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The Best Reality TV Shows Ever

Reality TV has gained quite the reputation for being trashy at times. However, there are some really great reality shows out there, too!
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From drag queens to skilled chefs and everything in between, there are a lot of reality TV shows out there. Of course, not all of them are good.

I love a trashy reality show, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. Instead, I want to look at some of the best reality TV shows that have come out over the years. Some may still be airing new episodes, while others have already ended. But all of them make for some excellent binge-watching!

Sure, there are plenty of reality shows that are so bad that they’re good (I’m looking at you, Rock of Love). And, there are some really off-the-wall, ridiculous reality shows that we can’t believe ever aired. But let’s reserve this list for the ones that deserve a spot at the top.

Shark Tank

Since 2009, the “sharks” have been hearing pitches from aspiring entrepreneurs who need investors. The panelists are paid to appear on the show but the investments are real, with the sharks investing with their own capital. Contestants actually present for around 45 minutes, but the pitches are edited down to about 11 minutes for the show.

Not only is the show a pretty great dramatization of a pitch meeting, but it’s led to some real-life success for entrepreneurs. Even those who aren’t offered a deal (or who walk away from deals they don’t like) have seen the Shark Tank effect: simply appearing on the show boosts their sales.

Where to watch it: Hulu

Queer Eye

Queer Eye follows the Fab Five as they come to the rescue of the style-challenged. But these makeovers are more than just a simple outfit change; they can be heartfelt and emotionally-charged events that will definitely pull on your heartstrings.

Originally Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the new episodes from Netflix’s reboot of the show are more inclusive. The Fab Five are out to help everyone, from working moms to a rugged rancher to an entire high school prom committee and everything in between.

Where to watch it: Netflix

America’s Next Top Model

Okay, this show has some seriously cringe-worthy moments. Even still, we can’t ignore that this long-running reality series was one of the best, especially during its peak years. America’s Next Top Model was definitely one of those shows you could not miss!

Although a lot of the show is invented for the drama, it did shed a spotlight on the modeling world – and made professional modeling seem even cooler than we already thought it was. The show was also a hilarious look at Tyra Banks and her ego. I mean, I can’t figure out if the show was really about finding the next hot modeling talent, or if it was just a place for Tyra to show how dramatic she could be. Pretend fainting spells, anyone?

Where to watch it: Cycles 21 and 22 on Netflix; cycles 1-10, 22, 23 on Hulu

The Amazing Race

Since 2001, audiences have tuned in to watch teams of two compete in a series of mental and physical challenges as they race around the world. Each leg of the race makes up one episode, and the tasks are usually designed to highlight the country they are in.

Sure, it’s fun to watch American teams complaining and blaming each other. But the show is interesting and unique because they’re doing all that while also traipsing through other locales. The Amazing Race has filmed on every continent except Antarctica and has visited over 90 different countries.

Where to watch it: Plenty of seasons on Hulu (1-7, 23-31, 33)

Top Chef

While most of the culinary competition shows come out of Food Network, Top Chef has been airing on Bravo since 2006. It brings together fifteen promising professional chefs from across the country to compete in challenges for the title of Top Chef.

Like plenty of other successful reality series, this one hasn’t changed its basic format since it began. Professional chefs are brought to a host city and live in provided housing together while they compete in culinary challenges and try to avoid elimination. It’s a simple formula that continues to work. It stays relevant and interesting thanks to new host cities and fresh competitors each season.

Where to watch it: Peacock, Hulu

So You Think You Can Dance

While reality TV is littered with cooking challenges and singing competitions, So You Think You Can Dance showed up in 2005 to prove that America had plenty of talented dancers to showcase, too.

The sheer talent from the competing dancers is what makes this show so intriguing. They are tested on their ability to adapt to different styles, from ballroom to hip hop and everything in between. Competitors must win over both the panel of judges and the viewing audience to advance each week.

Where to watch it: Unfortunately, this one isn’t currently streaming anywhere

America’s Best Dance Crew

Where So You Think You Can Dance succeeded with solo dancers, America’s Best Dance Crew did it with entire groups. It was a unique look at hip hop dance crews from across the country – something that hadn’t really been put front-and-center on this scale before.

Crews reinvented themselves every episode, pulling out all the stops to wow the audience and the judges. There was original choreography, flips and stunts, and even unique skills like dancing in sync while wearing roller skates! Throw in host Mario Lopez and judges like JC Chasez and Lil’ Mama, and you’ve got yourself a great reality show.

Where to watch it: Unfortunately, this one isn’t currently streaming anywhere

Project Runway

Before Amazon’s Making the Cut, there was Project Runway. This Bravo-turned-Lifetime-turned-Bravo-again competition had a flair for the dramatic and a hefty dose of chiffon. Aspiring fashion designers face off as they go from sewing machine to catwalk. And they do it all under the watchful eyes of Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum.

Whether or not Project Runway shows the realities of the fashion industry is… debatable. However, it is entertaining and a must-see for anyone who loves a good outfit.

Where to watch it: Seasons 17-19 are on Hulu and Peacock

American Idol

We can’t talk about the best reality shows without mentioning American Idol. While it certainly wasn’t the first reality show, it has gone on to become one of the most successful programs in the history of American TV.

The premise is simple: unsigned singers compete to snag a record deal with a major label, and winners are determined by the show’s viewers. And it has indeed launched the career of many artists and turned them into bonafide stars.

Where to watch it: Unfortunately, this one isn’t currently streaming anywhere

Survivor

Much like American Idol, Survivor is a must for any list covering the best reality shows. Beginning in 2000, this reality competition show throws castaways into an isolated location with limited resources. Then they have to do a bunch of challenges that test physical and mental abilities while being at risk of getting voted off by their fellow contestants.

The series has been running for 41 seasons. To say it has influenced the reality show genre would be an understatement.

Where to watch it: Seasons 16 and 37 on Netflix, several seasons on Hulu

The Real World

When this “true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house” aired on MTV in 1992, it changed TV. It basically launched what we know of as the modern reality TV genre.

Critics called it phony, dull, painful, and a waste of time. But viewers ate it up. There’s something about the voyeuristic nature of the show that people just can’t quit. That’s probably why it’s seen 33 seasons over the years.

Where to watch it: Most seasons are on Paramount+

RuPaul’s Drag Race

RuPaul’s Drag Race managed to not only bring drag to the mainstream but also made everyone want to lip-sync for their lives! The series showcases some of the most creative and charismatic drag performers out there.

Showing just how much goes into the genre has paid off for RuPaul. The show has earned nineteen Emmy Awards since its debut in 2009. It has also spawned plenty of spin-off shows, like RuPaul’s Drag U and RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked.

Where to watch it: Several seasons are on Hulu and Paramount+

The Great British Baking Show

Where other cooking competition shows are focused on amping up interpersonal relationships and drama, The Great British Baking Show focuses on the actual bakes. There is a feeling of camaraderie that just isn’t found on other competition shows.

First airing in the UK in 2010, amateur bakers compete against each other to impress the judges with their baking skills. It’s a truly charming show that leaves drama behind for joy and gingerbread cookies.

Where to watch it: Many collections (fancy for “seasons”) are on Netflix; the first 5 seasons are on PBS.org

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