From ‘Survivor’ to ‘The Bachelor,’ ET anoints the most impactful champions from the most popular franchises.
The 2010s were all about reality competition shows on TV.
From old favorites (Bachelor Nation, Survivor, America’s Next Top Model) to new franchises (Love Island, The Masked Singer, The Voice), there never seemed to be a shortage of surprises, shockers and head-scratchers when it came to crowning a new champion.
But as we gear up to ring in a new decade, ET reflects on the biggest reality TV champions from the most popular franchises in the past 10 years, the impact they had on pop culture and whether they capitalized on their 15 minutes of fame -- or failed to do so.
America's Got Talent
Season 11, 2016: Grace VanderWaal
Before she won America’s Got Talent in 2016 at the ripe old age of 12, singer-songwriter Grace VanderWaal cut her teeth by posting covers and original songs on YouTube. Her ethereal and distinctive voice, peerless ukelele skills and a-dork-able personality captured audiences right from the start; her audition video has garnered more than 99 million views since it was posted in June 2016. Simon Cowell so much as anointed VanderWaal the “next Taylor Swift,” a ringing endorsement that she has capitalized on in the three years since she took home the AGT crown.
VanderWaal, now 15, has released a full-length album and two EPs, headlined two tours and opened for Florence and the Machine and Imagine Dragons, opened and closed the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games and has collected a slew of young artist honors from Radio Disney Music Awards and the Teen Choice Awards. The youngest person to be featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 musicians’ list, VanderWaal is also bringing her soft-spoken demeanor to movies; she will next play the title role in Disney+’s Stargirl.
America's Next Top Model
Season 22, 2015: Nyle DiMarco
Nyle DiMarco, 30, made history as the first person who is deaf to compete on America’s Next Top Model, then airing on The CW. (Interestingly, DiMarco was scouted by ANTM producers on social media for the show, but they didn’t learn he was deaf until later.) Right from the start, DiMarco was a judges’ favorite, though he told People his time living amongst the other aspiring models “was undoubtedly a lot of fun, but it was also pretty tough. The inability to use my language, American Sign Language, and the lack of communication, information access and the general connection to the world was difficult…. It truly did take a toll on me mentally.”
Only the second man ever to win ANTM, DiMarco signed with modeling agency Wilhelmina Models shortly thereafter and, less than one year later, competed on season 22 of Dancing With the Stars with pro Peta Murgatroyd -- and won. DiMarco was only the second deaf contestant to compete (the first was Marlee Matlin in 2008) and was consistently among the top scorers, proving his victory to be a fitting end to his DWTS run. Since winning both ANTM and DWTS, DiMarco has continued to bring awareness to deaf culture as a representative of the community. In 2016, he formed his own nonprofit foundation, which helps provide resources to deaf children and their families. DiMarco has also appeared in several television shows, from Switched at Birth to This Close to Station 19.
The country crooner was just 17 when he won the 10th season of American Idol in 2011, facing off in the finale against another young singer who would go on to country music stardom, Lauren Alaina. McCreery won over Idol fans and judges by sticking close to his country roots -- memorable performances from his winning run included covers of Montgomery Gentry's "Gone" and Josh Turner's "Long Black Train" -- though he branched out with a well-received rendition of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend." McCreery was the youngest male winner in Idol history at the time and the second-youngest winner overall, behind season six champion Jordin Sparks.
Following his Idol victory, McCreery has gone on to a successful career in country music. He won an American Country Award for Breakthrough Artist in 2013, and all four of his studio albums have cracked the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart, with five singles certified Platinum by the RIAA. He also had his first No. 1 single on the country charts in January 2018 with "Five More Minutes." In June 2018, McCreery married his longtime girlfriend, Gabi Dugal.
Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s finale switcheroo wasn't the first time it had happened on The Bachelor, but that didn't make it any less shocking or dramatic. Fans watched as the race car driver proposed to the bubbly, outgoing Becca Kufrin when his season finale aired in March 2018. Minutes later, however, viewers got the real story: that weeks after filming had wrapped, Luyendyk called off his engagement to Kufrin and started dating his runner-up, Lauren Burnham.
Luyendyk and Kufrin's cringeworthy breakup aired unedited on ABC, and outrage over the situation made Kufrin the first Bachelor winner to be named Bachelorette just one day after fans saw her accept a proposal. Luyendyk proposed to Burnham on After the Final Rose; they married in January 2019 and now share a baby girl named Alessi. Kufrin, meanwhile, found her happily ever after on The Bachelorette. She's now enjoying engaged life with her fiance, Garett Yriogyen, in San Diego, California.
