It's an Ask the Reality TV Experts tradition to welcome the new year by looking back at the outgoing year. Reality television offered too much entertainment (and craziness) to cover it all, so these are just a few highlights — and lowlights.
Best Winners: 'Survivor winners Earl Cole and Todd Herzog Earl and Todd couldn't have been different "Survivor" players, but they both earned $1 million. During "Survivor Fiji," Earl earned the series first — and so far, only — unanimous vote.
The jury wasn't happy with his decision to vote against Yau-Man, but otherwise, Earl didn't rub anyone the wrong way, playing the cleanest game possible. Todd, on the other hand, annoyed a lot of people, but made perhaps the best argument that's ever been made at a final Tribal Council, and thus won the jury's support. They both proved that "Survivor" remains the most compelling strategy-based reality show, in large part because it can have winners as different as Earl and Todd.
Worst Winner: Richard 'Evil Dick' Donato, 'Big Brother 8' Last year, we named the winner of "Big Brother's" all-star season, Mike "Boogie" Malin, the worst winner of the year, and the show takes top honors for again giving its prize to a loser. Dick Donato spent all season emotionally and verbally harassing his fellow houseguests, and he got $500,000 as a result. He was the worst of a group of horrible people, and the tragic part is, something about the structure of "Big Brother's" game keeps giving the worst of the worst the prize.
Most Deserved Awards: Kathy Griffin's Emmy, Jennifer Hudson's Oscar Kathy Griffin took home an Emmy for her Bravo reality series "My Life on the D-List," one of the few docudrama reality series that really seems to let us eavesdrop on a person's life.
The death of Kathy's hysterical father, John, was one of the lower notes, but even that was presented so genuinely that viewers couldn't help but laugh and cry at the same time. The series is among the best of the best, and definitely deserved its prize.
"American Idol" alum Jennifer Hudson won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her work in "Dreamgirls," and while those awards recognized her talent, they also gave the series some much-needed credibility. She also set a high bar for those "Idol" alumni who are increasingly heading to the stage and, eventually, the screen.
Most Overrated Show: 'American Idol 6'
Quick: Think of "American Idol 6." What comes to mind first? Most likely it's Sanjaya, the pretty nice guy who was a pretty awful singer, and who stayed in the competition way longer than he should have. The best singer in the competition, Melinda Doolittle, went home a few weeks too early, leaving Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis to battle it out. Both have recently released their debut albums, and both debuted at number 10, showing that while the viewers watch the show more than any other, their interest is ephemeral at best.
Series Most Desperately in Need of a Makeover: 'America's Next Top Model'Tyra Banks' competition to find "America's Next Top Model" will begin its 10th season this spring, and it's time for a makeover.
The ninth season had a few interesting cast members, but it was entirely forgettable, as was the eighth cycle. "Survivor" changes things up every season, and that helps keep it fresh (of course, the strategy and game play are a big part of a season's success).
Tyra and company need to introduce some changes to shake things up, and that means doing more than replacing judge Twiggy (which will happen for the 10th season).
Most Underrated Shows: 'Ice Road Truckers' and 'Deadliest Catch'
The History Channel's "Ice Road Truckers" and Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" had strong ratings for cable networks, but they lack the buzz of MTV's "The Hills" or VH1's "I Love New York 2," not that those series are even comparable. And that's what makes "Ice Road Truckers" and "Deadliest Catch" stand out.
The two shows introduced us to hard-working people who do their jobs in impossible environments (a sort of extreme version of "Dirty Jobs," also a phenomenally entertaining series), and presented us with their actual lives and the real-life drama that they encountered. The result was often exciting and definitely entertaining. Hopefully, when NBC starts airing three series by the same producer, Thom Beers, they won't fiddle too much with a winning formula.
Most Significantly Altered Import: 'Kitchen Nightmares'To build off the popularity of its "Hell's Kitchen" star Gordon Ramsay, FOX imported his UK series "Kitchen Nightmares." However, the network also decided to dumb the show down. Instead of Ramsay's intimate narration, there was a narrator whose job it was to state the obvious. Instead of a focus on gradual transformation, the series offered intense moments of conflict that were so obviously edited out of sequence that it was laughable.
With more episodes on the way, hopefully producers can make the show more like the original — which included plenty of Gordon Ramsay screaming obscenities in people's faces.
Show with the Biggest Identity Crisis: 'On the Lot' When FOX's "On the Lot" debuted, it had a great pedigree, produced by Mark Burnett and Steven Spielberg, and borrowed the format of "The Apprentice." It was addictive and watchable, because instead of lame "Apprentice" tasks, the filmmakers were charged with producing films in short periods of time and performing other movie-related tasks.
But then, the show switched and became a super-lame "American Idol" clone, complete with an awful host and an annoyingly repetitive soundtrack. Judge Carrie Fisher provided some entertainment, and some of the films weren't bad, but the show itself was a disaster. Too bad it didn't stick with its original format.
is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.