5 reality stars who are truly inspiring

Mar 6, 2016 at 5:00 p.m. ET
Image: Paul Morigi / Stringer/Getty

Reality TV as we know it has come a long way since the very first Real World aired on MTV back in 1995. At the beginning of these experiments, the people we saw on our screens were actually relatable. They looked like us, even talked like us, and some had similar issues. As the popularity of the genre started rising, the transformation into "reality TV" began. With that change, a shift started, leading into the forefront of television programming we all now know.

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Back then, we never would have imagined a day when TV shows would be primarily of the reality genre, yet here we are. Decades away from the gritty realness of a new broadcast experiment, today's series have us keeping up with some very famous, yet vapid, people and observing lifestyles we either envy — or, even more entertainingly, pity.

We watch along as girls are summoned to hilltops thinking they're about to get engaged, only to find out they're runners-up in a real-life love contest. Our eyes stayed glued to the screen as families way more screwed up than ours dealt with pregnancy, cheating, scandal, bigamy, racism and sexism. These days, reality shows have a formula and, whether you believe it or not, some kind of script. There are few truly real moments and even fewer inspirational ones. Something that began as a revolutionary idea has become a three-ring circus. Granted, it's one with millions of fans but a circus none the same.

In a world oversaturated with reality personalities, it might be hard to believe there are actually some truly inspiring ones out there. Much like a needle in an online haystack, these stars can be hard to locate and extract through the surrounding fluff. But make no mistake, they're out there, even if their ability to inspire might be a bit unconventional or atypical. In the 1980s classic Say Anything, Lloyd Dobler's best friend, while advising him on the love of his life, famously said, "The world is full of guys — don't be a guy, be a man." Anyone can be a reality star today; there are a million out there. Don't be a reality star, be an inspiration.

1. Michael "The Miz" Mizanin, The Real World

Bringing it back to the original reality show,The Real World, season 10, Back to New York, introduced us to Michael Gregory Mizanin. Back then, Mizanin was a young, raucous frat guy whose antics were caught onscreen over and over as we followed along with him and his temporary roommates. We also saw a guy running around, perfecting wrestling moves, screaming, "I'm the Miz," while pretending to be a WWE star. What makes this story so cool and shockingly inspiring is that today, Mizanin is exactly that: a famous star in the wrestling world. He's not on MTV All Stars #94 or doing some Z-list show for older reality stars. Instead, he parlayed his fleeting fame into a career he was clearly passionate about from the beginning. If that's not something to aspire to, I don't know what is.

2. Roh Habibi, Million Dollar Listing

Habibi, one of the stars of Million Dollar Listing San Francisco, Bravo's fourth spinoff of its iconic franchise, told Andy Cohen before he ever starred on the show that he was already calling himself a cast member. Apparently, the fake-it-till-you-make-it mantra worked wonders — Habibi got the call from producers last year. With only a few years of real estate under his belt, Habibi already ranks in the top 6 percent in the area. He's another example of manifesting success, and that's what makes this story so inspiring. It's proof that not only can you successfully change career direction, but you can even bring your dreams to fruition, something to which we should all strive, even if a reality star prompts us to do it.

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3. Christian Siriano, Project Runway

Back when Project Runway was an exciting, new, stylish spin on reality shows, truly talented designers were harder to spot. Now with dozens of knockoffs and even kid versions, anyone can be a TV fashion designer. What makes a true mark isn't if you can win a soon-to-be-forgotten reality-show finale, it's having staying power. With so many shows, simply taking the top prize is meaningless unless you can do something with it. Dozens of designers earn the acclaim, but few manage to hold onto the success. The complete opposite is true of Siriano. The season-four winner worked his way up to gain the respect of fashionistas. Now, he's officially a go-to for red carpets and for some of the top stars in Hollywood. You wouldn't necessarily correlate the Bravo show with being truly inspirational, but Siriano proves you can still take something special away from a onetime win.

4. Mar Ortiz, Big Women: Big Love

Earlier this year, the star of Lifetime's Big Women: Big Love headed to Instagram, like millions of other women, to post a (supposedly) impromptu selfie. The sexy shot, which captured her getting undressed, prompted an onslaught of both praise and criticism (as is usually the case when celebrities of any level snap an Insta). As the conversation continued, Ortiz was forced to speak up for herself, proclaiming, “I’m overweight, yes. I know that, but I’m not obese and I think there’s a big difference.” Fitness expert Bianca Jade saw things differently, saying the reality star's selfie is inspirational and sends a message of honesty. Truth be told, with so many Photoshopped images in our feeds everywhere, it should seem to follow suit that Ortiz's picture be lauded, not scrutinized. What do you think — is her shot inspiring or too much?

5. Tyler Ford, The Glee Project

Typically, we can barely remember who wins reality shows, let alone who participates. But some non-winners stay relevant in other ways, sometimes based on a desperate need and other times due to real talent. Ford, who went by Brittany in high school, was the reality show's first transgender contestant. Though during the show he was undergoing testosterone treatments for his continued efforts to be fully male, things have now changed. Ford, a writer, has stopped treatments and is still inspiring others by using his writing as a platform to tell a different story, one he told in a poignant piece in Rookie mag as well as a New York Times series. In a world where transgender acceptance is continuing to grow, Ford is clearly intent on being part of the message.

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