Wisconsin’s reality royalty: 12 contestants who left their mark on TV

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Just because most American TV shows are made and produced in Los Angeles doesn’t mean the people who appear in them can’t come from anywhere across the country — including Wisconsin. In fact, the Badger State continues to produce some of the most memorable reality show contestants.

Wisconsin natives and residents have appeared on all sorts of reality shows — from unforgettable “Survivor” contestants, to some of the top dancers on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Here are some of the most recent, as well as some of the most iconic, Wisconsin natives and residents who have shown up on the silver screen, competing and appearing in some of television’s most popular reality TV shows.

Sue Hawk (“Survivor”)

In 2000, 16 Americans were sent to live on an island, competing against each other in challenges and slowly voting out the other contestants until one winner was chosen. The show, “Survivor,” has now aired 46 seasons — but its first one became unforgettable and instantly iconic television, and propelled the 16 contestants into stardom, including Palmyra, Wisc. resident Sue Hawk.

Hawk became one of the show’s most memorable contestants, joining the show’s first-ever alliance, alongside eventual winner Richard Hatch, Rudy Boesch and Kelly Wigglesworth. Hawk finished in fourth place on the show’s first season, and returned to compete in “Survivor: All Stars,” where she placed 13th. 

Hawk hasn’t appeared on the long-running show since its eighth season, “Survivor: All Stars,” aired in 2004, but still remains one of its most unforgettable contestants due to her outspoken jury speech, where she compared the two finalists to “a snake and a rat,” and her initial alliance on the show’s first season. Hawk’s last appearance on reality TV was in 2005, when she competed on “Battle of the Network Reality Stars.”

Photo courtesy of Tribal Council Blog via Instagram.

Trixie Mattel (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”)

One of the most well-known competitors from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Trixie Mattel is the stage name of Milwaukee native Brian Firkus. Mattel first appeared on the reality series’ seventh season, ultimately placing sixth. The drag queen returned to the reality franchise, competing in the third season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars,” which she won. 

The drag queen hasn’t only appeared on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” In 2023, Mattel made an appearance in drag on “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” and also starred in the reality show “Trixie Motel,” which follows Mattel and her partner David Silver, as they buy and renovate a motel in Palm Springs, Calif.

Photo courtesy of Trixie Mattel via Instagram.

Dan Jacobs (“Top Chef”)

The latest season of “Top Chef,” which was filmed in Wisconsin, celebrates the food and culture of the state, but it’s not just the show that’s based in the state — one of the contestants from the series’ 21st season is, too. Dan Jacobs, one of “Top Chef: Wisconsin’s” 15 contestants, is the owner and chef behind Milwaukee restaurants DanDan and EsterEv. 

While the show hasn’t finished airing yet, so we’re not entirely sure where Jacobs will place, the Milwaukee-based chef has been doing well in the competition, winning an elimination challenge in the season’s fifth episode. Jacobs has also competed on “Beat Bobby Flay,” where he fell short of beating the famous chef. 

Photo courtesy of Daniel Jacobs via Instagram.

Donald Driver (“Dancing With the Stars”)

When someone thinks of Donald Driver’s athletic prowess, they’ll recall his 14-season career as a wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. But the former football pro doesn’t just excel at one sport — he’s a pretty great dancer, too. Driver proved his dancing talent by winning the 14th season of “Dancing With the Stars,” alongside his partner, professional dancer Peta Murgatroyd. 

After retiring from the NFL in 2013, Driver was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2017. He now splits his time between homes in Texas and Milwaukee.

Photo courtesy of Donald Driver via Instagram.

Dawson Addis (“Deal or No Deal Island”)

Many people passed through the studio that “Deal or No Deal” was filmed in to compete in the game show, but the format switched up a bit for the revamped version of the show, “Deal or No Deal Island.” Instead of filming in a studio, participants are living and competing on an island off of Panama. Also, there’s only 12 people competing for the potential grand prize of $200 million, the largest potential prize ever offered on a reality show. One of those competitors was Dawson Addis, a 25-year-old bar manager and realtor from Muskego.

“Deal or No Deal Island” premiered on Feb. 26, and the Wisconsin resident was eliminated in the show’s April 15 episode, but was still able to walk away with $100,000.

Photo courtesy of Dawson Addis via Instagram.

Carmen Kocourek (“Love Island USA”)

“Love Island” has become one of the most popular television shows throughout the United Kingdom, so of course it was adapted for an American audience. “Love Island USA” premiered on CBS in 2019, and its fifth season, which aired throughout the summer of 2023, saw Milwaukee native Carmen Kocourek finding love with Kenzo Nudo, from Phoenix, Arizona, and the couple competing in challenges. 

While Kocourek and Nudo didn’t walk away with the $100,000 grand prize, they walked away with some potentially more valuable — the couple is still together.

Photo courtesy of Carmen Elizabeth Kocourek via Instagram.

Xavier Prather (“Big Brother”)

In 2021, “Big Brother” had its first regular-season Black winner in its 21-year history with Milwaukee resident Xavier Prather. The Wisconsinite won the show in an unanimous jury vote after 85 days of competition, taking home the $750,000 grand prize.

