Believe it or not, there was a time when most of the television shows were scripted. In fact, before Survivor, the only dose of reality TV the American people had was MTV’s The Real World. But once CBS aired its stranded-on-a-deserted-island game show, we were hooked and we wanted more and more. After a few years of network reality shows that followed the game show formula, CBS had become popular, MTV spiced up the recipe which, believe it or not, was the first sitcom-style reality show ever produced. It eventually evolved into the addictive smut we watch night after night on Bravo and E!.
It’s true, a show about an aging metal rocker and his family was the foundation of all of your favorite shows. Yes, even the housewives. Producers like reality television as much as you do because they don’t have to pay writers or high-priced actors, but they do still have to pay the cast of wacky characters they’ve found to agree to be filmed for three months out of every year and some have turned that small fortune into an empire. Here are 15 of the highest paid reality TV stars:
15. Nicole “Snooki” Lavalle
Snooki was nothing more than an average everything before MTV decided to film a group of young guidos on the turbulent beaches of New Jersey in Jersey Shore. However, she was almost instantly a household name before the first episode ended. In that first season, the cast was getting paid $5,000 an episode and MTV wasn’t even sure if they were going to keep the same cast members on for season two or wrangle up a new bunch of sloppy Staten Island seconds. Of course, they kept them on and they all became very wealthy because of it. Snooki led the pack. This little firecracker was earning $150,000 per episode for the last two seasons of the hit reality show. Add that with her $32,000 appearance fee and her spin-offs and you’ve got a lot of money packed into a five-foot frame.
14. Willie Robertson
Willie is the son of Phil Robertson, the man who invented Duck Commander which is apparently, for some country reason, the greatest duck-calling mechanism the planet has ever seen. Willie, who is ankle deep in the Duck Commander business himself, looked around at his brothers and wacky family and realized they would make a hell of a lot of money with a reality series. Fast forward ten years later and this bearded bandannaed guy is worth over $20 million. In the most recent dose of news as his hit reality show, Duck Dynasty, reaches its final season, Robertson left a waiter a $5,000 tip at dinner. Meanwhile, I got a water to go at breakfast this morning after fishing in my pockets for a dime to go with the nickel I left as a tip.
13. Eileen Davidson
Eileen Davidson is best known for her ongoing role as Ashley Abbott on CBS’s The Young and the Restless, a role she’s been playing since 1982. Actually, it’s more than just a paycheck, as her acting has earned her an Emmy in 2014. But if you’re not at home at 3 P.M. and you’re unaware of Davidson’s legendary soap career then you’re probably more familiar with her steady appearances on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Davidson joined the cast in 2014 for season 5 and earned her record-setting salary of $750,000, a season faster than Lisa Vanderpump could ever ask her about the affair that became her marriage (yeah, my girlfriend watches The Housewives and sometimes I’m around, and yeah, I do have a girlfriend). This woman balances a pretty insane schedule and as far as reality TV goes, she remains one of its more sane personalities even with her millions and millions of dollars stashed away in the bank.
12. Lisa Vanderpump
There are so many reasons why Lisa Vanderpump is an icon and a genius. Before she had ever appeared on television, she was already an accomplished restauranteur having owned 26 establishments spanning from London to Los Angeles. She then starred on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and remains one of the two original cast members to still appear on the series. She then spun her popularity into another Bravo show that took off, the addictive, Vanderpump Rules, that follows the staff of her own West Hollywood restaurant. She also appeared on Dancing With the Stars for a hot minute before she “fainted” (a.k.a. got bored) and had to leave the show. When it’s all said and done, Vanderpump has built an empire of over $65 million. Yes, a lot of that is from her successful business ventures, but another massive chunk is just from people watching her sit and drink sangria at those businesses. Oh, she also has her own line of sangria.
