Reality TV Marriages That Ended In Disaster

Love: It’s the sweet mystery of life, that which makes the world go around. But love is also extremely complicated, which is probably why so many songs, movies, and TV shows explore its many nuances. Reality TV is especially adept and proficient at depicting love and marriage, probably because it’s born out of cameras trained on real people. Every style of variety show tends to feature married people, often exemplifying those couple’s goals of partnership, mutual respect, and a perfect working marriage in action. 

But unlike their counterparts on fictional and scripted TV, reality show marriages don’t always end blissfully. Owing to the pressures of fame, the lack of privacy, or maybe just the artifice of television, lots of couples who got together on reality or who documented their marriage on reality TV wind up divorced. Here are some duos from unscripted programs who didn’t get their happily ever after with each other.

Luann de Lesseps lost a Count

One of the most memorable and headline-making people to ever appear on any iteration of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise is Luann de Lesseps. A member of the cast of The Real Housewives of New York City since the first episode back in 2008, de Lesseps has amused viewers with her antics — such as recording the not-quite-hit-single “Money Can’t Buy You Class” — and concerned them, too — like during her difficult struggles with alcoholism, per People.

When Real Housewives started up, de Lesseps had the trump card on her wealthy and prominent cohorts because she had a full-on title of nobility. In 1993, according to the New York Times, she married Alexandre de Lesseps, a French count, making her a countess, or, as she quickly became known on TV, “The Countess.” Per the New York Post, the count and The Countess separated in 2009 after she discovered he’d been unfaithful. They soon divorced, meaning The Countess was no longer a “housewife” by any definition, and in 2016, according to People, she lost her title and nickname, too, upon marrying Tom D’Agostino. Less than a year later, that marriage ended, too.

The Jenners couldn't keep up with a marriage

It’s hard to imagine a reality TV landscape before the influential success of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Debuting on E! in 2007, the family has since changed a lot. At the time, Kim Kardashian was best known as the star of a leaked sex tape (not yet a billionaire who gets wrongfully accused people out of prison), mega-influencers Kylie and Kendall Jenner were little kids, and matriarch Kris Jenner lorded over all of it with her constantly befuddled second husband Bruce Jenner, a celebrity dating back to the 1970s after taking home a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics. 

That big happy family started to crumble in October 2013, when, after months of rumors that the marriage was on shaky ground, the Jenners announced that they’d separated after 22 years together, according to E!. “We are living separately and we are much happier this way,” they said. “Even though we are separated, we will always remain best friends and, as always, our family will remain our number one priority.” While Kris Jenner stayed with the family, meaning Keeping Up with the Kardashians, her estranged spouse didn’t. Around the time that she transitioned into living her life as a woman and changing her name to Caitlyn Jenner, according to ET Online, the Olympian departed the E! series, making only occasional appearances until the show ended in 2021.

Love and divorce for a Top Model and a middle Brady

An unlikely pair in many ways, Adrianne Curry and Christopher Knight met during the production of a reality show and depicted almost every stage of their relationship through another reality show.

 In 2003, 21-year-old Curry won the first season of America’s Next Top Model, launching her career as a professional pretty person to the next level. Two years later, she joined the fourth season of The Surreal Life, VH1’s comical version of The Real World, if that show’s housemates were all B-list celebrities. It’s there, right in her own temporary, filmed housing, that Curry met castmate Knight, a former child star forever known as awkward middle child Peter Brady on The Brady Bunch. He was 25 years older than she, but never mind that; love is love, and the pair quickly hit it off and got married in 2006, according to E!. Their relationship and lead-up to the wedding were depicted over two seasons of the VH1 reality series My Fair Brady

That show ended in 2008; Curry and Knight’s marriage (her first, his third), ended peacefully and mutually in 2011 — Knight filed the paperwork and paid the $400 processing fee, but only because Curry “TOLD him too,” according to her Twitter account (via Reuters).

