I am not a fan of reality TV and think it’s a cancer on the entertainment landscape. But this genre of shows really hit its stride when I was growing up and I often got to hear about them from classmates all the way up to college. As someone who watches PBS documentary series, old movies, as well as forms of quality scripted shows, I really can’t see their appeal. Yet, I think people watch reality shows with some sort of bile fascination akin to witnessing a house burning down. However, I now realize that reality TV is here to stay whether I like it or not. After all, reality shows are cheap to produce and that people seem to like them. Unlike scripted shows, reality shows seem to be so hard to cancel once it has an audience. Nevertheless, as I did some research for terrible reality shows and found how this genre plays fast and loose with reality in ways that are both implicit such as putting people in artificial situations as well as deceptive or even fraudulent practices like misleading editing, participant coaching, storylines generated ahead of time, and scenes being staged for the cameras. There are also plenty of shows intended to exploit or humiliate participants that they either make stars out of people unworthy of fame, infamous personalities, or both and that they glamorize vulgarity and materialism. In this series, I will go after some of the worst reality shows that have ever aired on television. Note that I haven’t watched most of these shows. But just reading about them would make people scratch their heads.
- Born in the Wild
Premise: Documents couples who want to have a more “natural” birthing experience by delivering a baby in the great outdoors—unassisted by modern medicine.
Why It’s Stupid: This is arguably the most irresponsible reality show ever made and was slammed by medical experts, since premodern birth processes have been associated with vastly infant and maternal mortality rates. This kind of makes it a miracle-of-birth version of “The Blair Witch Project” with suspense being generated from viewers wondering if a mother and her newborn are going to die. You have to wonder how this ever got the green light by Lifetime in the first place. Seriously, there’s a reason why during the course of history, most women opted for the birth process assisted by the most modern medicine available at the time. Because most women don’t want to die while giving birth or want their babies to die, too.
Did it Get Canceled?: I hope it did.
Premise: Catch suspected relationship cheaters in the act with hidden cameras and private investigators.
Why It’s Stupid: The execution is as tasteless as it sounds. Yes, I know that cheating on your significant other is terrible. Because any situations pertaining to a cheating partner tend to bring out the worst in people. It’s not just the partner who gets hurt in these situations either. Because when you cheat on your spouse, you’re cheating on those closest to you as well, especially family and friends. Suspecting a partner cheating is pretty bad, too, and it can lead to things going ugly. It’s bad enough for a politician’s family to deal with their loved one’s infidelity in the public eye. But having regular people deal with something like that on reality TV, that’s just awful. Not to mention, the show’s host got stabbed during a confrontation. Also had a lot of claims that it was staged and had actors who were paid to appear. And people from the show have experienced some degree of legal trouble.
Did it Get Canceled?: It’s been on the air since 2000 and it’s still going.
- Boy Meets Boy
Premise: It’s a gay man’s version of The Bachelor, but more cruel, offensive, and boring.
Why It’s Stupid: The show had the gay bachelor James Getzlaff romance 15 men, unbeknownst to him, almost half of them were pretending to be gay. And each eliminated contestant’s sexual orientation is revealed at the end of the episode. Not only that, but if James chose a straight male, he would win nothing and the mate would win $25,000. Could’ve been groundbreaking as a same-sex dating show, but it’s just a cruel stunt. Oh, and the producers managed to keep a mixture of gay and straight men in the house despite the eliminations by putting the guys into “groups” that prevented the contestant from eliminating all the gay or straight men at once.
Did it Get Canceled?: Yes, and after one season. Though it was parodied on Mad TV 3 times.
- Dating Naked
Premise: Dating show that allows contestants to “remove barriers” in more ways than one. Each episode puts a man and a woman on a remote tropical island and they go on nude dates with 3 different people. Then they ultimately decide if they’ve made a connection with anyone.
Why It’s Stupid: Look, unless nudity is your thing, having to date a stranger while in the buff could be a very awkward experience. Even more awkward to have it broadcasted all over the country. Not sure if most people would be comfortable with that. Hell, not sure if these people want their parents to watch them in the nude.
Did it Get Canceled?: I sure hope it did.
- Are You Hot?: The Search for America’s Sexiest People
Premise: Contestants are evaluated by a panel of judges on the sole criterion of their physical attractiveness.
