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Best Reality TV Shows

Updated on April 23, 2017

Types of Reality TV Shows - What Do People Want to Watch?

Reality shows, we either love them or hate them but rarely do we not have an opinion.

The first reality TV show was Alan Funt's 'Candid Camera' - it placed real people in funny, prearranged farcical situations and then secretly filmed them making fools of themselves.

Candid Camera worked as a reality TV show because it was so amusing and people enjoyed the fact that the person didn't realise they were being secretly filmed and exploited for the amusement of others.

Reality TV in the late 1940s had an innocence about it that is somewhat lacking in the reality TV shows today but the good thing about more recent reality TV shows is that they have diversified so much.

In the last two decades, the best reality TV shows have often been about subjects like talent spotting, making camp fires in the wild, catching enormous fish or driving trucks across ice roads in Canada.

One thing that's great about the best reality TV shows in the 2000s is that there is something for everyone.

People will always argue about whether reality TV shows are a good thing or a bad thing but nobody can argue with their viewing figures; in general people seem to love them!

This article takes a look at some of the best reality TV shows.

Simon Cowell
Simon Cowell | Source

Talent Spotting Reality TV Shows

Talent shows have been around since TV began but came into a league of their own with the production on British TV station, ITV with 'Pop Idol' in 2001.

One of its judges, Simon Cowell, quickly gained notoriety for being a rather blunt critic with a mean streak a mile wide. But he did tell it like it was sometimes.

Pop Idol went one step further than many talent reality shows by really going into the personalities of the contestants, so as well as their talents, viewers also got their back stories.

Cowell went on to be a judge in Pop Rivals, which was a similar format to Pop Idol but created an all boy band and an all girl band. The winners, Girls Aloud are still enormously successful all over the world.

Cowell, himself a music label owner and entrepreneur took talent shows in another direction with X Factor in 2004, a show which is still the most popular TV show in Britain when it is shown.

Simon Cowell took his talents and Pop Idol and then, X Factor to the USA and other places around the world with enormous success.

X Factor in the UK has spawned stars like Will Young and Leona Lewis. In the USA, Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson are now superstars.

Simon Cowell is the face of Pop Idol and X Factor and his Syco record label continue to support and sign artistes through the show but Cowell is an acquired taste.

Big Brother is Watching You

Big Brother, a show in which complete strangers are living together in the same house whilst being filmed 24 hours a day, was originally created in the Netherlands but its unusual reality TV ideas caused a buzz worldwide and soon it was being filmed on every continent.

It was shown in the UK on Channel 4 and became its flagship show, with a new series every year, eagerly anticipated by the British public.

In the UK, Big Brother diversified into Celebrity Big Brother and was watched by millions as TV, film, sports stars and politicians were watched being put through their paces for our entertainment.

Big Brother UK's most famous participant was Jade Goody who appeared in the 2002 version and went on to have a career in reality TV in a number of guises, eventually becoming a millionairess. Sadly though, Jade went on to appear in the Indian version of Big Brother, Big Boss but was diagnosed with cervical cancer just after the show began. She died a short time later because the cancer was already too advanced. She was only 28 when she died, leaving two small sons.

Big Brother spawned another celebrity show, I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here - celebrities are dropped into the Australian bush and have to endure a number of disgusting challenges, usually involving eating kangaroo testicles or being covered in rats or spiders. Celebrity Big Brother showed celebrities could be entertaining without the safety net of a script, though some were better than others.

Celebrities who have appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in the UK include Dennis Rodman, Jacqui Stallone, Spencer and Heidi (soon to get their own reality TV show), Brigette Neilson, Jermaine Jackson, Coolio and Heidi Fleiss. In spite of its many American guests, it has always been won by someone British.

Ali the first female winner of Biggest Loser
Ali the first female winner of Biggest Loser
Jillian Michaels - I wish she was my personal trainer, I'd be super thin!
Jillian Michaels - I wish she was my personal trainer, I'd be super thin! | Source
Bob Harper
Bob Harper | Source

Watching People Getting Thin and Fit

Surely, the ultimate and one of the best reality TV shows is Biggest Loser.

