idol” is a singing competition geared toward letting amateur singers get a shot at fame by first auditioning for judges, and then getting voted on by the American public.

It aired on Fox between 2002 and 2016 before going off the air. It was then revived on ABC in 2018 and is still on now, airing for 20 seasons total between the two iterations.

In 2002, Clarkson won the singing competition, receiving a $1 million recording contract with RCA Records.

Days after her win, she released her debut single, “A Moment Like This,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Clarkson has maintained her stardom, both as a singer and a TV personality.

Kelly smiling in a blue dress in front of a Kelly Clarkson backdrop and set.

Kelly Clarkson on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” in May 2022.NBC/Getty Images

Clarkson’s songs have spanned pop, country, R&B, and soul, across nine successful albums during her career. She has won three Grammys, various country music awards, three Daytime Emmy awards, and has three No. 1 hits (and 10 top 10 hits) to her name.

Clarkson, 40, returned to her television roots, becoming a judge on “The Voice” in 2018. She and her teams have won four times within seven seasons.

She also started her own daytime talk show, “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” in 2019. In addition to interviewing guests, she performs “Kellyoke” on every episode.

Clarkson also co-hosted the first season of “American Song Contest” with Snoop Dogg in the spring of 2022. She’s easily the most successful “American Idol” winner, to date.

Adrianne Curry won the very first season of “America’s Next Top Model” in 2003.

Adrianne with short brown hair in a plunging halter top.

Adrianne Curry in 2003.Jean-Paul Aussenard/Getty Images

“America’s Next Top Model” was created by supermodel Tyra Banks in 2003. It was on UPN from 2003 to 2006, then moved to The CW after the two networks merged.

After being cancelled by The CW in 2015, it was revived a year later by VH1, and now has a total of 24 seasons, or cycles. It hasn’t officially been canceled, but it also hasn’t had a cycle since 2018.

It also became a success abroad with over 50 international editions, like “Britain’s Next Top Model.”

For the first season of “America’s Next Top Model,” 10 women competed in challenges to prove their modeling skills. The winner was promised a Wilhelmina Models contract, a Marie Claire magazine photo spread, and Revlon cosmetics contract.

Curry, who was just 21 at the time, was crowned the very first top model in 2003 after proving herself to judges Banks, Janice Dickinson, Kimora Lee Simmons, and Beau Quillian.

Curry has since retired from modeling and is living off the grid.

Adrianne smiling with long brown hair in s sparkling silver top in front of a backdrop.

Adrianne Curry at a Star Magazine event in April 2016.Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

In a since-deleted 2020 Instagram post, Curry, 39, wrote, “We were led to believe daily the winner would be instantly rich and a huge Revlon cover girl. This was a lie,” according to Entertainment Tonight.

Despite this, she modeled for several magazines and booked campaigns before eventually retiring from that industry.

She also joined the cast of “The Surreal Life” where she met and started dating “The Brady Bunch” star Christopher Knight. They eventually came out with their own reality TV series, “My Fair Brady,” which followed the early days of their relationship and married life before they divorced in 2012, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Curry told In Touch Weekly in February 2022 that today she lives a “totally off-grid and self-reliant” lifestyle with her husband in Montana. She also told the outlet that she’s the top Avon cosmetics salesperson in the United States.

Bill Rancic won the first season of “The Apprentice” in 2004.

Bill smiling in a button-down shirt.

Bill Rancic shopping in April 2004.J. Merritt/Getty Images

“The Apprentice” initially tested entrepreneurs and businesspeople through challenges judged by host and future US president, Donald Trump. He would fire contestants each week until landing on his final hire, who won a $250,000 contract to manage one of Trump’s business projects.

After running for seven seasons, it changed over to “Celebrity Apprentice” and lasted for eight more seasons until 2017, all on NBC. There is also a popular British version of this series.

Rancic won the first season in 2004. He then oversaw construction on Chicago’s Trump Tower.

Rancic has hosted TV shows and had several entrepreneurial pursuits since.

Bill smiling in a button-down shirt and blazer.

Bill Rancic at a Las Vegas restaurant opening in May 2022.Denise Truscello/Getty Images

After his competition win, E!’s Giuliana Rancic (then DePandi) swooped in to interview him. They subsequently started dating and got married in 2007. They welcomed their son in 2012. Both Rancics have had strong careers since.

Rancic, 51, has released books, hosted TV shows, run a restaurant, became a real estate developer, started a cancer research fund after his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis, and is a spokesperson for Rogaine and Malibu Boats.

The Rancics also starred in their own reality TV series for seven seasons on The Style Network and E!, “Giuliana and Bill,” from 2009 to 2014.

In 2018, he spoke on Trump’s presidency and character in relation to his own success, telling Us Weekly, “He was great to me. He treated me very fairly. He genuinely wanted to lift me up.”

Ryan Benson was the first “Biggest Loser” winner in 2004 after losing over 120 pounds.

Ryan after losing weight smiling in a red tank top on a football field.

Ryan Benson on “The Biggest Loser” in December 2004.NBC/Getty Images

“The Biggest Loser” challenges contestants to lose the most amount of weight through the tough love of fitness trainers. It aired on NBC for 17 seasons from 2004 to 2016, and then moved to USA in 2020 for season 18. There’s no word on a season 19 yet.

The show’s first winner was Benson who lost over 120 pounds on the show and gained $250,000 in December 2004.

His weight has fluctuated since winning, so he joined the cast of “The Big Fat Truth” in 2017.

Ryan boxing in a red shirt and red boxing gloves.

Ryan Benson working out in 2014.NBC/Getty Images

Benson, 53, told Time Magazine in 2007 that he gained nearly 32 pounds within five days of the the show ending.

“It was real easy to slip back into old habits,” he told Insider in 2017.

After weighing more than his initial weight when he joined “The Biggest Loser,” he decided to join the spin-off show “The Big Fat Truth” in 2017 to try to lose weight again.

In 2005, Jay McCarroll won the first season of “Project Runway.”

Jay with a goatee, sunglasses, beret, sweat jacket, and blazer.

Jay McCarroll at a fashion show in February 2005.Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

“Project Runway” gives aspiring fashion designers the opportunity to get their foot in the door of the competitive industry by competing in design challenges voted on by a panel of judges.

From 2004 to 2008, the show aired on Bravo, before moving to Lifetime from 2009 to 2017 . The show moved back to its original home, Bravo, in 2019, where it remains now. There have been 19 seasons of the show total and many spin-offs focusing on all-stars, children, and more.

McCarroll, who didn’t win a single challenge throughout the first season, wound up winning the whole competition in 2005.

He won a $100,000 cash prize, a Banana Republic mentorship to develop his label, and a feature in Elle.

McCarroll presented in New York Fashion Week and made more TV appearances, but hasn’t been in the limelight recently.

Jay smiling in glasses and a wide hat with a goatee and long hair.

Jay McCarroll at the Battle on the Runway in New Jersey in August 2015.Tom Briglia/Getty Images

After his win, McCarroll, 47, presented his first New York Fashion Week collection in 2006. He also starred in the TV movie “Project Jay,” which followed his early career after “Project Runway,” and in the documentary “Eleven Minutes,” which showed the behind-the-scenes creation of his NYFW collection, according to Insider.

He also went back to his reality TV roots in 2010, competing in and winning “Celebrity Fit Club” by losing 40 pounds.

His career has since dropped off, stepping away from the limelight. According to IMDb, he was a set designer on “Orange Is the New Black” until its finale in 2019.

Couple Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh were the first (and only) duo to win “The Next Food Network Star” in 2005.

Dan and Steve smiling in button-down shirts in front of a backdrop.

Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh at the Food Network Awards show in February 2007.Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images

“The Next Food Network Star” aimed to find the next best chef and personality to host their own Food Network television show. It ended in 2018 after 14 seasons and one name change to “Food Network Star.”

