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My Top 10 Reality TV Series of All Time

By Edited Feb 23, 2016 1 2

Whether you're addicted to it or completely repulsed by it, there's no question that reality TV shows have dominated the highly-coveted prime time slots on many major networks. Which ones have earned their place in our list of The Top 10 Reality TV Series of All Time? Check it out!

1. The Real World (MTV)

Truly the first series that put reality TV on the map--The Real World has most certainly made television and pop culture history. After ten years and whopping twenty-six seasons (and counting) of intense fights, scandalous hook-ups, and unforgettable personalities, every season has brings us something new and unexpected.

For the most part, however, the stereotypes of roommates generally remain the same. It all began in 1992 with seven strangers living together in New York, while audiences watched what happened "when people stopped being polite and started getting real." This provocative show spawned series like CBS' Big Brother--basically a combination of The Real World and Survivor.

But without this MTV classic, no other reality TV series would be as appealing and successful.

2. Survivor (CBS)

Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. This was the series single-handedly responsible for jump-starting the whole reality TV game-show phenomenon. Survivor took the voyeuristic quality of the The Real World, added a one million dollar prize, separated contestants into two tribes and invented the term "voted off the island."

Even though this groundbreaking reality TV series may not presently be drawing as many viewers after twenty-four seasons, the allure of exotic locations, the drama of Survivor's many twists and turns and the show's fair share of crazy cast members have come together to create a formula for success that has lasted for over a decade.

3. American Idol (FOX)

The show that has many people stir-crazy once the madness of the holiday season has died out and January arrives--just the mention of this show may result in shrills from pre-pubescent girls and soccer moms alike. Since 2002, the American Idol phenomenon has taken the world by storm.

Although the show has produced many one-hit-wonders, it also gave rise to vocal powerhouses Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, legitimizing Idol's ability to launch successful careers.

Whether millions of viewers tune in to laugh at the fame-hungry trainwrecks of audition weeks, to witness the unpredictable antics of the current and veteran judges, or to watch those on the show who actually exhibit vocal talent, American Idol has been at the top of the ratings' charts year after year.

4. The Bachelor/The Bachelorette (ABC)

Although not many couples survive the test of time--basically after their seasons have aired, The Bachelor/The Bachelorette still remain as two of the most popular reality TV series in America.

Many viewers (i.e. the female population and other innate romantics) haven fallen in love with the plot: a hunky bachelor--or gorgeous bachelorette must choose among the twenty-five beautiful contestants to find his/her one true love through a sequence of quasi-romantic dates over a very short span of time.

Some memorable moments include bachelor Brad Womack dumping both remaining women at the finale, or bachelorette Deanna Pappas who rejected season four runner-up Jason Mesnick's proposal.

5. The Amazing Race (CBS)

After twenty successful seasons and eleven Emmy awards, this reality TV series is another cult favorite in the game show category. A dozen teams travel race each other around the world, to a specific checkpoint while having to compete in grueling challenges.

If that wasn't enough to deal with, the pairs also has limited money and resources available to them. While a majority of their time is spent isolated from the other teams, drama is guaranteed to erupt. The relationship between team members covers a wide spectrum--real-life couples, newlyweds, siblings, friends, and even divorced couples--so that drama is inevitable and kept fresh for audiences.

The Amazing Race is stressful, anxiety-producing and moves at break-neck speeds, yet as viewers we can't seem to get enough of the action.

6. The Biggest Loser (NBC)

With contestants weighing well over the 250 pound mark, these people do have a lot to lose, but even more to gain. The premise of The Biggest Loser is simple--whoever loses the most weight at the end of the series' run, wins! In doing so, these determined fatties are put through rigorous eight-hour workout regimens as well as restrictive diets of 1200 calories.

I would like to believe that the majority of this reality TV series' viewers are the couch-potato, junk-food loving types who live vicariously through the contestants who are able to lose upwards of ten pounds a week--when the normal personal can't seem to lose even three pounds in a month's time.

7. Jersey Shore (MTV)

Fist pumping, GTL, DTF, grenades--it may sound like I'm speaking in code. Unfortunately these terms are part of a larger vocabulary that Jersey Shore  has taught America.

This revolution of the fake-tanned, pleasure-seeking "guidos" was developed by MTV and debuted in 2009, focusing on the lives of eight working-class young adults. Similar to The Real World, the eight spend their summers together in a house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey where heavy partying, "smushing" and copious fighting occurs.

Jersey Shore has broken records in television viewership with these eccentric characters, including Snooki, the Situation, Pauly D and JWoww. Most of us can admit that we love to hate it, but it's not so easy to voice how much we hate to love it, too.

8. America's Next Top Model

Created by Tyra Banks, America's Next Top Model (ANTM) combines fashion, art, and drama all into one place! As twelve hungry (no pun intended) models try to claim their spot in one of the toughest industries imaginable, they find themselves subject to a variety of topic-specific challenges followed by a photo shoot.

At the end of each week, the girls are evaluated by Tyra and her panel of judges before one model is eliminated. The high-stress ANTM environment proves to cause problems not only among the twelve hopefuls, but also Tyra herself (most notably her Cycle 4 meltdown caused by contestant Tiffany).

9. The Hills (MTV)

Some may argue with me saying that The Hills is not reality television at all, but this spin-off of the (self-proclaimed) high-school docudrama Laguna Beach evolved into a mega-hit sensation.

This series followed the plight of Lauren Conrad and her fellow friends as they begin their grown-up lives in Los Angeles. From her glitzy jobs at Teen Vogue and People's Revolution, to the endless cat fights between friends, Lauren's life became fascinating to viewers of all ages. And with "celebu-tards" like Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, drama was always certain to erupt.

Is this show reality, or scripted? You be the judge.

10. Real Housewives of... Series

All the petty high-school-type fighting, extravagant shopping sprees, and larger-than-life self-importance found in The Hills, yet the casts are 20+ years older.

From Orange County to New Jersey, this seven-city Bravo series shows the privileged lives of upper-class women (most of them divorcees rather than actual wives) who create their own problems. The show has been under scrutiny this past year, when Russell Armstrong--estranged husband of Beverly Hills cast member Taylor Armstrong--tragically committed suicide.

Regardless, this show is seen as a realistic Desperate Housewives and remains a true favorite to many.

Honorable mentions:

  • Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
  • The Apprentice
  • Project Runway


Jun 5, 2012 5:30pm
I love to watch The Amazing Race!
Jul 21, 2012 5:43am
I used to watch some of these shows, but no longer. I missed Jillian when she left The Biggest Loser and American Idol just got annoying with it's auditions. I enjoy watching reality shows on The Food Network with my kids-at least that is G rated!
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