If any of us have a guilty pleasure, it’s watching reality TV. Mind you, with the sheer amount of reality shows on the tube today, it’s no longer something to really feel guilty about. It’s pretty hard not to watch a reality show these days. That’s if we’re talking about the ones on air today.
But what about the reality shows in the 1990s and early 2000s? The shows like “Survivor”, “The Real World”, and “Big Brother” were among the first reality programs that captivated audiences all over the nation. Since then, reality has become the genre of choice for many viewers. Why? Because it’s so darn entertaining! We only wish our daily lives were as distracting, comical, and compelling as the ones we see on TV.
In celebration of our obsession with reality television, we put together a list of the top 40 shows from the 90s to today, with some no longer on air and some still signing on for more seasons. Quite a few of these shows even won Emmy Awards not once, or twice, but multiple times. By the way, the first Emmy awarded to a reality program was in 2003.
See if your favorite reality show is on the list!
40. Intervention (2005 – )
“Intervention” is the type of reality show that isn’t gossipy in the slightest yet incredibly fascinating and real. The show is still running and it’s the kind of thing you want to watch if you want to realize how good your life is in comparison. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a show about people who have all kinds of addictions.
But doesn’t just showcase the individuals and their habits – it goes into their childhood, exposing the reason they fell into addiction in the first place. And most importantly, it directs them towards rehab and recovery. The show has already won 2 Emmy Awards and 16 other nominations. And trust us, those who make the show deserve it.
39. Duck Dynasty (2012 – 2017)
Duck Dynasty is regarded as one of the most popular reality shows over the last decade. The Robertson family makes a ridiculous amount of products for duck hunters. They live in Louisiana and spend a lot of time together, including getting into friendly competitions on all kinds of things.
While it can be debated, the star of the show is the oddball Uncle Si, a character we wouldn’t mind having as a member of our families. The show ended in 2017, and it won an Emmy Award as well as 4 nominations.
The next reality show on the list is definitely one from the “guilty pleasure” category…
38. The Simple Life (2003 – 2007)
Why were Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie put in charge of a funeral home? We don’t know, we don’t want to know, and who really cares at the end of the day… The point of the show was to watch the ridiculous things they do, like spilling cremated ashes all over the floor and cleaning it up with a vacuum.
And there were worse things than that. The Simple Life was our way to watch spoiled, wealthy, party girl socialites do “normal people” jobs. Originally, the producers wanted Paris Hilton’s sister Nicky Rothschild to star with her in the show, but she declined. So Paris’ longtime friend Nicole came on.
37. Jon & Kate Plus Eight (2007 – 2017)
Jon & Kate Plus Eight was a reality show people just couldn’t stop watching. The show followed the lives of Jon and Kate, a married couple, who has eight children! And amazingly, each child had very different personalities.
This particular show ended in in November of 2009. But it was later announced that Jon and Kate were getting a divorce and the show would continue on as “Kate Plus 8” after the split. Which it did, but the show just wasn’t the same. “Kate Plus 8” ended in 2017.
The next show was only on for a couple seasons, but it made a dent for its short life!
36. Flavor of Love (2006 – 2008)
“Flavor of Love” was centered on the outrageous rapper Flavor Flav from the rap group Public Enemy and his quest was “to find true love,” or whatever that really means on a reality show. Flav is a larger than life character, so any woman attracted to him had to be able to keep up with his antics.
The show was a more “ghetto” version of The Bachelor. And each woman on the show was personally nicknamed by Flav. The most memorable was finalist New York (Tiffany Pollard), whose facial expressions gave the world enough meme material to last a lifetime.
35. The Osbournes (2002 – 2005)
The show about the daily life of “The Godfather of Heavy Metal” was nothing short of entertaining in all of its monotony. As little that went on, you still never knew what to expect and watching “The Osbournes” was still an unpredictable event.
Ozzy Osbourne, his wife Sharon, and their two children Jack and Kelly provided MTV with a show that can down in their hall of fame (if they had one). The show even featured some of the Osbournes’ most vulnerable moments, like when Ozzy overcame a near fatal ATV accident and Sharon’s battle with cancer.
