Does it matter that you were voted off the island, didn't receive a rose or got booed off the stage? Nope, not even close. Just take a look at these six reality TV losers who went on to reap the gold.Clay Aiken
The Show: American Idol(need you even ask?)
Place: Runner-up to winner Ruben Studdard
From Loser: We tuned in week after week, not just to hear his soaring, crystal-clear voice, but also to see his incredible transformation from geek to girl-magnet. Not only did North Carolina-bred Aiken eke out the last wild-card slot on American Idol, he bowled over the competition (how on earth did Corey Clarke get more votes in the preliminary rounds than Clay?) once he made it to the final 12. As the contestants were being narrowed down, Clay emerged as a huge fan favorite. When he belted out "Bridge over Troubled Water" in the final round, a star was born, win or lose. Unfortunately for Clay, lose he did...by a mere 134,000 votes out of over 24 million. Fans screamed "FIXED!" and threatened to file a lawsuit. Clay, meanwhile, accepted the loss to Ruben graciously and set out to record a little album that he hoped would do moderately well.
To Last Laugh: That little album went on to become the little album that could. In 2003, Clay obliterated sales records with the release of Measure of a Man; 613,000 units flew off the shelves in the first week alone. And prior to dropping the full-length CD, Aiken sat on top of the charts with the single version of "Bridge over Troubled Water," placing ahead of Studdard's "Flying without Wings." These days, Clay's busy touring with Kelly Clarkson, enjoying the success of his smash hits "Invisible" and "The Way," and taking time to give back. Never one to forget his roots, Clay established the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which opens up doors for people with autism and other physical and mental disabilities. Ruben isn't exactly doing poorly, but clearly the winner of American Idol's second season is Clay, regardless of whether or not he carries the official title.
Elisabeth Filarski Hasselbeck
The Show: Survivor Outback
Place: Fourth place to winner Tina Wesson
From Loser: She came close to lasting the full 39 days in the Australian outback, but in the end, sneaky Keith, hunky Colby and eventual winner Tina took down America's favorite (and cutest) survivor. Cast as the sweetheart of the season, Elizabeth fit the role to a tee: Her tribemates loved her, and her close relationship with older pal Roger made just about everyone at home on their couches go, "Awww." So when she got the boot, her reasoning that no one wanted to go to the final two with her was pretty darn accurate. So endeared to her were the other survivors that they would have inevitably just handed her the check. She showed grit, endurance and heart for nearly a month, and when she said her final words, we all hoped we'd be seeing more of her.
To Last Laugh: And that we have. A shoe designer prior to hitting the outback, Elizabeth returned to the States and landed a plum job for the Style Network, hosting The Look for Less, on which she rounded up chic ensembles for bargain prices. She also received a nice fat rock on her ring finger from her NFL-playing college sweetheart, Tim Hasselbeck, and the two were married in 2002. In late 2003, when Lisa Ling opted to abandon her seat on ABC's The View, Elizabeth was asked to audition for the slot. After a series of grueling weeks during which she went head-to-head with Babs, Joy, Star and Meredith, she earned her stripes, their respect and, most importantly, a new gig. Now you can tune in every weekday to catch her interviewing top celebs, sparring about political issues and getting fun makeovers. Enduring five weeks in the desert sure seems worth it now. And besides, wasn't Tina the first one booted from Survivor All-Stars? Ha! Looks like Lizzie came out on top.
Next: Charlie Maher
The Show: The Bachelorette
Place: Runner-up to Ryan Sutter
From Loser: This was the season when Mike Fleiss, the producer of the Bachelor series, really duped the audience -- and evidently the contestants as well. Charlie and Trista were like birds of a feather -- we were all just sure they were meant for each other. (Maybe not in any sort of lasting way, but in a reality TV sort of way, i.e., stay together to do press, then land on the cover of Us Weekly to spill the details of their breakup.) After all, they were both slick, savvy and seemingly destined for a career in Hollywood. And Trista's mom went gaga for him. So imagine our surprise when Charlie was first out of the limo. Sure, Ryan was hot and all, but have you heard his poetry? We weren't the only ones who were stunned; our lovely reject was also speechless as he drove off. Sure, he didn't love her, but he thought he could someday. Meanwhile, Ryan placed a ring on Trista's finger, and the two smooched for the world to see their love.
To Last Laugh: While Ryan and Trista kept on smooching for the cameras, Charlie got an actual career out of the show, not just a paid-for, over-the-top wedding. Soon after he had his heart semi-broken (or at the very least suffered a serious blow to his ego), Extra came knocking on his door, and these days the University of Puget Sound graduate spends his time interviewing celebs and hitting the red carpet for the entertainment show. Ironically (and we loved this), he even covered Trista's wedding -- and her mom didn't seem to mind one bit. Hmmm, whooping it up with A-list actors or televising your very, very pink wedding? Attending movie premieres or suffering through incessant baby talk? We're pretty certain who came out the winner in this one.