Why It’s Stupid: Uh, did you hear the premise? Seriously, the notion of physical attractiveness is a highly subjective concept. Also, has a tendency to shame perfectly attractive people for not being good looking enough. Seriously, can’t such judging be regulated to beauty pageants? That’s their job.
Did it Get Canceled?: Yes, and thank God. But not without SNL doing a cartoon parody of it featuring Betty Boop, Popeye, Cinderella, Olive Oyl, Strawberry Shortcake, Droopy, Marvin the Martian, Dagwood, Optimus Prime, Yosemite Sam, and Barney Rubble.
- I Wanna Marry Harry
Premise: Revolves around a group of ladies trying to win over a Prince Harry con artist and doppelganger.
Why It’s Stupid: Well, the concept sounds incredibly trashy but it sounds like something the show’s pitchman didn’t think this through. For one, it requires that there has to be a group of women would actually want to be with Prince Harry and are dumb enough to think that they’d be able to date the guy. Second, the con man involved obviously does not look like Prince Harry. And third, none of the contestants seemed all that convinced by the ruse anyway. I Wanna Marry Banksy would’ve made more sense. Nobody knows what that guy looks like so he could be anybody.
Did it Get Canceled?: Yes, because it was too boring.
- Kid Nation
Premise: A bunch of 11 year old kids are dragged to the New Mexico desert to reenact Lord of the Flies and Plato’s Republic. And all without adult supervision save the cameramen.
Why It’s Stupid: Let’s just say having kids survive on their own is a great premise, assuming you want to write a fictional story aimed for young adults. But I think this reality show proves Suzanne Collins right when it comes to how willing people are about endangering children and exploiting them for entertainment (though this show didn’t take it to that extreme as The Hunger Games, which is about teenagers fighting it to the death). The very first line uttered by a kid was, “I’m not gonna be with my parents. There’s no adults. I think I’m gonna die out here cause there’s nothing.” Also, since it was produced in 2007 when Reality TV was the center of pop culture, it seemed that CBS gave the producers a blank check to do whatever they wanted. Also, the obvious accusations of child endangerment as well as legal implications pertaining to child labor. One of the participants’ mothers even filed a complaint that her son was hurt.
Did it Get Canceled?: Yes, only lasted one season.
Premise: A bunch of potential dates are piled up into an RV and released one by one by the main contestant. Whenever he or she got tired (or disgusted) by a date, they could just say – “Next!” and be presented with a new human being to test out. Dates get cash for every minute spent with a date before their dismissal. And the winning date could either choose cash or a second date.
Why It’s Stupid: For one, it’s like a Tinder version of The Bachelor. Second, when you read the premise it almost sounds like a form of prostitution. If these people hadn’t consented, it would’ve been sex trafficking. Nevertheless, it would better for the winning date to just take the money. These aren’t people you want to spend extra time with.
Did it Get Canceled?: Yes, but not after being on the air for 3 years. Yes, it was on for 3 freaking years.
- Outback Jack
Premise: It’s like The Bachelor but it had 12 girls dropped off at a mansion expecting a lavish experience, only to be immediately flown to the Australian Outback to compete for former underwear model Dale’s affections.
Why It’s Stupid: Okay, while The Bachelor is a terrible show on so many levels, at least the women on that show don’t have to struggle to survive in a desert with scorpions and snakes as well as all the other things that could kill you. Not to mention, there’s dehydration. Seriously, if you’re dropped right in the middle of the Australian Outback, not winning Dale’s affections is the last thing you’d be worried about. Seriously, if I was a contestant on that show, I’d be much more worried about getting out of there alive.
Did it Get Canceled?: Yes, for it was only aired in 2004.
- Moment of Truth
Premise: Contestants are asked ultra-personal questions while strapped to a lie detector. Sometimes a surprise guest such as an ex-partner or a good friend would come on stage and ask a particularly difficult question. If the machine deemed a contestant’s answers correct, they won cash prizes.
Why It’s Stupid: For one, according to studies, lie detectors tend to be accurate about 70-90% of the time any testimony obtained during such tests isn’t admissible in court. Still, this show was set up to feature desperate contestants humiliating themselves and their nearby loved ones by revealing their secrets on national TV. One lady confessed to cheating on her husband, only to lose her winnings by incorrectly answering this question: “Do you think you’re a good person?” (She said, “yes.”)
Did it Get Canceled?: Yes, but it ran for a couple seasons.