The next show is still on the air and it’s because of how successful it is!
34. America’s Got Talent (2006 – )
Our favorite mean guy from “American Idol,” Simon Cowell, created “America’s Got Talent.” And it looks like he really does know what he’s doing. The show is all about unearthing new talent, as impressively great or weird as they are.
Currently, the judges are Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Mel B, and Terry Crews. The judges are constantly amazed at the talents presented before them, such as an incredibly talented deaf singer, a 12-year-old ventriloquist, and a 90-year-old dancer…to name a few.
33. The Real World (1992 – 2017)
“The Real World” is noted as the very first reality TV show and it became a real phenomenon, having been on the air for 32 seasons! The show was created by visionaries Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray who ended up popularizing the genre of reality in an unprecedented way.
The first 10 seasons were a study of how young people actually behaved and acted on camera. The result was what we saw: raw, surprising, and gripping. As many TV programs go, they tend to break down after their momentum wears off, but the first few seasons made a lasting impact.
The next show is about rehab…the celebrity version.
32. Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (2008 – 2012)
The show was exactly as it sounds – celebrities in rehab, dealing with their addictions. The only caveat is that the celebrities weren’t always “stars” per se. They can better be described as “well-known people.” There were, however, some actual celebrities, such as Heidi Fleiss, Tom Sizemore, and Dennis Rodman.
As much as people may have speculated that the show wasn’t real or that it was all scripted, it seems as though it really wasn’t. The people on the show really did go through a process of treatment and therapy. Whether they succeeded or not was a matter of their own motivation.
31. Say Yes to the Dress (2007 – )
Here’s another hugely popular show that is still on today. And it’s mostly due to how consistently relevant it is. When will women stop being interested in wedding dresses? Exactly. Whether you’ve seen an episode or not, you’ve at least heard of it.
It’s all about a Kleinfeld Bridal store in Manhattan which shows the progress of brides searching for the perfect wedding dress. Dresses sold on the show can range from “cheap” at a price tag of $1,300 to more a more accurate label of crazy, with a price of $40,000.
The next reality show was on for a couple of years only, with a young and popular couple of the time…
30. The Newlyweds (2003 – 2005)
Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey starred in a show about nothing other than them and the lives they live as pop stars. They had just gotten married so apparently, the idea was to showcase what the life of newlywed pop stars is like.
Anyone who saw the show might remember Jessica asking if Buffalo wings came from actual buffalo as a memorable moment. But she had more ridiculous questions, like asking if Chicken of the Sea was chicken or tuna. If the show taught us anything, it’s that being naïve can be endearing.
29. Cheaters (2000 – 2015)
It’s remarkable that the show lasted for 15 years. The premise is definitely compelling and something everyone is guiltily interested in. that could be the reason people having been watching cheaters get caught and confronted by their “significant” others on camera.
Hidden cameras placed by the “Cheaters Detective Agency” would catch people in the act of adultery. Pretty much every show started with a paranoid partner and ended with a fist fight between the “other man” and the one being cheated on.
The next show is one for the outdoorsy/wild Americans…
28. Man vs. Wild (2006 – 2011)
Bear Grylls, the main man of the reality adventure show is something of a savage. He used to be a lieutenant commander in the Royal Marines Reserve, which means he’s well equipped for survival in the wild.
“Man vs. Wild” is all about Grylls’ ability to endure the elements in pretty much every situation — desert, snowy mountain, and rainforests alike. Grylls has done some “wild” stuff, like using a camel carcass as a sleeping bag shelter.
27. Hoarders (2009 – )
The Emmy-nominated show is still on the air after 10 years. There’s just something about watching other people deal with their problems that we just can’t get enough of. Hoarding is apparently a real problem and more prevalent than we may want to acknowledge.
“Hoarders” may be the most effective way to get you to clean your room. The show showcases the issues as well treatment of people living with compulsive hoarding disorder. The original series was the catalyst to the shows “Hoarders: Then and Now,” “Hoarders: Family Secrets,” and “Hoarders: Overload.”
The next family-based reality show was one that lasts 12 seasons and you’ve definitely seen it!
