The end justifies the means, said philosopher Machiavelli in his composition The Prince, suggesting that morals have no value in the quest for victory. While this may have worked for 16th-century authoritarian rulers who were aided by a certain level of secrecy, these tactics have a way of coming back to haunt people who have TV cameras filming their every move.
Welcome to the era of Machiavelli 2.0, when entering a TV competition program gives contestants the excuse to be as despicable as they like, because the public will witness the horrors that unfold and understand that it was all just part of "the game." Covert tactics are expected on shows like Survivor and Big Brother, where backstabbing and deception are necessary steps in manipulating the competition, and some of the sneakiest players have been the best (Russell Franz from Survivor could teach officials at the Pentagon how to deploy psychological warfare against the enemy). Then there have been contestants who seemed to spend less time playing the game and more time turning on each other, perhaps in desperate attempts to thin out the competition, or just for the thrill of the kill.
Here are the best of the worst, the most dangerous of villains, the nastiest players whose tactics would make even Machiavelli himself blush.
America loves drag queens (<em>Mrs. Doubtfire</em> and <em>The Birdcage</em> still play on TV after almost 20 years), and much of their appeal comes from their skills in "throwing shade," the craft of delivering a put-down with aplomb and a touch of humor. Previous <em>Drag Race</em> villains like Raven and Shangela turned "shade" into an art, and watching them verbally chew up their competition was like attending a "How to Be a Diva" master class. Put a group of drag queens together in a room and turn on a TV camera, and there is bound to be drama, but apparently Phi Phi O'Hara didn't get the memo that drag is supposed to be fun. Her constant barrage of snide comments, boorish attempts at backstabbing, and poisonous attitude sucked the life out of the show. When she wasn't desperately trying to ruin her competitors, she was actually a good performer, but every time she glared at another contestant and pronounced, "You don't deserve to be here!" it was obvious she was battling her own demons.
Courtney Robertson won bachelor Ben Flajnik's heart, and that all-important final rose, on Season 16 of <em>The Bachelor</em>. Then Flajnik watched the show... and called off their engagement (at least temporarily). Was he bothered by the passive-aggressive, degrading way she treated her fellow contestants? Or was it the fact that she openly gloated about winning her roses, and repeatedly referred to him as "the prize"? Robertson won Flajnik's affections by employing a skillful mix of coquettishness, innocence, and flashes of sexual prowess, but behind the scenes she was a passive-aggressive manipulator who sabotaged fellow contestants' dates and instigated chaos in the house -- tactics Flajnik did not see until the show aired. He certainly got warnings from the other contestants, as they complained about her double-faced nature, but when he presented her with the allegations, she shut him down immediately. "I don't want you to question me at all," she whispered, wafting her pheromones in the nighttime air. "I've been nothing but honest and open." That's always a sign of trouble.
Santino Rice may have been the villain viewers loved to hate on Season 2 of <em>Project Runway</em>, but it was Zulema Griffin who walked away from the season with the most bridges burned. From accusations of <a href="http://www.out.com/entertainment/2006/02/26/project-runways-big-gunn-part-two" target="_hplink">stealing muslin</a> to on-show conflicts that reduced teammates to tears (although, admittedly, "I don't care if you cry and cut" -- see the video at left -- was delicious), Zulema had no qualms about letting everyone know she was out for blood. Her crowning achievement came when, given permission to choose a new model, she requested a "<a href="http://www.bravotv.com/project-runway/videos/its-a-mother-effin-walk-off" target="_hplink">motherf---ing walk-off</a>" that degraded the models onstage and caused chaos among the contestants. Even the unflappable Tim Gunn, ever the altruistic mentor, publicly vented his frustrations with Zulema, saying, "I found her presence to be grating." There it is, Zuzu. If even Tim Gunn doesn't like you, then you need to lighten up.
Bianca certainly landed herself in plenty of fights during Cycle 9 of <em>America's Next Top Model</em>. From the earliest episodes, she repeatedly asserted her superiority over the other contestants because, she thought, she was simply more beautiful than they were. (Among her <em>bons mots</em> was her claim, "I'm the only bitch who can look like this without makeup!") Such a strong personality is bound to get locked into some scuffles, and Bianca was known for raising her voice from time to time. It wasn't only the volatile Bianca who was a threat, however; there was also a soft-spoken Bianca, a smiling, pleasant soul who deployed a systematic stream of psychological warfare with which she could stare down a competitor and calmly explain why she simply felt they were trash. Anyone entering a reality-TV competition expects to encounter drama, but Bianca's poisonous stings caught several contestants off-guard, infecting their spirits and causing them to whither, one by one.
There are villains viewers love to hate... and then there people like Jonathan Baker on <em>The Amazing Race</em>. When he wasn't screaming at the heavens for not knowing where on Earth he was (literally), his favorite pastime seemed to be screaming at his teammate, <em>aka</em> his wife, Victoria. During a particularly stressful leg of the race in Germany, when Victoria couldn't run fast enough with the finish line in sight, they barely lost a first-place finish -- and Jonathan expressed his frustrations in a physical manner. The official term for his action is that he "shoved" Victoria, but when does a "shove" become a "hit"? Watch the video above and judge for yourself. It makes one wonder what he is like off-camera. (Note: Jonathan and Victoria are no longer married.)
"I'm going to crush my competition, and I'm going to enjoy doing it," said Omarosa, a line that encapsulated her demeanor while on <em>The Apprentice</em>. She may not have crushed her competition as she promised, but she made quite a name for herself as she snarled and condescended her way through the competition. Her best offense was a good defense: at any possible moment, she quickly fell to the role of the victim, claiming everything from sexism to racial bias, including her now-infamous rant that when her fellow competitor Ereka Vetrini used the phrase "the pot calling the kettle black," this was really a racially motivated slur that illustrated why her teammates did not like her. By forcing everyone else to repeatedly fend off her absurd tantrums, she constantly kept their foundations unstable, and she rose in the ranks as those around her crumbled.
Poor Colton. He really had a rough time on <em>Survivor</em>, didn't he? He didn't like to set up the camp. He didn't like to fish. And he didn't like being with all those people he didn't like, although he also whined that he didn't "fit in" with the other boys, but no matter. His temper tantrums, incessant complaining, and spoiled demeanor can all be forgiven as a symptom of immaturity, as he grew up in a sheltered environment in the Deep South. However, his barrage of insults against competitor Bill, who worked as an aspiring comedian, was so harsh that it even made the famously stoic host Jeff Probst wince. Always the victim, Colton insisted that his hatred of Bill, who is black, was not racially motivated; Colton claimed to have many black people in his life... for instance, his maid. (In his defense, Colton did use the term "African American" to prove how non-racist he is.) Colton had to resign from the show due to a bacterial infection -- which proves that karma, much like prissy brats, can be a bitch.
In the beginning there was Wendy Pepper. Back in the days before "make it work" was a part of the American vernacular, the first cast of <em>Project Runway</em> competed in a show they thought was actually based just on sewing talent. (It can be said that Jay McCarroll, the season's winner, made marvelous clothes.) But Pepper, wisened to the fact that talent alone isn't always enough, played her fellow contestants to her own advantage, blaming them for failed team challenges and calling out their flaws. The other designers were often left sputtering and gasping for air as they were blindsided by her jabs -- not because she said anything especially cruel, but simply because they thought the competition was really about just fashion design. By today's standards, Wendy Pepper would be just another reality-TV contestant playing the game; there have been much more volatile, immature, morally void contestants in <em>ProjRun</em> casts since. But for her time, Wendy Pepper set the bitch bar high.
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