Here’s How Much You Get Paid to Be a Reality TV Star These Days
Working a 9-to-5 job creates many opportunities for us to dream about how we might strike it rich. Some play the lottery. Others audition to be the next reality TV star. About 118.4 million households have TV service, so there’s no denying television stars have a far reach. But the fancy clothes and luxurious settings often cloud the reality of reality TV. In the end, the price of TV fame is quite dismal.
Before you quit your day job, make sure to pick your poison wisely. Some shows pay contestants and stars next to nothing, while others could be your link to something bigger and better. Here’s everything we know about how much Fixer Upper‘s Chip and Joanna Gaines and other popular reality TV stars get paid.
15. American Ninja Warrior
How much: nothing — unless you win it all
American Ninja Warrior‘s cult-like following allows many contestants to cash in on their reality TV fame. But shockingly, the cash does not result from their actual show appearances. The athletes are not paid a dime as participants, unlike other reality shows that provide weekly payouts. Rather, contestants only receive money by winning and completing all four stages of every obstacle in the finals — something that’s only happened once in eight seasons.
However, the most notable contestants have capitalized on minor endorsement deals that ease the pain of losing a million bucks. Kevin Bull signed a deal for $2,000 to $4,000 a month to endorse an LA training course, CircusTrix, while popular female competitor, Kacy Catanzaro, earned money for TV appearances, including her commercial advertising Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel. Still, it seems the time and effort to become the ultimate Ninja doesn’t equal the money made while trying.
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14. American Idol
How much: $450 weekly stipend
The wildly successful singing competition, American Idol, was known to pay out big bucks. The final 12 contestants each receive a $450 stipend per week for wardrobe. Although many dipped into their own pockets to fund the rest; $450 doesn’t go very far on Rodeo Drive.
According to Fox Business, finalists received a performance fee through The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. This means contestants got $1,571 plus meals for two-hour Idol shows; $1,303 for one-hour shows; and $910 for half-hour results shows. But they had to pay over $1,600 to join the federation in the first place.
Payment for Idol winners wasn’t consistent. Carrie Underwood earned $13 million for her yearlong appearance while Kelly Clarkson earned $11.7 million and Chris Daughtry won $10.2 million. And let’s not forget about Ryan Seacrest, who reportedly earned $45 million on a three-year deal just to announce Idol results and stir the pot.
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13. Pawn Stars
How much: $1,000–$25,000
Main attractions on reality shows often receive increasing payment as their popularity rises. Business Insider reported before getting the Kardashian-like treatment, TV stars might receive only a few thousand per episode.
For example, Pawn Stars, one of the History Channel’s highest-rated, most lucrative shows, paid Richard Harrison $15,000 an episode in 2014, while Harrison’s son Corey could charge $1,000 for guest appearances as a result of his newfound fame. Another fan favorite, Chumlee, made $25,000 an episode.
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How much: $2,500–$1,000,000
Survivor has been running for 34 seasons with Jeff Probst hosting each time. But compared to other TV hosts, Probst only earns $4 million per year to man the island. Contestants on Survivor do not leave empty-handed. The winner gets $1 million. But the second-place finalist also takes home $100,000, while the third-place contestant is given $85,000.
Other tribe members are eligible for consolation prizes for an amount the producers deem appropriate. Typically, the first eliminated participant gets $2,500, but during all-star seasons the payout is reportedly much higher.
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11. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette
How much: $100,000 per season (on average)
Although contestants on the popular Bachelor franchise don’t get paid anything to appear on the show, the actual bachelor or bachelorette usually earns well over six figures for a two-month stint. Although bachelor Sean Lowe reportedly only earned between $75,000 to $90,000 during his journey to find love, Southern bell Emily Maynard squeezed nearly $250,000 out of ABC. Maynard is reportedly the highest-paid bachelorette in history. US Weekly reported that bachelorette Ashley Hebert made $30,000, but Reality Steve said she’d be “the worst negotiator in history” if that’s how much she actually made.
Being on the show comes with other monetary benefits. The bachelor or bachelorette can rake in thousands for public appearances, product endorsements, and book deals, funding their lives for years to come. Heck, you could even get your own spinoff show like Ben Higgins and Lauren Bushnell.
Next: There is incentive to win on Dancing With the Stars.
10. Dancing With the Stars
How much: $125,000 or more
Dancing With the Stars has a ramp system for compensation; the further you make it, the more you earn — makes sense. It starts with a base compensation and goes from there. According to People, Season 21’s Bindi Irwin had a base of $125,000. She could earn $10,000 per week for weeks 3 and 4, $15,000 per week for weeks 5 and 6, $20,000 for weeks 7 and 8, and so on. Many celebrities, like Sean Lowe and Erin Andrews, followed a similar or the exact same plan. The final three contestants on DWTS all make the same amount, $345,000. And evidently the winner doesn’t get a bonus — other than the Mirror Ball Trophy.