11. Nene Leakes
Linnethia Leakes or “Nene,” as she’s called, is a one-woman business and powerhouse who has a finger in pretty much every aspect of entertainment. With a net worth of $12 million, she’s been a best-selling author, an actress in movies, television, and Broadway, and a fashion designer. And if you hadn’t gotten sick of her yet, Bravo put her real life on your TV weekly when they cast her on The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Now, she may not be the richest on the cast (Kandi Burruss is worth close to $35 million) but no one gets paid more than she does each season. And I’m not talking anyone on the Atlanta season, I mean any housewife on any one of those estrogen-crazed shows. Nene rakes in a staggering $1 million per season and it’s rumored Bravo offered to double that figure when Nene showed signs of not coming back for another season.
10. Bethenny Frankel
Bethenny Frankel has more going for her than a ridiculous way to spell her first name. She’s come a long way from being a set assistant on Saved by the Bell. In 2005, she was on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart (take note that title was not “Celebrity Apprentice because Frankel wasn’t a celeb back then). Three years later she was chosen to be a part of the cast for The Real Housewives of New York City. Since then she’s not only a best-selling author of numerous self-help books, but she’s also had several spin-offs. She had her only reality show, Bethenny Getting Married, and a talk show if you can believe it appropriately titled, Bethenny. But among all her accolades, her true shining star at the top of her $22 million empire is Skinny Girl Vodka, the top selling liquor that nine out of ten women prefer over coffee while watching the housewives bicker over dinner.
9. Gordon Ramsay
Simply put, Ramsay is a riot to watch and I dare you to find someone who can turn away from the screen when he’s shouting at the cooks in his Hell’s Kitchen, or when he’s berating the staff at eateries he’s trying to rebuild on Kitchen Rescue. This guy has had eight shows in total spanning from British television to the Americas and every single one is tremendous. He also has 16 Michelin stars between all of his restaurants which, if you don’t know, means he makes really really good food and makes sure the waiters at his joints are really really attentive. All of these equate to Ramsay having a $60 million payday last year making him not only one of the highest paid celebrity chefs in the world, not only one of the highest paid reality stars in the world, but one of the highest paid celebrities in the world.
8. Jamie Oliver
Here’s another immense celebrity chef from across the pond. And when it comes to celebrity chefs from across the pond, it may shock you to know that Oliver is actually a much bigger deal than Ramsay. His debut television show, The Naked Chef, debuted in 1999 and was followed by a number one selling cookbook subsequently cementing Oliver in the reality show celebrity hall of fame. In total, he has had 30 television programs air since The Naked Chef first hit the screens. He’s personally cooked for the Prime Minister and is even honored as becoming a Member of the Order of the British Empire which is basically the most prestigious award a Brit can get if he’s involved with science, or the arts of any sort. So how much does the most well-known chef in all of United Kingdom earn for his efforts over an oven? How does $300 million sound? Does it sound low? Because IT IS. He’s actually worth $400 million if you figure in his restaurants as well.
7. Caitlyn Jenner
As far as transgender rights have come, it’s still difficult to discuss Caitlyn Jenner without bringing up Bruce Jenner especially when we’re discussing earnings or earning potential. Bruce Jenner would earn up to $40,000 for public speaking appearances while Caitlyn rakes in double or even triple that figure. Plus, Bruce was pretty much just background noise when it came to his role in the massive E! hit, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Caitlyn has her own show, I Am Cait. To make the long story short, Caitlyn’s current net worth is close to $100 million but experts say that will more than quadruple in the next ten years.
6. Kourtney Kardashian
When you consider how much the eldest Kardashian sibling is banking, it seems mild compared to the income of her sisters (more on that in a minute). Kourtney sees most of her income from television, 60% in fact. She reportedly makes $160,000 for every episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians stacking up to about $33 million total a year for just being taped while she jokes around with her family. She’s also appeared on several Kardashian spin-offs like Kourtney & Khloé Take Miami and Kourtney & Kim Take New York to name a few. Add an additional $2 million for a handful of these little mini-series and we’re getting closer to that final total. But wait, we can’t forget that she does own an actual boutique with her sisters called Dash plus all of her random endorsement deals. On that note, we should add another $10 million. At the end of the day, we’re looking at around a $150 million net worth for a girl who is considered the dullest of the Kardashian girls.
