Watching TV these days, it’s hard enough just to keep up with the Kardashians. You’ve got chefs trying to top each other, people who think they can dance, and there’s a Real Housewife in almost every major U.S. city. With so many options, how are you even expected to pick just one guilty pleasure anymore?
From Candid Camera to The Dating Game, from The People’s Court to The Real World, looking back, it seems as if there was a whole reality TV revolution that happened right before our eyes. Somewhere along the way “unscripted real-life situations” became one of the most-watched genres on television, and our options became overwhelming. Even MTV, a channel that was once all about music, morphed into the place to watch pregnant teens make bad choices and internet love stories turn into nightmares.
Over the years, there’s been too many reality shows to count – which is why it’s not that surprising once they disappear from our TV screens, they seem to disappear from our memories as well. As quickly as one is cancelled, a new one appears to take its place.
Here’s a look at 18 Reality TV Shows we once couldn’t get enough of, but now can’t seem to remember.
18. Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (2006-2007)
If you’re ever asked the question, “Do you want to be a superhero?” The obvious answer is YES! Duh.
One of the coolest things ever happened in 2006, when Stan Lee took this brilliant concept to the Syfy channel (then known as the Sci Fi Channel). Contestants got to live in a lair, compete as their own alter ego, and whoever embodied the most traits of a true superhero would go on to win the chance to be in a new comic book created by Stan Lee himself, which would then be released by Dark Horse Comics. Sadly, as popular as the show was, it would only last for two seasons. Even though fans were bummed to see it go, the good news was that Stan Lee would continue moving onward and upward. Excelsior!
17. Sightings (1991-1997)
If you think Sightings sounds like a mix between The X-Files and an M. Night Shyamalan movie, you’d be spot-on. In fact, it’s possible that this real-life paranormal series even served as an inspiration for some of our favorites. Yes, this was a news-style reality show that actually explored everything from UFO sightings to crop circles, cattle mutilations, and even Bigfoot.
Originally airing on Fox (eventually moving to the Sci Fi Channel), testimonials were hinged on actual accounts that invited the viewer “to make a judgement based on all available information.” The widely popular program not only produced follow-up reports, it also brought us Sightings’ better-known counterpart, Unexplained Mysteries. As it turns out, the truth IS out there – apparently you can find it on YouTube.
16. Making the Band (2000-2002)
Back in the day when *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys ruled the world, being in a boy band was everything. And being in a manufactured boy band? Why, that was a recipe for success. The original season of Making the Band, which produced the group O-Town (remember them?) was such a huge hit, Diddy came in in 2002 to bring us Making the Band 2, followed by numbers 3 and 4. After that was done, Combs even took it a step further with a Making the Band spin-off titled Making His Band.
But as ratings began to dwindle and the music scene started to change, the show and its concept went “Bye Bye Bye,” leaving us only with faint memories of a time when MTV still had something to do with music – even if it was reality-based.
15. Blind Date (1999-2006)
Before the internet, people actually had to meet each other in-person first to decide if they wanted to date someone. Thankfully for us, in the late ‘90s, this became a form of entertainment. At that time, host Roger Lodge had taken over our TVs as the new No. 1 matchmaker on a reality show that followed two people on their first date as they, let’s say, got to know each other. As each outing was usually a disaster, producers would add “humorous” commentary and what was known as “thought bubbles” when the show would actually air.
Blind Date ran a successful eight seasons, which seemed to include an abnormal amount of scenes that would take place in hot tubs. It also produced a spin-off (The 5th Wheel) and several subsequent copycats. It’s a good thing we’ve evolved to more responsible ways of meeting people today, like Tinder.
14. Next (2005-2008)
One bus. Five daters. MTV’s take on this dating game show was offering people money for every minute they could keep the contestant interested in staying on their date. If you couldn’t, the contestant would simply say “Next” to move on to another dater and you would walk away making a dollar for every minute you lasted.
While this was happening, the remaining four daters sat together on a bus and got to watch the whole thing in real-time as it played out, usually making inappropriate comments and revealing their less attractive side. If said contestant made it all the way to the end with one of the daters, the dater then got to choose if they wanted a second date or would rather walk away with a cash prize. The days of getting “nexted” brought us lots of bad puns and embarrassing moments. It was awesome.
