The Top 20 Reality TV Shows that Revolutionized the Genre

Reality television has significantly transformed the industry, introduced a new type of celebrity, and influenced audience behaviors over the past few decades.

Top 20 Reality TV Shows: It is not an exaggeration to say that reality television has, in fact, altered reality. Throughout the last several decades, reality television has transformed the television industry, introduced an entirely new type of celebrity, and altered the behaviors of audiences.

However, reality has a more extensive past than one might initially believe. During the latter part of the 1940s, Candid Camera captivated audiences with gags and pranks captured on concealed cameras. (The scenarios were fabricated, but the reactions of the bystanders were extremely genuine.)

Nevertheless, when the typical viewer contemplates reality television, they are most likely recalling the surge of authentic series that began in the 1990s and has yet to reach its pinnacle in the present day. The following twenty reality programs are among the most innovative the genre has ever produced.

The Real World

The Real World, an iconic MTV series, is considered to have initiated the contemporary era of reality television. Seven strangers are selected “to live in a house and have their lives recorded to discover what happens when people stop being polite… and start getting real.” Observing young people from diverse backgrounds coexist captivated audiences, and the early years produced numerous cultural touchstones (Pedro Zamora personifying the AIDS crisis) and indelible moments (Stephen slapping Irene in Seattle, in particular).

This format, which featured no theatrics or challenges when it debuted in 1992, was groundbreaking. The Real World’s use of confessionals—contestants speaking directly to the camera about the events that had just transpired—helped establish a template for much of the reality television that followed.

Big Brother

Big Brother, which was established in 1984 and is named after the malevolent and all-powerful dictator of the dystopian society depicted in the film, is among the most influential reality television programs of the contemporary era. (It debuted in the United States in 1997.) A cohort of participants, whose behaviors are perpetually captured on camera, cohabitate in a dwelling. However, Big Brother distinguishes itself from The Real World by incorporating a competitive aspect. As the season progresses, houseguests engage in challenges, establish alliances, and vote one another out; thus, machinations and gameplay become crucial—and riveting to observe.


Survivor, which debuted in 2000, is arguably the greatest and most influential reality program of all time. After nearly twenty-five seasons and nearly a quarter-century have passed, we continue to observe a group of individuals swelter on a secluded island in an attempt to be the last contestant standing. Numerous reality television series are envious of how Survivor combines strategy, gameplay, and personality; throughout the years, the franchise has produced several stars.

The Bachelor

How many television franchises can claim to have established an entire nation? The Bachelor, which debuted in 2002, was not the initial courting reality program. However, it remains the most enduring, alongside The Bachelorette, an equally significant spinoff, and various other franchises. A portion of this can be attributed to its simplicity and consistency. In contrast to several other dating reality programs, such as the 2003 installment of Joe Millionaire, The Bachelor lacks a distinctive selling point. Numerous attractive males or females are competing for the attention of an attractive male or female. One and only one is awarded the final rose. Bachelor Nation has thus maintained its momentum for over two decades.

American Idol

America’s Got Talent and The Voice, which launched after American Idol in 2002, include gimmicks and plot twists that the original singing competition lacked. The idea was simple yet thrilling: Aspiring vocalists would perform on a national television stage, get input from three distinguished judges (including the notoriously harsh Simon Cowell), and rely on fan votes to proceed to the finale.

American Idol would have been one of the most important TV shows even if it had only produced Kelly Clarkson, but it did launch a new era of competition shows and develop many new stars.

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America’s Next Top Model

America’s Next Top Model, which debuted in 2003, can be regarded as a significant evolutionary progression from early reality programs that emphasized the novelty of real people being themselves to subsequent seasons that incorporated professional skills. This contest series demonstrated that modeling is a legitimate occupation—one that is rigorous and difficult to excel at.

Simultaneously, the models who vied for the title each season (and were at times reprimanded by host Tyra Banks) were evaluated not only on their physical appearance and posing abilities but also on their work ethic and personality traits—all of which are attributes that epitomize exceptional reality stars.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy

When it debuted in 2003, the original LGBT Eye for the Straight Guy not only provided a breath of fresh air among the prevalent reality shows of the era but was also an essential positive example of mainstream LGBT representation in the early 2000s. Instead of consisting of a competition in which the last contestant stood, each episode featured the Fab Five improving the life of a different heterosexual man. The life transformation was a successful formula that Netflix revived in 2018 to critical acclaim.

Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica

While his wife Jessica Simpson was not initially as well-known as 98 Degrees frontman Nick Lachey, the primary innovation of Newlyweds was to provide viewers with an intimate glimpse at the lives (and relationships) of established celebrities as opposed to ordinary people. It was a clever self-perpetuating cycle, as the show, which aired from 2003 to 2005, elevated them to celebrity status—particularly Simpson, who gained notoriety (or possibly notoriety) for “dumb blonde” moments such as when she questioned whether tuna was composed of fish or poultry.

The Simple Life

It is possible that The Simple Life was the first reality program to elevate the status of affluent, essentially unemployed socialites to the status of must-see television. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, two major nepo babies, even though the term “nepotism baby” had not yet been coined at the time the program debuted in 2003, embarked on a journey to rural America accompanied by cameras. The duo became household names due to the comedic qualities of the series and its stars; they were by no means the last socialites to achieve fame through their television appearances.

