Contestants Who Failed On One Reality Show But Made It On Another

Around the turn of the millennium, "reality television" exploded. Innovative shows like Survivor and The Real World combined the visceral, camera-catches-all voyeurism of documentary filmmaking with the familiar story beats and tropes of soap operas. The combination was irresistible, and before long, reality-based TV came to dominate the vast landscape of television, particularly cable. 

But all those hundreds of shows have to populate their casts of real people (generally behaving horribly) somehow, and the money and fame that can come with an appearance on a reality show can be so attractive that a new sector of entertainer emerged: the reality TV show personality. These are those individuals who've turned playing "themselves" into an art and psychological case study while showing up on one show after another. Just like any other trade or career path, it takes a while to perfect one's skills. Here are some contestants who failed on one reality show but made it on another.

The amazing rise of Stassi Schroeder

Stassi Schroeder just keeps trying to live a normal life — only to keep winding up on reality TV shows. Shortly after her seventeenth birthday in 2005, the television personality competed on the eighth season of The Amazing Race. It was the first time the show featured families (as opposed to duos), and with her father, stepmother, and brother, Schroeder finished in seventh place, according to Entertainment Tonight.

Schroeder disappeared from television for what would prove to be a relatively long time for her — three years — only to reemerge on The N's Queen Bees (via Bustle). The short-lived series was a combination of MTV's The Real World and VH1's Charm School, and sought to reform the titular young, mean "queen bees" into better people. She finished in seventh place, as noted by E! News, and by 2010 was living in the Los Angeles area and working at SUR and Villa Blanca ... restaurants owned by Lisa Vanderpump. That positioned Schroeder nicely when a show depicting life at those businesses, Vanderpump Rules, hit Bravo in 2013.

Blais-ing a trail

Top Chef showcases some of the country's most talented and clever chefs, and exposes them to a national audience. Even a quick, early exit from the Bravo cooking competition can mean a full house at a contestant-chef's restaurant for years to come. In 2008, Richard Blais was a force to be reckoned with when he appeared on the fourth season of Top Chef. He won four of his season's 13 challenges and never wound up in the bottom three. In other words, Blais cruised to the finale and seemed to be locked in to win ... only to be bested by the season's other consistent winner, Stephanie Izard (via Entertainment Weekly).

Blais avenged his loss just two years later, winning Top Chef: All Stars in 2011. In addition to opening and running multiple restaurants, he's also gone on to carve out a side career as a TV food personality. Blais has been a guest judge on Top Chef, Top Chef Jr., Hell's Kitchen, Guy's Grocery Games, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Cooks vs. Cons, while also hosting food-based game shows like Hungry Games and Halloween Baking Championship.

From Southern California to Southern Charm

Bravo's brand identity has evolved a lot over the years. Originally a place for highfalutin fare like plays and operas, it eventually turned to reality TV. While the network started out with classy stuff like Project Runway and Top Chef, before long it began airing shows about ladies who lunch on booze and little else: the various Real Housewives series and Southern Charm, for example. These shows wouldn't exist had The Real World not pioneered the format in the '90s and 2000s. And wouldn't you know, a veteran of one of the less-regarded seasons of that MTV show went on to star on Southern Charm.

Today, Cameran Eubanks plays something of a den mother and voice of reason for her hard-partying friends, like Shep Rose and Kathryn Dennis. However, back in 2004, Eubanks appeared on a season of The Real World set in laid-back San Diego, Calif. According to E! News, this iteration was sullied by a police investigation into allegations of a sexual assault that reportedly occurred on the premises of the house where seven strangers stopped being polite and started getting real.

Bethenny Frankel got fired, then kept it real

Back before everybody watched the news to see what President Donald Trump was up to, millions tuned in weekly to find out who the real estate mogul would say, "You're fired," to on NBC's hit reality show The Apprentice. By 2005, the show was so popular that it got a spin-off featuring America's other TV-savvy tycoon, Martha Stewart. At the time, she'd just been released from prison for a financial crime, and The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, which put contestants through a series of business planning-and-execution challenges, was part of her comeback tour. 

While magazine publisher Dawna Stone ultimately won the chance to work for Stewart, two of her fired employees found fame via television success: Food Network star Marcella Valladolid, who competed on the show, and a natural foods chef named Bethenny Frankel, who wound up in the runner-up spot. Frankel, of course, went on to use her food training to launch her Skinnygirl line of food-like diet products, which she made famous via appearances on Bravo's flagship wine, women, and shouting match series, The Real Housewives of New York City.

Jordin Sparks: talented kid, more talented teen

In 2007, Jordin Sparks bested beat-boxing Blake Lewis to became the youngest American Idol winner at that point, according to The Star. The 17-year-old with the soulful voice of a world-weary singer three times her age may have been young, but she'd been working hard for years to make it as a singer. Sparks actually auditioned for the 2006 season of American Idol, and twice at that: once in Los Angeles and again in Seattle. 

Before all of that, Sparks had already appeared on national television. Somewhat ironically, it was on another network's attempt to cash in on the televised singing competition craze started by the FOX series. In 2004, the singer appeared on the second season of America's Most Talented Kid, which aired on the little-watched, now-defunct PAX TV (via As noted by One Country, the show whittled down to two singers who'd also go on to big things as young adults: winner Tori Kelly and runner-up Hunter Hayes. These two may have finished higher than Sparks in the now-obscure reality singing contest, but neither Kelly nor Hayes won American Idol at the height of its popularity — or had a top 3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "No Air."

Sundance Head had the voice, but he wasn't an idol

American Idol winner Jordin Sparks comes from a successful family. According to World Magazine, her father is former NFL cornerback Phillippi Sparks. In the sixth season of Idol, she beat out another singer with a semi-famous dad: Country singer Jason "Sundance" Head, a.k.a. the son of fellow singer Roy Head, who had a huge hit in 1965 with "Treat Her Right" (via Taste of Country). 

