With shows like ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ giving viewers a glimpse into the lives of the rich, the famous and the glamorous and talent-hunting competitions like ‘American Idol’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ giving hundreds of everyday people the opportunity to find stardom, it’s no wonder that reality TV has become so popular.
Over the years, reality TV has made celebrities out of people like Jersey Shore’s Snooki, American Idol’s Carrie Underwood and Cheryl Cole, who got her big break on the UK’s predecessor to The X Factor.
But with overnight fame and success comes scandal, heartache and sometimes, tragically, a one-stop ticket to ruin.
We look back over nearly 20 years of reality TV moments that shocked the world.
Roxanne Pallet – Celebrity Big Brother
In one of the biggest scandals to come out of the UK’s Celebrity Big Brother since the infamous ‘Shilpa Shetty’ incident, viewers were outraged when former soap star Roxanne Pallet accused fellow housemate and soap star Ryan Thomas of assaulting her live on TV.
The event, which led to the show receiving a historic number of complaints, saw Pallet tearfully accusing Thomas of hitting her when in fact, the cameras showed Thomas was playfully tapping the actress on the arm during a harmless interaction between the pair.
Roxanne, who later described herself as ‘being more hated than a murderer’ went on to apologise to Ryan, giving several emotional interviews. This didn’t deter viewers from calling for Pallet to be fired, citing that her accusations could have done irrevocable damage to Thomas’s career.
Ryan, who remained impressively dignified, throughout the whole incident, asked viewers to forgive Pallet for her error and move on, proving himself to be quite the gentleman.
Steve Irwin – Ocean’s Deadliest
He was known around the world for being the fearless conservationist and lively TV star that wrestled with crocodiles and handled some of the world’s most venomous snakes. It seemed that Steve Irwin had an affinity with animals that most of us could only dream about.
Which made it all the more shocking when in 2006, tragedy struck and Irwin was killed on the coast of Batt Reef in Australia. The popular presenter was in shallow waters when he was fatally struck in the heart by a stingray barb.
What made it all the more tragic was that, at the time, Irwin was filming scenes for his daughter, Bindi’s, own reality-nature TV show.
Despite efforts to resuscitate Steve, he was pronounced dead. A memorial service for Irwin was broadcast across Australia and the rest of the world, watched by over 300 million viewers and introduced by Australian actor Russell Crowe.
Terry And Emma – Love Island
Now in its 5th season, the UK reality show Love Island, presented by Caroline Flack, is certainly no stranger when it comes to controversy.
With everything from shock splits to the tragic loss of some of its former contestants, the show has been plagued by calls for it to be taken off the air with viewers concerned for the ‘mental well being’ of the contestants.
It was 2016 and the second season of the show, however, that provided what is still considered one of the most shocking moments in Love Island history.
During a scene that left viewers stunned, contestants Terry Walsh and Emma-Jane Woodham proceeded to have sex with each other in the contestant’s shared bedroom.
The other contestants were left gobsmacked when the pair seemingly forgot the cameras and fellow islanders to engage in the act on top of the covers.
They became two of the least popular contestants and were later booted off the show.
Khloe & Lamar – Keeping Up With The Kardashians
The Kardashians are certainly no strangers to whirlwind romances – anyone else remembers Kim’s short-lived marriage to Kris Humphries?
But it was sister Khloe who surprised everyone the most by marrying NBA star Lamar Odom just one month after they met in a nightclub.
The ceremony was filmed for the show and the wedding was rumoured to have cost one million dollars. It was later suggested that the wedding might have been faked with producers footing the cost of the bill.
Their relationship did lead to them having their reality spin-off show – Khloe and Lamar, but the relationship didn’t last and they wound up getting divorced a few years later.
When Lamar was found unconscious in a Las Vegas brothel before their divorce was finalised, Khloe sparked rumours of reconciliation when she flew to be with him in the hospital.
However, It was not meant to be and the pair went on to divorce formally in 2016. Khloe has since gone on to have a relationship and subsequently broke up with Canadian basketball player Tristan Thompson with whom she has daughter True.
Ryan Stock – America’s Got Talent
It was the moment that had American’s Got Talent viewers on the edge of their seats and prompted judge Simon Cowell to refer to the incident as ‘very stressful!’
Canadian TV stunt performer Ryan Stock was performing a series of dangerous stunts with partner Amberlynn Walker when an error in judgement saw Ryan being shot in the throat with a flaming arrow on TV.
The season 11 performance was stopped short when the audience realised that something had gone wrong and Stock was seen trying to fan the flames away from his face. The medical team were called to the stage where fortunately it turned out that Stock had escaped serious injury.
Presenter Nick Cannon later said that the performer was totally fine. Stock, who has a show on the Discovery Channel, has since gone on to appear in 2019’s AGT Champions and continues to perform with Amberlynn.
