Everyone has to start somewhere—including the Hollywood elite. Often, that means booking commercials or scoring a one-off bit part on Law & Order. But for some particularly enterprising A-listers, that starting rung was something else entirely: Reality television.
Indeed, for some, it may have seemed like a final option. But for others, the idea of having a camera on them at all hours surely sounded like an appealing prospect. Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure: they eventually received the fame and notoriety they were seeking, from meaty screen roles to chart-topping albums to globe-spanning, multi-billion-dollar empires. So read on, and see which of your favorite A-listers got things started on reality television. And for more on your favorite reality stars, check out these 30 Former Reality TV Stars With Surprising Careers.
Jamie Chung (The Real World: San Diego)
Before receiving critical acclaim for her roles in films like Eden and Sucker Punch, actress Jamie Chung appeared on the 14th season of The Real World: San Diego in 2004.
When she applied to be on the show, she marketed herself as a hardworking economics major who had a tendency to party too much and, according to her friends, an affinity for dating bad boys. Chung often served as the voice of reason on a season of the show that was rife with drama. To catch up on what your favorite reality stars are doing today, see What These Early-2000s Reality Stars Are Doing Today.
Kesha (The Simple Life)
Prior to hitting it big in the music business, Kesha made an appearance on The Simple Life, inviting Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie into her home in order to set up her mother, Pebe Sebert, on a date. Yes, back then—the episode aired in 2005—Hilton and Richie fancied themselves matchmakers. In this episode, we see Kesha without all of the glitter, and finally with an explanation of her quirky charms, which, according to her mother, were inherited from her family in their “hippie household.”
Elisabeth Hasselbeck (Survivor)
This conservative talk show host (the Elisabeth Filarksi), with gigs on Fox & Friends and The View, appeared on the second season of Survivor, making it to the final four before being voted out. Other than possessing the ability to show off her rock hard abs, Hasselbeck was known for dominating endurance challenges, and once sat on the top of a narrow log for over nine hours. Now, she uses these endurance skills in political conversations. And for more of the best reality show moments, check out The 30 Funniest Reality Show Moments of All Time.
Jacinda Barrett (Real World: London)
Actress Jacinda Barrett made her first on-screen appearance as a member of the fourth season of MTV’s Real World: London. At the start of filming in 1995, Barrett was an Australian model living in Paris, having been in hot pursuit of fame and fortune since the age of 14.
While on the show, Barrett’s castmates accused her of being too hungry for attention, claiming that her need for approval was unhealthy and probably due to her untraditional upbringing. Decades later, her roles in Bloodline and The Following have aided her in receiving international acclaim.
David Giuntoli (Road Rules: South Pacific)
Before he was chasing down supernatural beasts on the popular show Grimm, David Guintoli was a member of MTV’s 12th season of Road Rules: South Pacific in 2003. In this show, where contestants were stripped of their money and forced to live out of an RV, traveling from one place to another to compete in various competitions, Giuntoli proved to be one of the most hard-working competitors. This work ethic proved to serve him later on in his professional life, securing him many roles in television shows, and then eventually on Grimm in 2011. And for more of the greatest reality television gems, check out The 33 Funniest Reality Show Catchphrases of All Time.
Kelly Osbourne (The Osbournes)
In case you’ve already forgotten, Kelly Osbourne, along with the rest of her famous family, appeared on their own reality show that aired from 2002 to 2005. As a teenager on the show, Kelly triumphed over the stress of having nearly no privacy, and received a raving review from Rolling Stone, calling her “a wickedly funny, brutally honest, pint-size, potty-mouthed spitfire.” Years later, Kelly has starred in multiple television shows as an actress and host, including the successful E!’s Fashion Police.
Kristen Wiig (The Joe Schmo Show)
From the beginning, Kristen Wiig has been an expert comedian, honing in on her ability to make others laugh. In fact, her first on-screen gig was competing in a prank reality show, The Joe Schmo Show, where she played Dr. Pat—just one part of a series of actors looking to convince one “Joe Schmo” that he was participating in a real reality show.