Those who watch Biggest Loser become shocked by their level of addiction to the show (I am one of its biggest fans) but is it really such a shock when you get to see overweight and sometimes clinically and morbidly obese people transformed in front of your eyes.

Every week there are new twists and turns with a level of emotional stress added to the already stressful business of working out for seven hours a day and being weighed in front of millions of people every week.

The trainers on Big Brother, Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels ramp up the exercise with some severe brutal work outs for the contestants but this is tempered by their out and out belief and support in the same people.

Michaels prides herself on being the cruellest of trainers; she asks every contestant to 'leave it all out there' and the ones who win usually do. Michaels contestants have been the most successful on the show so far.

Biggest Loser is a reality TV show which also has successful shows shown around the world. The Australian version is particularly good with many twists and turns in the game to add to the suspense.

The prize money on the USA version for the outright winner is a cool $250,000 and there is a further $100,000 to the person eliminated who goes on to lose the most weight at home.

It is basically lots of very overweight people losing lots of weight in a competition for lots of money; everything tells me this reality TV show is somehow unethical but it is absolutely compulsive viewing.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians
Keeping Up With the Kardashians | Source
The Grewals, the funny real life family from the UK's 'The Family'
The Grewals, the funny real life family from the UK's 'The Family'
Honey BooBoo and Mother - urgh!
Honey BooBoo and Mother - urgh! | Source
The first and best? The Osbournes - daughter Aimee chose not to take part and moved out!
The first and best? The Osbournes - daughter Aimee chose not to take part and moved out! | Source

Following Real People Around Every Day - Rich and Ordinary

The Simple Life starring Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton saw 2 spoiled rich girls thrown into a different world for the length of the series and the reality TV show''s entertainment was all about seeing 2 people out of their element.

At first, a slow burner, word of mouth led to it being one of the most successful reality TV shows on American TV. It was shown in the UK a year later on satellite TV and was never as popular as in the USA.

When Hilton and Richie declined to sign up for another series, E entertainment looked to replace the show with one in a similar vein and came up with Keeping Up with the Kardashians, a story of the Kardashian and Jenner families and their many adventures.

Everybody's names seem to begin with the letter K and they have lots of money to spend.

Let's be honest, rich people have more money to spend and more exciting lives than most of the rest of us so the show has a certain 'how the other half lives' quality.

In the UK, we went the opposite way with 'The Family' a story of ordinary British-Pakistani folk living in a semi-detached house. They had no riches but they still had good family stories and they were very funny.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians brought a bit of class back to following real people around after Wife Swap didn't it?

Keeping Up With the Kardashians does have competition from shows like The Hills, The City and The Real Housewives of Orange County.

The Hills and The City are variations on a theme, young upwardly mobile girls, falling in and out of love though some viewers have doubted its 'real life', many thinking it seems very staged at times.

The ultimate reality family show remains 'The Osbournes', starring Ossie Osbourne, wife Sharon and their children Jack and Kelly (eldest daughter Aimee opted out of appearing on the show and hated the idea of it, moving out of the family home during filming). The Osbournes was much loved because of its quirkiness and it was very funny.

The latest family life reality TV show to capture the imagination is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a spin off from another reality show, Toddlers & Tiaras. Honey Boo Boo herself is a beauty pageant contestant and a smart mouthed little girl. Her mother is somewhat larger than life.

Opinion remains mixed, people seem to either love it or hate it. The business of child beauty pageants seems to be a volatile issue in the USA and this show brings this to the surface even more. One thing is certain, Honey Boo Boo is getting rich any way.

'Bear' Grylls - is he as tough as Ray Mears?  No but some might suggest he's better looking.
'Bear' Grylls - is he as tough as Ray Mears? No but some might suggest he's better looking. | Source
Ray Mears - bigger in the UK than USA but he's all man!
Ray Mears - bigger in the UK than USA but he's all man!

The Reality of Survival in the Wild

The best reality TV shows should be able to appeal to all viewers but that would be impossible.

Some shows seem to lend themselves well to more masculine pursuits like fishing, angling and field sports but survival programmes are popular with both male and female viewers, probably for different reasons.