Since his win, Prather’s competed in other “Big Brother” shows, including “Big Brother Reindeer Games,” a holiday-themed spin-off, in which Prather placed fourth.

“Big Brother” isn’t the only reality show that Prather’s competed in — he’s also been a contestant on “The Challenge: USA,” where he placed 11th in the show’s first season. Outside of reality television, Prather is a practicing attorney in Milwaukee, and graduated from Marquette University’s law school in 2020. 

Photo courtesy of Xavier Prather via Instagram.

Sunny Pulver and Elizabeth “Bizzy” Smith (“The Amazing Race”)

If fighting fires wasn’t tough enough, Wisconsin firefighters and best friends Sunny Pulver and Elizabeth “Bizzy” Smith decided to put their friendship to the test by racing throughout Latin America on season 36 of “The Amazing Race.” The two contestants are both from Wisconsin — Pulver, a resident of Edgerton, Wisc., works at the Madison Fire Department, and Smith, a New Berlin resident, works at the New Berlin Fire Department.

The firefighting duo were eliminated from “The Amazing Race” on the show’s April 24 episode, which had contestants traveling around Montevideo, Uruguay. Pulver and Smith finished the show’s 36th season in 7th place.

The two firefighters aren’t the only “The Amazing Race” contestants who have called Wisconsin home. Madison residents Rachel Brown and Dave Brown Jr. won the show’s 20th season, and Madison residents Amy DeJong and Maya Warren won the show’s 25th season.

Photo courtesy of Alex Corradetti via Instagram.

Grace Girard (“Farmer Wants a Wife”)

Who says that country folk and city folk aren’t compatible? The reality dating show “Farmer Wants a Wife” tests out that concept as 32 women from urban areas, including Racine County resident Grace Girard, attempt to find love with four different farmers. Caledonia, Wisc. native Girard is currently competing to find love with Brandon Rogers, a potato and barley farmer from Colorado. 

“Farmer Wants a Wife” hasn’t finished airing, but Girard has a strong showing among the nine women competing for Rogers’ heart. Girard is currently one of the final two women that the potato and barley farmer is choosing between.

Photo courtesy of Grace Girard via Instagram.

Nick Viall (“The Bachelor”)

Nick Viall may not have found lasting love on “The Bachelorette” or his installment as “The Bachelor,” but he did find a passion for participating in reality TV. The Waukesha native was first cast on the 10th season of “The Bachelorette,” making it to the final rose ceremony where bachelorette Andi Dorfman chose contestant Josh Murray instead. He then appeared on the following season of “The Bachelorette,” and made it to the final rose ceremony again, but was not given the final rose for a second time.

Viall had his turn in handing out roses when he was chosen to be the titular bachelor in the 21st season of “The Bachelor.” Since his stint on the dating competition shows, Viall has also competed on “Dancing with the Stars,” placing sixth in the show’s 24th season, as well as the second season of “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test” in 2023.

Born and raised in Waukesha, Viall graduated from Waukesha North High School and the University of Wisconsin — Milwaukee, where he served as the team captain of the university’s track and field team.

Photo courtesy of Nick Viall via Instagram.

Andrea Boehlke (“Survivor”)

For the most part, each season of “Survivor” has taken place over 39 days. So it’s a pretty big accomplishment, and a sign that a player is well-liked and a pretty good competitor, if they’ve spent 100 days or more competing on the show. That’s the case for Andrea Boehlke, a native of Random Lake, Wisc., who competed on three different seasons of “Survivor.”

Boehlke first competed on the show’s 22nd season, “Survivor: Redemption Island,” where she ended up in fifth place, being voted out on the 37th day. She returned as one of the show’s favorite competitors on its 26th season, “Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites,” where she placed seventh, being voted out on day 33. Her most recent stint on the show was in “Survivor: Game Changers,” the long-running show’s 34th season, which aired in 2017. Boehlke was again voted out on day 33, placing eighth. 

Photo courtesy of Andrea Boehlke via Instagram.

Ben Chan (“Jeopardy”)

Many “Jeopardy” contestants only have the opportunity to appear once on television — as winning the game is essential to moving on to the following day, but Green Bay native Ben Chan, a professor of philosophy at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisc., continued to grace the silver screen day after day when he went on a nine-day winning streak in 2023. After his streak came to an end, Chan was honored by the Wisconsin Assembly in Feb. 2024, with Assembly Joint Resolution 114, recognizing him for his success on the show, as well as love for learning.

Despite Chan’s winning streak coming to an end in early 2023, the professor returned to compete in “Jeopardy’s” Tournament of Champions, making it all the way to the finals, but ultimately losing to competitor Yogesh Raut.

Photo courtesy of Ben Chan via X.

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Author

  • Erin Yarnall

    Erin Yarnall is a freelance writer based in northern Illinois. Her work has been published in Alternative Press, The Toronto Star, Time Out, The Chicago Tribune and Eat This, Not That, among other publications. When she’s not writing, Erin enjoys running marathons at a snail’s pace, going to concerts and traveling.

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