Cardi B (Love & Hip Hop: New York)
In 2015, before Cardi B was selling out stadiums, she was just a social media personality, appearing on the sixth and seventh seasons of Love & Hip Hop: New York. Throughout her time on the show, Cardi was just beginning to break into the music business, and finally, after the end of the seventh season, she announced that she was going to leave the show in order to further her music career. Shortly after that, she released her debut album, Invasion of Privacy.
Blake Mycoskie (The Amazing Race)
A few years before Blake Mycoskie created the famed TOMS shoe brand, he took his business savvy to the game of The Amazing Race. Along with his sister, Paige Mycoskie, he competed on the second season of the show, ultimately coming in fourth place and missing a million dollar prize by a mere four minutes.
In 2006, after a trip to Argentina, he came up with the “one-for-one” business model, in which he used to create his shoe brand, TOMS. Years after his reality show debut (and after missing out on a million-dollar prize), Mycoskie is now worth an estimated $300 million.
Mike Mizanin (Real World: Back to New York)
Now known by his wrestling persona, “The Miz,” Mike Mizanin made his celebrity debut as a part of the tenth season of MTV’s reality program, Real World, in 2001. After this debut, he made several other appearances on the show’s various spinoff seasons, winning a few and performing well in every other. It was also during his stint on these reality shows that he came up with the alter ego, The Miz, who was combative and headstrong—which eventually became his wrestling persona as well. Now, the Real World alum has become an incredibly successful WWE wrestler and actor, with an action figure and $9 million net worth to show for it.
Dax Shepard (Punk’d)
Before finding love with fellow actress Kristen Bell or starring in numerous roles on both film and television (like Parenthood), Dax Shepard appeared as Ashton Kutcher’s comedic aide on Punk’d, beginning in 2003. Before he was a household name, he worked to prank other actors in the elaborate scenarios created by Kutcher. As it turns out, Shepard had been unsuccessfully auditioning for 10 years prior to landing this gig on Kutcher’s show, and while filming the pilot for Punk’d, he became friendly with Kutcher, who arranged for him to finally have an agent.
Kim Kardashian (The Simple Life)
While we all know that media mogul Kim Kardashian wouldn’t be quite the household name she is today without her key performance on Keeping up with the Kardashians, but few remember her actual reality show debut, which occurred in episodes (from 2003 to 2005) of The Simple Life, alongside Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. In fact, some would say that Kardashian actually owes a part of her fame and success to Hilton, who hired her as a personal stylist while on the show (which explains all of the rumors about Hilton demanding that Kardashian organize her closet—it was in her job description, after all). Though the two no longer speak anymore, they both remain living testaments to the short-sighted celebrity that comes with those who are simply “famous for being famous.”
Lauren Conrad (Laguna Beach)
Now perhaps more famous for her bestselling novels and fashion empire, Lauren Conrad first experienced fame as a high schooler, as a part of the reality show Laguna Beach, first airing in 2004. After appearing on Laguna Beach, Conrad got her own spin-off, The Hills, which was intended to mostly follow her life after high school and as a student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. From the beginning, Conrad has displayed a talent for fashion design, which makes sense that her inevitable path would end up as a best-selling author and fashion icon.
B.J. Novak (Punk’d)
As it turns out, B.J. Novak didn’t just enjoy creating mischief as his character on The Office—he was also an expert prankster on the set of Punk’d in 2003, serving as Ashton Kutcher’s main accomplice. Then just two years after his stint on the show, Novak landed his role as Ryan Howard on The Office.
Kaitlin Olson (Punk’d)
Like fellow comedian B.J. Novak, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Kaitlin Olson got her acting debut on Punk’d, where, in 2005, she even pulled a prank on Beyoncé. Years later, Olson believes that Beyoncé still “hates her guts” for the prank she pulled with Kutcher. And for more surprising celebrity facts, check out these 30 Celebrities You Forgot Appeared on Friends.
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