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In 'Reality' the Nice Guy Finishes First

That old adage “Nice guys finish last” just doesn’t fly in today’s “reality.”

Reality TV relationship shows have been characterized by juicy, conflict-filled runs and melodramatic, sappy finales. But many have something else in common: The nice guy (or girl) has won.

On ABC’s The BacheloretteTrista Rehn (search) chose shy, gentle soul Ryan Sutter (search) over suave charmer Charlie Maher. Millionaire Bachelor Andrew Firestone (search) picked nice girl Jen Schefft (search) over foxy ice queen Kirsten Buschbacher.

Likewise, Hayley Arp (search) chose the sincere, sensitive Will over the scheming smoothie Chris on Fox’s Mr. Personality. And who can forget down-to-earth Zora Andrich (search) winning Evan Marriott’s (search) heart over conniving sexpot Sarah Kozer (search) in Joe Millionaire?

“It’s good news for people who like romantic stories,” said Adam Buckman, TV writer for the New York Post. “In these cases the people who perhaps deserve to find love or companionship are the ones doing so. It’s heartening when a so-called good person wins.”

The current reality relationship program, NBC’s For Love or Money, might turn the trend on its head, considering its deceptive twist. In the show, bachelor Rob Campos thinks he’s choosing a love match, but the women know that the winner will get $1 million — calling into question whether any sweetness is an act.

For ages, nice guys have complained that they get overlooked in favor of cocky studs. And nice girls lament that guys prefer women who are cold and play hard-to-get.

So after all these years, are sweet guys and girls finally getting their due — on reality TV, no less?

“It does seem to be the case,” said Fox Network spokesman Joe Earley. “At the end, they’re picking the nicer person. They’re not picking the flashiest one who would get them more press.”

The winners on recent reality relationship shows haven’t just been genuine in terms of their character — but also, seemingly, in terms of their feelings.

“They’re picking the person most likely to return any generosity or love they put out,” said Match.com’s "vice president of romance," Trish McDermott. “Many of them are trying to make a real connection and are looking for someone who’s ready for more.”

McDermott said the trend is in line with what she sees in Internet dating. Hundreds of Match profiles have headlines like “Nice guy seeks nice girl.”

That goes against the theory that sweet isn’t sexy. McDermott said what’s appealing depends on what a person is looking for — a fling or a real relationship.

“What you’re attracted to has to do with where you are in the cycle of dating,” she said. “As we learn to date, we wise up. Usually the nice guy or girl with the great smile who’s genuine and available is the one we want.”

And of course, the premise of most relationship shows is to find a future partner, which could explain why the good ones are coming out on top.

But pitting a wholesome guy or girl against a questionable character also creates something all TV shows are after: tension and intrigue.

“It’s much more dramatic television for someone to be choosing between two very distinct characters,” said Earley. “There are higher stakes for the viewer to watch.”

Joe Millionaire had one of the most sensational good-versus-evil scenarios — especially after it was revealed that Sarah had been the subject of bondage photos.

“In that case you wound up with two really archetypal characters,” Earley said. “When you layer [the photos issue] on top, that really makes a distinction between Sarah and Zora — the nice girl and the naughty girl.”

Reality show buff Liz Haas said she likes the way many of the shows seem to finish with a “good” finalist and a “bad” one.

“It makes for great entertainment,” said Haas. “The person who’s won is usually the person I’ve been rooting for, but it’s been fun having someone to dislike in the finale.”