From "Real Housewives" to competition series, reality TV has been booming for more than two decades now. Wonderwall.com is rounding up some major reality TV firsts, starting with the latest milestones. When Matt James' season 25 of "The Bachelor" premiered on Jan. 4, 2021, he made his debut as the franchise's first ever Black lead. The show gave fans another Bachelor Nation first on the same episode: Contestant Abigail Heringer, to whom Matt gave the coveted first impression rose, was born deaf. "She's the first hearing-impaired person we've ever had on the show," host Chris Harrison shared. Keep reading to check out even more notable reality TV firsts…
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Nyle DiMarco had already made waves when he won season 22 of "America's Next Top Model," becoming the first deaf winner in the series' history. But his season 22 win on "Dancing With the Stars" was seriously triumphant. He and pro partner Peta Murgatroyd danced to the beat and earned high scores all season, leading them to take home the Mirrorball trophy — making Nyle the show's first deaf winner (season 6 contestant Marlee Matlin, who's also deaf, was the sixth celebrity eliminated on her series).
Back in 2003, the winners of "The Amazing Race" season 4 accomplished two firsts at once. Reichen Lehmkuhl (left) and Chip Arndt (center) were both the first romantic team winners and also the first gay couple to win the show. Fun fact: They later split and Reichen was linked to Lance Bass in 2006.
Though it sparked a legion of shows following families of multiples, "Jon and Kate Plus 8" was the original. Jon and Kate Gosselin scored their own show — which debuted in 2007 and chronicled their lives raising young twins and sextuplets — after they appeared in two one-hour specials on the Discovery Health Channel, "Surviving Sextuplets and Twins" and "One Year Later." Jon and Kate's bitter 2009 divorce derailed the show, leading to its relaunch as "Kate Plus 8," which ran until 2017.
The 2003 reality TV show "Joe Millionaire" had an interesting approach — it was the first time a reality dating show's premise was based entirely on a lie. The show was set up to make female contestants think they were competing for the love of a handsome millionaire — only to later find out that Evan Marriott was just a normal guy. When that info was revealed, winner Zora Andrich could pick if she wanted to stay with him. She chose love and the couple ended up being surprised with a million dollar check!
On "The Challenge: Fresh Meat," contestant Diem Brown, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003, used her platform to raise awareness for people with the disease. She became a powerhouse on the popular MTV reality franchise, appearing on numerous seasons. When she competed during season 13, dubbed "The Duel," in 2009, she bravely removed her wig to compete in a swimming challenge and famously won that competition. Diem passed away in 2014 at 32.
On "Bachelor in Paradise" in 2019, Bachelor Nation got its very first same-sex couple when Demi Burnett came out as bisexual during the season and later explored a relationship in paradise with girlfriend Kristian Haggerty. Demi later proposed to Demi on the show's finale, only to have Kristian re-propose on the reunion. Unfortunately, the couple called it quits later that year in October.
An almost deadly accident caught on camera! Season 6 of "Below Deck" delivered a seriously dramatic moment that was way too real for the crew. Deckhand Ashton Pienaar went overboard after being dragged into the water when the line used to tow the tender wrapped around his ankle. If not for fast-acting cameraman Brent Freeburg, Ashton's foot would have been severed and he would have died. Brent dropped his camera and helped get the line loose to save Ashton — and it all went down on the show in 2019.
In 2020, "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" brought on its first Black cast member, Garcelle Beauvais. She joined the cast for season 10, which debuted in April 2020. For season 11, the franchise is adding its first Asian American housewife to the cast — Crystal Kung Minkoff.
In 2013, Andy Herren became the first gay man to win "Big Brother." Despite a very controversial season, he came out on top during the season 15 finale, winning with a 7-2 vote over runner-up GinaMarie Zimmerman.
On season 14 of "The Bachelor," producers found themselves faced with a first — and it involved one of their own. Contestant Rozlyn Papa was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a producer on the show during the 2010 season. Host Chris Harrison broke the news that she was being sent home right in front of the cameras. Rozlyn denied an affair.
In 2014, "America's Next Top Model" crowned its first male winner. It was cycle 21 of the series that year, and only the second year the show had expanded to include male models in the competition. Keith Carlos took the top spot that season, with another man taking the runner-up spot as well.
A sexual assault scandal rocked Bachelor Nation in 2017. For the first time, production on "Bachelor in Paradise" came to a halt. The pause happened after an alcohol-fueled incident went down between Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson in pool during season 4. An investigation eventually found there was no misconduct, but the scandal was enough to get the show to establish new rules for the entire franchise — namely, a two-drink limit rule.
Due to a dalliances on the popular British reality TV show "Love Island" in 2016, contestant Zara Holland had her beauty queen title revoked. Yep, Zara was stripped of her Miss Great Britain title due to her behavior on the series, which pageant organizers deemed inappropriate after she got intimate with castmate Alex Bowen.