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9. John & Kate Plus 8
How much: $25,000–$50,000 per episode
The infamous TLC family of 10 received an estimated $25,000 to $50,000 per episode for their series, Jon & Kate Plus 8. During their heyday, Kate Gosselin earned hundreds of thousands from book deals, speaking engagements, and appearances. Of course, the show funded all filmed public outings and trips. However, after a messy public divorce and multiple missteps, Kate is reportedly only worth $200,000 as of 2015.
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8. Fixer Upper
How much: $30,000 per episode
Chip and Joanna Gaines have the most popular HGTV show; Fixer Upper draws approximately 4.3 million viewers. Starting in 2013, America fell in love with their quirky marriage and shiplap designs — so much so that their combined net worth is now around $5 million. That’s not too shabby for reality TV newbies.
In Season 4, the Gaines reportedly earned $30,000 per episode. But that’s chump change compared to their other endeavors from reality stardom. The Gaines created an empire. The Magnolia Silos are reportedly worth millions; Magnolia Journal magazine is wildly successful; and Magnolia House B&B charges a cool $695 per night. They also capitalized on their best-selling book deal, which awarded them a $600,000 advance.
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7. Property Brothers
How much: $50,000 per episode
With their entertainment company, real estate firm, and reality shows, HGTV’s beloved twins are worth about $10 million each. It’s reported that Drew and Jonathan Scott are adding to their net worth by earning $50,000 per episode. They launched an outdoor furniture company in 2015, and it quickly gained sales of more than $100 million. Want the dimpled duo to speak at your event? Be prepared to shell out $60,000 or more.
Next: These billionaires make money on top of what they invest in contestants.
6. Shark Tank
How much: $50,000 per episode
The sharks pad their million- and billion-dollar fortunes on Shark Tank, but contestants risk a lot to appear on the show. In exchange for exposure, entrepreneurial hopefuls must agree to give up 5% of their company, or 2% of future royalties, just to appear on the show. However, many past contestants believe the exposure was worth the risk — even if most of the deals agreed to on air were tweaked and modified off air later.
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5. The Voice
How much: $2–$17 million
So judge Cee Lo Green received the smallest paycheck, taking home $2 million per season before getting a raise to $6.5 million in 2013. (He only appeared on the first five seasons of The Voice.) Usher made $7 million per season. Pharrel Williams and Alicia Keys fall in the middle, each making $8 million per season. As The Voice increased in popularity, judges started receiving more. Adam LeVine, Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, and Miley Cyrus all made (or make) $13 million or more. Christina Aguilera notoriously negotiated for her $17 million paycheck for each season she appeared on the show.
Next: How much it pays to be on America’s Got Talent
4. America’s Got Talent
How much: $70,000+ per episode
Former America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon walked away from $4.5 million per season when he quit in early 2016 due to major issues with production. The show quickly replaced him with Tyra Banks, who’s garnered mixed reviews. The show may compensate contestants — anywhere from travel reimbursements to $30,000 — but judges and hosts receive the lion’s share of paychecks.
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3. Hell’s Kitchen & MasterChef
How much: $400,000 per episode
Gordon Ramsay made as much as Beyonce in 2016. Let that sink in. Between his four Fox reality shows (Hell’s Kitchen, Hotel Hell, MasterChef, and MasterChef Junior) the hothead chef demonstrates his empire, which also includes 26 restaurants, numerous books, branded cookware, and more. Ramsay capitalizes on his angry demeanor and culinary talents, serving up TV that viewers can’t seem to get enough of.
Next: See how much “kash” the Kardashian family makes per episode.
2. Keeping Up With The Kardashians
How much: $100 million for four seasons
Yet another show with Seacrest’s hands all over it. The Kardashian clan signed a $100 million deal with E! for four more seasons in 2015. That sounds like a lot of money, but it’s actually split between the cast. Kim Kardashian also receives a $5 million bonus when Kanye West appears on the show. Of course, the show’s purpose — other than providing mind-numbing entertainment — is to drive their other business endeavors in fashion, video games, and licensing. And it works; the family is worth over $50 million.
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1. Judge Judy
How much: $47 million annually
Judge Judy’s court room drama is a daytime reality TV legend. In fact, she makes an estimated $47 million per year to swing the gavel at America’s most delirious. It’s a known fact that when Judy Sheindlin and other judges order defendants to pay up on TV, the producers actually pay it, not the cast. Combine that with a TV appearance payout of $150 to $500 per person plus flight, hotel, and meal expenses, it’s no wonder Americans have been itching to brawl it out on air since 1996.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.
Additional reporting by Ali Harrison.