The reality television landscape is littered with entitled, cruel, and downright intolerant personalities, but who is the worst of the worst? That's what we set out to answer in Primetimer's Ultimate Reality TV Villains Bracket, a four-part competition pitting the worst liars, narcissists, bullies, and all-around trash humans against one another.
Over the past week, we've seen showdowns between Bravo celebrities, Survivor-on-Drag Race action, and clashes of ego so spectacular Christopher Nolan may want to consider an Oppenheimer sequel. Our panel — made up of Claire Spellberg Lustig, Joe Reid, and Brianna Wellen — has also debated whether certain stars really rise to the level of villains (justice for Kristin Cavallari) and highlighted concerning off-screen behavior that proves just how deserving others are of that label.
After three intense rounds, four people have advanced to the Final Four: Tom Sandoval (from the Gaslight region), Christine Quinn (the Girlboss region victor), Russell Hantz (the ultimate Gatekeeper), and Ramona Singer (of Garbage region fame). Their devious acts and gross biases got them here, but now, it's time to determine who has done the most damage to their co-stars, their shows, the genre, and — if we're being honest — the world at large. The two deemed most insidious will move on to the championship, where they'll go head-to-head in hopes of being declared the worst villain in reality TV history.
So, who will it be? Join us as we put these villains to the test one last time.
Graphic: Amanda Cazel
If the other half of the bracket introduces a battle of the old-school villains, Tom Sandoval vs. Christine Quinn offers an opportunity to evaluate two new-school baddies. Both operate with the camera in mind, and they move through their respective shows with a keen awareness of how to best maintain their images. That proved to be the case when Sandoval, in an attempt to justify his affair with Raquel Leviss, claimed he and then-girlfriend Ariana Madix "put on a front" while filming Vanderpump Rules to create the false impression that their relationship was stable and loving. And when things started to go south during the Season 10 reunion, he tried to play things the other way by pushing for an off-camera conversation with Raquel, though producers denied his obvious attempt to reframe the narrative in his favor.
While Sandoval comes by his wickedness honestly, Christine is every bit the manufactured antagonist. She's long maintained that she was hired to play the role of Selling Sunset's villain, and — in the words of OG girlboss Sheryl Sandberg — she leaned in, turning the Oppenheim Group office into a battlefield. Over time, Christine alienated everyone, including her longtime friends, with her backstabbing, selective memory, and unrealistic expectations of loyalty, behavior that reflected an impressive commitment to the bit, even if her grudges started to make less sense as the seasons wore on.
But no matter how fabulous she looked while breaking bad, or the thrilling chaos she unleashed upon those early seasons of Selling Sunset, Christine's villainy isn't grounded in anything approximating truth — she was playing a part assigned to her by creator Adam DiVello. Reality TV may be far from "real," but there's something to be said for the deeply intimate nature of #Scandoval and the impact Sandoval's duplicity had, and continues to have, on the lives of those around him. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
Winner: Tom Sandoval
Photos: Everett Collection
What's worse? A villain knowingly sabotaging the people around him, or one continuing with life as usual while insulting everyone in her path? That's really what the battle between Russell Hantz and Ramona Singer comes down to: a match-up of an evil mastermind and a privileged white woman who really thinks she "gets it."
Their differing approaches can be seen in how they affected the viewing experience of their respective shows. Not only did Ramona's mortifying and offensive behavior make The Real Housewives of New York Season 13 difficult to enjoy, but her reported racist behavior on set allegedly led to the cancellation of that season's reunion and the rebooting of the entire franchise with a new cast. (Though in many ways, Ramona should be thanked for inciting that revamp — the women of RHONY Season 14 are some of the best the franchise has ever seen.)
A decade prior, in 2011, Survivor blogger Jim Early was sued by Mark Burnett's company for revealing spoilers about Seasons 19 and 20. His source? Russell Hantz, of course. Even when Russell wasn't competing, he spilled all the secrets he could — and instead of apologizing or gracefully addressing the situation, he hurled an ableist slur at viewers who visit spoiler sites. Going after fellow contestants is one thing, but ruining the season for fans and insulting them (and people with disabilities) in the process? That's calculated, supervillain behavior. — Brianna Wellen
Winner: Russell Hantz
Tom Sandoval and Russell Hantz are not exactly two peas in a pod. One is a preening West Hollywood f*ckboy extraordinaire, while the other is a "bandy-legged little troll" from Louisiana. Of all the wicked, watchable, detestable reality TV personalities in this bracket, these men represent two very different brands of villainy. On Survivor, Russell was the consummate reality competition bad guy. He was gratuitously cruel as he betrayed his allies, demeaning them behind their backs and to their faces. Meanwhile, Sandoval best represents the most loathsome qualities of the candid-reality villain: vain, whiny, and manipulative.
If there's one quality that binds both Russell and Sandoval together, it's that they both came maddeningly close to greatness on their respective shows. Russell made it to the final Tribal Council in consecutive seasons, blazing an aggressive path of manipulation and blindsides (these are good qualities on Survivor) to get to the final jury. But he was a massive, unnecessary jerk to everyone he played with, and that's why he never won. He's spent the better part of 13 years complaining about it to any camera and social-media feed that will listen.
For his part, Sandoval had a golden path lit for him in Vanderpump Rules' second season, when Kristen Doute (his girlfriend) and Jax Taylor (his best friend) admitted to sleeping together (while Sandoval slept in the other room). Sandoval received a flood of viewer sympathy, but he misplayed it terribly. He hypocritically forgave Jax but not Kristen, lied like a little weasel when Kristen accused him of sleeping with "Miami Girl" when they were together, and settled into a yearly routine of finding specious reasons to get unnecessarily furious with Katie Maloney and Stassi Schroeder.
But the worst thing about Tom Sandoval, and why he's ultimately going to triumph in this bracket, is that all this time, he thought he was the hero. Every time he opened a new watering hole with Tom Schwartz or invented a new cocktail, he acted like he was the heir apparent to Lisa Vanderpump. When he and Schwartz rolled up to Tom-Tom in a motorcycle and side-car in matching outfits, Sandoval thought he'd conquered his little corner of the reality TV universe.
In the Vanderpump Rules reunion's most telling moment, Sandoval snapped at Ariana Madix after she mentioned that he continued to have sex with her even after he started sleeping with Raquel Leviss. "She kept her T-shirt on, it was really hot," he said with a sneer. Up until that point, he'd been playing the penitent cheater who was getting piled on by obnoxious hangers-on like James Kennedy and Lala Kent. In that moment, he let the mask slip.
Say what you will about Russell Hantz, but he knew he was a bad guy. What made #Scandoval such an irresistible rubbernecking opportunity is that Sandoval finally had to sit with the fact that he was undeniably the villain. — Joe Reid
Graphic: Amanda Cazel
Congratulations, Tom Sandoval — you really are the worst of all time.