We'll be cheering for Dale Levitski to win in tonight's Top Chef finale and the anticipation got us thinking about other gay reality TV winners. Here's a quick list of six winners that come to mind, hopefully Dale will belong on this list by the time Steven Frank is done liveblogging the finale:
Winner of: Survivor (season 1)
Richard Hatch looms large for having won the on the first season of Survivor, the show that started the reality TV craze. Not only did Survivor set America's appetite for reality TV, Hatch was a role model that many reality TV wannabes tried to emulate in terms of his style of gameplay and personality, and few reality TV villains have managed to escape his shadow. Hatch's use of alliances became such a common reality TV strategy that it's become a punchline. In January 2006, Hatch was found guilty of tax evasion over his winnings on Survivor.
Reichen Lehmkuhl and Chip Arndt
Winner of: The Amazing Race (season 4)
While The Amazing Race has never shied away from including same-sex couples among its competitors, the fourth season gave us Reichen and Chip, the first gay couple to be identified as married on the show. After the show, the two had an amicable break-up as Reichen pursued his acting dreams (you can see him on current season of Dante's Cove) and could be frequently seen as Lance Bass' date after Bass came out. Chip, meanwhile, has focused on LGBT causes. He is currently trying to raise $100,000 for HIV/AIDS and to put together a traveling memorial to victims of anti-gay hate crimes.
Winner of: Project Runway (season 1)
The debut of Project Runway brought a new kind of reality show to television. For once, talent was the key factor to the competition and the show's sense of drama was equally driven by personality dynamics as well as the tension of seeing young designers challenge themselves. With his quick wit and flair for the dramatic, Jay was a great reality TV personality. However, Jay also showed a stunning sense of design. While he didn't win, the "Chrysler Building" dress he offered in the Banana Republic challenge still gets Runway fans buzzing and his Fashion Week show made it hard to deny his victory. McCarroll refused the winnings of Project Runway, however, unhappy with the baggage attached to it and has struggled to find his path in fashion since the victory, wanting to be able to succeed on his own terms.
Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh
Winner of: The Next Food Network Star (season 1)
The Food Network has plenty of reason to appeal to gay viewers. Not only does it have plenty of shows focused on epicure and entertaining, it's also been a home to culinary divas like Martha Stewart and Giada De Laurentiis. However, the network has lacked an out gay man among its big stars. That looked likely to change at the end of the first season of The Next Food Network Star when the Chicago area caterers won themselves a Food Network show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys. Unfortunately, the Food Network buried their show to an inconvenient Sunday morning time slot.
Winner of: HGTV Design Star (season 1)
The first season of HGTV Design Star gave us David Bromstad, the handsome (and frequently shirtless) illustrator who would eventually walk away with his own series, Color Splash. Unlike the Food Network, HGTV has made good use of its discovery. Color Splash gets frequent airings on HGTV and has been renewed for three more seasons.
Stephen and John Wright
Winner of: Welcome to the Neighborhood
In the summer of 2005, ABC planned to air Welcome to the Neighborhood, a reality TV show where several families tried to win a dream home in an exclusive Austin neighborhood. However, the neighbors who would determine the winner, turned out to be conservative, white upper-class Christians, people unlike each of the families hoping to win the house.
The show received a flurry of criticism before it debuted. TV critics were upset at seeing the Austin residents openly display their prejudices as entertainment, a concern that minority groups shared. Conservative activists complained that the conservative judges would come off as bigots for being shown saying bigoted things. GLAAD was one group to eventually approve of the show, since at the end of six episodes Neighborhood showed the Austin community accepting the Wrights, a gay couple with an adopted African-American son.
ABC pulled the series before it's debut and has refused to let it see the light of day, despite an offer from the Fox Reality Channel. Neighborhood producer, Bill Kennedy suggested that ABC balked at airing a series where a gay family finds acceptance at a time when ABC's parent company, Disney, was trying to market the first Narnia film to Christian filmgoers. ABC has denied Kennedy's theory. Even if the show ends with a message of acceptance, ABC probably made the right decision in not airing a show that initially makes drama out of housing discrimination.
Can you think of any gay reality show winners we missed? Share your thoughts or favorites in the comments!