Everyone loves reality TV, whether they want to admit it or not. Sometimes you just want to put your feet up with a bag of chips and watch some grade-A trash.
But every now and then, reality TV outdoes itself in awfully spectacular ways. Here are some reality shows that were so crazy, and outright dangerous, that you won’t believe they actually made it on the air.
Premiering on E! in 2012, Bridalplasty featured 12 women competing for a chance to win both their dream wedding, and their dream cosmetic surgery. Each week, the contestants could complete a wedding-themed challenge to “win” one surgery off of their plastic surgery wishlist.
If that all sounds a bit exploitative, that’s because it was. The show received scathing criticism for promoting unhealthy body image disorders, and prioritizing a person’s looks as the primary ingredient to a happy marriage. Audiences rewarded Bridalplasty with grim ratings in its one and only season.
Momma’s Boys was a dating show wherein three young bachelors attempt to find a romantic partner among a group of 32 female contestants. But the men’s mothers would also be there, picking which women they thought would be good matches for their sons.
That’s admittedly a weird hook, but it got even stranger. One of the mothers refused to allow any contestants go on a final date with her son. Instead, she went on the date with him herself. This wasn’t the sort of romantic tension viewers wanted. NBC axed Momma’s Boys after six episodes.
I Wanna Marry Harry
I Wanna Marry Harry was a Show wherein a group of female contestants were competing for the affection of Prince Harry. Thing was, it wasn’t really Prince Harry. It was a look-alike named Matthew Hicks. And while the show does an admirable job trying to sell the hoax, Hicks himself doesn’t actually look that much like the world-famous prince.
It’s tough to get invested in a season-long practical joke, when you just end up feeling embarrassed for all of the contestants for letting themselves get taken in by the utterly absurd premise. The show got terrible ratings and was cancelled after just four of its eight episodes aired. Critics blasted the totally uninteresting lead (Hicks did not make for a funny or compelling look-alike), and the mean-spirited, trashy nature of the show.
Hey, did you know that Monica Lewinskey hosted a reality dating show? We didn’t, either. The short-lived series Mr. Personality was a fairly standard elimination-style dating game, with one twist – all of the suitors wore creepy masks. It’s unclear why Lewinskey was chosen to host this mess.
The show’s star, Hayley Arp, had to pick a husband from 20 potential contestants, without ever seeing what they looked like. The idea was that Hayley would be picking a mate based purely on their personality. Unfortunately, the show itself didn’t have much personality, and was canceled after only five episodes.
This British reality series was an elaborate hoax designed to trick a group of contestants into thinking they were actually being trained to be astronauts. Actors were hired to play Russian cosmonaut instructors, space program pilots, and other personal to make everything seem as believable as possible.
The contestants were required to do increasingly bizarre training exercises that had nothing to do with space travel, such as making balloon animals and acting out scenes from Alice in Wonderland. The show ended with the contestants taking a “space flight,” which was actually just a fake spaceship in a television studio.
There’s Something About Miriam
There’s Something About Miriam was a Bachelorette-style show starring Miriam Rivera, a transgender model. Six male contestants were all competing for her affection. However, none of the contestants were told she was transgender. The goal was to reveal that information to them once someone had won the competition.
Despite insisting that he and Miriam could be “good friends” after hearing the reveal, the show’s winner and all of his fellow contestants filed a class action lawsuit, trying to prevent the final episode from airing. The transgender community wasn’t exactly thrilled about the show either, viewing it as exploitative, damaging, and harmful to trans people.
Murder in Small Town X
Murder in Small Town X ran for one season on Fox in the summer of 2001. A bizarre hybrid of a game show, a reality show, and a murder mystery, contestants were placed in a town populated by actors playing the town’s residents, and tasked with solving a series of murders.
Each week, the contestants would run around town collecting clues to try and uncover the killer’s identity. And the murderer would “kill off” one contestant, this show’s version of elimination. The contestants managed to discover the killer’s identity by the final episode, but we never got a season 2.
WWE Tough Enough
You might remember the WWE’s reality show Tough Enough, which had contestants competing for a shot at a WWE contract. The show ran for six seasons, and produced a few notable WWE superstars like The Miz and Velveteen Dream.
