Over the years, LGBTQ+ people have had conflicting portrayals on reality TV. Very often, queer cast members were depicted on reality shows as certain “archetypes” that straight audiences expected them to be. This was frustrating for LGBTQ+ viewers who wanted to see their actual selves represented on their favorite shows, but things have thankfully changed – and somewhat improved – over time.
Despite so many odds being stacked up against them, there have been plenty of LGBTQ+ contestants who persevered within the reality TV genre and even won their seasons. In fact, a few of these people were crowned the winners of their respective seasons at a time when the general U.S. public wasn’t even entirely accepting of queer people yet.
In recent years, there have also been historic LGBTQ+ winners who have pushed boundaries in reality TV with the inclusion of not only lesbian, gay, and bi contestants, but also trans and nonbinary people as well. Fortunately, things are moving in the right direction when it comes to crowning LGBTQ+ individuals in reality competitions.
Scroll through to check out the LGBTQ+ winners who made history in reality TV!
The most legendary gay reality TV winner of all time is Richard Hatch, who won the first-ever season of Survivor. Given that Survivor is basically the godfather of all reality TV competitions in the U.S., it is absolutely iconic that its first-ever winner was a gay man.
It took quite a few years for another out LGBTQ+ contestant to win Survivor, but it happened in season 15, dubbed Survivor: China. Not only was Todd Herzog great gay representation on reality TV, but he was also absolutely beloved by the Survivor fandom. This was back in 2007, so the fan-favoritism behind Herzog was pretty unprecedented for the time.
The U.K. edition of Big Brother premiered back in 2000 and became a mainstream sensation way before the American version figured out its own format. In the U.K., the public is responsible for voting for Big Brother houseguests to stay in the house and then win the show. As such, it was quite legendary that a gay man, Brian Dowling, won the second-ever season of Big Brother UK.
Shockingly, it took over a decade for an out LGBTQ+ houseguest to win a season of Big Brother in the U.S. On Big Brother 15, Andy Herren aligned himself with the women of the house and managed to outplay all of their straight male costars. Herren not only made history as the first-ever gay man to win Big Brother, but he’s also considered one of the best strategic winners of the entire series.
Kaycee Clark became the first-ever out lesbian to win Big Brother. She went into the season 20 finale up against her very best friend in the house, Tyler Crispen, who many viewers thought was going to win the show. Nonetheless, Clark beat Crispen by a 5-4 jury vote and took home the $500,000 grand prize of Big Brother 20.
Overall, Top Chef has had a pretty solid track record when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation. The series has also done a great job casting people of different races and backgrounds – making it one of the most diverse reality competitions on TV. All the way back in season three, Hung Huynh was crowned the winner of Top Chef, becoming the first gay man to win the show.
The first lesbian winner of Top Chef was Kristen Kish. Season 10 was set in Seattle, Washington and premiered back in 2012. In the end, Kish went up against Brooke Williamson and won. As a whole, Kish is considered one of the most iconic winners in the history of Top Chef.
In 2021, HBO Max launched a reality competition called Finding Magic Mike based on the hit film franchise Magic Mike. The show featured both athletic and average men who had “lost their magic” but were looking for an opportunity to regain it. On the show, eventual winner Johnny Dutch came out as being sexually fluid and was immediately embraced by his costars. For a movie franchise that relies so heavily on the “alpha male” stereotype, it was pretty significant for Finding Magic Mike to crown a sexually fluid winner during its inaugural season.
There have been many LGBTQ+ contestants on The Amazing Race over the years, but it’s hard to compete with the cultural impact of gay couple Will Jardell and James Wallington winning season 32. Immediately after crossing the finish line of TAR 32 in first place, Jardell got down to one knee and proposed to Wallington. Not only did two gay men win The Amazing Race, but they also got engaged on national TV at the grand finale.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is an LGBTQ+ staple on reality TV, but that doesn’t mean that the franchise hasn’t had its fair share of historic moments – particularly when it comes to the recent inclusion of more out trans contestants on the show. In 2021, Kylie Sonique Love won All Stars 6 and became the first-ever out trans contestant to win any U.S. season of Drag Race. Meanwhile, Love also became the first trans inductee to the Drag Race Hall of Fame for winning All Stars.
In 2022, Willow Pill became the first out trans contestant to win a regular U.S. season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. After having a solid track record on the show, Pill won the grand finale’s lip sync battle against Lady Camden and was crowned the ultimate champion of season 14.