13. Average Joe (2003-2005)
With the incredible success of The Bachelor (which began airing in 2002), it was only natural that we would eventually get Average Joe. The reality show twisted the typical formula to revolve around a group of ordinary guys (Average Joes) who would attempt to win the heart of a beautiful woman; one who was expecting to see a lineup of really hot men. Only problem was, where the show was trying to prove a moral point, that beauty is only skin deep, the end result was two seasons of gorgeous women picking the best looking men.
The show flipped the script for Seasons 3 and 4, bringing back rejected Joes for another chance at love. Season 4 even came complete with an Average Joe makeover, once again proving that looks matter above all else.
12. Date My Mom (2004-2006)
Another one of MTV’s attempts at dating game shows was Date My Mom. Between this, Next and Room Raiders, you would think the network was trying to corner the market. This version would set up a contestant to go on a date with their would-be love interest’s mom, and then have them make a decision on who they wanted to go out with, based only on the mom’s description.
The show was the only one of its kind at the time, highlighting not just heterosexual relationships, but same-sex couples as well. In the end, the big reveal had all three hopefuls each stepping out of a Town Car in front of the ocean after the contestant announced whether or not they wanted to date each mom’s son or daughter. Usually, it would end with a few witty retorts and some weirdly inappropriate music.
11. Tough Love (2009-2013)
Of course, VH1 needed its own form of reality dating shows as well, except theirs (like the days of music videos) took a different approach. In this one, host Steve Ward, son of matchmaker Joann Ward, offered a “tough love” boot camp to women in order to help them deal with their issues. Over the course of the season, we’d watch Steve break the girls down, then build them back up, with the end goal being to shape them into relationship material. Even Steve’s mom and sister occasionally joined in the fun.
Eventually, the show went co-ed, proving that men were just as undateable as women. VH1 continued to do other bizarre dating shows like, The Pickup Artist. While Steve and his mom went on to launch an app called Love Lab – helping people make smart choices, even if their hearts want to make dumb ones.
10. Rock of Love: Charm School (2008-2009)
On the heels of Flavor of Love (starring the one and only Flavor Flav), Rock of Love with Bret Michaels, and Real Chance of Love, VH1 also brought us the hot mess that was Charm School. The show ran for three seasons, featuring contests that didn’t quite make the cut on any of these other shows.
In its second season, Rock of Love: Charm School hosted by Sharon Osbourne, we watched Bret Michaels’ former contestants compete in a series of challenges, get drunk, fall over, and rip each other’s hair out. One by one they were eliminated, along with their hopes of graduating and walking away with a check for $100,000. With episodes cleverly titled “Every Little Thing She Does Is Tragic” and “The Trashion Show,” it makes you wonder how this series didn’t run for 20 seasons.
9. Shipwrecked (2000-2012)
If you loved the movie Castaway, then you probably knew everything about this British reality show. While the U.S. was airing Survivor in 2000/2001, the UK had Shipwrecked. The series began as more of a social experiment, where contestants were stranded on an island and left to rely on what they could in order to get by.
In 2006, Shipwrecked: Battle of the Islands returned to TV, this time resembling the British version of Survivor. The new adaptation featured two teams. Every week, a new contestant joined the cast and got to pick which team they wanted to be on. In the end, the team with the most players would be declared the winner and get to split the prize money.
8. A Makeover Story (2000-2009)
Every episode of A Makeover Story highlighted some deserving person who was usually way overworked and long overdue for a fresh look. The audience would get a peek into their lives, meet their loved ones, and watch them transform their look; complete with a new wardrobe, a different hairstyle, and a heavy pampering by a makeup artist. The big reveal would come at the end and we’d all cry tears of happiness when we got to see the looks on everyone’s faces as that person made their entrance.
The show was broadcasted on TLC, a network that was home to several of the most feel-good reality shows in existence. A Baby Story, Perfect Proposal, and A Wedding Story all aired around the same time – but hopefully not in that order.
7. Girls Behaving Badly (2002-2004)
Before Ashton Kutcher was behaving badly on a hidden-camera show called Punk’d, there was a group of girls out there who were doing it first. Described as “’Sex and the City’ meets ‘Candid Camera,’” Girls Behaving Badly was the series that launched the career of Chelsea Handler. It also starred other comedians like Ken Jeong before he made it big, and even featured realty star alumna Melissa Howard following her appearance on The Real World: New Orleans.
