8 Reality Shows That Pay The Cheapest Per Episode (And 8 Highest Ones)

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Gone are the days of the get-rich-quick scheme. Today, it’s all about getting rich AND getting famous. Reality TV has allowed for the average guy or gal next door to launch themselves into superstardom, or at the very least, get their 15 minutes of fame.

While being on a show as a fan favorite may be something that many people dream about, it’s a long and complicated process to be considered, to become America’s next sweetheart (or the person who everyone loves to hate). Audition tapes, a number of rules, and hoops to jump through may see you as one of the contestants on the watercooler programming everyone is tuning in to each week.

Before packing your bags, or thinking about all of that sweet endorsement money that could fall into your lap, it’s time to hedge your bets. Most people aren’t going to go home with that big sweepstakes amount, so it’s worth considering what shows pay the contestants who don’t make it to the finale get for all of their time, pain and suffering. Here’s the skinny on the eight reality shows that offer the smallest paychecks per episode, and the eight that make it worth it to put that little bit of extra time into your audition tape.

16. The Cost Of True Love On The Bachelor/Bachelorette

Is there a price tag for true love and fame? Apparently yes, there absolutely is. Stopping your life and pausing your career in the name of romance is compensated. The franchise stars, the ‘Bachelor’ or the ‘Bachelorette’, generally make around 100K, and rumor has it that Bachelorette Emily Maynard was paid 250K for her season for around two months of work on the show. There is a sliding scale depending on the show and season with some contestants getting paid a per day rate and others earning a per episode rate. In season one it was estimated that contestants would earn anywhere from 7K to 15K, entirely dependent on where they sat when it came time to distribute the roses. Then there are the opportunities for other shows, appearances, and spin-offs if contestants are liked enough by audiences.

15. Lukewarm Loot From Judge Judy

Anyone who has ever watched the show Judge Judy probably wonders what has motivated people to air their dirty laundry in front of a courtroom and a huge daytime television audience for over 20 years. While there isn’t a big pay cheque for participants, there are other benefits that don’t involve the sass of the charming but curmudgeonly judge. The first thing is this, when the Plaintiff wins their case, the person who foots the bill is “Judge Judy”, so it doesn’t come out of their own wallet. Also, anyone worried about their legal record might be especially motivated since the program is settling these disputes through arbitration and not litigation, meaning there won’t be a civil judgment on their record. Anyone who appears on the show has all of their travel expenses covered and also gets something known as “an appearance fee” which have been reported to range between $100 and $500.

14. Big Bankroll On Big Brother

Big Brother sounds like the perfect summer vacation to many, and is filmed over 12 weeks with access to accommodations, free drinks, food, and fame. What else do they offer contestants for filming them 24-7? In 2011, Reality Blurred reported that contestants earn around $750 a week for their “performances” on the show. This paycheque isn’t only for those who are in the house, it also applies to those who are on the show as a part of the infamous jury. If you win the big jackpot, you’re going to have to forego your stipend weekly pay, and the same goes for the person who earns second place, who gets 50K and also needs to skip their weekly pay. Apparently, double dipping is something frowned upon in communal food as well as in Big Brother’s wallet.

13. Alone & Broke

Being “Alone” in the wilderness is no easy feat, just ask anyone who has participated on the hit History TV show Alone where survivors put their nature skills to the ultimate test. According to Cinema Blend, the only payday available for participants of Alone is if they win the grand prize of $500,000 as of season two. However, there are rumours that there may be a small daily rate for participants of later seasons. This means unless you think you have what it takes to rough it out beyond anyone else, all without knowing whether or not others have tapped out using their brick phones, it’s best to skip. Sure, there may be some future speaking gigs and other perks for the sacrifice, but is it worth it? In most cases, probably not. It’s unclear as to whether or not returning all-stars will get a substantive base salary for season five of the series.

12. Amazing Travel Opportunity, Less Than Amazing Pay

Those who have a travel bug would gladly appear on The Amazing Race for free, after all, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but is there something in it for those who participate and don’t win the entire show? After season six of the show, which is still running 29 seasons strong, contestant Aaron disclosed exactly how much contestants can bring home in addition to winning vacations and other prizes. The last place team has been said to earn $1500, and those who have the honor of coming in third will make $10,000 while the second place team wins $25,000 for their efforts. Season 21 contestant Mark Abbattista told A.V. Club that contestants receive a small amount of cash for simply appearing on the show and said, “It’s certainly not ‘paid,’ but you get some kind of money for the order that you come in. If you’re not on food stamps, you wind up losing money on it.”

11. Don’t Bank On Being A Pawn Stars Expert

While the stars on the show have hefty bank accounts in the millions, you’d think there would be some money for a one-off appearance on the show. Say you fancy yourself an expert in something, like vintage racer bikes, don’t cash your pay cheque just yet. You won’t be laughing all the way to the bank for your efforts, as your compensation for appearing on the show is exposure, and exposure alone. Although, many of the experts boast that their appearance on the show has improved their business significantly. Expert Mark Hall Patton of Clark County Museum says attendance has tripled since he was first featured on the show. As for someone with the item at hand, being on the show and the value of your item is what you’ll walk away with.

10. Heavier On The Wallet, The Biggest Loser

Most people pay for the services of nutritionists and personal trainers, while those competing on The Biggest Loser do not. While the show was just canceled for allegedly providing their contestants with weight loss drugs in order to increase their results, it was a reality TV mainstay since its premiere in 2004. Former contestant Joelle questioned the mystery drug she was given and said, “The next day, Dr. H gave us some lame explanation of why they got added to our regimen and that it was up to us to take them…” calling the show out on some of its many outrageous practices. For those interested, the winner of the show brought home 100K. In addition to the weight loss and training contestants were said to earn around $900 a week to help them pay to support their families. It could only be a matter of time before a similar show gets launched.

