We here at Ask the Reality TV Experts decided to celebrate the new year with a look back at the old. Here, then, are our picks for Reality TV Awards of 2006. Here's to a new year full of new shows, new twists, deserving and not-so-deserving winners, slightly psycho hosts, and preferably, no ghost brides.
Next week we'll share some of your award nominations, but also plan to return to our regular question-and-answer format, so . Before you send in your question, — you may be able to get your answer right away.
Best Reality Show: “Project Runway”“The Amazing Race” followed its horrible family season with two good seasons, but they weren’t exceptional, mostly because they didn’t do anything new. Thus, “Project Runway” takes top honors this year. Airing the third season so soon after the second may have been overkill, except both seasons of the fashion design series killed with their drama and exceptionally talented characters/cast members. Bravo’s highest-rated series ever also became a national phenomenon, and for good reason. It’s about time reality TV featured actual talent.
Worst Reality Show: “The Real World”
Oh, so many compete for this title. But rather than award this dishonor to one of the many fly-by-night, one-hit-wonder shows that come and go, we're handing it to "Real World," which has been cranking along since 1992. The show's about the time they handed the cast group jobs, and went completely over the edge once it became apparent that only perfect-bodied, small-brained, high-alcohol-tolerance kids would be cast. It seems clear these people come from a Bunim-Murray clone factory somewhere and the show doesn't care enough to change that.
Best Winner: Yul Kwon, "Survivor"
Anyone who's ever watched a reality show knows not all winners are deserving. "Amazing Race" fans will always gripe about Flo, Clay Aiken's Claymates don't think Ruben topped their "Idol," and just about every "Big Brother" winner is hated (see below). But it's hard to find much bad to say about Yul Kwon, who took home the million on "Survivor: Cook Islands." For further proof, just look at how he answered Jonathan in the jury questioning part of the show's finale. Yul admitted he had manipulated and deceived people, but smartly pointed out that this is how the game has played, and he'd managed to do his manipulation while staying as loyal and honest as possible. We hereby dub him the best "Survivor" winner since firefighter Tom Westman.
Worst Winner: Mike “Boogie” MalinFor “Big Brother All-Stars,” CBS allowed viewers to select which past cast members could re-enter the house for another summer. But six of the 14 cast members who went back in weren’t voted in by viewers; instead, producers chose them to ensure drama. One of those picks was Mike “Boogie” Malin, who was obnoxious on the show’s second season, promoting his restaurant while acting like a moron. Nothing has changed in the five years since then, and Mike spent the summer following his season two co-star Will Kirby and being an obnoxious jerk. Among other things, he said he’d urinate and defecate on a fellow cast member’s face if she voted Will out. Mike also told his friend, “This is our show, and these bitches think they’re going to try to steal it from us.” That did not happen, as Mike ended up winning the game, becoming one of those winners that more people hate than love.
Biggest Cast: “The Biggest Loser 3”No, that's not a fat joke. “The Biggest Loser” decided to do a little stunt casting for its third season: it cast 50 people, one from every state, although most of them went home to lose weight on their own. Still, that gave the show it’s biggest cast ever, both in terms of numbers and weight. Collectively, they weighed 14,384 pounds at the start of the season. But by the live finale, that cast shrunk, literally. They lost 4,281 pounds together, and four of the contestants, including two who were cast members throughout the entire season, lost about half their body weight just due to diet and exercise.
Best Reason for Dating Shows to Officially Die: “Flavor of Love”Yes, “The Bachelor” is inexplicably still on television, but otherwise, most of the dating-themed shows, whether they were serious (“Average Joe”) or hoaxes (“Joe Millionaire”) have disappeared, thankfully. The format was worn down to nothing by the endless copying. But the final nail in the metaphoric coffin came with VH1’s “Flavor of Love,” which was more entertaining than any of its predecessors, but also impossible to top. With crazy women (one ), competing for crazy Flavor Flav (who handed out clocks instead of roses). It was simultaneously a joke and oddly sort of serious, and nothing can top that. Well, except its spin-off, “I Love New York,” which debuts in January.
Best Phenomenon: "Dancing With the Stars"It's got goofy, practically no-name hosts, B-list celebrities, and features super-bizarre dance/song combinations such as Lisa Rinna dancing the paso doble to Europe's "The Final Countdown" and Drew Lachey cha-cha-chaing to Ricky Martin's "She Bangs." Yet it absolutely slayed any other TV competition and sucked in everyone from grandmas to grade-schoolers. Now celebs such as reportedly are clamoring to be chosen to cha-cha. To misquote Don Henley, al she wants to do is dance, and all America wants to do is watch.
Most Unfortunate Cancellation: “Fear Factor”When NBC’s “Fear Factor” debuted, its gross-out stunts earned the show a lot of attention. After five years, NBC finally pulled the plug. America, it seems, just doesn’t have the same taste for grossness as it did before (another example: “Extreme Makeover,” the plastic surgery edition, returned for just one episode). The sad part is, “Fear Factor” finally found a groove in its later years. Instead of disposing of cast members immediately, the show kept them around, sometimes for a string of multiple themed episodes, like a series that took place in the Psycho house and Bates Motel at Universal. Those allowed us to get to know the characters and appreciate the horror of the stunts. One series that aired last year featured reality show contestants we already knew and wanted to see gagging on rat parts.
Best "What the heck was THAT?" momentReality shows are full of these moments, but for our money, no show ended on a weirder note than "America's Next Top Model," which wrapped things up with a runway walk-off in Spain in which finalist Melrose and eventual winner Caridee had to dress — and act — like ghost brides. No, really. It was kind of a Vera Wang meets the Haunted Mansion meets the Spencer Gifts' Halloween costume department moment, complete with dress-ripping, whiteface makeup, and Caridee screaming like she'd just come face to face with Jay Manuel in his underwear. It's kind of like they just threw a random adjective and a noun together to create this finale concept. This year, ghost brides! Next year, waffle clowns!
Runner-up "What the heck was THAT?" momentChallenged to make an ice cream flavor, "Top Chef" contestant Marcel apparently mulled over all the flavors that have long been popular in ice cream and decided they were all flukes. Chocolate? Old hat! Marshmallow or caramel? Declasse! Instead he somehow came up with ... bacon-avocado ice cream. Even adults were spitting it out, and kids were practically racing to sand their tongues after tasting it. Needless to say, his creation received the lowest amount of votes of any of the flavors. It could only have been worse had it been served up by a ghost bride.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is MSNBC.com's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.