A reality TV star is an individual who has achieved public recognition primarily through his or her appearance on a reality show. Unlike “celeb-reality” stars such as Flavor Flav, Bret Michaels and Corey Feldman, who were famous prior to their appearances on reality TV, the term “reality TV star” typically refers to a person who was not a public figure prior to his or her stint on a reality show. Most reality TV stars initially gain fame as part of an ensemble cast reality show, such as Big Brother, Survivor, or America’s Got Talent, and then attempt to use their new-found fame as a platform to further a career in entertainment.
Some of the most well-known reality TV personalities stand apart from their co-stars because they gained notoriety of some kind through their interactions with others on the show. For example, reality TV star Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth of The Apprentice is perhaps the most remembered star of the series due to her controversial antics during the show’s competition. Survivor: Pearl Islands reality TV star “Jonny Fairplay” is similarly remembered for lying about a death in his family in order to gain sympathy from his cast mates and further his place in the competition. A reality TV star that was ostracized by cast mates or otherwise villainized by the show has a greater chance of being invited to appear on other reality shows with an ensemble cast, in order to stir up tension amongst the group and subsequently increase ratings.
The reality TV star phenomenon developed near the end of the 1990s with some of the earliest reality shows, such as MTV’s The Real World. It wasn’t until 2000, however, and the massive success of the first major reality show, Survivor that participants of reality TV shows began to achieve a level of fame that paralleled other public figures. Suddenly, the public became intensely interested in the lives of Survivor’s previously unknown cast, which included ordinary people from a diverse range of backgrounds. The media coverage that the show received ensured that the cast were covered alongside other celebrities in magazines such as People and on shows such as Entertainment Tonight.
After seeing the unprecedented fame that contestants on shows such as Survivor and Big Brother garnered, many aspiring celebrities began pursuing reality show appearances as a vehicle for achieving public recognition. In addition to receiving invitations to appear on additional reality shows, reality TV stars have also been known to receive endorsement deals, book deals, and offers to merchandise their own brand of products.