10 Most Savvy Reality Stars on TV

Think fast: Who came in third place on Survivor: Palau? Name three cast members from the first incarnation of The Real World: New Orleans. Who was the first Big Brother house guest to ignore the slop rules?

Can't answer them all without using Google? That's because the majority of people who star in reality shows fade back into obscurity as quickly as they arrived. But, some are far more shrewd. Whether they had a sparkling personality, an entrepreneurial spirit or were just great hustlers, we've nominated the 10 people who turned a chance appearance on reality television into a life-changing experience.

(Note: We purposely left out American Idol contestants, because there are so many who have successfully fashioned careers out of their reality TV fame.)

10. Flavor Flav

One of two previously washed-up celebs on our list, Flavor Flav gained noteriety in the 1980s as a member of one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time. But the famed rapper/hype man hit rock bottom in the 1990s, serving prison time for various crimes and entering rehab for crack addiction. So nobody was more surprised than us when Flav and his clock necklace re-emerged as a cast member of The Surreal Life in 2005. Flavor Flav? Mainstream?

On that show, he developed a gross and fascinating "romantical" relationship with fellow cast member Brigitte Nielsen, which snowballed into its own offshoot show, Strange Love. When things between the blonde amazon and the gold-toothed rapper went awry, he was granted three seasons of a dating show, Flavor of Love (which helped pave the way for our No. 7 person on this list).

After that, he settled into an acting role on the short-lived sitcom, Under One Roof. Flav used his initial Surreal Life appearance to become popular with an entirely new generation, and remind the rest of us that he's just a big goofball at heart. It was nice to see him eventually come out on top.

9. Spencer Pratt

Unlike most of the other people on this list, Spencer Pratt did not use his time in the spotlight to fashion a career or contribute to the world in some other way. Instead, he used it to cultivate a more and more vile personality and in turn, get more and more press. His sole goal was fame, and he didn't care how he got it.

A smarter person might have tried another tactic in order to remain relevant. Did he really think the Hills would last forever? But when the Hills was over, so was Spencer. Thank God.

8. Whitney Port

With a minimal role as Conrad's friend and co-worker on The Hills, Port was by no means the focal point of the show. But she was the only one who seemed A) sane; B) emotionally stable; and C) to have a work ethic. She was rewarded with her own spinoff series, The City, which focused on her job at Diane von Furstenberg. She later began designing her own fashion line, Whitney Eve.

From background character, to leading lady, to clothing designer -- Project Runway contestants should be so lucky.

7. Bret Michaels

We know, we know. Michaels had already been a star before three different incarnations of his dating show,Rock of Love, during which he courted some of the skankiest skanks this side of the bunny ranch. But that dating show, in which he showcased his charming personality and wicked sense of humor, made him not only relevant again, but popular.

ROL was just his springboard. He won over mainstream America when he participated in -- and won -- The Celebrity Apprentice amidst a rash of life-threatening health problems. Suddenly, nobody could not get enough of Bret Michaels: TV star, medical miracle, aging rocker. His miracle health recovery was huge news, and his re-found stardom resulted in what he wanted all along: Sold-out rock shows across the land.

He now stars in another reality series, Life As I Know It, (10 p.m. Mondays on VH1) which focuses on his life at home with his girlfriend and their daughters. Just think of all the money he'll save on antibiotics and hand sanitizer compared to ROL!

6. Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino

This time last year, The Situation worked part-time as an unknown underwear model. Now the biggest tool on Jersey Shore is poised to earn some $5 million dollars this year. This is what's wrong with the world today.

Anyway, his millions will come from his appearances on Shore and Dancing With the Stars; shoe and liquor endorsements; a workout DVD; a vitamin line for GNC; an autobiography and -- hold your breath -- a clothing line. (This, from a guy who rarely wears a shirt?)

Hopefully, he invests the money, because he doesn't seem likely to sustain an actual career from his fame. Just give him three years, until MTV spawns its next reality hit.

5. Lauren Conrad

As if high school doesn't come with enough teen angst, Conrad agreed to have her life taped by MTV as cast member of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. That propelled her to her own spinoff show, The Hills, which in turn made her and her co-stars tabloid darlings, gracing the cover of numerous magazines for more more than three years.

With plans to focus on other endeavors, LC made her exit from The Hills in 2009. The series only survived one more season without her, and Conrad made her mark elsewhere. At 24, she's already written a trilogy of fiction books and another book on style, and has her own fashion line for sale in Kohl's department stores.

Conrad recently revealed that she's working on a new reality series, which will focus less on hair-twirling and crying, and more on her career in the fashion industry. More importantly, there will be no Spencer Pratt. Count us in!

4. Bethenny Frankel

While Frankel is best known as the quick-witted voice of reason from The Real Housewives of New York City, the natural chef made her reality TV debut in 2005 on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, where she came in second place. Instead of fading into obscurity like other contestants, Frankel later became one of the most popular Housewives in the Bravo franchise, earning her a spin-off, Bethenny Getting Married? And that's just her TV career.

In real life, Frankel is a best-selling author and astute businesswoman, whose Skinnygirl brand of low-cal cocktails -- which are delicious, by the way -- is becoming a household name. Hell, she's almost become more relevant than Martha herself.

3.Elisabeth Hasselbeck

Nearly 10 years ago, Hasselbeck was just a young girl covered in dirt, mosquito bites and sweat who befriended Kentucky Joe on Survivor: The Australian Outback. Now, she's a not only a co-host on The View, but an enviable fashionista as well.

Before her stint on Survivor, she worked as designer for Puma. Now, she's got a daytime Emmy for outstanding talk show host, and more importantly, she gets to shower and be made up before getting in front of the camera. That's quite an upgrade, if you ask us.

2. The Kardashian sisters

Originally, middle sister Kim was the focal point of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and she's certainly made the most of it. The once-famous-for-her-sex-tape celeb now has many ventures on her resume, including actress, model, business owner, perfume creator and fashion designer.

But her sisters, Kourtney and Khloe, were also catapulted into the spotlight. The siblings -- who co-own the clothing store, DASH -- earned their own reality show, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami and have most recently been hawking their K-Dash line (by them, plus Kim and mom Kris) on QVC.

The world, it seems, cannot get enough of this hot brunette trio. But even if it does, they will have built an empire on which to retire from the spotlight quite comfortably.

1. Ryan Seacrest

Seacrest had a career in radio before he was cast as the co-host of American Idol. But once he became a household name, there was no stopping the Atlanta native from becoming a bonafide media mogul. After the AI gig started, he piled up a variety of achievements: He became a syndicated radio talk show; became the face of E! news; helped co-host of Dick Clark's Rockin New Year's Eve; hosted the Primetime Emmys; and has even served as a fill-in host on Larry King Live.

On top of that, he is listed as executive producer on a number of successful reality shows, and last year inked a deal to make $45 million over three years for his participation in various programs, including Idol. All this in the past 8 years, and at 35 years old!

Kinda makes you feel like a slacker, no?