RANKED! Our 20 Favorite Reality Shows of the Last 20 Years
Reality TV wasn’t always a thing. It used to be that the only shows on television were game shows, soap operas, sitcoms, and prime-time dramas. Reality didn’t really factor into entertainment, unless you count the news as entertaining (if so, there might be something wrong with you). Then, in 1992, MTV’s The Real World came along and, with its “Let’s film strangers cohabiting!” setup, changed the television landscape forever. Since then, we’re embarrassed to admit how much time we’ve spent watching reality TV. It’s so bad, it’s good, and we can’t resist tuning in to the train wrecks people make of their lives. Though we feel kind of gross and dirty after watching these shows, we simultaneously feel better about our choices in comparison with these drama queens and kings. These are our 20 favorite reality shows from the last 20 years. Try not to binge on them all at once or you will lose total faith in humanity.
Cover Photo: A&E
20. 'The Biggest Loser' (2004 - Present)
There's nothing quite so satisfying as seeing someone lose weight -- and nothing quite so funny as the ups and downs of the weight-loss process. Skip the gym and settle in with a bowl of ice cream for a night of watching people sweat and suffer their way to smaller bodies on screen.
19. 'The Amazing Race' (2001 - Present)
Travel is stressful, no way around it. But this Emmy Award-winning reality TV show takes travel woes to the next level by sending teams of two on adventures around the world while the clock's ticking.
18. 'Cops' (1989 - Present)
While the subject matter of this low-budget reality TV show is less entertaining now with all the visible corruption in police forces across the country, at one point in time this was our only glimpse of real-life cuff 'em and stuff 'em action. It's also considered to be the longest running reality TV show ever.
17. 'Catfish' (2012 - Present)
This TV series spun off from a documentary about how daters get duped in the online dating process. Skip your next bad date and instead enjoy other people's mortification when they discover that the reality of their digital love interest is nothing like they appeared on screen.
16. 'Polyamory: Married and Dating' (2012 - Present)
This groundbreaking Showtime series examines the ins and outs (ahem) of non-monogamous relationships. Spoiler alert: it's not all about sex.
15. 'The Bachelorette' (2003 - Present)
If you feel like your dating game could lose a little work, this soapy reality show might give you some pointers on what woos a woman and what scares her away.
14. 'The Bachelor' (2002 - Present)
This show has stuck around for over a decade and for good reason: single women go crazy for an eligible bachelor and that kind of crazy makes for entertaining TV. Having a gaggle of adoring girls to pick and choose from -- while on group dates, no less -- starts to sound quite appealing after one too many Tinder fails.
13. 'Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County' (2004 - 2006)
Eight teens shared their adolescent angst, cattiness, and crises with viewers on this MTV series that introduced us to the likes of Kristin Cavallari and Lauren Conrad.
12. 'The Hills' (2006 - 2010)
This MTV series exposed the lives of several young adults in Los Angeles who liked to party hard, break hearts, and go under the knife.
11. 'Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew' (2008 - 2012)
The beloved Loveline co-host and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Drew treated celebs with drug and alcohol abuse issues in this series that invited viewers into detox and the treatment process. After the deaths of several of cast members over six seasons, however, Dr. Drew called it quits, saying he was "tired of taking the heat."
10. 'Jersey Shore' (2009 - 2012)
Gym. Tan. Laundry. If that isn't a guide for living well, we don't know what is. This series -- and the people portrayed in it -- was a total joke, but it didn't stop us from tuning in on the regular to see what "The Situation," Snooki, and all the rest of the gang would get up to next.
9. 'Big Brother' (2000 - Present)
Imagine volunteering to be sequestered in a house and monitored 24/7/365. You'd have to be mental, right? Well, that's exactly what makes this shit show of television so hard to turn away from.
8. 'Miami Ink' (2005 - 2008)
Tattoos are never arbitrary. (OK, maybe if you're drunk when you get them, they are.) This series explores the stories behind the ink, as well as the artists who bring the designs to life. And, hello, Kat Von D! 'Nuf said.
7. 'The Osbournes' (2002 - 2005)
What happens when a heavy metal frontman gets domesticated? You might not want to know. This MTV series left no question as to the damage caused by years of drug abuse and the way addiction gets passed down from generation to generation.
6. 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians' (2007 - Present)
If you can get past the petty surface of this E! series, you'll find that this family's complicated dynamics, existential struggles, and heart-wrenching humanity look a lot like yours -- albeit with mega fame, better clothes, and bigger bank accounts. Also, there's camera-shy Kanye, and no other reality TV show can come close to claiming that.
5. 'Duck Dynasty' (2012 - 2017)
This A&E series about The Robertsons, a Louisiana family that owns a lucrative company specializing in duck calls and decoys, was a surprise hit, garnering the network a record-setting number of viewers. Who doesn't love to watch the antics of a down-home, slightly cuckoo family?
4. 'Survivor' (2000 - Present)
This long-running adventure series pits people from all walks of life against one another as they struggle to survive in a secluded location with limited amenities and provisions.
3. 'The Real World' (1992 - Present)
This is the series that launched reality TV as we know it. Now in its 24th season, each incarnation of the show takes place in a different city, throwing together a group of young and attractive strangers and filming them as they navigate their new surroundings, cohabitation, nightlife, and dicey relationships with one another.
2. 'Deadliest Catch' (2005 - Present)
Who knew fishermen could be so captivating? Crews on the Bering Sea are in the eye of the storm -- literally -- in this Discovery Channel series that exposes the dangers and natural disasters inherent in netting seafood.
1. 'Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown' (2013 - 2018)
You can't beat the late Anthony Bourdain. His badass approach to television, travel, and food was unparalleled. In this CNN series, Bourdain scoured the globe for hidden-treasure destinations where he'd eat with the locals and learn about their culture. We miss you, Tony.