After five rounds in 2005, couple Smith and McDonagh, known as “The Hearty Boys,” were named the first winners of the competition and were the only duo to win.

They hosted their own TV show, opened restaurants, and now own a catering business.

Dan and Steve smiling in a kitchen full of food with the printed words "Eat With Your Mouth Full."

The cover art for the 2007 cookbook “Eat With Your Mouth Full.”Surrey Books/Amazon

Smith, 59, and McDonagh, 57, went on to host “Party Line with the Hearty Boys” on Food Network, which stayed on the air for three seasons.

The pair have also opened restaurants, released a cookbook, have “an interactive on-camera cooking class,” and currently run their successful Chicago-based family catering company Hearty Boys Catering, according to the Food Network.

Kelly Monaco and Alec Mazo were the first pair to win “Dancing with the Stars” in 2005.

Kelly standing in a red strappy dress and Alec in a black shirt and red suspenders.

Kelly Monaco and Alec Mazo on “Dancing with the Stars” in September 2005.Adam Larkey/Getty Images

“Dancing with the Stars” is the US version of the UK’s “Strictly Come Dancing.” It pairs professional ballroom dancers with a variety of celebrities from entertainers to athletes to TV personalities to compete for the Mirror Ball trophy.

For its first 30 seasons, “DWTS” aired on ABC, but will move to Disney+ for season 31 in 2022.

The first season was on a smaller scale than we know today, only featuring six competing couples, voted on by judges scores and viewer votes. “General Hospital” actress Monaco won in 2005 alongside her partner Mazo.

Today, Monaco has continued her successful role on “General Hospital” and returned to “DWTS” again in 2012.

Kelly smiling up at a man while holding a glass of white wine.

Kelly Monaco in character as Sam McCall on “General Hospital” in April 2022.Troy Harvey/Getty Images

Monaco, 45, is primarily known for her role as Sam McCall in “General Hospital” and has starred in the soap opera since 2003.

She also returned to “Dancing with the Stars: All Stars” in 2012. She competed with “DWTS” alum Val Chmerkovskiy and they made it to the final, placing third.

“I decided to take on the challenge because there’s a certain fire that being part of this show does and I’ve been missing it,” she said during an episode.

Her first “DWTS” partner, Mazo, 44, spent five seasons on the competition show, but never replicated the success he had with Monaco.

Nick Lazzarini won the first season of “So You Think You Can Dance” in 2005.

Nick smiling with spiky hair in a t-shirt and blazer.

Nick Lazzarini at the Billboard Magazine Awards in December 2005.Bruce Gifford/Getty Images

For 17 seasons on Fox, “So You Think You Can Dance” has aimed to find America’s favorite dancer.

A wide range of dancers who specialize in different styles compete in several rounds of solo performances and professionally choreographed pieces for judges’ critiques and viewers’ votes. The series has sparked nearly 30 international adaptations.

For the first season in 2005, contemporary dancer Lazzarini was voted the best dancer. He won $100,000, as well as a New York City apartment for one year, which he turned down to work in Los Angeles instead.

Lazzarini went on to become a dance instructor for several companies but was hit with sexual assault allegations in 2021.

Nick in a white vintage army costume smiling with his arm out and head looking up.

Nick Lazzarini performing at a Shaping Sound concert in March 2017.Mat Hayward/Getty Images

After the win, Lazzarini, 37, went on to perform with artists like Adele and Kelly Clarkson. He co-founded the Shaping Sound dance company in LA. He also taught choreography with the JUMP Dance Convention, Break the Floor, and Titans of Dance tours.

In 2019, Break the Floor fired Lazzarini after he posted and deleted a video of him performing a sexual act on social media, according to CP24.

In October 2021, the Toronto Star and the Associated Press published a joint investigation of Lazzarini, including allegations from six dancers that he “subjected them to unwanted sexual advances” while he worked for Break the Floor. Three of them were underage at the time. Following these allegations, Titans of Dance also let go of the choreographer.