The breakup of the Bonaduces was depicted in real time on Breaking Bonaduce

Danny Bonaduce first found fame and success at the age of 11, way back in 1970, as wisecracking family band bassist Danny Partridge on The Partridge Family. After a brief marriage in the 1980s to Setsuko Hattori, he entered into a lengthy relationship with the former Gretchen Hillmer. They met on a blind date, which apparently went very well because seven hours after first laying eyes on each other, Bonaduce and Hillmer got married, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Bonaduce struggled with substance abuse and the law for years, reporting that he was addicted to cocaine and amphetamines throughout the 1980s and getting arrested on drug charges on more than one occasion. A former child star trying to turn his life around made him an ideal fit for the celebrity-based reality TV explosion of the 2000s, and Bonaduce appeared on Celebrity Boxing, The Anna Nicole Show, The Surreal Life, and Breaking Bonaduce, a harrowing 10-episode series that unflinchingly depicted the breakdown of a man and his marriage. Over the course of 10 episodes, Bonaduce starts using drugs again, attempts suicide, and attends couples counseling with his exhausted, traumatized, sobbing wife. By the end of the show, Gretchen Bonaduce is considering divorce, and in April 2007, according to The Hollywood Reporter, she filed the paperwork, citing irreconcilable differences and asking for custody of the couple’s two children.

Part of Kathy Griffin's D-list life involved her husband stealing

Before it celebrated and generated minor celebrities with its Real Housewives franchise, Bravo forayed into reality television with Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List, a self-conscious, self-deprecating show about the less glamorous side of Hollywood, and the grind and struggle of an entertainer’s life. It starred Griffin, a stand-up comedian and sitcom supporting actor as she lived her day-to-day life, both professionally and personally. On account of how he was the busy Griffin’s husband of about five years, software professional Matt Moline figured prominently in the first season of My Life on the D-List in 2005, accompanying Griffin on touring and promotional gigs. Moline appeared here and there in season two, despite the first episode of the year detailing how they’d split up and planned to divorce.

One of the main reasons for that: Moline secretly stole money from Griffin. “My ex-husband, without my knowledge, was sneaking into my wallet when I was asleep in the mornings and taking my ATM cards of my own private accounts and withdrawing money,” Griffin said on Larry King Live (via People). Moline apologized for swiping $72,000 over 18 months, and the pair attended couples therapy, but to no avail.

Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson went from Newlyweds to no longer wed

Following the popularity peaks of reality sitcom The Osbournes and bubblegum pop-centric countdown show TRL, MTV found the perfect successor for both franchises in 2003 with Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica. The lighthearted reality show detailed the day-to-day lives of recently married pop sensation Jessica Simpson to 98 Degrees lead singer Nick Lachey. MTV presented the show like an opulent, modern-day version of a 1950s sitcom — Simpson was depicted as an airhead, and Lachey her condescending and exasperated husband. In the show’s most famous, viral moment, for example, Simpson asks Lachey if Chicken of the Sea-brand tuna is chicken or fish; he angrily and patronizingly explains it for her.

The show, and the couple’s dynamic, proved very popular. It was MTV’s highest-rating show for a while, and it led to the ’70s style ABC special The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour and a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live. The last Newlyweds episode aired in March 2005, and in December of that year, according to Us Weekly, Simpson began divorce proceedings, owing to irreconcilable differences.

Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi didn't last forever

A seemingly mismatched pair — she a singer of provocative, sexy dance club tracks, he a prominent attorney who worked the case that inspired the movie, Erin Brockovich, per The Wrap — Erika Jayne and Tom Girardi made it work. The star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and the prolific trial lawyer met in the ’90s when Jayne was working at the Los Angeles restaurant Chasen’s, according to her memoir Pretty Mess, where she passed her phone number to a member of the eatery’s “older, wealthier” clientele — Girardi, who is 32 years her senior. They got engaged after six months together, and they tied the knot in January 1999, according to Us Weekly

Already a star in the world of dance music, Jayne joined The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Girardi occasionally got some screen time as a supportive and enthusiastic husband. In November 2020, however, Jayne told Us Weekly that she’s the one who had “decided to end” the marriage, shortly before they were sued for allegedly embezzling money from a fund earmarked for the families of people who died in a plane crash.

