Which Reality Competition Series Deserves The Emmy?

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When Emmy nominations come out, I can’t stop ranking and re-ranking which nominees deserve to win most — which is not the same thing as a prediction. This practice is a compulsion and a gift (or something), and today I’m cementing my personal picks for one of my favorite categories: Outstanding Reality Competition. I’m so passionate about this hokey topic, I’ve even added a seventh nominee out of pure frustration. The actual nominees are The Amazing Race (ugh, sigh), The Voice, Top Chef, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing with the Stars. We’ll rank those in a second, but for argument’s sake, here’s my pick for a seventh-place show.

7. American Idol

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I’m of two minds when it comes to the topsy-turvy, talent-heavy, routinely annoying twelfth season of American Idol: The level of competing distaff talent was astonishing, and we witnessed bankable performances by budding popster Angie Miller, countrified old soul Kree Harrison, and the deeply talented, fearsomely commanding Candice Glover, but we were also served an unnecessary feud between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey (my goddess), not to mention a male contestant pool that never connected with the judges, viewers, or their own material. Still ranked in the Top 10 of the year’s biggest shows, Idol still claims one of the greatest assets in reality TV: the hosting chops of the preternaturally capable Ryan Seacrest. He can be a bit snide at times, but the karaoke competition feels totally in control when he’s striding about the stage. Face it. He’s got some of what Dick Clark had. Really. I still hope this show takes the big prize one day; better yet, I hope it gets nominated at all next year with its revamped panel.

 

6. Project Runway

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Trust me, back when I worshiped Jay McCarroll in season one, Santino Rice in season two, or even Leanne Marshall in season five, I never thought I’d actively root against Project Runway‘s Emmy chances. But how weird and unsettling would it be if Tim Gunn‘s sartorial circus racked up a win this season? With the judges’ crazy fixation on the ululating Patricia, the dubious team challenge setup, and a forgettable finale, it’s just not the greatest version of Project Runway we’ve seen. I do love that Heidi Klum and Mr. Gunn are both billed as hosts, and therefore both are nominated for Outstanding Reality Host this year, but we suffered through too much dubious judging and enough uninspired challenges to declare this season one of the show’s least successful.

5. Top Chef

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I’m still glad Top Chef walked off with an Outstanding Reality Competition Emmy in 2010, but I think we can agree that the show’s tenth season was no more thrilling than the past few years’, and that its web series spinoff Last Chance Kitchen felt fresher than the actual show. Unlike Project Runway, though, Top Chef‘s most recent season boasts the best version of its judging panel to date. That’s a feat American Idol and Project Runway are still working on. I sometimes daydream about Zac Posen furiously applying self-tanner to himself in an effort to recreate Michael Kors’ damp, root beer glow.

4. The Amazing Race

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Look, my contrarian streak wants to hate this show. It’s won even more Emmys than Cloris Leachman has in her entire career (Every award in this category since its inception, save that Top Chef victory, has gone to this show), but I can’t deny a slickly produced spectacle when I see one, if none of the featured teams grabbed me this year. The show featured a controversial leg from Indonesia to Vietnam this season, and Phil Keoghan is still as amiably stern as I require him to be.

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