26. Little People, Big World (2006 – 2018)
“Little People, Big World” really withstood the test of time, having been on the air for 12 seasons on TLC. It started out as a program meant to educate people about dwarfism but it quickly became a cultural phenomenon, as it was the first show to showcase dwarfs.
But the show wasn’t without its controversies. Cast members made media headlines for DUIs and divorce. It only proved that the Roloff family is really just like any other American family, just a tad smaller in size.
25. Top Chef (2006 – )
“Top Chef” has won 2 Emmy awards so far and has the potential to gain more as the food competition show is still going strong. It was one of the first cooking shows in reality television, presenting us with aspiring chefs who go up against one another in culinary challenges.
The contestants are judged by award-winning chefs, and the show has produced spin-offs, including “Top Chef Masters,” “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” and “Top Chef Junior.”
For anyone who hasn’t seen the next reality show, you must have been living under a rock…
24. Jersey Shore (2009 – 2012)
The six seasons of “Jersey Shore” were a compilation of moments in time that on one hand, we will never get back, but on the other hand, they are moments in which we will forever be grateful for the comic material they provided us with.
It’s hard to even explain what “Jersey Shore” was without mentioning fake tans, alcohol, obnoxious characters, and yelling. Oh, and egos that surge through the roof. The funniest part of the whole “successful fiasco” was that clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch offered to pay to the cast to NOT wear their clothes.
23. To Catch a Predator (2004 – 2006)
Reporter Chris Hansen became somewhat of a cult hero for his work on this news reality show. He had the help of local police and detectives to catch expected predators, luring them into ‘sting homes’. Actors would speak to these monsters over the phone.
When they would walk into the home, Hansen would poop out and say his catchphrase “Why don’t you take a seat.” He would then confront the accused individuals and they would later be in the hands of the authorities, thank goodness.
Speaking of cops, you can probably guess the next classic long-running reality show…
22. Cops (1989 – )
This is by far one of the most addictive and widely recognized reality programs ever. Cops with cameras have been giving viewers a glimpse of what a day (or night) on the job of law enforcement is like in many of America’s cities.
Being one of the longest-running reality television series over the course of 31 seasons and 30 years, it’s quite impressive. The show has been nominated for 4 Emmys over the years and has won 2 awards from American Cinema Editors and American Television Awards.
21. American Ninja Warrior (2009 – )
This is a competition show that really tests its contestants by having them run, jump, crawl, climb, hang, and swing through extreme obstacles. The goal: to become the American Ninja champion. Despite the name, however, only two Americans have won the show.
It was nominated for 4 Primetime Emmys and received another 8 nominations. This is an example of the kind of show that can either make you feel bad about sitting on your couch and eating chips while watching or inspire you to get off your butt and go for a jog.
Speaking of inspiring, the next show is one for all the employees (and bosses) out there!
20. Undercover Boss (2010 – )
The show is about bosses of chain businesses that go undercover in their own stores in different locations and various jobs around the store, interacting with the employees. For many of the bosses that go on this mission, they get to finally see what the job really means to their employees.
The premiere episode of Undercover Boss remains both as the highest rated and most watched single episode of the 2010s on U.S. television. The show is one of those feel-good ones that can really give all the underappreciated workers some feeling of vindication.
19. Queer Eye (2003-2007)
There’s the new version and there’s the original version. But we can’t appreciate the new and improved show without giving the original the respect it deserves. The first was on the air from 2003 to 2007, having won its awards and all. But it got canceled, only to be revived years later.
The new version came out in 2018 and took the original “Queer Eye” to a whole new level of emotion and fun. The show doesn’t just do “makeovers”, it really turns the lives of the people around and you can’t watch an episode without laughing, learning something new, and of course, crying.
18. The Real Housewives (2006 – )
This show is similar to the prevalence of “Say Yes to the Dress” in that there’s no shortage of housewives who want to be on TV. “The Real Housewives” began in 2006 as a reality TV relic of “Desperate Housewives” the drama series.
What started out as “The Real Housewives of Orange County” went to other series across the nation, including New York City, Atlanta, New Jersey, D.C., Beverly Hills, and Miami. Give housewives in these cities a glass of wine and you have drama for the full hour.
