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Reality TV's turkeys of the year

Paula Abdul, Mark Burnett, ‘Project Runway’ winner among honorees
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Oh yes, it's that time again. It's never hard to find turkeys in reality TV, and this year was no exception.

Past honorees have included , , "Survivor" and "Amazing Race" couple Rob and Amber, and "American Idol" ultimate reject William Hung.

Readers got into the act, too. A couple of noteworthy suggestions:

"I would like to nominate Flavor Flav and everything/anything he does for Turkey of the Year.  Please, please – no more scenes of him in hot tubs with women.  Or even with women.  How about, no more scenes of Flavor Flav WET?"    --Suzanne

"Bravo, for product-placing the newest seasons of "Project Runway" and "Top Chef" to death. Bravo, again, for taking the national obsession that is Real Estate and turning it into one of the most boring reality shows ever in "Million-Dollar Listing". Peter of "The Amazing Race" for being the least supportive partner on the show ever, and that includes Jonathan AND Flo."    --Lori

"Erica from ‘The Bachelor Rome’ because no one can be really THAT spoiled, especially about the maids comments to Chris Hanson. Also from ‘The Bachelor Rome,’ Lisa for her timeline and having her friend bring in a wedding dress during the hometown dates."    --Anonymous

Andy says: My first turkey this year: Paula Abdul, "American Idol." During one episode of “American Idol 5,” host Ryan Seacrest looked at the judges and said, “someone at that table has a flask, I know it.” Whatever substances they were consuming, the judges gave us plenty of typical craziness this year, from fighting with one another to ridiculing the performers. But one of the judges was even stranger than normal: Paula Abdul.

Paula burst into tears after watching Elliot Yamin perform, and during one of his songs, danced in such a way that Ryan Seacrest said he should give her a dollar afterwards. Just one season after being accused by Corey Clark of having an affair with him, she flirted openly with contestant Ace Young. And during one results show, she looked at the people standing on stage and said, “Simon gave me advice and said on ‘The X Factor’ he always refers to a fortune cookie and says the moth who finds the melon ... finds the cornflake always finds the melon and one of you didn’t pick the right fortune.”

The tragic part is, Paula’s incomprehensible babble was often much more entertaining than the talent competition itself.

Turkey #2: Katie Lee Joel, "Top Chef." Generally, it’s hard for one person to ruin an entire reality series, but Katie Lee Joel did her best to take down the first season of “Top Chef.” The cooking competition, from the producers of “Project Runway,” had all of the ingredients necessary for a “Runway”-style hit — except a charismatic, interesting host.

She was flat and boring, spoke in monotone, and never seemed to care about anything more than reciting her scripted lines. Next to her, “Big Brother” host Julie “The Chenbot” Chen seemed positively lifelike and human. Hosts can certainly grow in their roles, but Katie Lee never warmed up. The personalities and format managed to save the show, and producers replaced her for the second season with Padma Lakshmi, who’s a million times better.

Turkey #3: Jeffrey Sebelia, “Project Runway.” “Project Runway 3”’s villain this summer was Jeffrey Sebelia, who also won the competition. He was often a jerk, causing Angela’s mother to cry even as he designed a dress for her. Yet he also showed us a human side, from the huge tattoo on his neck that proclaimed his son was “the love of my life” to his frequent teary confessions. In the finale, when fellow contestant Laura accused him of cheating, he looked both guilty and innocent all at once, but was clearly upset and devastated. (He was cleared of all charges.) A turkey, yes, but a turkey with complications.

Gael says: Turkey #1: Whoever was responsible for canceling "Starting Over." Produced by Bunim-Murray Productions and syndicated by NBC Universal, the show was part reality show, part self-help program, part gloriously juicy soap opera. Real women with real problems — some relatable (learning to drive, earning a GED), some bizarre (40-year-old Lisa who still lived off daddy's money) — came to that season's "Starting Over" house to work with life coaches, psychologist Stan Katz and other experts.

The show mixed actual solid advice with “Fear Factor”-esque stunts and craft projects, but never failed to fascinate and, occasionally, even educate. It was smartly positioned, too, running five days a week during the day, like a soap opera. When it was , we heard from dozens of watchers, almost all women, who had felt a kinship with the "Starting Over" women and in many cases felt helped by the show. And the cancellation seems to have been handled incredibly clumsily, , who posted on her Weblog that no one at the show even bothered to tell her she was out of a job.

Turkey #2: Mark Burnett, "Survivor." Sure, "Survivor" has broken up its tribes by other criteria — namely, gender and age — before. But when the long-running reality show decided to divide its teams by race, creator Burnett had to expect an outcry. The teams didn't stay divided that way for more than a few episodes — was it really worth the uproar? Why not just cast the show in the diverse way this season was done all the time, and let the tribes fall out in random order and see what happens then? The tribe has spoken.

Turkey #3: "The Real World" franchise. Speaking as someone who was a die-hard fan of the show back in the days of Norman and Pedro and even goofy Jay and Mike in London, it pains me to say I don't even know that I'll watch the new Denver season. Kids watching today don't know it, but , featuring young people just starting out in life, in careers, in relationships, and what developed in front of the camera's lens was often fascinating.

Now, it's just indistinguishable drunks with perfect bodies (Sharon and Heather B. would NEVER get cast today), falling into the hot tub and taking up residence at local bars. Sure, sometimes there's an issue du jour (Paula's eating disorder on "Real World Key West"), but even that's not handled seriously anymore. As further sign of the show's fall from grace: It was long a mainstay on Television Without (co-creators Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting, and frequent "Real World" recapper Kim Reed, are contributors), but this year, the site announced it would no longer be recapping episodes. Seems everyone's given up hope that the show will ever again get real.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is's Television Editor. is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.