Nowadays, being a celebrity isn’t just for film stars and models, since reality television has turned the spotlight onto the behind-the-scenes drama of the world. From Here Comes Honey Boo Boo to 19 Kids and Counting, it seems that everyone is trying to make a quick buck out of portraying their daily lives onscreen.
While some have turned to reality television to make a name for themselves, others have used their reality shows as a platform to earn even bigger paychecks down the road. There is no better publicity or advertisements for a celebrity than millions of viewers tuning in to watch their lives unfold. This has become a huge trend in the celebrity world, even if it isn’t quite respected in Hollywood. Reality television stars can’t seem to get their names on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but that doesn’t seem to impede their chances of raking in mega millions all on their own.
From reality competition shows to reality dramas, stars and unknowns alike have turned to reality television to help them with financial gains. While there have been some reality TV stars that have only used their time onscreen to obtain their quick fifteen minutes of fame, others have truly used their onscreen time wisely to fatten their wallets. Regardless of whether or not they are taken seriously in Hollywood, their business savvy in building their bank accounts is undeniable. Check out our list of the 15 biggest paychecks that came from reality TV, and see how some of these stars have used their reality television time wisely.
15 Mike "The Miz" Mizanin
Michael Mizanin is thought of as one of the most successful of all the Real World alums, since he used his time on the show to parlay his fame into a WWE gig. The Real World was famous for bringing together over-the-top personalities, and this was definitely the case when Mizanin joined the cast of The Real World: Back to New York in 2001. The popularity of his onscreen persona led to being cast in the Real World/Road Rules Challenge, which further brought out his alter-ego “The Miz.” Continuing on his reality show journey, Mizanin competed in a WWE reality competition show, Tough Enough. He officially started his WWE professional career in 2006, and went on to win the WWE championship in 2010. In 2011, he reportedly held a six-figure salary with his wrestling career, with some reports stating as much as $800,000 per year. While he may not have won the WWE reality competition show, he definitely won in the end with all that money he’s raking in.
14 Tami Roman
During the second season of MTV’s, The Real World, Tami Roman was shown as one of the cast members that wouldn’t act as one of the show’s wallflowers. Beautiful, smart, and quite outspoken, Roman caught the eye of NBA star Kenny Anderson and the two were married. Yet, landing a millionaire husband wasn’t her only big payday. After the demise of their marriage after only six years, Roman was cast on another reality show, VH1’s Basketball Wives. Reinventing herself as a super-sexy divorcee, Roman had a pretty prominent storyline on the show regarding the very public divorce proceedings between her and Anderson. Not only was she receiving a sizeable paycheck through the show, but she wound up reaching an untold settlement with her ex-husband. While there are some reality stars that are able to reach their own financial gain through their own merits, Roman is one that used an NBA star as a stepladder to further her fame and fortune.
13 Sean Duffy
In 1997, Sean Duffy was just one of the cast members of The Real World Boston. While he partook in some of the partying adventures of the Boston cast, Duffy wasn’t the lead persona of the show. Montana McGlynn and Genesis Moss were the characters that caused the most controversy during the season, so Duffy seemed to fade to the background. Unlike his other reality show counterparts, Duffy decided to go a different route on his road to success and fortune. While other former reality stars seek out the shortcut route to their future, Duffy went through the appropriate steps to make his way to Capitol Hill. After being named District Attorney of Ashland County in Wisconsin in 2002, he then went on to assume the office of the U.S. House Representative for Wisconsin’s 7th District in 2011. The base salary for all rank-and-file members of the U.S. House is $174,000 per year as of 2015. While it may not be the most glamorous of positions, Sean Duffy found a way to bring home a six-figure salary without ever having to endure a reality show camera again.
12 Rob Mariano
With Survivor going on 33 seasons strong, it has proven itself a reality competition show that is more than just a flash in the pan. While the premise to “Outwit, Outlast, Outplay” remains the same with each new season, the details surrounding the theme of the show continues to change. From Brawn vs. Brains to Blood vs. Water, there is always a new twist to the show to keep things interesting and bring on new viewers. The most enticing part of the show is undoubtedly the grand prize of $1 million, but the winner often gets numerous perks besides the prize money. It isn’t a new concept for a reality competition show to offer a whopping cash prize, but Survivor is unique in the attachment it has with its contestants. Rob Mariano, better known as "Boston Rob," quickly became a fan favorite with his stellar playing style and romantic storyline with Amber Brkich. Amber won the $1 million during his first time around, and then he married her. The two each won a car during that season, and Mariano went on to win the $1 million prize on his final time on the show.