In 2006, Bianca Ryan won the very first season of “America’s Got Talent.”

A young Bianca singing onstage in a purple dress

Bianca Ryan singing at the “Operation Smile” Gala in October 2007.Mark J. Terrill/AP Images

“America’s Got Talent” debuted on NBC in 2006. Since then, the show has showcased a number of different talents from singers to dance groups to magicians and more over 16 seasons, with a season 17 on the way. It has been adapted into multiple international versions, most notably “Britain’s Got Talent,” and into spin-offs focusing on former winners and extreme acts.

On the first season, 11-year-old Ryan won the competition and $1 million after impressing voters with her mature singing voice.

After needing vocal cord surgery as a teenager, she made her “AGT” and music comeback in 2021.

Bianca dmiling and waving with wavy blonde hair and a red coat.

Bianca Ryan performing at a holiday tree lighting event in December 2021.Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

After her win, Ryan released her eponymous debut studio album of cover songs. She then toured. However, she had to undergo surgery for a paralyzed vocal cord in 2016 that was impairing her voice and left her needing post-op speech therapy.

Ryan, 27, returned to “America’s Got Talent: The Champions” in 2020 in a major comeback. During her audition, she revealed her struggles after surgery. “I started getting less fan mail, less comments, less views. I felt like I had just disappeared and everyone was just forgetting,” she said.

She made a big impression, but didn’t win the competition.

Ryan posted an Instagram Reel in March 2022 that looked back on her trials and tribulations, as well as her successes like starring on Broadway, releasing a Christmas album, and recently releasing her cover of “Lucky” by Britney Spears. In it, she also announced that she is currently making new music.

Bebe Zahara Benet won the first season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in 2009.

Bebe smiling in drag makeup in a long black wig with a red white and blue patriotic outfit.

Bebe Zahara Benet at the Broadway revival of “Hair” in March 2009.Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Drag queens from across America have been competing on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in category challenges like acting, fashion design, lip-syncing, and talent for 14 seasons now on both Logo TV and VH1. The series has launched several spin-off shows and has exploded internationally.

Marshall Ngwa, better known as BeBe Zahara Benet, won the first season in 2009, gaining a crown, a $20,000 cash prize, and a photo spread in Paper Magazine, among other smaller prizes.

Benet has continued doing drag and releasing music, and starred in a documentary.

Bebe in drag makeup in a voluminous curly wig and black outfit.

Bebe Zahara Benet speaking at a Discovery, Inc. TCA Winter Panel in January 2020.Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The first season of the show is commonly referred to as “The Lost Season” because it didn’t blow up in pop culture until the second season, which has eclipsed Benet’s success.

The winning queen was then asked back to compete on “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” for its third installment in 2018. This was controversial among the competitors, as none of them had won in the past.

“I wanted to use the platform and the opportunity to let people know that older season’s queens can learn new tricks, and winners also evolve,” Benet, 42, told Bustle in 2018.

Since, Benet has also released music, launched a tour for Black drag entertainers, has a decor company, and released a documentary, “Being BeBe,” initially in June 2021.

“Being BeBe” follows the performer’s life over many years including her drag career, her Cameroonian roots, and her impact on the LGBTQ+ community. It will be re-released on Apple TV+ later in 2022.

Benet spoke with 48Hills in March 2022 about her career. “I was BeBe before the show and I will be BeBe after the show. I am building that legacy now,” Benet said.

Edd Kimber was the first-ever winner of “The Great British Bake Off” in 2010.

Edd Kimber smiling in glasses, a plaid shirt, and white apron.

Edd Kimber on “The Great British Baking Show” in 2010.BBC

“The Great British Bake Off” has been serving up baking confections and friendly competition since 2010. In the UK, the show has aired on BBC Two, BBC One, and now Channel 4. In the US, it originally aired on PBS, and now is a Netflix production. The British series has had 12 seasons and counting, and has had many international versions.