17. The Biggest Loser (2004 – 2016)
If you’re looking for an inspiring show, “The Biggest Loser” is definitely one that has the potential to get you moving and shedding pounds. It’s truly a feel-good show, with its overweight contestants working their butts off to get healthier, feel more confident, and motivate their family members to do the same.
Unfortunately, the show has been cancelled due to accusations that contestants were overexerted, malnourished, dehydrated, and given weight-loss pills to achieve the weight loss that viewers were seeing on the show. But it’s not confirmed.
Next – one of the first dating shows we’ve ever had the guilty pleasure to watch!
16. Blind Date (1999 – 2006)
Just like we love to watch real-life cops chasing real-life criminals, or watching girlfriends confront their cheating boyfriends, we also like to watch hilariously uncomfortably awkward blind dates. “Blind Date” was one of the pioneering dating shows.
Hosted by the bubbly Roger Lodge, blind dates were set up between two complete strangers. Although most seemed as though they were purposefully mismatched, there were the occasional positive relationship connections.
15. America’s Next Top Model (2003 – )
“America’s Next Top Model” is another reality show that just never ends and we will be shocked if and when it ever does. The show exposes aspiring models who compete for the title of America’s Next Top Model, hosted by the feisty Tyra Banks.
The show has produced some actual high-status names, like Analeigh Tipton and Yaya DaCosta. But the fun of the show isn’t to see who becomes famous – it’s to see all the drama and the makeovers these originally plane Janes get into.
14. Keeping Up with the Kardashians (2007 – )
Would you believe us if we told you that the strangely addictive show about the rich and spoiled family has received 11 awards and 10 nominations? Well, it’s true. Whether you love them or hate them or hate to love them or love to hate them, their influence on popular culture is undeniable.
Kim Kardashian went from simply a pretty woman to a household name and married to one of the most successful men in the industry, Kanye West. And the show has no shortage of drama.
The next show is another one that can be added to the “OG of reality shows” folder…
13. Big Brother (2000 – )
Nobody would have expected that George Orwell would inspire a reality show. For almost 20 years now, contestants have been competing to remain in the “Big Brother” house despite being on camera 24/7. They just want to win the big bucks at the end.
“Big Brother” is going strong for 21 straight seasons. It won 4 awards and received 6 nominations. The show is so successful that other countries around the world have produced their own versions, but all with the same premise.
12. The Bachelor (2002 – )
ABC’s “The Bachelor” is the most well-known and successful reality dating show on TV to date. The premise (in case you’ve been living in a cave) is: one eligible bachelor is presented with a collection of ladies to choose from and, over the course of the whole season, he has to choose one to be his wife.
The Bachelor was the first, but then “The Bachelorette” came to TV. Because why should only the men get to be the center of attention? Women can also be showered with male companions to choose from as their future husbands.
We’re getting closer to the top 10!
11. Project Runway (2004 – )
Aspiring fashion designers congregate to compete on “Project Runway”, the best fashion reality show ever, by far. The contestants compete against one another to create interesting fashion-forward garments in a very limited amount of time.
Heidi Klum is the main judge and hostess. Watching this show doesn’t mean you have to be a fashion-obsessed person. It’s just a really cool and entertaining view into how the creative process works under intense pressure!
10. Shark Tank (2009 – )
“Shark Tank” is one of the best shows on TV for its uniqueness. You get to see what the entrepreneurs are bringing to the table, and seeing what the judges consider worthwhile investments. Some of these products are ones that make you think “why didn’t I think of that?”
While some people come on to the show with existing businesses and inventions that they made into products that are already being sold, there are also those who come to the show with nothing other than an idea and a business model, hopeful that the sharks will invest in them. If you want to see which products are available from those who were on the show, check out this article.
NOTE: ADD LINK TO SHARK TANK ARTICLE
9. Hell’s Kitchen (2005 – )
Another long-lasting reality TV hit is “Hell’s Kitchen” with celebrity chef and known tough guy Gordon Ramsay. He oversees two teams of chefs competing for the job as head chef of a restaurant.