In the UK and the USA, Bear Grylls has taken the lead with his own particular brand of survival training; his is very raw, near the knuckle stuff where he gets to show his bravery but some of his tricks backfire badly. I saw the show where he helped himself to fresh honey and was really badly stung, leading to the mother of all allergic reactions, his face was swollen and disfigured throughout the show, all because of that one decision.

In the UK, we favour our other British survival expert, Ray Mears.

Ray travels all over the world (like Bear) and lives with indigenous peoples and learns from them. His admiration for the ancient techniques of native Americans, Canadians, African tribesmen and Maori and Aborigines in Australasia is clear for all to see and to see him use these skills himself to survive in their lands is awe inspiring.

Ray Mears and Bear Grylls both make interesting, exciting shows which show the reality of the wild in wonderful ways.

Lately too, in the USA, there has been popularity for programming showing people who support the idea of being 'apocalypse ready'. This is, perhaps, a 'reality' scenario we all hope we'll never see come true.

Cast of the US version of Survivor 2000
Cast of the US version of Survivor 2000
Survivor UK only got 2 series, came back 7 years later then was rejected again
Survivor UK only got 2 series, came back 7 years later then was rejected again | Source

Survivor- American Hit, British Flop

Survivor was created in the UK by ITV producer, Charlie Parsons in 1992.

He devised a show which would pitch together people in a survival situation on an island where they would join tribes and then undertake pursuits to win food, shelter, tools etc.

The twist with Survivor is that the people get to vote one another off the island one after another.

Allegiances are formed, arguments brew and fester. It usually starts off with everyone finding their allies and fighting for their team but as hunger takes hold and the tests get harder and harder, survival of the fittest takes over and the weakest are cast off.

Survivor is extremely popular all over the world except in the country where it was devised, the UK. It had only 2 series; the first was very popular but the viewing figures on the second did not keep place and it was dumped by ITV. It returned for a one off series in 2007 but has not been back since then.

In the UK, there is a younger, hipper version of Survivor called 'Shipwrecked' but it is targeted at the teen market and is full of very good looking young people!

Survivor in the USA is currently filming its 26th series.

America's Next Top Models
America's Next Top Models | Source

Really? People Do This for A Living?

Some of the best reality TV shows have appeared in the last 5 years with the introduction of reality TV shows which concentrate on extreme occupations.

Ice Road Truckers, on the face of it, should not be compulsive viewing but when people are moving huge vehicles across treacherous ice roads or iced over lakes, against the clock and competing with rival truck drivers to do it, you can't bear to look away.

Ice Road Truckers is another show which gives us the back stories of its main 'characters' and is all the better for it. You grow to know these people and really start to favour your favourite drivers.

Hugh, Alex, Jay, T.J, Rick and Drew have been in competition and it was all about tonnes, loads and cash as the series went on.

Ice Road Truckers was shown on the History Channel and became a word of mouth success. It remains extremely popular.

The Deadliest Catch is made in the same area as Ice Road Truckers and centres on crab catching in the Bering Sea.

The work of the fisherman is terrifying with waves rising like skyscrapers making the fisherman seem like lego figures.

Again, The Deadliest Catch was shown on the Discovery Channel and became a word of mouth success.

It is edge of the seat reality TV where you experience genuine fear for the fishermen. Scary stuff.

Ax Men (Axe Men) was also a popular show, showing the extreme work of lumberjacks.

All three of these shows are about hard graft in scary conditions, using big buzz saws. As picturesque as it was scary, Ax Men was another cabel/satellite hit, a slow burner which kept viewers turning up every week.

There were more glamorous versions of 'real work' with America's Next Top Model still grabbing viewing figures from male and female viewers and the latest craze for cake decorating has the channels awash with cupcake frosting and colourful themed party cakes.

Jersey Shore - it's all about the partying!
Jersey Shore - it's all about the partying! | Source
England's Geordie Shore - partying, very rude but very funny.
England's Geordie Shore - partying, very rude but very funny. | Source
cape may:
Cape May, NJ 08204, USA

get directions

Cape May on the Jersey Shore

Let's Party

The latest reality TV shows to really grab the public imagination are those which seem to show real people living in a sort of sub-culture. At least that's the way they edit the programme.