However, many of the contestants who actually won Tough Enough were quickly released from their WWE contracts. The show didn’t really produce the amount of talent to be seen as a viable path to a successful wrestling career, so interest in it gradually declined. It was cancelled after four seasons, then briefly revived for two more before being cancelled again, presumably for good.
Farmer Wants a Wife
Despite being a worldwide hit show that has been adapted into several languages, the American version of Farmer Wants a Wife just didn’t catch on for some reason. The show tossed a group of “city gals” into the country to compete for the affection of the titular farmer.
Episodes saw the contestants engage in various farm-related challenges, like driving a tractor and baking apple pie. As exciting as that sounds, audiences couldn’t be bothered to tune into the show. Despite a grand finale involving a giant romantic tractor pull, it was cancelled after only eight episodes and didn’t get renewed.
No, we’re not talking about the Ryan Murphy anthology series. Scream Queens was a reality show produced by Lionsgate in the late aughts, with the premise of finding the next great scream queen. The show threw a group of up-and-coming actresses together to compete in a series of challenges for a part in a Lionsgate horror film.
Believe it or not, the show ran for two seasons, and actually made good on its promise. The season one winner, Tanedra Howard, appeared in Lionsgate’s Saw VI. And the second season winner, Gabby West, was given a part in Saw 3D.
Sleep deprivation is normally a thing to avoid. Especially considering it can result in potentially dangerous hallucinations, and even death. But Shattered turned sleep deprivation into a reality competition.
On the show, a group of ten contestants were put into a house together and forced to stay awake for seven straight days. During that long week, the contestants were required to perform a series of challenges designed to make them fall asleep, like resting on a comfy couch. If anyone closed their eyes for longer than ten seconds, they were eliminated.
The reality show boom of the early aughts produced a number of dating shows. Average Joe tried to change things up a bit by having a group of “average” guys – men seen as traditionally unattractive – compete for the affection of a beauty queen.
The joes would be eliminated each week, according to standard reality competition rules, until only one remained. At the end of the season, the beauty queen was given the choice between going on a date with the Average Joe, or a conventionally attractive man. On both seasons of Average Joe, the beauty queen went with the handsome dude.
Who’s Your Daddy?
Only the 90 minute pilot episode of this planned series ever aired. It was hit with intense criticism for making light of a serious emotional issue. What issue, you ask? Well, for starters, a show called Who’s Your Daddy? doesn’t exactly treat the institution of adoption with much respect.
In the show, a young woman named TJ confronts a group of men. She has to choose which one she thinks is her biological father. If she picks the wrong man, the man gets $100,000. (If she picks correctly, she gets the $100,000. And, you know, a dad.)
The incentive for these men was to do everything they could to convince TJ that they each were her father. Her adoptive parents are never mentioned, which led to criticism from several groups about the show’s trivialization of the adoption process.
Joe Millionaire was a dating show in which a group of women compete for the heart of Evan Marriott, a millionaire. Only, Marriott wasn’t really a millionaire. He was a blue-collar construction worker. The premise was, Marriott would reveal the humble truth about himself to the lucky woman who won the competition. If the couple decided to stay together, they’d receive a check for $1 million.
Obviously, the couple “stayed together” to get the money, but split up soon after. Producers had a heck of a time trying to pull off a season two. The first show was a surprise hit, and now people were wise to the ruse. They went all the way to Europe to find contestants who weren’t aware of the first season, but it failed to produce anywhere near the same ratings and was quickly cancelled.
The 1998 Jim Carrey film The Truman Show starred Carrey as a man who had unknowingly lived his entire life in a reality show. Fox’s Forever Eden aimed to be the next best thing. The show would put a handful of contestants on a resort island, indefinitely.
The idea was that each contestant would earn more money the longer they remained at the resort. But if they left the show early for any reason, they wouldn’t get a cent. Fox claimed the show could last anywhere from “six months to three years,” but cancelled it in less than a month after dismal ratings.
