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The 35 Most Iconic Quotes in Reality TV History

The lines we'll never forget from the genre that spawned a million memes.
  • Photos: Bravo, CBS, NBC, MTV, The CW.
    Photos: Bravo, CBS, NBC, MTV, The CW.

    In the long and colorful history of reality television, certain moments have become indelible. Just as "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" and "I'll never let go, Jack" have become cultural touchstones via the movies, reality TV has produced a younger, perhaps trashier, but no less memorable crop of quotes that will live long beyond their original shows. Below we've collected 35 quotes that best exemplify reality TV 's ability to be dramatic, shocking, funny, or bawdy, while at all times lodging themselves firmly in our memories.

    35. "Summer should be fun!"
    Show: Summer House (Season 2, episode 9)

    Starting off with a very simple (and very silly) quote from Kyle Cooke, the centerpiece himbo from Bravo's Summer House. The quote, delivered angrily and with frustrated clapping hands by Kyle, was a drunken, pissy demand of his girlfriend, Amanda, to stop nagging him about things like getting blackout drunk on the regular. As a relationship milestone, it's a pretty crappy moment, but as a statement of purpose for a show about attractive people cocooning themselves in a forever frat party on Bravo's dime, it was perfect.

    34. "Call the fire department, honey, that was hot!"
    Show: So You Think You Can Dance (Season 3, episode 3)

    Actress/director/producer/choreographer extraordinaire Debbie Allen lent an air of gravitas to the judging panel whenever she appeared as a guest on FOX's dance competition series So You Think You Can Dance. She also brought a ton of energy and quotability, no more so than when she kicked off her critique of Sabra and Dominic's sensual rumba with the above quote, which would live on in montages for the rest of the show's existence

    33. "When I called you garbage, I meant that you were garbage."
    Show: The Real Housewives of New Jersey (Season 2, episode 16)

    The temptation was to choose something from Teresa's Season 1 table-flipping tirade, but that was more of a visceral, kinetic moment. Caroline Manzo's blunt assessment of Danielle Staub in Season 2 is the quote that echoes, especially since it punctuated a classic Housewives sit-down, the kind that always promises reconciliation but usually ends up in … well, this.

    32. "I don't wrestle. I fucking beat bitches up."
    Show: The Challenge (Season 8: "The Inferno", episode 11)

    Coral Smith was one of the most quotable people to ever set foot inside a Real World house (or, in this case, a Challenge villa), and while this quote is emblematic of her signature flair, the context makes it even better, as it came in response to her aggravating teammate Julie Stoffer trying to goad Coral into a wrestling match to work out their differences (though Julie secretly hoped Coral would hit her and get kicked off the show). Coral knew better, and so the above quote isn't so much a threat as it is a reason why she was too smart to mix it up with Julie in the first place.

    31. "The silent of the lamb."
    Show: Selling Sunset (Season 1)

    It's fitting that a show as meticulously manicured as Selling Sunset would have its most quotable moment come from a complete non sequitur in a moment of complete, bored stillness. With all the women working quietly in the office, Maya — the Israeli-born rock of stability amid a raging sea of dramatic narcissists — makes note of the moment with a slightly misquoted movie reference. That would have been perfect enough as it is, but then the other women are like "...what?" and make her say it again, to the dictionary definition of polite laughter. A moment of true reality in a sea of delicious ginned-up drama.

    30. "See you later decorator."
    Show: Top Design

    The art of the reality competition kiss-off line is an undervalued one. The best lines to send off eliminated contestants are usually the simplest, but for second- or third-tier reality shows, a truly unhinged one can help them stand out from the crowd (see FBoy Island's "FBoy? F bye!" for evidence). Nobody seems to remember Bravo's interior decorator competition Top Design, but their nursery rhyme-y line to eliminated contestants will stay with us for the rest of our days.

    29. "It's not about the pasta!"
    Show: Vanderpump Rules (Season 6, episode 6)

    A ridiculous line for a ridiculous show, this particular protest became indelible in Vanderpump lore partially on its own dumb merits but also because fans thought it was a secret code. When James Kennedy and Lala got into a fight over whether she ate his girlfriend's pasta, tempers got so heated, so quickly that fans assumed it was indeed not about the pasta, but that pasta was a code word that the Vanderpump cast had agreed to use for drugs. It's probably not true, but it makes watching old episodes incredibly fun.

