How Much Are Reality Show Prizes Really Worth?

ALTFor everyone who has complained that perennial Emmy winner The Amazing Race has been slacking off in past seasons, CBS is finally doing something about it. They’re not finding better locals, more interesting challenges, or even crazier cast members. They’re not even fixing it so all the teams don’t bunch up at every airport they go to, eventually making each leg of the race a dead heat. No, according to their promos, they’re doubling the prize! Now the first team across the finish line wins $2 million instead of one! Wow! While that won’t really fix the show’s woes, maybe it is time we goose the cash we’re getting from our reality shows.

Back in 2000, when Survivor debuted, a $1 million dollar prize seemed like a huge deal and everyone answered in the affirmative when asked Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. But for people who won the big prize back then, it would only amount to $751,623.72 in today’s dollars, if you adjust for inflation. And that’s not even taking out the 28% (or more) in taxes that you would hand off to Uncle Sam, which would only leave you with $541,169.08 after taxes. That’s almost half of what winners expect to take home with them (and they best pay their taxes unless they want to end up in jail like Richard Hatch).

So, what about reality TV’s other biggest prizes? The $1 million Kelly Clarkson won in 2002 for Season 1 of American Idol would now only be worth $785,232.91. The $500K from Big Brother‘s first year would only be worth $375,811.86 today (which is still more than the $250,000 the winner of Glass House is gonna pocket in 2012). The $100,000 from the first season of America’s Next Top Model is now worth $80,312.87, which is Tyra’s eyelash budget for just one “cycle.”

Yes, maybe it is time to up the ante for some of these shows, if only they get cost of living increases. I mean, I wouldn’t still be working at a job if I hadn’t gotten a raise in 12 years, so why should people be stranded on a desert island for the same lousy chunk of change? If only based on inflation, the $1 million of 2000 should be upped to $1,330,452.96, which would be a whole lot harder of Jeff Probst to say. Maybe he should just go with an even $1.5 million or, hell, pull an Amazing Race and go for $2 million. Idol should think of the same change. When Mariah Carey is making $15 million a season as a judge, the winner should at least get one-eigth of that.

Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan

[Photo Credit: CBS]

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