It's all based on a sliding scale depending on how well the contestants do. Everyone gets $125,000 for signing up and being on the first two episodes (even the person who gets eliminated first gets that amount as a bit of a consolation prize). Then it's $10,000 each for the next two episodes, $20,000 for each of the two episodes after that, $30,000 each for the two subsequent episodes, and $50,000 for appearing in the final two episodes of the season. That totals $345,000 for those who make it to the very end. Based on this reality TV pyramid scheme, the winner gets nothing more than the other finalists—besides that tacky trophy, of course.
Sure most people at home would gladly take even the $125,000 signing bonus (and it's probably the biggest windfall Jennifer Grey has seen in her adult life) but in reality TV terms it's not that much. The Situation makes $60,000 an episode for Jersey Shore. The $345,000 to get to the end (which is 20 episodes over 10 weeks) wouldn't even cover his salary for six episodes of Jersey Shore. The Hills alum Audrina Patridge was making $100,000 an episode for her work on the canceled MTV gem, so this is a big step down for her.
And it doesn't sound like there are many other perks either—other than getting in better shape thanks to the show's eight-hours-a-day rehearsal requirement. The production staff is helpful with transportation and posh accommodations, but no one gets their own hair and makeup team or gets to select their dancing partner. It really is a rough life for these guys, isn't it?