Next: Kwame Jackson
The Show: The Apprentice
Place: Runner-up to winner Bill Rancic
From Loser: For nearly 11 weeks, this Harvard Business School grad was content to sit in the background, channeling his subdued energy to his teammates and inspiring them to get the job done and get it done well (um, though he often lost), while reaping praise from both the Donald and his fellow contestants. When the field narrowed to four, Kwame stepped up to the plate and really began to shine, acing his interviews with Trump's staff and knocking Nick and frontrunner Amy out of the competition. Unfortunately, after playing his hand so brilliantly, this soon-to-be-single stud (he's separated from his wife) made a critical mistake: He chose the much-hated Omarosa as part of his final team. In the days to follow, she lied, sabotaged and tried to upstage Jessica Simpson. (Hello, Omarosa -- she's famous for a reason; you're just her lackey for the day!) Ultimately, Kwame's lack of leadership -- Donald felt that he should have fired the troll -- doomed him, and instead he sat in the boardroom as Bill heard the words, "You're hired!"
To Last Laugh: Come on now. Is getting $250,000 to work for a year under Donald Trump really that great a prize? Doesn't seem like it, considering that on most of these reality shows, you can agree to marry some schmo and land a check for at least half a million. Kwame, meanwhile, has been inundated with job offers. His old employers at the prestigious firm Goldman Sachs allegedly tried to lure him back with reams more money, and KFC wants him to run their outfit for a week. He also has plans to start his own entertainment firm, Legacy Communications Group, and is being courted by the Dallas Mavericks as well. No, not to play, but rather to read over new business proposals. Seems like whichever option he goes for, he won't be anyone's apprentice for long. Bill...well, he has to endure the Donald's hair for at least another year.
Next: Shandi Sullivan
The Show: America's Next Top Model 2
Place: Third place to winner Yoanna
From Loser: From the moment the ugly duckling walked onscreen in the first episode of the second season of America's Next Top Model, you couldn't help but root for her -- in a feeling-sorry-for-her sort of way. The other girls made snarky comments to the cameras, like, "I can't ever see her as a top model," but Shandi, she of Walgreens "can I get a price check on aisle five?" fame, just slouched and laughed along. Then she got her makeover, and with a little hair color, contacts and confidence, the girl began to blossom, going from geek to chic. During her transformation, we heard about her cold and distant parents, watched in horror as she cheated on her boyfriend and ultimately came to relate to the insecure beauty who couldn't look in the mirror and see what was in front of her. Though she impressed photographers, casting directors and designers alike, her lack of confidence proved to be her undoing -- we sat there with mouths agape as Tyra informed her that in fact she wouldn't be crowned America's next top model, leaving that slot open for eventual runner-up Mercedes and winner Yoanna.
To Last Laugh: Guess what, Tyra? You're wrong! Yoanna may have edged out feistier Mercedes and funkier Shandi, but rumor has it that she's quickly developed a reputation for being a diva. (Come on, girl. When your last name is Evangelista or Crawford, you can get away with it, but when we can't even remember what the hell your last name is, you have no right throwing snooty fits.) Shandi, meanwhile, has smoothed the waters with her boyfriend, Eric, and packed her bags for New York, kissing Walgreens goodbye once and for all. E! News reported that IMG, the modeling agency that reps Tyra (and Yoanna) has signed Shandi on for a top contract. Considering how much she impressed the fashion world during her stint on the show, her bookings sheet will probably be bursting in no time flat. And given that ANTM judge Nigel called her his muse, we're pretty sure she's well on her way.
Next: Colby Donaldson
The Show: Survivor Outback
Place: Runner-up to winner Tina Wesson
From Loser: He was the first piece of Survivor eye candy (no offense, Richard Hatch, but your abs didn't exactly have us tuning in week after week), and as the tribe was whittled down, we sat agape on our couches, both astonished by his monster immunity run and simply awestruck at how his teeth managed to stay so sparkly without a toothbrush for 39 days. Colby was the nice guy; his teammates loved him (um, Jerri loved him a bit too much) and viewers rallied behind him. And when he had the option of taking angelic Tina or wretched Keith to the final two, his nice-guy demeanor proved too strong: He opted for Tina and walked away from a guaranteed win. (The idea here is to take the least liked person with you to the last round, thus ensuring that the jury of your teammates will vote for you.) Sure enough, after playing a savvy, smart and superior game, Colby was left with a mere $100,000 check (and a Harley from Rosie O'Donnell), while Tina cashed in on the million.
To Last Laugh: After making the requisite talk-show rounds, Colby ditched his auto-body shop in Texas and headed to L.A. like just about every other reality TV star. The difference with the Colbster is that he took his time to hone "his craft," signing up for acting lessons and not whoring himself out at every opportunity (Jerri Manthey, we're looking at you). In 2003, he landed the Schick Quattro razor campaign, and then, quite impressively, guest starred on Larry David's critically acclaimed Curb Your Enthusiasm. Not a shabby gig for a former survivor. But Curb was just a stepping-stone. Having recently shot a pilot for Kelsey Grammer's production company, Colby's also appearing in the Oxygen Network's upcoming TV series Girls Gone Bad. And though he got the early boot on Survivor: All-Stars, he didn't seem too broken up over it. After all, he knew that there was more to life than starving yourself on an island -- notably, fame and fortune in a crazy world called Hollywood. We hear they're looking for a new James Bond? may we offer a suggestion? No doubt Colby's team -- and yes, he does have a team now, including a top agent at William Morris -- is already on it.