Often the truth of these sorts of reality TV shows is that the people, a lot of the time, are pretty ordinary, like the rest of us.

But who want to see them behaving when we can watch them misbehaving?

Jersey Shore is a fun show about the partying on the New Jersey coast and it has its own version in the UK, Geordie Shore.

Jersey Shore and Geordie Shore are both no holds barred. You are as likely to see someone being sick after a heavy night out as you are seeing them dancing or eating. The camera doesn't stop shooting just because someone starts throwing up.

Geordie Shore when it was originally shown caused outrage with its excessive profanity, sex scenes and heavy drinking. Its stars didn't care; they said that that was how some people in their early twenties behaved.

Jersey Shore is in a similar vein. Part of you rejects their way of life but another part of you can't bear to look away.

Reality TV In The Future

The best reality TV shows all have one thing in common - a formula!

They work every time to a 'scheme of work' which, aside from the odd twist and turn usually sticks to a set of rules throughout the show.

Big Brother will have challenges and people will vote one another out.

Biggest Loser will have a weigh in and the 'weakest' two every week will go to an elimination, one will be sent home. Tears will be shed.

Ice Road Truckers will time the journeys, include weight and value of the load and create a scoreboard -only one driver can win, will the weather hold him or her back?

Survivor will put people into tribes, set tasks, ask them to live on their wiles, build shelter and survive in a tropical climate. They will vote one another off in a secret ballot.

A formula is something viewers recognise and understand. People like rules and the conflict that comes with rules; not everybody sticks to the rules and when big money is up for grabs, people will act differently.

The best reality TV sticks to something which they already know is a winning formula and people will continue to watch because of it.

Some of the others may fall by the wayside? There's only so much of watching other people partying you can take!

Do You Watch Reality TV?

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    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Paula, I have just taken a deliberate break from HP this last year because I have been researching my family tree and involved in other things, including going back to work part time. The break has done me good and I'm sure I'll get back to it at some point - I still read Hubs by other people and keep in the loop with Sunshine and other HP friends. I have also started to write more fiction (which I prefer) and HP doesn't seem to be the best option for fiction...never mind! Lovely to hear from you and thanks as always for your kind comment.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      6 years ago from Carson City

      Jools.....I thought you hadn't been writing for a while.....due to the fact that I've not received any notices! You are the 3rd. hubber I have had this happen and I'm not happy....going to have investigate and find out WHY.

      This hub is all of your writing is. I admit, I was drawn to the pic of my heart throb, SIMON. Oh how I love Simon.

      But Alas.....he has gone and fallen in love and BECOME A DADDY!

      I am begrudgingly happy for him. He is so crazy in love with little "Eric" and seeing Simon holding him and such a look of pride and happiness on his face! Who'd have ever thought it, Jools?? Simon....a Daddy.

      I do the love the entire hub.....really. Can you tell I insisted on zeroing in on Simon?? LOL

      Good to be in touch with you!.......UP+++

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Yeah honey boo boo is not very nice to me... Survivor and big brother are nice though

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Lady E, many thanks for your comment - I have given up on Big Brother now, it's not as good, though I do like the celebrity version. I wish Survivor would come back to the UK, I loved that show.

    • Lady_E profile image


      7 years ago from London, UK

      Wow... you brought back so many memories by all the photies you posted. Jade Goody - Aaaawh, Stallone's Mum on BigBrother - OMG.

      Simon Cowell had an awesome idea and is lucky XFactor/Pop Idol are very popular, though now I personally prefer The Voice, which I think is now in America.

      Lovely Hub. Enjoy BigBrother tonight. :-)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Dianna, Honey Boo Boo has not entered my telly box either; I can happily forego that 'pleasure'. I did like Survivor though - but we don't have it any more. Many thanks for your comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      I am not much on watching reality TV, but you have posted some interesting views here. I would not ever watch one such as Honey BooBoo, even just for a filler! Good coverage on this type of television.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      I had to comment on your comment of my comment...yes, he knows how to drive better than the ice road truckers, right on jools!!!! :)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Maria, many thanks. Yes, Dancing With the Stars would qualify but I may do a separate hub on that one and our version, Strictly Come Dancing - both very, very successful. I have 2 left feet so I don't watch any dance shows.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      You know hot pink isn't everyone's color...and if I didn't know better, I would think little Miss Boo Boo is giving me the finger??