9. It’s Not Worth The Heat In Hell’s Kitchen

Gordon Ramsay is best described as a hot pot of simmering rage. I know personally, I’d need to earn a lot of money to compensate me for the trauma of having him screaming in my face, but other contestants may be a little more affable to his angry breath in their faces. There’s limited information on what stipends contestants get paid to participate and this gets paired with high stress and many sleepless nights. Mashed revealed of the stress, “During Season 2 of the series, one producer noted that the competition began with only four smokers in the cast. By the end of the season, that number had more than doubled to 10.” So dinner is likely best served elsewhere since this competition doesn’t seem worth it unless you’re crowned champion chef.

8. Decent Dough For Ru Paul’s Drag Race

Some people dream of being royalty, others dream of an entirely different crown, the one adorned by the winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. This American reality competition series has nine seasons under its stylishly chick belt as it continues the search for “America’s next drag superstar”. There are perks to being a contestant on the show including airfare, accommodation, and food, but there is also a weekly rate for those on the show, which acts as an added motivation to avoid elimination for as long as possible. In early seasons contestants were said to earn somewhere around $500-$700 per episode, in addition to the grand prize for the show’s winner. Reports say that in more recent seasons contestants received a pay bump closer to $900-$1000 per episode.

7. Voicing Our Displeasure For The Voice’s Pay Rate

Contestants on The Voice are working towards winning the $100,000 grand prize and a recording contract, but aren’t compensated for their effort very much over the course of the season despite working long hours for the sake of the series. Host Christina Aguilera was reported to earn 17 million dollars for coaching just one season of the series, and Adam Levine has reportedly received 13 million per season for his time on the show, so there’s definitely some coin in the bank to compensate those competing. Past contestant Ddendryl Hoyt says, “You can’t pay for this type of exposure” and commented on how the time on the show rocketed their success following the show, which is why many of those competing settle for the living stipend which included food, accommodation, and their plane tickets.

6. X Factor = Empty Bank Account

X Factor contestant Lauren Murray told Cosmopolitan that participating in the show was not a good way to get rich quickly. She dished that, she’s so broke that she “couldn’t even buy a pair of knickers right now if I wanted to”. For the two months of participating on the show, she didn’t earn anything beyond room and board saying that she received a piddly allowance that didn’t amount to much more than 50 pounds per week ($65 USD). The reality star shared that she received numerous death threats and that she doesn’t want to be on TV again. She also added, “I don’t get money for the songs I sang on the show going in iTunes, X Factor does.”

5. Sweet Survivor Salary

For someone who gets voted off the island early on, the most profitable part of the Survivor experience is likely the reunion special which is said to offer all participants 10K for sitting on the stage alongside all of the others who outwitted, outlasted, and outplayed them, and 2.5K if you were the first one ousted. Those who get voted out early and don’t appear on the jury also get a mostly-paid-for trip to wait it out in a foreign land for whatever time remains in the 39 days of filming. The winner obviously gets the million dollar prize, and the other prizes are paid at the discretion of the show’s executives, so make sure you charm them. The second prize winner usually brings home 100K whereas other high ranking players get somewhere in the range of 50-85K for their efforts. Likeable enough to play for an all-star edition, that’s a different story altogether.

4. The Real World Of Hard Knocks

A number of years ago The Village Voice released some of the facets of the contracts signed by all The Real World participants, which left many wondering, is it worth it? For example, they revealed, “For one year after the show’s final episode airs, cast members are required to participate in all producer-determined press and forbidden from engaging in any media (radio, television, chat rooms, and blogs) without the Producer’s written permission.” Participants are said to get little more than free rent, and are even charged for making long distance calls, but can earn around 10K for speaking engagements, that is if the producers grant them written permission. You are also contractually obliged to participate in a reunion special for up to five years post season finale, but you will get $2,500 for that.

3. Being A Wealthy Teen Mom

Teen moms have it rough. They’re faced with raising a child while still growing up, and have a limited number of options to help them succeed. Some are lucky enough to get the support of their family, while others will turn to reality TV to help cash in and make some money that will help them afford to raise their child. Teen Mom Amber Portwood was said to have earned 140K for each six-month contract according to Today. Catelynn Lowell’s exact salary has not been revealed, but she did have, “enough money to buy both of their moms’ cars, and Tyler paid for his sister to get a boob job.” Apparently being a Teen Mom can be a little more lucrative than one would think, particularly if you get picked up for more than one season.

2. Paid In Services To Be The Ink Master’s Muse

This is a niche market that requires contestants to have finely tuned their skills to participate, so you’d assume there would be a higher pay rate based on their artistic expertise. The grand 100,000 dollar prize and title of Ink Master (and there are rumors that the artists get paid around $500 a week to participate on the show) is far less than they’d receive in their shops. But what do others get paid? A two-time former canvas for the show dished on Reddit that she received two free lengthy tattoos for participating on the show along with some travel, food, and accommodations covered – that being said people who want to be a human canvas need to be in the Newark area, or close by to make it worth them covering their fees.

1. It Pays To Be A Member On American Idol

If singing is a passion, and not independently wealthy, American Idol offers the most bang for your participation buck compared to other singing competitions. According to Cheat Sheet participants on the show can expect a $450 USD stipend per week for their wardrobe, although many have quipped that they had to add in their own bucks to make sure they look great for the show, so be prepared to pony up some cash for that perfect look. Finalists receive a specific performance fee through their $1600 membership with The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. According to Fox Business, the contestants earn $1571 USD and meals for two-hour Idol shows, $1303 for one hour segments, and $910 for their participation in the 30 minute “results” episodes.



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