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7 Reality TV Scandals That Will Live in Infamy

From Real Housewives prison sentences to shocking cheating scandals.

Anytime a scandal about a reality star is revealed, fans have the same question: Why would you star on a reality show knowing your secret—or your criminal activity, in some cases—could easily come out? But, despite it seeming obvious to onlookers that trying to keep a private life private in that situation would be almost impossible, reality TV scandals are a common occurrence. Many of these series have had some level of controversy involved, but some are much more memorable—and shocking—than others. A few have even changed their shows—or the way people view reality TV in general—for good. Read on to hear about seven reality TV scandals that fans won't soon forget.

READ THIS NEXT: All the Signs Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss Were Having a Months-Long Affair.

The Vanderpump Rules Affair

One of the most recent additions to the reality TV scandal hall of fame is the affair between Vanderpump Rules stars Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss that just recently came to light. In March 2023, it was reported that the two cast members had been carrying on a secret relationship for months, though Sandoval had been with co-star Ariana Madix for nine years, and she and Leviss were friends. Not only that, but one storyline on the show before this was revealed involved Leviss having a fling with Sandoval's best friend and business partner Tom Schwartz, leading to questions of whether that supposed pairing was an intentional distraction from the infidelity.

The bombshell has led to renewed interest in the long-running Vanderpump Rules, which is seeing record ratings. Filming was reportedly extended for the current season, Season 10, and the affair will surely be the main topic of conversation at the upcoming cast reunion.

The Giudices Go to Prison

Joe and Teresa Giudice outside of court in Newark, New Jersey in 2013
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Real Housewives of New Jersey stars Joe and Teresa Giudice both pled guilty to multiple counts of fraud and were sentenced to prison time in 2014, and the entire ordeal played out on the show. Before their sentencing, Teresa was defensive whenever castmates brought up the charges on camera. Later, the series was put on pause when Teresa served out her time, and when she returned and her then-husband headed to prison, that was documented on the show. Teresa served 11 months; Joe served 41 months and afterward was deported to Italy because he is not a U.S. citizen.

There have been many other instances of legal drama in the Real Housewives universe, but this was one of the first, one of the most serious, and one of the most documented on the show. Teresa still stars on RHONJ today and has written about her experience, including in her book Turning the Tables: From Housewife to Inmate and Back Again.

Chris Harrison Leaves The Bachelor

Chris Harrison at the ABC Winter TCA Party in 2020
DFree / Shutterstock

The scandal that led to Chris Harrison leaving The Bachelor franchise began as a scandal that didn't involve him at all.

During the 25th season of The Bachelor in 2021, it was revealed that contestant Rachael Kirkconnell had attended an antebellum plantation-themed party when she was in college, leading to criticism and demands for an apology. Harrison defended her during an interview with former Bachelorette star Rachel Lindsay for Extra, and doubled down on his comments, despite Lindsay, who is Black, explaining to him why the party was offensive. (Kirkconnell did later apologize and is still in a relationship with Bachelor Matt James today.)

Harrison's comments obviously did not go over well, either. He apologized, then stepped down as host of the show in June 2021 after presenting it for 19 years.

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Tristan Thompson Cheats on Khloé Kardashian… Repeatedly

Tristan Thompson and Khloé Kardashian on "Keeping Up with the Kardashians"
Keeping Up with the Kardashians / YouTube

There have been plenty of moments on the Kardashian family's reality shows over the years that seem overly produced to the seasoned viewer, but Khloé Kardashian finding out that the father of her children, Tristan Thompson, was cheating on her (on more than one occasion) was not among them.

In 2018, days before Kardashian welcomed her first child with Thompson, photos and videos were released online of Thompson kissing other women. Then, in 2019, it was revealed that Thompson kissed Kardashian's younger sister Kylie Jenner's best friend, Jordyn Woods. Thompson and Kardashian's relationship status became murky in the years after that, and in January 2022, he confirmed that he had fathered a child with another woman. Fans learned that Kardashian thought she and Thompson were in a good place at the time and that a surrogate for their second child became pregnant days before his paternity scandal was revealed. All of this played out on Keeping Up With the Kardashians and on the family's new show, The Kardashians.

Jen Shah Is Sentenced to Prison

Jen Shah on "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City"

In January 2023, Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Jen Shah was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in connection with a telemarketing scheme that targeted the elderly

The detail that makes Shah's situation stand out in the history of reality TV scandals—besides her lengthy sentence—is that she repeatedly and passionately maintained her innocence on Real Housewives to viewers and to her castmates. Many of her scenes revolved around her denying her guilt. It wasn't until the final episode of the most recent season that two co-stars, Meredith Marks and Heather Gay, found out that Shah changed her plea to guilty while they were in New York City supporting her during her court date.

A Survivor Contestant Tells a Huge Lie

Jonny Fairplay at the "Survivor: Micronesia" finale and reunion show in 2008
Scott Wintrow/Getty Images

In 2003, Jonny Fairplay (real name: Jon Dalton) appeared on Survivor: Pearl Islands, and he's still infamous among the show's contestants over 40 seasons later. While contestants usually keep their gameplay within the show, before heading off to film, Fairplay had a friend agree to reveal to him during production that his grandmother had died. (The contestants had to designate someone to be part of a segment involving their lives back home, which is how the ruse started.)

Fairplay concocted the lie about his grandmother to gain sympathy from his competitors. His fellow contestants let him win the challenge taking place at the time, and he was able to spend more time with his friend under the guise of getting more information about his supposed loss.

Fairplay did not end up winning the season—he came in third—but he upset a lot of people in the process.

Everything About Kid Nation

"Kid Nation" participants on the show

The premise of Kid Nation alone is pretty jaw-dropping. For the 2007 show, 40 children from the ages of eight to 15 were sent to a ranch to form their own society without adults. It was controversial that children were starring on a reality show at all—along with the ethics of parents signing waivers to allow it—but the public became even angrier issues when it was alleged that there had been injuries and dangerous situations on set. The young reality stars were also compelled to do some potentially traumatizing things—the most famous scene from the show involves the children killed chickens.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, CBS released a statement at the time that read, "We stand by the procedures we had in place and the response to all the minor injuries. We will therefore not accept irresponsible allegations or any attempts to misrepresent and exaggerate events or spread false claims about what happened."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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