Shilpa Shetty – Celebrity Big Brother
2007 might seem like a lifetime ago now, but viewers of UK Celebrity Big Brother season 5 will always remember it as the year that saw the media explode over accusations of racism aimed at Indian actress Shilpa Shetty.
Whilst in the house Shetty was subjected to a torrent of abuse by her housemates Danielle Lloyd, Jo O’Meara and Jade Goody. The actress was referred to as ‘the Indian one’ and accused of not being able to speak English properly.
Viewers were outraged with complaints flooding in from both the UK and India.
Shilpa has eventually crowned the winner of the series and later said that she had forgiven her housemates after they had apologised.
Unfortunately for Lloyd and O’Meara, the damage was done and their careers never recovered. Jade Goody was able to salvage her career and was finally embraced by the public again when she used her fight against cervical cancer, from which she died in 2009, to highlight the importance of women’s health.
Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent
Simon Cowell once described her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent as ‘the most shocking thing he had ever seen on the show’.
When Scottish singer Susan Boyle strode onto the stage in series three of the popular talent show, nobody expected that she would go on to find worldwide fame and success.
As the audience and judges watched on with smirking faces, Susan proceeded to blow everyone away with an incredible rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from the musical Les Miserables.
Judge Amanda Holden called Boyle’s performance ‘a wakeup call’, with Susan seemingly shocked by the reactions of the audience. Boyle went on to reach the finals of the show but was beaten to first place by dance troupe Diversity.
Since appearing on the show Susan has gone on to become a successful performer worldwide with numerous music awards and albums under her belt and even performed for the Pope.
Nick Bateman – Big Brother
Whilst viewers these days might be more familiar with the celebrity version of the show, reality series Big Brother kicked off in the UK with series one airing back in 2000.
Partway through the series, it was revealed that Bateman, later nicknamed ‘Nasty Nick’ was manipulating other housemates and trying to swing votes to improve his chances of winning.
After a showdown with series winner Craig Phillips, Bateman was asked to leave the show by producers. The incident is often cited as being one of the first truly shocking moments in reality TV history and for that reason, had to be included on this list.
Mike Thalassitis – Love Island
In one of the most tragic incidents to make this list, the world was shocked when former Love Island contestant Mike was found dead at the age of just 26 years old.
The former semi-professional footballer, who appeared on the show in 2017, was found in a London park in spring of 2019. It is believed the star was facing massive debt and suffering from a potential breakdown that drove him to take his own life.
The deaths, of Thalassitis and others who have appeared on the show, lead calls for the show to be investigated, as regards to its treatment of contestants.
Viewers were left concerned about the implications of sudden fame. His fellow contestants and fans were shocked by his sudden death, tweeting out their support and saying that Mike was ‘a beautiful soul’ and ‘an absolute legend.’
Abby Lee Miller – Dance Moms
She’s known for being the outspoken owner of the famed Abby Lee Miller Company and appearing on the reality TV show ‘Dance Moms’ which ran for seven seasons.
However, Miller found herself heading to jail in 2016 after being found guilty of bankruptcy fraud.
Abby, who was plagued, by rumours, of debt and financial troubles, was sentenced to serve time in an LA-based prison. Abby was accused of hiding her income and not reporting earnings from the show when going through bankruptcy proceedings.
Miller was released early and has since returned to shooting series 8 of the show.
When asked if prison time had changed her, Miller replied that ‘circumstances change but people do not’ proving that not even a stint behind bars can change someone as outspoken and controversial as Abby.
Jason And Molly – The Bachelor
It seemed like a fairytale come true for The Bachelor contestant Melissa Rycroft when Jason Mesnick proposed to her whilst they were filming.
Their romance was ill-fated though and viewers were left shocked when during the season finale Mesnick told Melissa that he had changed his mind.
Adding serious insult to injury, there were more shocks when runner up Molly Malaney was then brought out only for Jason to ask her to give him another chance.
Mesnick later said that the chemistry between himself and Rycroft had been wrong and that he had never meant to hurt anyone.
Molly and Jason later went on to marry and were featured in a special one-off show called ‘The Bachelor: Molly and Jason’s Wedding’. They are still together and have two children.
Jennifer Hudson – American Idol
It is hard to believe that superstar Jennifer Hudson was once booted off American Idol without ever reaching the top three of the competition.
Shockingly, the academy award-winning actress and singer only made it to seventh place in the third season of the competition.
The series was won by Fantasia Barrino, who had a somewhat successful career before eventually disappearing. Hudson, however, had the last laugh when the show catapulted her to international fame.
She has since gone on to win an Academy Award for her role in ‘Dream Girls’ and two Grammy awards for her music.
Hudson has also received a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and became a coach on both the UK and US versions of the voice, making her proof that you can still be a winner even if you don’t win!