      Jools, You have done a Herculean job of tackling these reality shows...

      My only two guilty pleasures are Dancing with the Stars and Splash...if either of them technically qualify.

      Voted UP and FABI. Hugs, Maria

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Baja2013, Top Gear is more of an entertainment show than a reality TV show but it is hugely popular. I hope you get to see them in Bosnia soon!

    • baja2013 profile image


      7 years ago from Sarajevo, Bosnia

      What about Top Gear? I want them to come to Bosnia! :)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, thanks for your comment. When you watch Ice Road Truckers does your hubby sit there and say "I would never do that.". "He shouldn't be doing that."....etc.etc and I can see you...'behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes' Hee Hee

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      willsummerdream - so noted! :o) Mythbusters!

    • Willsummerdreamer profile image

      Will English 

      7 years ago

      Best reality such thing man, unless you're name is Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman lol.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      This was a great run down of reality shows. I'm not overly thrilled with most of them but have to admit some give me a laugh. Plus, I am married to a retired truck driver ;)

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Alecia, I don't watch any of the talent shows, though my sister tells me The Voice is the best of them. I love Biggest Loser and quite a few of the cooking shows and I wish they showed the American version of Survivor over here - we loved it but it only got 2 series in Britain, just didn't capture the imagination in spite of an enormous cash prize.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 

      7 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I don't consider the competition shows reality but technically they are. That's what I prefer to watch- namely Top Chef and I used to watch the Voice but after awhile it got redundant for me.

      If people honestly asked why they watched these shows and stopped watching, we wouldn't have to keep putting up with these people.

      It seems in the states the people on these shows get a taste of notoriety and can't let it go, leaving many of us to suffer through their antics.

      Great hub Jools, I enjoyed reading it.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Mary, thanks for your comment - I don't watch tons of them but I do keep up with the ones I enjoy, mainly cooking shows and ironically, slimming shows :o)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      7 years ago from Florida

      Since I gave up cable, I can't say I have watched any of these shows. I don't think I've missed much to tell you the truth.

      You have listed a lot of these shows. I didn't know there were that many of them. Oh, well.....

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Michelle, thanks for your comment - we have Masterchef on TV at the moment which is mega-popular and that one with Gordon Ramsay is also very popular, Hell's Kitchen - I am thinking about doing a separate on on food reality TV shows because I watch most of them :o)

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Linda, the Voice is definitely reality TV so you DO watch one relaity TV show :o), we have it here too with Tom Jones, Jessie J and Will- I -Am in the chairs.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Bill, I can't imagine life without my telly! But I admire you for not having one of you're happier without it - Honey Boo Boo...Mmmmm, she's a strange kid and sadly, not a one off!

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Audrey, thanks for your comment - I don't watch them all to be honest, I have my favourites but I tried to cover most of the popular ones.

    • Jools99 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      baja2013, thanks for your comment. My sister recently put me onto pawn stars and storage wars and we're slowly getting addicted - we like all of the shouting and scrapping between the groups :o)

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      I like The Voice...and some of the cooking reality TV. Like them or not, they do grab the public's imagination! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      7 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I am happy to say I don't watch any reality TV. Not my cuppa tea. There's enough drama in real life! Unless The Voice is a reality show, then I'm guilty as charged and happy to say it. Haha! Honey Boo-Boo. OMG. Fabulous hub and content, nice photo of Simon Cowell, I always like seeing him! :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Julie, this is one reason why I am glad I don't own a television. Honey BooBoo would send me to the crazy house if I watched it. :) Good job of covering all of the insanity.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      7 years ago from California

      Wow--I think you covered them all Jools! Great hub!

    • baja2013 profile image


      7 years ago from Sarajevo, Bosnia

      I like Pawn Stars and Storrage wars, Big Brother from time to time. The rest I consider fake :)

      Anyway, interesting hub. Voted funny, to.


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