    28. "Even Louis Vuitton makes mistakes."
    Show: The Real Housewives of New York City (Season 4, episode 11)

    To pick this particular line to represent all of RHONY is probably controversial, when all of Bethenny Frankel's bon mots go unlisted. Accept this as a recommendation to go watch LuAnn and Alex's season 4 fight again. Alex was expecting an apology for LuAnn's rudeness on the Morocco trip, but Lu instead decided to double down on insulting Alex and her "Herman Munster shoes." In classic Alex fashion, she protested that her shoes were designer, leading Lu to volley back the above kicker. So to speak.

    27. "It's not Top Scallop."
    Show: Top Chef (Season 5, episode 7)

    Top Chef is a wildly quotable show with any number of contenders for this list, but we're partial to Season 5's Fabio and his frustrations towards fellow contestant Jamie constantly cooking scallop dishes. Yes, it's just a typical grouse from a frustrated competitor, but it's also the ur text for Top Chef contestants slighting anyone for being too one-dimensional.

    26. "So now I'm the daggone villain."
    Show: The Real Housewives of Atlanta (Season 9, episode 24 )

    The season nine reunion for RHOA was full of accusations and revelations, but when it was uncovered that it was Phaedra who planted damaging stories about Kandi and her husband intending to sexually assault Porsha, the emotional blow-up was massive, with Kandi heading to the dressing rooms and Porsha breaking down in tears that her friend Phaedra had set her up. With Porsha weeping beside her, Phaedra muttered the above line in frustrated resignation, the final act of an exposed antagonist.

    25. "Kim, there's people that are dying."
    Show: Keeping Up with the Kardashians (Season six, episode 12)

    This one became a meme for a reason, and despite other Kardashian meme bait (like Kris Jenner's "You're doing amazing, sweetie," to Kim re: her Playboy photo shoot), the context of this one feels more iconic. On vacation in Bora Bora, Kim lost a $75,000 earring in the ocean and was inconsolable, leading to her sister Kourtney, baby on hip, to chide her about keeping perspective. Of course, perspective is fleeting on this show, and Kourtney was mostly annoyed that Kim was being a big drama queen, but that's pretty much the whole Kardashian experience, isn't it?

    24. "I've met your people in Vegas for 40 years — none of them have last names!"
    Show: The Apprentice (Season 8: "Celebrity Apprentice 2", episode 9)

    The Trump presidency meant that everything associated with The Apprentice has been locked in a vault, which is mostly fine, with very few exceptions. One of those exceptions is this moment, when Joan Rivers, may she rest in peace, went off on poker star Annie Duke after Joan's daughter, Melissa, was eliminated after getting snaked in the boardroom by Annie and model Brande Roderick. Joan's legendary career in comedy made her quite well-equipped to eviscerate her competition with impeccable joke construction, flattening Annie with a reference to poker players not just as "trash, darling," but as shadowy, mononymous scumbags with wadded up cash in their pockets. Just a master class in insult.

    23. "Guests of guests do not bring guests."
    Show: NYC Prep (Episode 6)

    One of Bravo's most underappreciatedshows was NYC Prep, a look at the privileged lives of prep school brats on the Upper East Side, whose precocious play-acting at the business of being rich, cultured, and busy was both horrifying and utterly addicting. In particular, burgeoning social agenda-setter Jessie fancied herself a doyenne-in-training, even as the mask kept slipping and her very obvious crush on her best friend PC kept peeking through. When PC brought unannounced guests to the party Jessie had plus-one'd him to, her betrayal took the form of hyper-vigilant social decorum.

    22. "Every day since I got here: gym, tanning, laundry, that's what they do."
    Show: Jersey Shore (Season 1, episode 1)

    One of the secret superpowers that helped Jersey Shore maintain unnatural longevity in the reality TV sphere was its ability to turn the most mundane of things into iconography, and no more was this apparent than in the way that Vinny's unspectacular rundown of the guys daily activities got turned into an acronym, way of life, and merch-bait. GTL became the Jersey Shore motto, and as Vinny would readily tell you, none of those things are even fun to do.

