While youthful talent competitions of elementary school days left pre-tween “dancers” and “singers” at the mercy of their peers, the grown-up version of these performance gatherings subject adults to the ire of – more often than not – angry, old British men in front of a worldwide audience. Reality TV competition shows have become so prevalent in the primetime lineup that they’ve started digging into subjects far beyond just singing and dancing — looking right at you, haircutting challenge.
While still filled with those who would not self-describe as “Mr. Nice Guy,” it could be said that some of the bite of reality judging has been lost as the amount of shows has grown (I mean, how many singing shows are there?!), but there’s still a crop of meanies eager to share their disdain for those who absolutely destroy their particular art-form.
Could you stand strong in the face of these television judges’ harshest critiques?
10.) Michael Kors of Project Runway
Fashion designer Michael Kors makes the list for his sass. The Project Runway judge drops snarky quips so fast and with such ease that the deep-seated insults are easy to miss. Luckily, as the show is a launching ground for fashion wannabes, most of Kors’ harsh commentary is reserved for fabric.
Some choice lines from throughout the show’s 14 seasons: “It looks like she’s going to a buffet on a cruise,” “It looks like toilet paper caught in a wind storm,” “You basically took a checklist of everything that could turn tacky,” and “She’s pooping fabric.”
9.) Mia Michaels of So You Think You Can Dance
So You Think You Can Dance judge Mia Michaels is well-respected in her industry, and her (often blunt) opinion should be regarded. Well, unless it’s racist, that is.
The Emmy-winning choreographer (who is no stranger to audience boos) made her distaste for one 2010 contestant so clear, the Internet was quick to point fingers. AdéChiké was subjected to Michaels’ harsh criticism throughout the season – her first full year as judge – and at one point was nearly lead to tears onstage. After he was eliminated, Michaels was forced to answer to her critics: “It’s just ridiculous, honestly,” she said, before adding that she’d once dated a black – err – Cuban guy.
8.) Tyra Banks of America’s Next Top Model
No one may be a bigger fan of Tyra Banks than Tyra Banks, which is why she has ended up on this list. The America’s Next Top Model host and judge keeps it mostly light and goofy on her show, and hands out critiques like they’re goodie bags. However, you disrespect Tyra, you best expect the horns.
Throughout the show’s 22 cycles, Banks has been known to let her temper flare. There is no better example than her infamous (and endlessly quotable) season 4 meltdown when a girl didn’t seem sad enough about her elimination.
After scolding contestant Tiffany for not crying as she said goodbye, Banks screamed at the girl to “take responsibility for yourself.”
“I was rooting for you, we were all rooting for you,” the former model squealed.
7.) Bruno Tonioli of Dancing with the Stars
Let’s be honest: none of the Dancing with the Stars judges are nearly as harsh as they could be. I mean, Gary Busey dancing? Come on, guys. Italian choreographer and dancer Bruno Tonioli, however, shows little fear in toeing the line when it comes to the celebrity contestants’ egos.
“You’re never going to win the Nobel prize for quantum physics, but you are easy on the eyes and you produce wonderful shapes,” the 59-year-old said during a panel. But Bruce, it’s not about intelligence, it’s about dancing!
6.) Anne Robinson of The Weakest Link
Ok, so yes, technically Anne Robinson was more of a “host” than “judge,” but when it comes to television competitions, the British leader of The Weakest Link is one of the most acerbic personalities. AND boy did she judge people’s characters (“Are you more interesting than you look?”). The game show, which ran from 2000 to 2012, combined Jeopardy with the elimination format of shows like Survivor and The Bachelor.
The “Queen of Mean,” who delivered questions and then mocked the show’s competitors when they got them wrong, reportedly once brought a contestant to tears. Her parting comment? A flat “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.”
5.) Donald Trump of The Apprentice, The Celebrity Apprentice
Secondly, “you’re fired.” One can only hope the Donald’s approach to the contestants on his game show is exactly how he’ll handle our country: with an odd little hand movement.