It’s entertaining as it is to watch cooking competitions, but Ramsay makes it even more so. The show has been nominated 5 times for an Emmy award. Although it didn’t win an Emmy, it received 6 other wins and 10 other nominations.
The number 8 spot goes to…
8. Dancing With the Stars (2005 – )
“Dancing With the Stars” has all the ingredients of a good reality series: celebrities, strangers getting together, and competition. The idea is simple: take a bunch of celebrities and match them up with a professional dancer.
Celebs like Nicole Scherzinger, Mel B, Mario Lopez, Mya, Rob Kardashian, Zendaya, and others have participated in the show. Most of the celebs do pretty well, but some have really stood out, both in a bad and good way.
7. Fear Factor (2001 – 2012)
Every “Fear Factor” episode presents contestants from across the country with some of the most gut-wrenching challenges that they need to go through in order to get to the next round. It’s called Fear Factor because each challenged revolves around simply scary things.
Heights, cockroaches, and deep water are just some of the fearful things people had to endure to pass the round. The point was to finish all the rounds and get the cash prize. For many, sitting in body bags full of insects in a morgue drawer and having to unlock their way out was worth it.
6. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (2003 – 2012)
“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is in the same feel-good category as “The Biggest Loser.” The show’s premise was to provide a family facing hardships with a brand new home, outfitted to their needs. Sounds amazing, right? But it got some criticism.
Unfortunately, the show has been criticized for its opportunistic approach to identifying families in need. But aside from the critics, the show which was on for 10 seasons, was a guaranteed tear-jerker and one that you couldn’t turn off.
The top 5 reality shows begin now!
5. So You Think You Can Dance (2005 – )
To give you an idea of why this show is so popular and successful, it won 16 Primetime Emmys, 5 other awards, and 82 nominations. It’s all about dancers, skilled in everything from ballroom and ballet to salsa, jive, hip-hop, and krumping. And they’re competing to be named the best.
The entire season is addictive – from the auditions to the final competition. It’s nothing short of gripping, watching dancers dance to all sorts of genres that they are both well-versed on and have never done in their lives. The show will make you cry and want to dance at the same time.
4. Survivor (2000 – )
Believe it or not, “Survivor”, the Emmy-winning reality competition, is still on the air. The basis of the show is to get a group of strangers together on a deserted island to, as the title suggests, survive. The winner gets a million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor.
Since it’s first season, the show has become an international phenomenon, with different versions made around the world. After 38 seasons, 7 Emmys, 36 other wins, and 113 nominations, “Survivor” is still going strong.
3. The Voice (2011 – )
The singing competition program is obviously one of the best and placed at #3 on our list. Why? Because of the judges, the contestants, the music, the impact, and everything in between! With 7 Emmys, 31 other wins, and 96 nominations, it holds precedence above others.
Some fun facts for the fans: Blake and Adam are the only coaches present in every season. Also, Miley Cyrus is the youngest coach in the history of the show. And Christina Aguilera became the first female coach to win when Alisan Porter won season ten of “The Voice.”
2. American Idol (2002 – )
With 8 Emmys, 46 other wins, and 144 nominations, “American Idol” deserves its place at #2 on the list. People say that this show has produced more household names than any other reality show. Think of winners like Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia Barrino, and Jordin Sparks, who all went on to lead successful careers in the music industry.
Also, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Lambert, and Chris Daughtry are other noteworthy winners of the show. “American Idol” goes down in history as one of the most iconic and recognizable talent shows on television. No debates.
And the number one show is…
1. The Amazing Race (2001 – )
Yes! “The Amazing Race” is as absorbing and entertaining as it gets. Traveling the world, doing all kinds of challenges to reach a million-dollar jackpot is a surefire way to get people watching. Mosquito-filled jungles and shark-filled ponds are just an obstacle for these unbelievably motivated contestants.
With 15 Emmys, 26 other wins, and 138 nominations, “The Amazing Race” gets the title of the best reality TV show ever made. Sure, the others on the list are super fantastic, but this show is one that people watching just wished they had the guts to be a part of.