    21. "David's dead."
    Show: Celebrity Big Brother UK (Season 17)

    Reality TV being a medium built on what is 95% watching people have conversations, it's a ripe venue for misunderstandings. But the greatest misunderstanding in reality TV history was on the UK's version of Celebrity Big Brother, when Angie Bowie — ex-wife of David Bowie — confided in fellow houseguest Tiffany Pollard (New York from VH1's Flavor of Love shows) that her ex-husband had just died of cancer. But Angie didn't say "my ex-husband David died," she said simply "David's dead," and since one of the other houseguests was Liza Minnelli's ex-husband David Gest, Tiffany jumped to the wrong conclusion and freaked out in spectacular fashion.

    20. "You're fired."
    Show: The Apprentice

    Unpleasant as it may be to linger on, the fact remains that Donald Trump's catch phrase on the Mark Burnett-produced The Apprentice is arguably the most influential phrase ever uttered on reality television. The phrase helped catapult Trump back into the realm of media celebrity, a path he walked all the way, infamously, to the White House. We don't have to like it, which is why it's ranked here and not any higher, but we should at least acknowledge it.

    19. "Whew, wow, okay."
    Show: Project Greenlight (Season 4, epsiode 1)

    When Project Greenlight was rebooted on HBO in 2015, the conversation around social justice in film production was already leagues beyond where it had been in the early 2000s. Only a few months prior to the Oscars So White controversy, producer Effie Brown found herself at odds with the Greenlight team of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Chris Moore over the selection of a director for the script, "The Leisure Class." Since the film featured a Black female prostitute character, Brown wanted to advocate for a director (and other behind-the-camera talent) who would be mindful of the cultural landmines such a character would represent. But when Matt Damon tried to shut her down by saying, "When we're talking about diversity, we do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show," Brown's speechless reaction ended up speaking volumes.

    18. "You can't call people losers."
    Show: American Idol (Season 1, episode 7)

    Trying to pinpoint exactly when American Idol went from curious British import to full-fledged American phenomenon is a tricky business, but we'd submit it was this moment, when judge Randy Jackson took real offense at Simon Cowell's theatrical insults toward some of the less-talented semifinalists (in this particular case it was RJ Helton). The realness of this argument — where Jackson at one point gets out of his seat like he's going to fight Simon — brought in the rubberneckers, and Idol went from singing competition to watercooler fodder soon thereafter.

    17. "Not even to dinner with the Kushners?"
    Show: Project Runway (Season 18, episode 4)

    Okay, last remembrance of the Trump regime, we promise. But this moment, where designer Tyler Neasloney responded to runway criticism with kneejerk, defensive shade about host Karlie Kloss's less-than-savory in-laws, was a legitimate jaw-dropper. After one of the judges said he couldn't see Karlie wearing the garment (the challenge was to design something for Kloss to wear in Paris), Tyler shot back, "Not even to dinner with the Kushners?" The line was a gag, certainly, but Kloss's dumbfounded reaction revealed just how little she wanted the fact that she was married to Jared Kushner's brother publicized.

    16. "The whore jumped out, and then it jumped back in."
    Show: Flavor of Love: Charm School (Season 1, episode 1)

    It would take entire chapters to lay out the full story of what a fascinating moment in time Flavor of Love: Charm School was. A pre-Oscar Mo'Nique hosted this spinoff where former Flavor of Love contestants who'd made themselves look bad on the original show were called back to compete in a Charm School concept where they'd get lessons on class, decorum, and civility. The concept alone was about six layers deep in meta ironies by design (Mo'Nique was not exactly known for her decorum on her stand-up career), but it led to some incredibly quotable moments, none better than when Mo'Nique eliminated Brooke (nee "Pumkin") for letting her inner "sluttaciousness" peek through when she fellated an ice sculpture on a dating challenge.

    15. "Floaters, you better grab a life vest!"
    Show: Big Brother (Season 12, episode 11)

    Rachel Reilly was a controversial figure through her two seasons on Big Brother. She was undoubtedly a fierce competitor who played hard and won competitions. She was also frighteningly obnoxious and aggressively unable to get along with most of the people she played with. Both of these traits were on full display in her first season when she won an early Head of Household competition and loudly declared that all floaters (i.e. players whose loyalties shifted to different places in the house) ought to grab a life vest. This was mostly an unsubtle stab at competitor Kristen (which she then clarified explicitly), but for many seasons to come it became a kind of motto among players against those oft-demeaned floaters.