My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance
My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance aired on the Fox network way back in 2004, before we truly understood how bad reality TV could get. The show paired up two strangers, Randi and Steve, who had to convince their respective families that they were engaged. If they could get their families to go along all the way through to a wedding, they’d split $1 million. The catch? “Steve” and his family were all professional actors.
The entire show was an elaborate practical joke. Steve and his family engaged in over-the-top antics to make things as difficult as possible for Randi. Steve finally revealed the hoax to Randi on the day of the wedding, and Randi and her family were awarded the full $1 million. Hopefully that was enough to keep them from disowning her.
The Phone placed contestants in the middle of their own high-octane, Jason Bourne-style action movie. The players ran a series of “missions” they received over the phone from an unknown operator, taking them through various espionage-themed scenarios such as thwarting a mad bomber or uncovering a global conspiracy.
The show eventually brought a group of players together in teams of two. One team would be eliminated during the game, and each member of the remaining team had to answer a series of questions about everything they learned on their missions.
The player who answered the most questions correctly then got to decide whether to split the prize money with their teammate, or keep it all for themselves. Honestly, this show sounds kind of awesome.
Born in the Wild
This Lifetime show was based on a viral YouTube video, in which a woman gives birth outside in a stream with no doctors or professionals nearby. For the realty TV version, Lifetime found six women who were ready and willing to give birth in the wild, with a camera crew there to document the experience.
Despite sounding pretty sensational, the show turned out to be pretty tame. The births took place in relative comfort, with an attendant midwife at each birth. And a medical team was standing by, because of course they were. Also, each episode was filmed within close proximity to a hospital. So, it was really was just women giving birth while “technically” outside.
Reality shows starring bonafide celebrities have been popular pretty much since the beginning of television. That includes athletic competitions, such as the hit show Dancing With The Stars. But did you know there was also a short-lived celebrity high-dive reality show?
Splash pit a group of celebrities, such as comedian Louie Anderson and basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabar, against each other in a high-dive competition. Each week, the celebs would perform various diving challenges, which would then be judged by Olympic divers. It was based on a popular Danish show called Celebrity Splash, so maybe we haven’t seen the last of this oddly fascinating concept.
Capture was the reality TV show equivalent of a huge game of tag. The show dropped twelve two-member teams into the wilderness to compete in a series of “hunts,” during which the hunting team could mark “captured” targets by tagging them with magnetic discs.
The game lasted several days, until only two teams remained. The last two teams raced each other through the woods to find their capture discs, hidden somewhere in the show’s 4,000 acre expanse. Although advertised as a reality competition, with each player wearing body-mounted cameras, the show featured a number of bizarre reenactments. Apparently, it’s just hard to make a game of tag interesting.
The Surreal Life
The Surreal Life boldly answered the question “what would happen if a bunch of former celebrities were forced to live together in one house and compete in a series of challenges?” The show ran for six seasons on VH1 and included notable cast members like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice (although, tragically, not in the same season).
As you might expect, the show featured a number of outrageous moments and tense dust-ups involving the celebrity cast. In one season, Austin Powers actor Verne Troyer drunkenly relieved himself in a random room of the house. And in the first season, former child star Corey Feldman managed to piss off just about everyone.
Kid Nation took a group of 40 children ages 8 to 15 and dropped them in their own town, without any adults or supervision. The premise was to see how well the kids could create and maintain their own society. Although there were professionals nearby, including a child psychologist and a medic just in case, the show still received a bunch of criticism.
For instance, the show’s producers were having the kids film around the clock. Since the kids were classified as documentary subjects instead of actors, they didn’t have to abide by any union laws that would’ve prevented them from filming long hours. The producers insisted the movie ranch on which they were filming was a summer camp instead of a job site. That big loophole let them get around child labor laws.
Flavor of Love
Former Public Enemy hypeman Flavor Flav was the subject of his own reality dating show in the late aughts. The appropriately-named Flavor of Love ran for three glorious seasons in VH1, and pit a grand total of 65 women against each other for Flav’s affection.
Flavor Flav initially appeared in the reality show The Surreal Life, during which he began a relationship with fellow contestant Brigitte Nielsen. Next, he starred with Nielsen in their own reality show, Strange Love. Finally, Flavor Flav wound up on Flavor of Love. Man, that’s a whole lotta Flavor.