5. Kris Jenner
Kris Jenner is the matriarch of the Kardashian clan. She is considered to be an exploitative snake who will do anything for a dollar whether that means pimping out her daughters for a television show or forcing them into the spotlight when they may not have wanted to. She’s also a certified genius. Kris saw the viewing potential in her family and leapt on it. She’s also the “momager” of every one of her kids and gets a cut of absolutely every move they make. She’s a producer of Keeping Up With the Kardashians so she sees big bucks every time your girlfriend watches any Kardashian even fart on worldwide TV She recently signed a deal to make sure KUWTK stays on the air until 2019 and it will still probably surpass that time frame as well. Kris has accumulated an impressive $125 million and that’s not even counting what she’ll potentially make in the upcoming years (like we did with her ex-husband Bruce).
4. Khloe Kardashian
Khloe was always the black sheep of the Kardashian clan. At least she was until she started hitting the gym, put some highlights in her hair and maaayyybee had some slight plastic surgery. Now, Rob’s the black sheep (and not included on this list). Khloe is probably the most ambitious one in the family when it comes to being an overall television personality. Aside from being the “goofy one” on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, she’s also starred on the show’s many spin-offs i.e. Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami and Khloe and Lamar. She’s also a best-selling author, was a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice, had her own talk show and is now hosting her own weight loss docu-series Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian. In short, this girl has earned every dime she has in the bank and trust me, it’s a lot…like $20 million a lot and that number is only going to rise and rise once Revenge Body takes off, which it will, because everything they touch turns to gold.
3. Kendall Jenner
Arguably the most elegant of the Kardashian family, Kendall has made plenty of money in the reality circuit as she’s been on camera for the filming of Keeping Up With the Kardashians even before her puberty kicked in. She’s also one of the most sought-after models in the planet. She’s walked in the coveted Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and walked the runway for the likes of Calvin Klein, Chanel, and Marc Jacobs. When I say this girl is a big deal, I mean it that she is a big deal. She’s also one of the top celebrities followed on Instagram with over 76 million followers. When you factor in all of her endorsements and other business endeavors like her book with her sister, we come to a $4 million income yearly with another $10 million in the bank. The thing is, this number is likely to be ten times higher in five years. She’s young, she’s beautiful, and her stock is only rising.
2. Kylie Jenner
Time magazine called Kylie one of “the most influential teens” and like her sister, she’s one of the top ten most followed people on Instagram. She’s also the youngest member of the Kardashian family and one of the most successful. Kylie has been on their reality show since she was ten so imagine how much cash has stacked up from that because she can’t touch that green until she hit eighteen. She’s also a fashion designer and has collaborated with PacSun who sells her clothes to the teens who worship her every lip pout. Did I mention she has a number one selling app on iTunes, a cosmetic line called Kylie Cosmetics and a line of her own shoes through Steve Madden? Not bad for a high school dropout, huh? Yeah, let’s not forget that Kylie saw her earning potential before she was buying prom tickets and skipped class permanently for much greener pastures. Pastures that are presently made up of $10 million.
1. Kim Kardashian West
Finally, enough tip-toeing around with the lightweights. Let’s get down to talking about the queen of reality television, the holy Mecca of E! smut, Kim Kardashian West. Here’s a girl who built her entire career off of a sex tape with a third-rate R&B singer. She’s a best-selling author (who successfully sold a book filled with pictures of herself she took with an iPhone), she’s a fashion designer, a boutique owner, an actress, has a best-selling app (which alone has earned her $100 million), has makeup, shoes, etc. She basically gets paid to do everything you or your girlfriend does on a daily basis. She even reportedly gets paid $200,000 every time she posts to ANY of her social media accounts because you don’t achieve a reach as wide as Kim K’s without knowing how to exploit it. Hell, this girl was tied up and robbed at gunpoint and what did she do? She took a “break” from the public eye, made us crave for the story and then have her tell it on camera for the new season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And you know what? WE WILL ALL WATCH IT because when you have $85 million in the bank for pretty much doing nothing…you at least know how to make a damn good TV show.