Similarly to Sparks, Sundance Head won a televised singing contest after losing on another. As reported by WKDQ, Head advanced through the early stages of American Idol in 2007 and made it into the group of the top eight male singers, only to be eliminated following his performance of Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." However, he returned to the world of singing on live television in 2016 when he auditioned for The Voice. While the singer unsurprisingly got the attention of two coaches, county superstar Blake Shelton and Maroon 5's Adam Levine, Head opted to join Shelton's squad. Each week, the performer brought his A-game, usually singing the heck out of country standards, like "My Maria," "Blue Ain't Your Color," and "Love Can Build a Bridge." Eventually, Head won the whole darn thing.

Maddie Poppe is an idol, but she didn't have the voice

NBC probably only ever put The Voice on TV to bite into Fox's American Idol market share. As the former plugged on, the latter faded in popularity, leading Fox to cancel the show in 2016. But then ABC saw some potential in the brand and revived American Idol in 2018. Even early in the reboot's first season, it was made abundantly clear that Iowa singer Maddie Poppe would win the competition, as she breezed through week after week with memorable performances of "God Only Knows" and "Walk Like an Egyptian." Idol revival viewers — and judges Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Katy Perry — saw an undeniable star power and talent in Poppe ... something that the celebrity singer coaches on its rival, The Voice, inexplicably overlooked. 

Two years before her triumphant Idol win, Poppe made it to the televised audition stage of The Voice, choosing to sing Florence + the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over." However, not one of the panelists — Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, or Pharrell Williams — spun around in their giant WALL-E chairs in interest, according to Entertainment Weekly.

There was more than one way to rock for Nick Fradiani

On a show that's all about soft rock ballads and crowd-pleasing teen pop, dyed-in-the-wool rock n' roll dudes have done surprisingly well on American Idol. Chris Daughtry (of Daughtry) and Adam Lambert (the singer for the legendary Queen) both got their starts on the show, while singer-guitarist David Cook won the show's seventh season in 2008. Also among the victorious rockers in the show's long history is season 14 winner Nick Fradiani, who went all the way while performing rock-tinged pop hits made famous by acts like Matchbox Twenty and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Similarly to the lead singers of those popular bands, Fradiani found success when he left his band to go solo. 

Before American Idol, Fradiani had handled lead vocal duties for Beach Avenue, a Connecticut-based combo that won a Battle of the Bands competition at the Mohegan Sun casino in 2011 and parlayed that success into a brief appearance on America's Got Talent three years later (via CT Post). Fradiani sang as Beach Avenue performed its song "Coming Your Way," advancing them to the next week on the approval of all four judges. However, their follow-up performance of another original failed to impress, and Fradiani and friends were eliminated during Judgement Week.

Hunter Ellis survived Survivor to make history

It wouldn't be wise to go into a stint on the reality classic Survivor completely unprepared. CBS doesn't want people to die out there, so producers generally pick contestants with the skills necessary to stay alive and relatively healthy in the jungle until either their torch is extinguished or they win a million bucks ... whichever comes last. Hunter Ellis probably seemed like a no-brainer when his audition tape reached Survivor production HQ. Who's better prepared and suited to spend some time in the wilderness than a Naval officer and pilot? Nevertheless, he lasted just three episodes on Survivor: Marquesas in 2002 before the tribe spoke and sent him home.

But Ellis possessed enough moxie to get him noticed by TV producers. His experiences with the military and living among the horrors of nature made him a perfect personality for the History Channel. Just a year after his Survivor elimination, he landed a hosting gig on the network's Tactical to Practical, the first job in his years as a company man. Ellis has since shown up on the History Channel almost as often as Winston Churchill, hosting various series like Man, Moment, Machine, and Digging for the Truth.

Colby Donaldson lost, but then it was straight to the top

Possibly the only living things to get more screen time on Survivor than Colby Donaldson are palm trees. The All-American guy competed on the lost-in-the-wild hit a total of three times. His first outing came in 2001 on the show's second season, which was set in the unforgiving Australian Outback. Donaldson outlasted almost everyone, finishing as the runner-up behind Tina Wesson after losing a 4 to 3 cast vote. Three years later, Donaldson returned to the Survivor fold, joining the cast of Survivor: All Stars. This time he fought the elements in the Pearl Islands near Panama, but failed to win again after finishing in a lowly twelfth place (via CBS News). Undeterred, Donaldson came back to Survivor once more for another "all-star" season in 2010's Heroes vs. Villains series, and ultimately wound up in fifth place

However, Donaldson kept appearing on reality shows — albeit outside the heartbreaking realm of competition. For five seasons, he hosted the History Channel's Top Shot, which pitted weapons enthusiasts against each other in sharpshooting challenges.

Life's a drag for Santino Rice

Project Runway seeks to discover, promote, and advance up-and-coming fashion designers, and has launched the careers of true talents like Christian Siriano. However, the people behind haute couture are traditionally quirky, idiosyncratic individuals — just look at designer Karl Lagerfeld — and the Bravo series seems to have a knack for finding designers that possess that intangible quality in addition to creative vision and sewing skills. 

One of the most memorable contestants in the show's long, network-hopping history is Santino Rice, who finished in third place in the series' second season in 2005. While his clothes wowed judges and viewers alike, it was his personality — and an uncanny impression of Project Runway adviser Tim Gunn — that made Rice stand out. Clearly, he was destined to be himself on TV as much as possible. After teaming up with fellow Project Runway veteran Austin Scarlett for the lighthearted docu-series On the Road with Austin & Santino, he found his niche as a frequent guest judge and near-constant presence on RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars.