Emmys 2012: The Reality-Competition Series Race in Review, Including Our Dream Nominees

Reality television, by its very nature, thrives on unexpected twists, shock eliminations, and upset victories. But the most surprising thing about the Emmy race for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program over the last five years has been the almost total stagnancy of its pool of contenders.

Indeed, from 2007-2011, the same five showsThe Amazing Race, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Project Runway, and Top Chef — have maintained a chokehold on nominations in the category. The sole exception to this five-member monopoly came in 2011, when Emmy added a sixth nominee — So You Think You Can Dance — to the mix.

More Emmy Races In Review | Outstanding Drama Series | Lead Drama Actor | Lead Drama Actress | Supporting Drama Actor | Supporting Drama Actress | Outstanding Comedy Series | Lead Comedy Actor | Lead Comedy Actress | Supporting Comedy Actor | Supporting Comedy Actress |Outstanding Movie/Miniseries

But wait. That “kerplunk” you’re hearing might just be the sound of a new contender (or two) dropping into the proceedings. Indeed, the 2011-2012 season found The Voice proving itself a genuine (and genuinely enjoyable) ratings force in its second season for struggling NBC, and Simon Cowell’s British import The X Factor storming the U.S. coastline with a combination of flashing lights, aggressive backup dancers, and Paula Abdul’s tears.

Will these newcomers force Emmy to redistribute the nomination wealth, or will 2012 be another case of same-old same-old?

Review this slideshow of the major contenders — including TVLine’s Dream Nominees — then vote below for who you think are the five best. 

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Kevin says:

    There is no dream nominees box like with the other categories, am I miss that ?

    • Michael Slezak says:

      Kevin, the “TVLine Dream Nominees” are designated in print, right below the show titles…slightly different from the other Emmy galleries we’ve done. Sorry for the confusion!

  2. Dellie Q says:

    I definitely believe that the first season of The Glee Project was the most compelling Reality-Competition Series. Hard for it to win, but it deserves the nomination easily. You cannot ignore the show that brought us Damian McGinty into light.

  3. Joel says:

    I wish chopped would get nominated

    • verver says:

      I’m with you–it’s addictive.

    • Ryan says:

      Chopped is literally the only reality competition I will watch. Can’t get enough.

    • soarin829 says:

      yes, this!

    • Lee says:

      I agree. Chopped should get nominated. I thought TAR was weak this past year–especially the spring season. I really didn’t care for any of the nasty contestants–especially Rachel and Brendan. I also didn’t care for the spring season of Survivor. I never saw such idiotic players in my life. I don’t think Top Chef should get nominated either for the same reason TAR shouldn’t get nominated: nasty contestants. Why are reality TV shows showcasing bullies? Aren’t there enough of them in the schools? The only reason I think American Idol should get nominated is because it had terrific and talented contestants. I thought the first season of The Voice was better than the second season although it should still get nominated.

  4. I’d love for ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ to win.

    • Brandon says:

      Yep, Love that show. Unfortunately on more than one occasion last season I noticed some less than stellar camera work that may count against it. Still would love for it to get nominated though.

  5. noa says:

    i don’t know about American Idol. i feel like this season was great despite continuous efforts from the producers and judges to make it bad. the only redeeming quality was the amount of first rate contestants. otherwise- it had all the shenanigans i hate about AI and then some. sexism, favoritism, ageism, I Have Nothing (TWICE)- all reasons for emmy voters to ignore the show. but still, i did enjoy it again for the first time since season 8. so that’s something. it it’s still the show that gets people the most excited.

  6. dee says:

    The Amazing Race always wins because it always deserves to win.

    • bamabunny says:

      The reason Amazing Race wins every year (and let’s face it, will only stop winning when it stops airing) is that it is a logistical NIGHTMARE that they somehow pull off to look effortless production-wise. Anybody can do a show in a studio or a stationary location like an island, whether it be deserted or Manhattan, but all of that driving, flying, hiking, biking all over the world, plus still capturing all the competition, conflict, and interaction is what grabs the Emmy voters.

      That, or the voters hate reality TV and hope that if they just keep giving them the same winner every year they’ll give up and just retire the whole damn category.

      • Ava says:

        I agree. Regardless of everything else, TAR puts together an amazing show while fighting everything from flight delays, contestants injuries, weather, unruly giant tortoises, etc. etc. They make it look effortless. I can’t even imagine what their ground team must look like. They must have a huge staff that scouts locations and preps prior to racers arriving. They film in all of those locations in a few weeks!

  7. YowzaPowza says:

    I really don’t understand why people keep voting Dancing WIth The Stars into this category. That show is the most unwatchable garbage on TV.

  8. xwiseguyx says:

    I’d still vote for The Amazing Race, but Food Network Star has more viewers than Top Chef and deserves some recognition.

  9. Chris says:

    The Amazing Race deserves the win again…it’s breathtaking.

    Your claim about Survivor is garbage…this last season delivered one of the most dominant victories ever.

    • noa says:

      that’s the main reason it was so boring. no mystery- everyone knew Kim would win. it’s not fun when there’s just one good player.

      • tripoli says:

        Exactly. There is noting compelling about watching a show for weeks and weeks knowing exactly how it will end. Love Survivor but last season was not good.

  10. Gabe says:

    The Amazing Race should win because it pulls off almost impossible shooting locations and chases teams all over the place while still looking breathtaking and captivating. Also, it doesn’t feel nearly over-produced and staged as many of the shows on this list.

  11. Melanie says:

    So long as “Turn to Stone” from Sytycd gets the Emmy for cheography, ill be happy. Though I think it deserves the overall award too. Stellar show, quality host and actual judging unlike the Idol crap.

  12. Gilda says:

    I guess Face Off is format wise a big Project Runway ripoff, but the artistic side to it is so good that I wish it’d get more attention. I do see why it would never get nominated though. But super fun to watch!

    • YowzaPowza says:

      I love Face Off and completely agree. Though I think the fact that it’s on SyFy greatly hurts its chances, which is a shame because it’s better than most of the shows on this list. I would also go with Food Network Star, which has really become incredibly competitive, inventive and enjoyable every year, even if I always disagree with who they choose as the winner. I’d round out the list with Rupaul’s Drag Race, it’s fun and there’s nothing like it on TV, Top Chef, which had two great seasons this year, and Big Brother (seriously), which is still my favorite under rated reality show ever and is consistently massively entertaining year after year.

  13. court says:

    Of course the polls are going to show primarily network shows with the high numbers…..i’d rank however agreeing still with amazing race at the top, then ru pauls drag race (cause if survivor’s cheap boring nothing new 2700th season can get a nom, this should ) then i’d say 3rd i went other with chopped…how that show manages to be so insanely addicting i don’t know but it deserves respect.

  14. RuPaul’s Drag Race!

    Though Seacrest really deserves an Emmy

  15. soarin829 says:

    So You Think You Can Dance!! Dance!! Dance!!

    • elr says:

      I do that every time they go or come back from a commercial break. The really sad thing is that I do it without even thinking about it.

  16. j says:

    What about Around the World in 80 Plates? I’ve never actually watched the show, but after seeing the commercials I clearly thought Bravo is just combining Top Chef and Amazing Race for Emmy Bait

  17. Crystal says:

    Cat Deeley for best host!

  18. unicornwasp says:

    I wish i could have voted for Drag Race 5 times.

  19. j says:

    TAR will win because the other shows are popularity contests. TAR is the only Real Reality Compentition show on television today! And for Reality Host, its either Probst or Kreoghan, these two are the very best on their show than the rest combime, period!

  20. Juan says:

    SYTYCD is the best reality show ever and Cat Deeley the best host

  21. j says:

    SYTYCD is a summer show and Deeley is not good of a host like Prbost and Kreoghan are! And just like American Idol, DWTS, and The Voice, SYTYCD is a popularity contest, not a Real Reality Compentition show like TAR is period!