    14. "Is this chicken, what I have, or is it fish?"
    Show: Newlyweds (Season 1, episode 1)

    In just one interrogative sentence, Jessica Simpson's public persona was crystallized for all of America. As she sat on her couch and pondered the Chicken of the Sea brand tuna fish in her bowl, she asked her husband Nick if she was eating chicken or fish. You could study this scene for a year and try to pin down the dynamics at play (is she playing up the dumb blonde angle? Is he already planning to divorce her?), but at its root, this was a foundational moment for the mini-genre of famous people inviting reality cameras into their home, a moment that showed that public images could be shaped indelibly by one little question.

    13. "Good luck, and don't fuck it up."
    Show: RuPaul's Drag Race

    The catch phrase that RuPaul uses to send two queens into their climactic Lip Sync for Your Life performance is so simple. Even with the f-word bleeped out, the bluntness of the instruction communicates both that this is serious business but also … we're still winking at the audience a little bit. It's become rote now, over a dozen seasons in, but it was a big part of what helped the show set its campy-yet-competitive tone.

    12. "Who gon' check me, boo?"
    Show: The Real Housewives of Atlanta (Season 2, episode 1)

    Sheree Whitfield's confrontation with a furious party planner in the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta was one of the show's earliest standout moments. Sheree's dissatisfaction with the planner's service was met with increasingly animated opposition, until he threatened to "check" her, leading Sheree to coolly and confidently lay down the above question, in what remains her greatest moment on the show.

    11. "I want to forgive you, and I want to forget you"
    Show: The Hills (Season 3, episode 14)

    The seasons-long deterioration of the friendship between Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag was put to bed in the briefest of meetings. After half a season of Lauren refusing to speak to Heidi after Heidi's boyfriend Spencer spread rumors around about Lauren having a sex tape, Heidi was finally able to get Lauren in the same room, and rather than reconcile, Lauren ended the friendship for good. For as much as The Hills was fake, ginned up conflict among wannabe starlets, the Lauren/Heidi fight was the only thing that felt fully real, and Lauren's steadfast refusal to put Spencer and Heidi's treachery behind her was relatable for anyone who's ever been fucked over.

    10. "I'm not here to make friends."
    Show: various

    If there's ever a reality TV hall of fame, there will almost certainly be a plaque with this phrase emblazoned upon it. The accepted lineage seems to state that the phrase was first used by Kelly Wigglesworth on the first season of Survivor, but versions of it predate even that moment, back to that season of The Real World where they started a business. Maybe it's on cave paintings. So many reality TV stars have summed up their commitment to success at all costs by declaring that they did not agree to appear on this show to be nice or sweet or personable or even cordial. No, they came here to be an absolute nightmare and maybe win some money (or at least notoriety). The patron prayer of the cutthroat and the overly dramatic alike, "I'm not here to make friends" lives on.

    9. "Where the fuck did your accent go?"
    Show: Flavor of Love (Season 2, episode 6)

    Given what a three-ring circus the two seasons of Flavor of Love were, it's hard to believe there could possibly be moment that would make anyone take a beat and consider anything deeply. And yet there we all were in season two, when Flav brought the controversial New York back into contention, white contestant Buckwild — famous for her fun attitude and unmistakable blaccent — objected so strenuously that she reverted to her white girl voice and resigned in disgust. Rather than let her maintain the high ground, Flav clocked her (pun intended!) for having dropped her blaccent as soon as it came time to speak with the manager. Where indeed, Buckwild??

    8. "You stole my goddamn house!"
    Show: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Season 1, episode 13)

    The limousine fight that closed the first season of RHOBH was both uncomfortable and completely spectacular, with Kyle finally reaching her limit with Kim's bad behavior and then immediately going too far in her recriminations. But it was Kim's gravel-voiced accusation that Kyle had stolen the house their mother had promised her that really cranked up the intrigue and set Kyle off on an even harsher round of accusations.

