Reality television has almost taken over television programming in the 21st century but it's not a modern phenomenon - the concept dates all the way back to the 1948 series Candid Camera, the first of many social experiments to see how normal people react under unusual circumstances.
Decades later, the 1992 MTV show The Real World manufactured artificial “realities” to test extreme personalities in extreme circumstances. In the year 2000, the show Survivor took this even further, staging a dramatically different and challenging environment, and demanding that those within it behave truthfully and without a script (or so we're told). As the genre began to expand, shows like American Idol and The Bachelor tested other realities: The pursuit of fame, and of love. Both using carefully designed conditions, these shows allowed the audience to become invested in individuals' stories, and track their progress over time. In some other popular avenues of reality TV these days, however, we're simply offered the opportunity to indulge in voyeurism, watching the inside workings of the lives of celebrities or eccentric personalities in their natural environments.
Whatever type of show you prefer in this wide genre, viewers are undoubtedly drawn to reality TV. It allows us respite from our own reality, while simultaneously providing us with the opportunity to draw parallels to or contrasts with our own lives. Moreover, we typically grow to love the ridiculous, relatable, and recognizable characters.
Interestingly, the wealthiest women on reality TV these days are not those who've featured on the more challenge-based shows like Survivor or The Bachelor. Rather, it seems, we're more invested in shows that portray ordinary lives of relatively normal people. The Hills allowed viewers into the lives of young professionals in the glamorous Los Angeles, California. Jersey Shore gave us a front row seat to the seaside shenanigans of self-proclaimed ‘guidos’ on summer vacation. Keeping Up With The Kardashians and The Real Housewives series, from which many of the richest stars hail, similarly exposed the pretty ridiculous side of reality.
However, what makes these women successful is their continuing celebrity presence beyond the realm of reality TV. All these savvy businesswomen (yep, the terms 'Snookie' and savvy really do go together) have used their moment in the spotlight to branch out into business, and to make a name for themselves in several fields.
5 Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi: $5 Million
Many will recognize the name Snooki from MTV’s Jersey Shore, or from the spin off Snooki and Jwoww. Since Shore’s premier in 2009, Snooki has gained fame (or infamy) for her quirky and free-spirited personality. The New York Times identified her as “the breakout member of the cast.” She has appeared on multiple talk shows including The View, Ellen, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and the Late Show with David Letterman. In the sixth season of Jersey Shore alone, Snooki made a reported $150,000 per episode, bringing her season earnings to about $2 million. She also makes an income through her partnership with the company Wonderful Pistachios, and from her line of beauty products; in addition, she has her own merchandise website called thesnookishop.com. In 2011, Polizzi was paid $32,000 to give a speech at Rutgers University, in which she relayed the important advice, “study hard, but party harder.” Her net worth is estimated at $5 million.
4 NeNe Leakes: $9 Million
NeNe is best known for her role on The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and she makes more money than any of the Bravo Housewives. She also appeared as a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2011, and on the eighteenth season of Dancing With The Stars. NeNe also portrayed the recurring character Roz Washington on the hit show Glee and she played Rocky Rhoades on the award-winning sitcom The New Normal until its cancellation in 2013.
Before her prosperous television career, NeNe tried her luck as an actress with no success. While working as a stripper she met her future husband Gregg Leakes, a real estate investor and business consultant. The couple divorced in 2011, and the same year she released a book entitled Never Make the Same Mistake Twice: Lessons on Love and Life Learned the Hard Way. In 2013 - ironically, given her book's title - the two remarried, prompting the reality spin off entitled I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding. She lives in Duluth, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta and her net worth is an estimated $9 million.
3 Khloe Kardashian: $18 Million
2 Bethenny Frankel: $25 Million
1 Kim Kardashian: $40 Million
It’s not easy to keep up with Kim Kardashian, but it's likely our readers already know just about all there is to know about this powerhouse who hits gossip columns daily. She's the second highest paid actress on the small screen (behind Sofia Vergara) but only a fraction of her impressive net worth comes from her reality TV work. Not only does she star in Keeping Up with the Kardashians, she's also featured on many of the show’s spin offs such as Kourtney and Kim Take New York, Khloe and Lamar, and Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami. She had a gig on Dancing With The Stars, too. Kim, however, has used her reality fame to maximise her earning potential and celebrity status in an unprecedented way. She wears many hats as a businesswoman. Among other projects, she has a stake in the Kardashian Kollection clothing line, and the clothing store DASH – in both Miami and New York – with her two sisters. Kim, of course, recently gave birth to North West, daughter with her husband Kanye West. Her estimated net worth at the moment is an impressive $40 million, and her reality TV-launched career has shown no signs of slowing down.