Illness may have separated Yolanda Hadid and David Foster

David Foster became an extremely wealthy and in-demand producer and songwriter in the 1980s, transforming Chicago from a jazzy prog-rock outfit into an adult contemporary powerhouse, producing three albums for the band and co-writing hits like “You’re the Inspiration” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” Additionally, Foster has been married five times, according to The Independent; his fourth wife was Dutch model Yolanda van den Herik, or Yolanda Hadid following her 1994-2000 marriage to real estate tycoon Mohamed Hadid, per BravoTV.

According to People, Foster and Hadid married in 2011, shortly before the latter debuted on the third season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Hadid starred on nearly 100 episodes of the series (with Foster making occasional appearances), with her storylines usually focused on her long and painful struggle with Lyme disease. In her memoir Believe Me (via Daily Mail), Hadid said she decided to end the marriage after Foster got tired of his wife being ill and told her that her “sick card is up.” He denied the allegation in the documentary David Foster: Off the Record (via Us Weekly). “It was for a different reason, which I will never disclose.” He did hint that his wife’s reality TV work may not have benefited their marriage. “I would get and still get, ‘I know you, you’re on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.’ And what I want to say is, ‘Hey, I got 16 f****** Grammys, OK? I’ve sold half a billion records. F*** that show.”

Jon and Kate Plus 8… minus each other

A big part of the appeal of reality TV is that it allows viewers a look into lives very different from their own. Such was the popularity of Jon & Kate Plus 8, the long-running cable reality show about Jon and Kate Gosselin, a Pennsylvania married couple barely keeping their lives together as the parents of eight children — twins and a set of sextuplets. Discovery Health and TLC aired more than 100 episodes of the show between 2007 and 2009, which was rebooted and retitled Kate Plus 8 in 2010 on account of how Jon Gosselin got booted out of his marriage and then left reality television.

In June 2009, according to People, Kate Gosselin filed for divorce after 10 years of marriage. “Jon’s activities have left me no choice but to file legal procedures in order to protect myself and our children,” she said in a statement. The official split followed an April 2009 incident, according to People, in which Jon Gosselin was photographed leaving a bar at 2 a.m. with a much younger woman named Deanna Hummel, and whom it was later confirmed he’d been seeing for several months.

Bam Margera's unholy union was doomed

For the better part of the 2000s, Bam Margera virtually ruled MTV’s reality show universe. An original cast member of the prank and dangerous stunts classic Jackass from 2000 to 2002, Margera starred on his own living-my-life-style spinoff Viva La Bam from 2003 to 2006. He abandoned that show’s conceit of nihilistically bothering his parents in 2007 when he proposed to longtime partner Missy Rothstein, a model and photographer. Margera filmed the wedding run-up (and the wedding itself) for the MTV series Bam’s Unholy Union, according to the Associated Press.

There was no second season of Bam’s Unholy Union depicting Margera and Rothstein’s marriage, or rather the unraveling of it. In 2009, according to TMZ, Margera was hospitalized after a four-day drinking binge left him severely dehydrated. “I may get a divorce,” Margera said of his situation, “booze helps.” When he took an Ambien in the midst of it, it was Rothstein who called 911. After that medical incident, per TMZ, the duo attended marriage counseling but ultimately got divorced. It was finalized in November 2012, according to Ace Showbiz.

From The Biggest Loser to divorce court

The Biggest Loser, NBC’s 2000s reality franchise that made extreme and rapid weight loss into a competition, was all about transformations. Regular Americans who wanted to lose excess pounds they’d gained (which the show usually credited to a psychological trauma) lived on a remote ranch where they’d work out all day, learn to cook healthy food and hang out with like-minded individuals as they competed to win money for losing the highest percentage of their body weight. It’s an intimate and finite environment, like summer camp, and that’s going to generate some relationships. 

In the show’s ninth season, airing in 2010, Biggest Loser contestants Stephanie Anderson and Sam Poueu slowly became a couple, and on a Where Are They Now? special, Poueu proposed, according to the Associated Press. The couple got hitched in 2012 (not long after Poleu’s long convalescence from a 54-foot fall from a friend’s deck) and in January 2013, Anderson announced that they had a baby on the way, according to Us Weekly. In May 2013, two months before the scheduled arrival of their child, Anderson revealed that she and Poueu had filed for divorce.

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