Hannah Brown did her best to scout out the men with girlfriends on her 2019 season premiere of The Bachelorette, but unfortunately she missed one. The former Miss Alabama met and fell in love with Nashville musician Jed Wyatt on her season of the ABC dating show, and accepted his proposal in the season finale. Soon after filming wrapped in May 2019, Wyatt's then-girlfriend back home, Haley Stevens, came forward to tell her story, shocked that he had proposed to someone else after allegedly telling her he had gone on the show hoping to make it to the top five to gain notoriety for his music career.
Brown read the headlines and confronted her fiancé, who admitted he didn't properly end his relationship with Stevens before filming started. The Bachelorette ended her engagement to Wyatt, becoming the first in over 15 years to end her season single. Brown has since focused on herself -- and won Dancing With the Stars -- while Wyatt recently debuted a new squeeze on Instagram.
Season 13, 2011: Rachel Reilly
Big Brother legend Rachel Reilly was a franchise favorite after competing in her first season in the summer of 2010, during which she met and got romantically involved with fellow houseguest Brendon Villegas. (They married in 2012.) But Reilly, known for her outspoken personality, being a competition beast and unapologetic game player, truly cemented her legend status the following season when she and Villegas returned to the house as part of the “Returning Duos” twist alongside other Big Brother pairs. Reilly eventually won 4-3 over Porsche Briggs and took home the $500,000 prize.
Since winning Big Brother on her second try, Reilly and Villegas welcomed a daughter, Adora, in April 2016. Reilly has completed on The Amazing Race three times -- twice with Villegas and once with her sister, Elissa Slater, who also competed on Big Brother in season 15. Reilly still holds the record for being nominated for eviction five times and still coming out on top, and tied fellow Big Brother legend Janelle Pierzina’s record for most Head of Household wins with six. She has gone back to the house as a special guest for four more seasons, including Big Brother Canada.
Easily one of the most beloved champions in DWTS history, Bindi Irwin was a surprise standout on season 21, proving herself to be a fast learner alongside pro partner Derek Hough. The pair were consistently praised by the judges and earned the top score of the week 10 times throughout their season. One of Irwin's most memorable performances was during the first night of the DWTS finals, when she and Hough performed an emotional freestyle dance set to Leona Lewis' "Footprints in the Sand" as a tribute to her late father, Steve Irwin. They scored perfect 10s on all of their dances throughout the finale and were crowned Mirrorball champions for the season -- a record-making sixth win for Hough.
Following DWTS, Irwin returned to work at the Australia Zoo alongside her mom, Terri, and brother, Robert. The family is featured on their own reality series, Crikey! It's the Irwins, which is currently in its second season on Animal Planet. In July 2019, Irwin got engaged to her longtime beau, professional wakeboarder Chandler Powell.
Love Island (U.K.)
Season 4, 2018: Jack Fincham and Dani Dyer
One of the U.K.’s biggest franchises, Love Island hit the jackpot in season four when islanders Jack Fincham and Dani Dyer coupled up on Day 1 and stuck together through ups and downs (including the arrival of Jack’s ex-girlfriend) all the way to the end to claim the £50,000 grand prize in the summer of 2018. Their sweet love story and unwavering loyalty to each other made them the early frontrunners to win, and no one really came close to threatening their place at the top. The pair garnered nearly 80 percent of the votes (the biggest margin of victory on Love Island ever) and easily became Love Island royalty.
Unfortunately, their whirlwind romance didn’t last, with the couple announcing their shocking breakup eight months after their time in the villa. Since then, Dyer, 23, has moved on with a new beau, Sammy Kimmence, while Fincham, 28, remains single. Both have capitalized on their Love Island stardom with personal appearances, hosting gigs and leaning into their influencer lifestyle.
The Masked Singer
Season 1, 2019: T-Pain
T-Pain had already achieved success as a rapper years before he competed on The Masked Singer, but the artist shocked America when he was unmasked as the champion during the inaugural season of the U.S. phenomenon in February 2019. Known primarily for popularizing the use of Auto-Tune in the 2000s, T-Pain -- a two-time GRAMMY winner -- showed off his true vocals and talent as The Monster by singing a wide array of songs (in his real voice), including “Don’t Stop Me” by Queen, “I Don’t Want to Be” by Gavin DeGraw and “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith. The same day he won, T-Pain dropped a surprise sixth album, 1UP, and announced a U.S. tour to support it.
"Just to hear all the compliments and to hear everybody praising so much, it was pretty cool to hear that," T-Pain told ET after he was crowned the winner. "Don't cry, because once you get going, you are going to get me going! It was always like that, but to see them appreciate so much of what I did, it was pretty cool."
RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars
Season 3, 2018: Trixie Mattel
After being eliminated early -- twice -- from season seven of RuPaul's Drag Race, Trixie returned for the third season of All Stars, which had more dramatic twists and turns than Shangela's favorite Game of Thrones metaphors. After the season's two major shockers -- BenDeLaCreme's self-elimination and the return of the eliminated queens as a jury tasked with choosing the final two competitors -- it all came down to Trixie and Kennedy Davenport. After her redemptive All Stars run -- in which she showcased her legit musical talents, some iconic runway looks and impressive comedy skills ("Snatch Game" not included) -- it was Trixie who took the crown and earned her spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame.
Following her crowning, Trixie has released two folk albums -- Two Birds and One Stone -- embarked on several headlining tours and released her own comedy special, Skinny Legend. She also co-hosts a popular web series, UNHhhh, along with fellow season seven queen Katya, and in 2019 launched her own makeup line, Trixie Cosmetics. A documentary exploring Trixie's touring life and All Stars run, Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and was released on streaming platforms on Dec. 3.
Season 20, 2010: Sandra Diaz-Twine
Winning Survivor once is hard enough, but Sandra Diaz-Twine did the seemingly impossible when she won the show for a second time on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains in 2010. Diaz-Twine's historic win came seven years after she was first named sole Survivor on Survivor: Pearl Islands in 2003. Her gameplay on that season landed her on the Villains tribe in 2010, where she was able to defeat fellow Villains and Survivor icons Parvati Shallow and Russell Hantz in the final three with a vote of 6-3-0, winning the Heroes' votes after helping them vote out the Villains. Diaz-Twine returned as a competitor once again on Survivor: Game Changers, the 34th season of the show, in 2017. She's currently serving as a mentor alongside "Boston Rob" Mariano on Survivor: Island of the Idols, and is rumored to be returning to the competition again for an all-winners season next cycle.
Season 8, 2010-11: Richard Blais
Everyone loves a good redemption story, and that's what we got when Richard Blais won season eight of Top Chef in 2011. (But, really, we would have gotten that redemption with anyone -- it was an All-Stars season, after all.) Blais, who was a runner-up on Top Chef: Chicago in 2008, defeated Mike Isabella and Carla Hall to nab the coveted title of Top Chef, as well as the prize of $200,000. The tense finale saw Blais and Isabella go head to head with a four-course tasting menu, and at the end of the day, it was Blais' inventive, out-of-the box meals that came out on top. Blais returned to Top Chef as a recurring judge in seasons 12 and 13, and has since become a regular on the Food Network. He also runs two restaurants: Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack in San Diego, California.
Season 1, 2011: Javier Colon
One of just two singers to earn a four-chair turn during the audition rounds on The Voice's inaugural season, Javier Colon ultimately chose to join Adam Levine's team, making the Maroon 5 frontman the first coach to win the singing competition show. Colon won over fans and coaches week after week with his soulful voice and eclectic song selections, which included Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," The Beatles' "Come Together," and Coldplay's "Fix You." During the finale -- in which he sang a duet of "Landslide" with Stevie Nicks -- Colon received the most votes from viewers, winning the $100,000 prize and a recording contract with Universal Republic.
Following The Voice, Colon released his third studio album, Come Through for You, though he ended up parting ways with his record label less than a year later. He later released his fourth album, 2016's Gravity, through Concord Records. Though things have quieted down in the years since he won The Voice, Colon continues to tour and perform music and is a father of three.
The X Factor (U.S.)
Season 3, 2013: Alex & Sierra
The duo, who were a real-life couple at the time, won the third season of the U.S. version of The X Factor after a roller-coaster run on the singing competition series. While many on the judging panel, which included Kelly Rowland and Demi Lovato, were initially lukewarm on Alex & Sierra’s renditions of popular songs such as Grease’s “You’re the One That I Want” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” it was Simon Cowell’s fervent enthusiasm for their talent -- he also noted that their romantic relationship was a plus -- that ultimately paid off in the end. Many of their songs placed in the top 10 on the iTunes charts and they consistently earned the most votes
The only group to win the American version of the series, Alex & Sierra would go on to drop their debut album in 2014, It’s About Us, after getting signed by Columbia Records. But they were abruptly dropped by the record label one year later without explanation. Alex & Sierra independently released a follow-up EP, As Seen on TV, in the fall of 2016. In September 2017, one year after quietly splitting as a romantic couple, Alex & Sierra publicly announced on Instagram that they had broken up and would also be going their separate ways musically.
Jennifer Drysdale and Meredith B. Kile contributed to this story.
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