What’s in the DNA of a good reality TV show? What is it about watching Instagram models try to survive in the wilderness or watching emotionally unstable youths get into heated arguments that’s just so darn entertaining? According to CivicScience, 52% of American adults watch at least one hour of reality television in an average week. So, as you can see, we here in the United States love our reality shows. And reality TV is also extremely popular abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom, the country that brought us incredible reality shows like the original Love Island and The Only Way Is Essex.
Obviously, with the massive popularity of the genre, reality TV is big business. Let us not forget that Kim Kardashian got her start on reality television and she now has a net worth in the ballpark of $1.7 billion. So, when producers set out to make a new reality show, they hire the best minds in the industry to devise shows that are going to be captivating and juicy, shows that are going to have audiences debating during their lunch breaks and itching for the next episode.
But, of course, some reality shows have been able to do this more successfully than others. Throughout the long history of reality television (which is said to have started in 1948 with the ABC show Candid Camera, according to the Guinness Book of World Records), a few shows have stuck out as the cream of the crop. So, in honor of this wonderfully trashy genre of television, we’re going to run through the 5 best reality TV shows of all time.
1. The Real World
While the reality television genre may have technically started with Candid Camera back in 1948, the genre enjoyed a massive explosion in popularity sometime in the early 1990s almost entirely because of a show called The Real World. This show premiered on MTV in 1992 and was instantly iconic. The concept was simple: get a bunch of strangers in their early 20s and stick them in the same house for a few weeks. Then, allow the drama to ensue.
The Real World became so successful that it spanned an entire 33 seasons from 1992 to 2017. It also spawned the spin-off show The Challenge (which has run for 38 seasons and is still in production) as well as a Spanish-language spin-off called El Mundo Real. Seriously, The Real World was basically a cultural revolution throughout the 1990s and I really believe that it made people act differently in their day-to-day lives. If you love reality TV but you’re too young to remember The Real World, it’s definitely worth checking out.
2. The Bachelor
Since the dawn of reality television, romance and love have always been a part of the equation. However, when The Bachelor first aired in 2002, it made finding love the sole purpose of the show and people ate it up. The first season starred Alex Michel, a Harvard-educated businessman from Virginia and a group of 24 women competing for his hand in marriage. The entire show was completely ridiculous, sappy, and massively entertaining.
The Bachelor is still one of the most popular reality shows on television today and people gather eagerly every week to watch the new episodes. I can only imagine how much wine has been consumed as a direct result of The Bachelor being on TV. Anyway, this show has spanned 27 seasons thus far and shows no signs of going off the air anytime soon. Plus, The Bachelor has created more spin-offs than I can even count, including shows like Bachelor in Paradise, Bachelor in Paradise: After Paradise, and The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart (which was specifically for romantics who work in the music industry).
While most people have heard of the well-known reality TV show Survivor, few are aware that this show was actually derived from a Swedish reality show called Expedition Robinson, which premiered in 1997. After the Swedish program enjoyed massive success, its creator Charlie Parkins decided to try his hand with the American market in 2000 with Survivor. Like its Swedish predecessor, Survivor asks the question of what would happen if you placed a bunch of strangers with little or no wilderness experience on a deserted island and made them fend for their lives.
Of course, no one’s life was actually in danger during the making of Survivor; however, the pseudo-life-threatening situations make for great television. Survivor has been so successful that they’ve cranked out 43 seasons and won 63 Emmy Awards. The success of Survivor is also somewhat due to the massive cash price of $1 million that they give away. Most reality shows aren’t quite so generous.
4. Jersey Shore
Full disclosure: I am from New Jersey, which means that I am inherently biased when it comes to Jersey Shore. Nevertheless, I believe that Jersey Shore absolutely deserves to be counted among the best reality TV shows of all time. Also, a product of MTV, this show was a close relative of The Real World. In fact, the premises of the two shows were nearly identical with one major difference: to stay in the Jersey Shore house, you had to be a spray-tanned, fist-pumping, hair-gelled, Italian-American party animal. And, while some people from New Jersey found this show to be offensive, personally, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Who could forget when Ronnie punched a man on the boardwalk and then galloped straight into a police car? Or how about when Snooki got drunk and started screaming “Where’s the beach?” even though she was standing directly on top of the beach? The whole thing was absolutely glorious. And Jersey Shore was so popular that its formula has been reused for reality shows around the world, including Floribama Shore (USA), Rio Shore (Brazil), Acapulco Shore (Mexico), Gandía Shore (Spain), Geordie Shore (England), and Germany Shore (Germany).
5. Big Brother
In case you didn’t know, the term “Big Brother” comes from George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Alright, English class is dismissed. We’re here to talk about Big Brother, the reality show that first aired in 2000 and instantly became a hit. This show was based on a Dutch reality show by the same name that had been around for around three years by the time the American version came out. When the Dutch version was released, it pioneered a concept that has somewhat become the status quo in today’s reality shows: constants are under surveillance all day, every day.
The American version of Big Brother involved a group of strangers living in a specially constructed house together while constantly wearing personal microphones and under surveillance by a series of cameras. That meant that everything the contestants said or did was captured. After the first season of the show received lackluster ratings, the producers added in more games and challenges, which is when the show really took off. Big Brother spanned a total of 24 seasons and led to several spin-off series overseas. However, the main reason that Big Brother is one of the best reality shows of all time is that it introduced the idea of 24/7 surveillance.