Reality Check: Big Personalities on 'Survivor,' 'Top Model' and 'The Real World'

Usually having a big personality on a reality show is good — it tends to mean that you’re quite charming or widely loved by viewers.

And then there’s Jonathan Penner, the recently ousted actor/writer on “Survivor” whose voice was a dead ringer for Alan Alda’s and who taught us that big can also be bad.

See, Jonathan had an unfortunate habit of saying the most obnoxious, irritating things — whether he was whining about the “young people,” boasting about how many fish he caught or flip-flopping between the tribes — just about every time he opened his mouth.

I thus can’t say that I was surprised that the guy didn’t take being voted off particularly well. Still, I have to hand it to the editors, who clearly tired of his post-eviction complaint-fest and simply cut him off mid-sentence in the end.

And look, you can say all that you want about “Top Model” panelists — and if you’re looking for things, consider griping about the fact that Tyra takes egomania to heretofore unseen levels, Miss J makes little to no sense when he speaks and Twiggy doesn’t have the personality of one of Janice Dickinson’s toenails — but you’ve got to admit that they do a good job of picking winners with big personalities.

From Adrianne Curry to Eva Pigford to Danielle Evans, Tyra and crew seem to thoroughly understand that big personalities and modeling go together like Tyra and pictures of Tyra.

Looking for evidence that this year’s victor, the sweet and crazy Caridee from North Dakota, has personality plus?

Over the season, she took us all over the emotional map — not only with confessions about both her suicidal impulses and how much she was teased because of her psoriasis, but also by having a fun little hook-up with a Spanish model and acting loopy on a semi-regular basis.

Who needed twins or Melrose’s OCD-ish breakdowns when you had a girl who got hypothermia simply from posing in a swimming pool?

“The Real World” knows all about big personalities — after all, it’s what the entire show is based on. And oh did that make for some good TV this week, when Davis (“the gay guy”) got into a drunken skirmish with Tyrie (“the angry black guy”) and threatened to quit the show.

It was a fascinating fight that managed to hit on a succession of hot-button issues and was truly a testament to the casting people, seeing as tearful I’m-leaving-this-house tirades usually don’t come until at least halfway through the season and a brawl that encompassed issues of racism, homophobia and alcoholism must have been MTV’s dream come true.

It all ended with apologies and hugs and Davis deciding to stay, which seemed wise. After all, in this day and age, big personalities need cameras on them at most times in order to survive and thrive.

Anna David has written for The L.A. Times, Vanity Fair, Premiere, Parenting, Cosmo, People, Us Weekly, Redbook, Self, Details, Stuff, TV Guide, Women’s Health, Ocean Drive, Teen Vogue, Variety, The New York Post, LA Confidential and Maxim, among others. She answers sex and relationship questions on G4's Attack of the Show and speaks about pop culture on FOX, CNN, NBC, MTV, VH1 and E! Her first novel, "Party Girl," is coming out in June 2007 from Regan Books/HarperCollins.