It has been said that a certain family of reality stars are famous for no reason. The show Pretty Wild tested the furthest boundaries of that statement. It starred three Los Angeles teens, Alexis, Taylor, and Gabby, who have accomplished literally nothing with their lives except being born to a former lingerie model.
The show began as a fairly standard depiction of privileged socialite life. But things suddenly changed gears in the second episode, when police showed up and busted Alexis for her involvement in a series of burglaries of the homes of famous actors, including Orlando Bloom’s. Hollywood produced a movie, called The Bling Ring, about Alexis and her fellow burglars. But the show didn’t get a second season.
This reality show took “ugly” women and gave them an extreme makeover involving multiple plastic surgeries. Each episode eliminated one hopeful contestant from the competition. The season ended with a huge beauty pageant between all of the remaining women, to see who would become “the Swan.”
Critics dubbed The Swan worst reality show of all time, and it isn’t hard to see why. It received criticism for reinforcing unrealistic beauty standards and putting its contestants through life-altering cosmetic surgery. And success on the show was based entirely on physical appearance. Fox aired two seasons of this monstrosity back-to-back, but cancelled plans for a third after receiving universally terrible reviews and low ratings.
Rock of Love
Somehow, VH1 was able to find enough women to compete against each other for a chance to date Poison frontman Bret Michaels in 2007. Enter Rock of Love, a crass dating show centered around the aging rocker that ran for an incredible 3 seasons.
Contestants participated in various challenges, meant to simulate situations that might arise if they were Michaels’ girlfriend. Michaels heroically selected a winner half his age in the first season. But she quickly admitted that she wasn’t romantically interested in him. The third season took place on a bus!
Playing It Straight
This dating show featured a single woman named Jackie tasked with sorting through a pool of 14 eligible bachelors. The catch was, about half of the contestants were gay men pretending to be straight. And it was up to Jackie to try and figure out who.
At the end of each episode, Jackie had to eliminate suitors she believed to be gay. By the end of the show, she would have to pick a contestant to date. If her pick was straight, they would split a $1 million prize. But if she picked one of the gay contestants, that contestant would get to keep the entire prize. The show didn’t manage to catch on, and Fox quickly cancelled it.
Are You Hot?
Are You Hot? attempted to answer the age-old question “Does Lorenzo Lamas think I’m hot?” Lamas served as one of the celebrity judges on this reality competition. Lamas, along with his fellow judges, would use a laser pointer to highlight various parts of the contestants’ bodies that he found “hot” or not.
The show’s contestants never showcased any sort of talent. They never give speeches about how they would end world hunger, like you might see in a standard beauty pageant. They simply stood around and waited while the judges graded their attractiveness.
Howard Stern actually sued ABC for stealing the idea and format from his radio show. Clearly, this was a concept worth defending. But Stern ultimately settled with the network after the show failed.
Naked and Afraid
This popular reality show has been running on the Discovery Channel for 10 seasons and counting. And yet somehow we still can’t believe it exists. Delivering exactly what it promises, Naked and Afraid drops two total strangers into the wilderness, completely naked. They must survive for 21 days.
The show has set its contestants loose in exotic locales all over the world, including Malaysia, the Bahamas, and Alaska. It’s stirred up some controversy over the years, specifically about exactly how “remote” the locations supposedly are. But the show is still going strong.
Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?
This hugely publicized beauty pageant aired as a two-hour special on Fox. The contestants were competing to marry an unknown multi-millionaire, Rick Rockwell. Rockwell appeared in silhouette until the end of the show, when he finally revealed himself to pick his winner. He picked Darva Conger, and married her immediately on the show.
Problems arose almost instantly. Rockwell wasn’t really a millionaire. He was a failed stand-up comedian and motivational speaker worth around $700,000. And worse, an ex-girlfriend had filed a restraining order against him in the past, alleging domestic abuse and stalking. Conger had their marriage annulled a few months later and sold all of the prizes she won on the show.
The show faced intense backlash and criticism, understandably. But the producer, Mike Fleiss, took the same idea over to ABC, added some tweaks, and made The Bachelor.
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