    7. "Make it work."
    Show: Project Runway

    Tim Gunn's eternal catchphrase to the designers across his seasons on Project Runway was both a directive, a piece of advice, and a supportive phrase of encouragement. Gunn's unfussy-yet-kind demeanor, especially in those early Runway seasons, was summed up so neatly by those three little words. He wanted the designers to push through their challenges with the same kind of prim good taste he always displayed. Reality TV has rarely known a simpler signature.

    6. "Go back to Party City where you belong!"
    Show: RuPaul's Drag Race (Season 4, episode 4)

    The best reality TV fights are when two characters of diametrically opposed aesthetics, viewpoints, and demeanors finally clash, and that's exactly what happened in the fourth season of Drag Race when the more traditional drag of Phi Phi O'Hara clashed with the spooky, avant garde drag of Sharon Needles. Both queens' personalities could be prickly, and when Sharon got praise from the judges that Phi Phi thought was rightfully hers, she blew up, and in one of the show's most memorable fights, she got what was probably the last solid hit against Sharon, who would go on to win the season and have the last laugh, all the way to the Party City checkout line.

    5. "This island is full of pretty much only two things: snakes and rats."
    Show: Survivor (Season 1: "Borneo", episode 13)

    Survivor would still have become the success it did if Sue Hawk hadn't delivered her legendary snakes and rats speech in the first season finale, but it might not have held the same kind of place in our hearts. After getting voted out by her younger ally Kelly just before the finals, Sue returned a bruised and betrayed woman, unleashing an uncharacteristically literary speech that tagged eventual winner Richard Hatch as the island's cunning snake but Kelly as the scared, scurrying rat. As metaphors go, it was blunt but effective. As reality TV moments that could rival any scripted show for drama and panache, it was spectacular.

    4. "We were all rooting for you! How dare you!"
    Show: America's Next Top Model (Season 4, episode 7)

    If Tyra Banks wanted anything out of America's Next Top Model, it was to be respected as a kingmaker in her industry. Which is probably why it set her off so much in season four when Tiffany — the rags-to-riches story that Banks clearly looked to as a possible winner's narrative — lost her competitive drive and exited the show with a whimper. Furious, Tyra went off on Tiffany for not believing in her own potential, screaming "I have never yelled at a girl like this!" A truly off-the-rails moment that only a reality show could provide.

    3. "It's a motherfucking walk-off!"
    Show: Project Runway (Season 2, episode 8)

    Project Runway reigns as one of the most quotable shows in history — just ask any Michael Kors critique — and season two alone was packed with them. The best of the bunch remains Daniel Vosovic's breathless delight that fellow contestant Zulema called for a walk-off between two models before she decided which one to poach. Rarely do the contestants match the tone of the audience this well, as we all joined Daniel in our thrill and enthusiasm for the moment.

    2. "Do you sell drugs? Why do you have a beeper?"
    Show: The Real World (Season 1: "New York," episode 1)

    The first episode of the landmark first season of The Real World ought to be playing on a continuous loop somewhere in the Smithsonian, that's how important it's been to American culture. And the moment that made that episode was when 19-year-old Julie, fresh outta Alabama, asked Jersey City rapper Heather B why she owned a beeper. "Do you sell drugs?" was a joke, but it was one that underlined the cultural differences among the cast members that undergirded the whole project. That the initially tense moment blossomed over the course of the season into one of the show's most enduring friendships is a testament to what the show's producers would want its legacy to be.

    1. "The tribe has spoken."
    Show: Survivor

    Simple, final, definitive. Jeff Probst's torch-snuffing catch-phrase was initially bagged on for being too self-serious and overdramatic, but it was that veneer of drama that ultimately helped the show become the phenomenon it did. It's one of the great lines in the history of television, regardless of genre, and it's currently in its 41st season of fame. In Survivor, the vote is all that matters; not your island skills or your competition prowess. There is no appeal. No matter how overcomplicated the show makes itself over the years, at the end of the day, the tribe vote is the final word. Time to walk down that dark path into the jungle.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice, Big Brother, The Celebrity Apprentice, The Challenge, The Hills, Jersey Shore, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, NYC Prep, Project Greenlight, Project Runway, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Real Housewives of New York City, The Real World, Selling Sunset, So You Think You Can Dance, Summer House, Top Chef, Vanderpump Rules