Scenarios ranged from Chelsea playing to unsuspecting bar patrons and doing shots as a pregnant woman as she’s talking about threesomes; to hiring a wedding planner for her wedding to a guy she hasn’t met yet. While there was definitely an uptick in the practical joke reality TV world at the time, Girls Behaving Badly had the magic recipe. It was girls. And they were definitely behaving badly.
6. Boiling Points (2003-2005)
Boiling Points was a different kind of hidden-camera prank show that aired on MTV. It would catch people off-guard and test their patience in the most egregious ways possible. If you could keep your cool, you’d walk away with a cash prize. If you couldn’t, you’d end up looking like a fool on national television.
The idea was putting unsuspecting subjects into situations that would naturally want to make their blood boil. From nightmare blind dates (like finding out you were set up with a prostitute), to ordering a pizza that’s served half-eaten, to a total invasion of personal space, this show knew how raise tempers better than it knew how to raise ratings. With each scheme seemingly worse than the next, it’s surprising no one lost more than their decency here.
5. Silent Library (2009-2011)
Another one of MTV’s bizarre creations, this show used a library as its locale and put a group of friends onto one team, where they would face a series of humiliating challenges. The players would draw cards, and the one who ended up with the skull and crossbones would have to endure some kind of strange test. If that person fulfills the mission, the team wins money. If they don’t, or the team makes too much noise (which is measured by a meter on the side of the screen), they get nothing. After four rounds the total is tallied and the winnings are split equally among the players.
4. The Mole (2001-2008)
The first half of The Mole ran from 2001 – 2004 and was pretty much played exactly what you’d imagine. It was a group of contestants working together to complete missions while adding money to a pool that only one of them would go on to win. The goal: uncover the mole.
At the end of each episode, the players were given a quiz, and the one who knew the least about the saboteur was eliminated. Seasons 3 and 4 took a different approach, and embraced the same concept with a celebrity twist. After five seasons (and a long hiatus) we were finally forced to say our goodbyes. It was a sad day. That was the only time you could’ve said the words “expose the mole” and not have it sound creepy.
3. The Surreal Life (2003-2006)
With standout moments like the time Verne Troyer got drunk and peed on the floor or when Janice Dickinson and Omarosa had that “incident” with a knife, VH1’s The Surreal Life was just like MTV’s Real World, except it came with faces we were already (vaguely) familiar with. The show also produced two of the oddest couples in reality television history: Top Model Adrianne Curry found love with The Brady Bunch’s Christopher Knight, and Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav fell hard for Sylvester Stallone’s ex-wife, model Brigitte Nielsen.
Curry and Knight went on to marry and (divorce) as well as get their own spin-off called My Fair Brady. While Flav and Nielson’s pairing was so popular, even their spin-off had spin-offs. The whole thing was all pretty surreal.
2. Temptation Island (2001-2003)
Temptation Island aired for three seasons on Fox in the U.S. and was hosted by Mark L. Walberg (no, not that Mark Wahlberg). The idea was that several couples would be sent to live on an island to test the strength of their relationship. They were to break-up with each other, face temptation with the other island guests, and then figure out in the end if they still wanted to be together. Obvious answer if they’re doing this show – probably not.
The series was super controversial and completely sleazy, which is probably why the ratings began to drop. In the end, some couples strayed and some couples stayed. The U.S. dumped the show only after two years, but over in Europe, you can still find it on your television – if you’re into that sort of thing.
1. The Joe Schmo Show (2000-2004/ 2013)
In a twisted real-life version of The Truman Show, The Joe Schmo Show was a hoax played on one unsuspecting participant who thought he had signed up for the same reality show as everyone else. Unfortunately for him, HE was the reality show.
All three seasons of the fake show had a different format. The first was called Lap of Luxury, where the “Joe” thought he was competing for a $100,000 grand prize. The second was a take on The Bachelor, and the third (which aired a whole nine years later) was a faux-show about aspiring bounty hunters. With its over the top catchphrases, ridiculous stereotypes, and comical yet borderline psychopathic tendencies, The Joe Schmo Show was impossible not to watch. At the same time, it’s totally understandable why you’d choose to forget it.
Are there any other forgotten reality shows you think need to be on the list? Let us know in the comments
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