The Best Reality Shows on Television
There Actually Is Some Good Reality Television
There was a time when it seemed like most reality television was essentially just trash. There was very little worth watching and nothing that really constituted water cooler conversation. However, those days are long gone.
At present, there are not only more reality shows being aired than ever before, but a number of them are surprisingly good. Here, in my opinion, are the some of the best that you may have overlooked.
If you've never seen Swamp People, you are missing a rare treat. Set in the heart of Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin - the nation's largest swamp - the show follows the daily lives of several residents during the 30-day alligator hunting season each year.
In Louisiana, alligator hunting is a way of life that goes back over 300 years. During alligator season, each hunter is given a certain number of tags that must be attached to any gators they catch. A hunter who uses up all of his tags is said to have "tagged out" and can't hunt any more gators that year.
It's a high-risk, high-reward profession. Gators essentially have a bulletproof hide; the only vulnerable spot is a quarter-sized area (the "kill spot") on their heads. (On one episode, bullet fragments ricocheted off a gator's hide and hit one hunter in the arm and another just below his eye.) Still, many risk their lives doing this because of the money they can earn from gators. In fact, many residents - most of whom primarily live off the land - earn the majority of their annual income during gator season.
And on days when they don't catch any gators, they go back to living off the land. On one such occasion, one of the show regulars went out later to catch bullfrogs for his family's dinner, while another went to catch snakes for a research lab (and invariably got bitten). Two other guys went shrimping at night to make up for a lack of success with gators during the day. In short, these people aren't just hunting for fun; it's part of their livelihood. All of which makes for a reality show like no other.
Storage Wars: Great Reality Television (With a Chance to Strike It Rich)
In the State of California, when no rent is paid on a storage unit for 3 months, the contents of that unit can be auctioned off - as a single lot - to the highest bidder. This is the concept behind Storage Wars, where several buyers try to outbid each other for the contents of various storage units in hopes of finding something valuable inside. (And did I mention that they only have 5 minutes to look at the contents of the units after the lock is cut off, and they can't go inside or touch anything?)
I freely admit that I was hooked from the very first episode that I saw. In my opinion, the show has 3 great draws. First, the show's stars employ Machiavellian strategies in order to gain an advantage, such as bidding up the prices of units they don't even want in order to make their competitors spend more money. (This means the competiotors will have less money to spend on other, possibly more valuable, units.) Occasionally it's clear that a bidder gets caught up in not getting beat rather than focusing on what the unit might be worth (and sometimes a guy who's just trying to bid up the price gets stuck with a unit he really didn't want), but that's just part of the fun.
The second reason to watch is, of course, the "Wow!" factor that accompanies seeing what gets discovered in the units. Just about every storage locker will have something that's odd or unique, which is then taken to an expert for valuation. It's just great fun watching an expert tell someone that a locker they paid $500 for has stuff in it worth $5000. (Or, on the flip side, when a locker that someone paid maybe $1000 for contains junk only worth about $200.)
Finally, the third (and possibly best) reason to watch is because of one of the regular cast members, Barry Weiss, a guy who is such a character that he should have his own show. Barry - who has basically become the breakout star of Storage Wars - is a millionaire who made his money in the produce industry. He is essentially buying storage units solely in hopes of finding great things for his personal collection of cool stuff. He has been known to pull all kinds of stunts in order to get an advantage in bidding, such as employing a little person on stilts, bringing along psychics to help him determine which units have valuable stuff, utilizing night vision goggles, and using a remote-controlled helicopter with a spy-cam to get a closer look at the contents of units. (That last one got Barry disqualified from the bidding, since the auctioneer said the it gave him an unfair advantage. Even worse, after the helicopter crashed inside the storage locker, the auctioneer declared it to be part of the unit contents and would be included in the sale!) That said, Barry is not only witty, but surprisingly knowledgeable and astute when it comes to antiques and collectibles.
In short, this is a great show, and you will become addicted after just one episode. This is reality TV at its best.
***Update: It's my understanding that Storage Wars superstar Barry Weiss will indeed be getting his own reality show.
Deadliest Warrior: Reality TV With Historical Flair
Ever wondered who would win in a deathmatch between a ninja and a pirate? How about a Roman gladiator and an Apache warrior? A Navy Seal vs. an Israeli Commando?
These are the kinds of questions posed by Deadliest Warrior, a show where history's most feared warriors from across the globe are pitted against each other. Each episode, two of history's most lethal combatants face off to see which is the better fighter. The show discusses, amongst other things, the history and culture of the combatants, and also brings in experts to test the types of weapons each would have used to determine their deadliness and effectiveness.
All of the data collected (especially that from the weapons testing) is then entered into a computer, which runs 1000 mock battle simulations between the two combatants. A dramatization of a fight between the two warriors is then shown, with the winner being the warrior who won the most simulated battles on the computer.
It sounds like a rather simple premise, but it is an incredibly engrossing and fascinating show. It is now so popular that it has its own video game: Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat. And, although it's arguably not true reality television, it's just so much fun to watch!
The premise of Top Shot is rather easy to explain. In essence, 16 sharpshooters are brought in from all over the country and divided into two teams of eight - a red team and a blue team. Each episode, the teams face off against each other in some type of competition that involves using weapons to hit a target.
What makes it interesting, however, is that the weapons aren't always guns, and can be from any point in history. Thus, the compeition might involve archery, knife-throwing, what have you. The losing team must then select two of its members (usually the two worst-performing people) to be involved in a shootout involving a different historical weapon from that used in the team competition. The loser of the shootout is eliminated from the show and goes home.
The competition essentially continues in this manner until there is only one person left, who then receives the title of "Top Shot," along with a $100,000 grand prize. In short, this is the type of reality TV that just sucks you in right from the start.
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Summary of Great Reality Shows
Needless to say, there are lots of other great reality shows out there. However, rather than rehash some of the more well-recognized shows (e.g., Survivor, American Idol, etc.), I tried to focus on several that are a little more off the beaten path. Moreover, while some of these may seem like "guy" shows, that would be a mischaracterization because they really aren't. They're shows that the whole family can enjoy. For instance, I know women who love Deadliest Warrior, and my 10-year-old is wild about Storage Wars (and thinks Barry is hilarious).
Hopefully, if you haven't heard of any of these, you'll be willing to make room for one or two of them - if only to check them out. You won't be disappointed.
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