The Apprentice

In spite of the fact that it is now more widely recognized, and rightly so, for assisting Donald Trump in attaining the public profile necessary to win the presidency of the United States, The Apprentice initially introduced itself as an innovative reality show in early 2004. During that period, Trump, a renowned entrepreneur known for his penchant for controversy, oversaw a contest centered on business acumen and prowess. Additionally, The Apprentice demonstrates the significance of a catchphrase, since “you’re fired” became an omnipresent expression in the 2000s.

Laguna Beach: Orange County at Its Core

As the new reality television trend flourished in 2004, it became evident that viewers delighted in witnessing affluent Californians engage in drama. Furthermore, it was abundantly evident that high school dramas, such as The O.C., remained immensely popular. The question posed by Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County was, “Why not both?”

The series delved into the personal lives of actual Laguna Beach High School students in greater detail than is perhaps beneficial for adolescents. Notwithstanding (or possibly as a result of) this, the program achieved success and propelled its cast members to stardom, including Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari.

Project Runway

The most significant innovation of Project Runway was the combination of a skilled competition and the character-driven drama of a reality show—a combination that many reality TV viewers would appreciate. The fashion design competition, which debuted in late 2004, featured fashion icons Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum judging a group of contestants as they competed to create stunning outfits within the constraints of the weekly challenge. To paraphrase Gunn, Project Runway has propelled the careers of numerous designers, with Christian Siriano being arguably the most renowned.

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The Real Housewives of Orange County

Consider that Orange Country’s The Real Housewives has inspired twenty-seven spinoff series. One could argue that the franchise had modest beginnings; however, RHOC, which premiered in 2006 and chronicles the dramatized days of a group of affluent spouses, is anything but humble.

Individuals from the diverse ensembles of Housewives have achieved notoriety, established business conglomerates, initiated labor unions, been incarcerated, and provided material for an innumerable number of memes. It can be argued that RHOC was also a precursor to the Bravoverse, an organization that would produce subsequent franchises, a nightly talk program, and an official convention. It’s because audiences desire to glimpse into the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy and renowned and find solace in the fact that their problems are grotesque yet still relatable.

Flavor of Love

There are entire ecosystems concealed in the interconnections of various reality programs. The inaugural episode of Flavor of Love, one of three seasons, premiered in 2006. A descendant of The Surreal Life (a VH1 series that was essentially Big Brother with C-list and lower celebrities) and Strange Love, a spin-off about Flavor Flav’s failed relationship with Surreal Life co-star Brigitte Nielsen, the show featured Public Enemy rapper Flavor Flav in a Bachelor-like format.

Reality television has demonstrated the ability to sustain success by reinventing successful concepts. This dating program, Flavor of Love, even launched its spinoffs, such as I Love New York, which featured Tiffany Pollard, the contestant who emerged as the undisputed breakout star while competing for Flav’s affection.

Top Chef

Much of reality television is vulgar. To clarify, that does not invariably equate to evil. (The reason guilty indulgences are enjoyable exists.) The 2006-debuting Top Chef is not that. Top Chef is an engaging, comprehensible, and remarkable skill-based competition series that merges the challenges and interactions of reality programs such as Survivor with the art of cooking. In addition, numerous spin-offs and specials have been produced, such as Top Chef Jr.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians

A vast subgenre of reality television focuses on individuals who are renowned for the sake of fame, but the Kardashian-Jenner family transcended and utilized their notoriety more magnificently than anyone else. From 2007 to 2021, the series chronicled the lives of Rob, Kim, Kourtney, Khloé, Kendall, Kylie, Kris, and Caitlyn, thereby elevating its subjects to national celebrity status. (The Kardashians, a Hulu series that continues the family’s media empire and narrative, premiered in 2022).

RuPaul’s Drag Race

RuPaul’s Drag Race skillfully pioneered the mainstreaming of drag culture, which had previously been regarded as a marginal phenomenon. Commencing in 2009, the competition series is simultaneously subversive and a sport, and it is arguably the finest illustration of reality television capitalizing on an underutilized resource or an underserved audience to achieve meteoric success.

Vanderpump Rules

Vanderpump Rules mixed Real Housewives appeal with attractive young people, a reality TV trope since The Real World. The 2013 series, a subsidiary of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, follows bartenders and servers at Lisa Vanderpump’s Los Angeles eateries.

After ten years, Vanderpump Rules has outgrown its spin-off status and premise. Since the cast is famous, they no longer need to run the bar or serve visitors. In 2023, a deceit scandal called “#Scandoval,”  covered by The New York Times, captured new viewers.

Love Is Blind

Love Is Blind is a frightening dating show that starts with competitors not seeing their potential partners. They can’t meet until blind speed dating ends and they accept a marriage proposal. The series’ convoluted premise is less important than the fact that it is the first major reality show to succeed on a streaming service. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Love Is Blind’s 2020 Netflix launch made it popular.

The Traitors

Since three decades ago, reality television has been a significant cultural force, as this list evidences. A new breed of celebrity has emerged in the intervening decades: the reality television star. The Traitors, Peacock’s 2023 hit, cleverly recruits a nearly all-star ensemble of reality competitors for a large-party Mafia game.

The Traitors is a multi-network crossover that brings together cast members from Housewives, Big Brother, Survivor, The Real World, and Love Island. most well-dressed TV presenter, Alan Cumming, participates in the weekly entertainment spectacle that commemorates past realities.

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