11 Christian Siriano
The fashion industry is among the hardest to break into, with it seemingly impossible to make a name for a brand among such designers as Dior and Chanel. Reality competition show Project Runway has sought to give that opportunity to budding designers. Potential fashion designers are brought together to compete against one another in creating their own designs. While the series has won a number of accolades throughout its run on both Bravo and Lifetime, the one true breakout star has been Christian Siriano. Winning the 2008 Season 4 of the series, Siriano went on to publish a book, produce a collection for HSN, and even dabbled in acting. He mounted a runway show for New York’s fashion week, and his current net worth is estimated at $1.5 million. As the most successful contestant on the show, his standout personality made him even more appealing as a fashion designer and helped to further his career.
10 Jacinda Barrett
Jacinda Barrett was already a rising star in the modeling industry when she was first introduced to mainstream audiences through her appearance on the fourth season of The Real World London. Australian-born, Barrett started her career as a professional model at the tender age of just 14-years-old. Throughout her time on the MTV reality show, viewers were privy to all the glamour and hard work involved in her pursuit to stardom. Not only did it help her to remain likable throughout the season, but it also showcased how beautiful she was both behind and in front of the camera. Barrett went on to pursue an acting career, and became one of the more accomplished cast members of the series. She went on to star in a number of hit films, including Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Ladder 49, and The Middle Men. It’s not often a reality star or budding model would go on to be a leading lady in a motion picture, but Barrett didn’t let her reality star roots stop her.
9 Jamie Chung
Jamie Chung was first introduced to audiences in 2004, as one of the cast members of The Real World: San Diego. Chung had a unique experience on the hit MTV show in that she wasn’t the cast member with the most outlandish behavior, but she also didn’t slink back into the background doomed to be forgotten forever. She subsequently competed as a challenger on the Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Inferno II. While she wasn’t necessarily the most skilled or athletic, she was very well-liked by all the other cast members. She also must have made a favorable impression with filmmakers because Chung went on to pursue a successful acting career, starring in Grown Ups, The Hangover Part II, Sucker Punch, and Big Hero 6 among others. She also had a few recurring roles on television. While many have looked down on reality stars, Hollywood has seemed to fully embrace Chung as a full-on actress and she’s taken in the paychecks to prove it.
8 Nicole Richie
Long before Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, The Simple Life was the only reality show that gave a platform to celebrity kids looking to make a name for themselves. Paris Hilton was the rich and beautiful socialite that the public was just starting to familiarize themselves with (until they got to see much, much more of her through the release of her sex tape, 1 Night in Paris). Yet, the show was more about the dynamic between Paris and her virtually unknown bestie, Nicole Richie, more than about the socialites checking out the lifestyle of the common man. Richie was seen as the outlandish friend with the over-the-top personality, which is the perfect trait in a future star. After a transition time (and some considerable weight loss), Richie reinvented herself as a style icon and fashion designer. By marrying Joel Madden and becoming a doting mother, Richie has become a household name as a celebrated television personality and favorite on the red carpet. With an estimated net worth of $10 million, Richie has made quite a life for herself after her humble reality show roots.
7 Kelly Clarkson
As the very first winner of American Idol, Kelly Clarkson set the bar at an almost impossible height with her success after the show. By winning multiple Grammy Awards and releasing platinum-selling albums, Clarkson became a music star who was able to break free of her reality show past. Yet her payday didn’t come from just singing on the stage. She took on the role of executive producer and also wrote and co-wrote a number of her hit singles throughout her career. One of her most successful writing ventures was with the track, “Because of You,” which was released for Clarkson’s second album. Earning millions over just the digital downloads alone, the song was also picked up by Reba McEntire for her twenty-fourth studio album. McEntire and Clarkson formed a tight relationship, and Clarkson ended up marrying McEntire’s son. Whether the largest paycheck came from finding true love or cash in the bank, Clarkson definitely used her reality show fame to work in her favor since winning the first season of the series.