Before The Apprentice got lost in the weird world of D-list celebrities, it was one of the only competition shows on TV where the majority of contestants had graduate degrees. But that didn’t mean Trump went easy on them. Although now common practice, in the early years of the business series, the mogul’s free use of third grade insults like “stupid” and “idiot” actually bordered on offensive to competitors with West Point degrees.
4.) Piers Morgan of America’s Got Talent
One of the several (aforementioned) cranky old British men on our list, people don’t like “professional troll” Piers Morgan. Before his ill-fated CNN show, Morgan served as an original judge on talent show clusterf*ck America’s Got Talent from 2006-11, before returning to the panel in 2015. He also held a spot at the judge’s table on Britain’s iteration of the program from 2007-10.
The 50-year-old, who began his AGT homecoming this year with lines like “Just when I was thinking it was really great to be back, you come along,” once inspired a tiny child to weep and then, subsequently stick her tongue out at him on BGT. Morgan laughed through the whole scenario, and SIMON COWELL, of all people, was tasked with comforting the crying little girl.
3.) Natalia Kills and Willy Moon of The X Factor New Zealand
While it remains unclear who exactly musicians Natalia Kills and Willy Moon are, one thing about the former New Zealand X Factor judges is undeniable: they’re most certainly not good people, and they’re two of the meanest people to ever grace reality television.
The husband and wife duo, who were judges on the Kiwi version of the talent competition, were collectively booed by the Internet (and a slew of real celebrities) after viciously attacking a contestant for allegedly appropriating Moon’s style (a.k.a. wearing a suit).
“You’re a laughingstock. It’s cheesy, it’s disgusting. I personally found it absolutely artistically atrocious,” Kills told (actually delightful) contestant Joe Irvine. “I am embarrassed to be sitting here in your presence having to even dignify you with an answer of my opinion… You make me sick.”
Moon continued the unwarranted tirade against Irvine’s character, likening him to Norman Bates and alleging that he was someone who would “stitch someone’s skin to your face and then kill everyone in the audience.” All because he kinda looked and sounded like the 26-year-old singer. Needless to say, the pair was fired, forced to apologize and then crawled back into whatever hole they came from.
2.) Gordon Ramsey of Hell’s Kitchen
British chef Gordon Ramsey’s infamous temper precedes him. In fact, it’s like the Hell’s Kitchen judge regards being a dick as a sport. Rather than spoonfeeding his chef contestants encouragement, chef Ramsey instead berates them with endless curses and insults that range anywhere from “idiot” to this gem: “F*ck off, you fat useless sack of Yankee Doodle sh*t.”
He throws food onto the ground, breaks plates left and right and has no problem with misogyny (“dumb blonde”). Despite reaching his 13th season as “head chef” on the Fox series (and, one season on the original U.K. version of the show), Ramsey has yet to tire of throwing a tantrum.
1.) Simon Cowell of American Idol, X Factor, Everything Ever
No surprise here, right? Cowell pretty much invented being an assh*le on reality TV. In fact, so many shows have tried to replicate his trite nature on the judging panel, it’s become unusual not to see a negative nancy like the Brit on a competition program.
Cowell – who celebrated his 56th birthday on Wednesday – has literally made a career out of being a “talent judge.” First there was Pop Idol, then American Idol, then The X Factor (America and Britain) and Britain’s Got Talent. It seems, since becoming a father, some of Cowell’s icy facade has been cracked away, which means his harshest critiques hail from his Idol days from 2002 – 2010. The star’s biting takedowns were well known during the audition process, but even as stars rose in the ranks he dished out putdowns. Some gems: “I thought it was corny verging on desperate to be honest with you,” “You know what, it’s exactly identical to a nightmare I had last week,” and “The reality is there is not a single person on planet Earth that would ever pay to hear you sing.”