Jonny Fairplay started a new phenomenon within reality TV that led to future opportunities in and out of reality television. Adobe Stock Images

"Survivor" debuted in 2000 and instantly became a cultural phenomenon. Nielsen reported that at least 125 million people watched at least part of the first season’s finale. 21 years later, "Survivor" not only continues to produce season after season of beloved content, but it is also producing some of reality television's most popular stars. Early seasons had a few villains in the eyes of fans, but it was not until the seventh season, entitled "Survivor Pearl Islands," that a player entered the show knowing that he wanted to play the role of the bad guy.

A lifelong wrestling fan, Jonny Fairplay, entered the seventh season of "Survivor" looking to represent the antics of The Nature Boy Ric Flair and Rowdy Roddy Piper. For those unfamiliar with pro wrestling, these icons of the squared circle looked to win by any means necessary. Their mere presence helped elevate other wrestlers as heroes just for squaring off against them. Fairplay’s most iconic move on his first season of "Survivor" came during the family visit. When Jonny’s friend arrived at the beach, Jonny’s first question was "Where’s grandma?" Fairplay’s friend simply replied, "She’s gone." Fighting back tears, Jonny told his fellow castmates that his grandmother was going to represent his family at the visit, but she was no longer with us. The castmates felt terrible for Jonny’s plight and awarded him a solo family and friends visit to hear more about the passing of his dear grandmother.

When the camera returned to a 1-1 interview with Jonny, he revealed that his grandmother was back home, alive and well, watching episodes of Jerry Springer. Reality TV’s first aspiring villain was born. Jonny Fairplay started a new phenomenon within reality TV as he looked to play a part that would not only prove successful on the show but could lead to future opportunities in and out of reality television.

Turning Reality TV Stardom into a Business

While Jonny Fairplay did not win the one-million-dollar grand prize as a "Survivor" contestant, he was unquestionably the biggest star of his season. After the season aired, he struck while the iron was hot and signed a deal with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA). Jonny Fairplay served as his moniker. Fairplay understood that the best way to capitalize on his "Survivor" fame was to lean into what the audience thought of him. Playing a villain manager, Fairplay was able to parlay an appearance on "Survivor" into interactions with AJ Styles and other mainstays in the world of professional wrestling. In addition to his wrestling career, Fairplay booked appearances on "Celebrity Family Feud," "Celebrity Poker Showdown," "Celebrity Fear Factor," another season of "Survivor" and "Camp Reality."

Why Doesn’t Everyone Remain in the Public Eye?

The transition into the real world from the artificial reality of television is not an easy one to make. Without a personality that resonates with an audience, it is nearly impossible. It is not enough to appear in a reality television show. Countless contestants have headed back to a normal 9-5 job. Beyond a personality that resonates, the star must have a notable talent and a sense of credibility with their desired audience. Jonny Fairplay started to build stronger connections with his audience members by traveling around the country and appearing for live question and answer sessions with "Survivor" diehards. Fairplay separated himself from other personalities by commenting on his love of other reality television mainstays like "The Amazing Race" and MTV’s "The Challenge."

How Social Media Has Changed Things

"The benefit of social media is that I am able to connect with my podcasting audience in real-time,” Jonny Fairplay says. Adobe Stock Images

Fairplay has acknowledged publicly that taking on the persona of the bad guy was a lot easier of a task back in 2003 when his first season of "Survivor" aired. Today, reality television stars not only open up themselves to criticism on social media, but their entire family can become the target of personalized attacks. The anonymity of social media personas allows people to say things that they would most likely never share in a face-to-face encounter.

Fairplay explains saying, “I get death threats on social media to this day for something that occurred 18 years ago on an episode of 'Survivor.' I can’t imagine the type of feedback contestants get on their social feeds today.”

Of course, social media is a double-edged sword.

“The benefit of social media is that I am able to connect with my podcasting audience in real-time and plug my appearances in a way that’s cost-effective and reaches thousands upon thousands of people.”

People like to use social media not only to converse with other fans in a second-screen experience during the airing of the show, but they like to follow the lives of their favorite contestants via social media. There is something naturally intriguing about discovering what a favorite character is up to back in the real world. This type of fame opens up reality television stars to advertising opportunities. Be it a sponsored tweet advertising a particular beverage or food product or a Cameo video offering a personalized birthday wish, there’s money to be made for reality’s stars.

The Boom of Podcasting

Reality television is big business and there is a dedicated audience that wants to dive deep into every single episode of "Survivor," "Big Brother," "The Challenge," etc. Because Fairplay is truly a fan of these television programs, he was able to leverage his stardom into a successful podcasting career. Multiple times a week, fans of "Survivor," and other reality television programs, join the "Survivor Hall of Famer" with his co-hosts to listen to an unscripted deep dive into the past week’s episode. Some of the top podcasts in the world today are centered around diving deep into the unique interests of their listeners. The Ringer Network struck gold with Binge Mode, which has episodes breaking down every "Game of Thrones" book and television show, every "Star Wars" show and movie and everything connected to the Marvel cinematic universe.

Fairplay’s "Reality NSFW" podcast has brought in some of the biggest sponsors in the industry. Fans love being able to get a glimpse behind the curtains and develop relationships with personalities they loved to love or love to hate on their television screens each week. Fairplay looks to continue growing his audience by resonating with people who share his love of reality TV.