In the show, amateur bakers compete and are judged each week until one wins a humble cake-stand trophy … and the celebrity that comes with the show’s exposure.

In the first season, there were only 10 contestants, and the first winner was bank debt collector Kimber.

Following the competition, Kimber quit his job and turned baking into a career.

Edd smiling in glasses with some facial hair in corduroy shirt.

Edd Kimber attending an afternoon tea in October 2021.David M. Benett/Getty Images

Kimber, 37, who calls himself The Boy Who Bakes, promptly quit his job and began working in a pastry kitchen for Raymond Blanc. He has also published five cookbooks, runs a blog, and hosts a podcast where he interviews others in the culinary industry, according to Insider.

He also starred in the Food Network special “John and Edd’s Christmas Bakes” in 2013.

“I always say that whatever I could have wanted to change about my life back then, ‘Bake Off’ changed it in the most amazing way. It allowed me to follow my passion and fulfill my dreams in a way I never imagined,” Kimber told the Yorkshire Post in August 2015.

In 2011, Melanie Ann Amaro won the first season of “The X Factor” in the US.

Melanie smiling with long brown curly hair in front of a backdrop.

Melanie Amaro poses after winning “The X Factor” on December 22, 2011.Mark Davis/Getty Images

Originally created for the United Kingdom, “The X Factor” made its way to the United States in 2011 on Fox. Although it was highly popular, the US version only lasted for three seasons.

After several pre-recorded and live rounds, pop singer Amaro was voted the winner of the competition, gaining a $5 million record deal with Epic Records.

Amaro had challenges with the record label that was part of the prize, and switched to a different one.

Melanie smiling with red hair in a leather jacket.

Melanie Amaro attends AOL Build Speaker Series in April 2016.Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

Many were surprised when Amaro’s career didn’t immediately launch after the show in 2011.

“There’s been a lot of stuff going on … it kinda brought me down. I keep believing that everything will happen in time,” Amaro said in a Ustream in March 2013, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I guarantee you I will be putting out an album, with or without the help of anyone, or label, for that matter,” she added.

However, Amaro, 29, never released an album under Epic. She left and signed on with Moorehouse Music Group in Atlanta in 2014, where she has since released more singles.

She currently performs covers on her Instagram account. Amaro is a mother and is currently pregnant again, expecting twins.

Javier Colon won the first season of “The Voice” in 2011.

Javier smiling in a baseball cap, black shirt, and black jacket in front of a backdrop.

Javier Colon attends “The Voice” Finale Viewing Party on June 29, 2011.John Shearer/Getty Images

At its core, “The Voice” puts a primary focus on vocal abilities rather than looks in its unique competition format. During the “blind auditions,” contestants can get chair turns from any of the four celebrity judges who are trying to build their own team to compete against their fellow judges.

It’s based on the Dutch reality series called “The Voice of Holland,” which began in 2010. The American version has now been on the air for 21 seasons on NBC.

During the first season in 2011, Adam Levine, CeeLo Green, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton served as the judges. Acoustic-soul singer Colon gained a spot on Levine’s team and made it successfully to the end, winning $100,000 and a contract with Universal Music Group.

Colon had issues with his album and record label, and changed to a new one to further his music career.

Javier smiling in a fedora, shirt, tie, and blazer in front of a backdrop.

Javier Colon at the TV Land Icon Awards in April 2016.Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Following his win, he produced and released his studio album “Come Through for You.” It didn’t gain much traction. In fact, to date, not many “Voice” winners have experienced much mainstream success.

“When you pour your heart and soul into a new album that you think is really great, and your label, who is supposed to support, market and promote your music, does neither, it’s really hard not to be upset,” he told Buddy TV in 2012.

Colon, 44, then left his label and joined Concord Music. He released his album “Gravity” in 2016 and currently shares his music and covers on Instagram.

Read the original article on Insider