6 Paris Hilton
Paris Hilton had made quite a name for herself in the social scene prior to taking on the reality show, The Simple Life. Hilton was often seen on the red carpet and in the hottest events in Hollywood, which was probably part of the reason why she landed her own reality show in the first place. The Simple Life lasted five seasons and Hilton used the show to help build her brand and quickly became a household name by the time the series ended in 2007. Hilton didn’t let any time slip away before coming out with a fashion brand, perfume line, and even began a substantial DJ career around the world. In 2016, Hilton surpassed $100 million for her net worth, and the breakdown of her regular paychecks is almost astounding. Making between $25,000 to $100,000 just for her club appearances, there’s no wonder she’s seen at parties and clubs throughout the year. If you made thousands upon thousands with each visit to the club, you would be proud to be dubbed a partygoer.
5 Carrie Underwood
After Kelly Clarkson’s success from winning the first season of American Idol, all other triumphs seemed to pale in comparison. Winners seemed to come and go without ever releasing a substantial album, which led the public to think that Clarkson’s success may have been a fluke. Yet Carrie Underwood’s win proved everyone wrong. Underwood became a mega-country star almost immediately after winning the show, and her star continues to climb. In 2015, her net worth was estimated at $70 million, which more than doubled Kelly Clarkson. With multi-platinum selling albums, sold out world tours, and the new voice of Monday Night Football, Underwood has made the public all but forget her origins in reality television. Adding to her financial gains, Underwood has become a favorite for her hosting ability alongside Brad Paisley. The duo just landed their ninth consecutive year hosting the CMA Awards, which again brings in a hefty penny itself.
4 Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson may not have won the third season of American Idol when she decided to try her hand at music stardom, but she didn’t sit back and wallow in her disappointment after coming in seventh place. Instead, she threw herself into the entertainment industry, and won herself an Oscar for her portrayal in Dreamgirls. She went on to star in numerous other films, television shows, and even the Broadway stage. Yet one of her biggest paychecks came from her weight loss, rather than her singing or acting. Becoming the spokesperson for Weight Watchers in 2010, Hudson became the face, body, and voice of the weight loss behemoth. Hudson even parlayed this endorsement deal into a book entitled, I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down. While others seem to want to shed their reality show past, Hudson has embraced the fact that even though she didn’t win the competition she persevered and made her own way in life (straight to the bank).
3 Bethenny Frankel
Oftentimes, the women highlighted in any of the Real Housewives franchises are celebrated for their lavish lifestyle, without much of it being provided for by their own merit. Many of the housewives don’t have careers of their own, and have to live under the thumb of their overbearing husbands. Bethenny Frankel sought to change this stereotype by starting her own brand of cocktails, Skinnygirl. She used the Bravo series as a means to promote her business, and the brand grew in popularity. Frankel ultimately sold Skinnygirl for $8.1 million, and had a brief time with her very own talk show on daytime television. Frankel once again returned to the Bravo network to reprise her role on The Real Housewives of New York. She negotiated a deal for $1 million for her return, which makes her one of the highest paid housewives in any of the franchise’s series. While she may have started out as a housewife, she has proven to be a business mogul in more ways than one through her million-dollar paychecks.
2 Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian has never been shy about her love of the almighty dollar, especially since she’s put so much of her life (and body) on display for financial gain. Keeping Up with the Kardashians would never have become as popular as it is without her willingness to divulge all the many facets of her life. From televising her weddings to crying about her previous sex tape, the reality show was a definite catalyst in creating her brand. It’s difficult to say where the bulk of her fortune stems, since she’s made millions each from her fashion line, public appearances, and magazine spreads. Yet, it was her venture into the tech world that really made the world sit up and take notice of her business mogul status. By making millions from her gaming app and emoji app, Kim Kardashian has had paychecks that make her reality show origins seem like chump change in comparison.
1 Jessica Simpson
Jessica Simpson was first introduced to audiences through The Mickey Mouse Club, but she has evolved her public persona over the years. Although she had a successful singing career, it wasn’t until her appearance on The Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica that her star truly began to rise. The MTV reality show helped to show off the true person behind all the glitz and glamour, and the public began regarding her as more than just a pretty face. Her fashion sense on the show was what trends were made out of, and this became blatantly clear with the launch of her own fashion brand. The Jessica Simpson handbag and shoe line is worth a billion dollars, and her own current net worth is estimated at $150 million. While her reality show marriage to Nick Lachey may not have stood the test of time, the brand she built for herself definitely has.