Everyone knows that reality TV is a more of a genre than an accurate description of the shows themselves. Producers fake shots and even re-stage dramatic moments that happened when the camera’s weren’t rolling-- pretty much everything is actually plotted and planned out like normal scripted show.
Most reality shows still retain a basic level of truth, however, depicting events that really did happen, even if they’re staged again for the cameras. These shows feature people living their lives and doing their jobs, even if a lot has been smoothed out of their day-to-day routine in order to edit out the boring bits.
There are also countless shows that are incredibly fake. For every semi-real reality TV show, there is an obviously fake one. These are programs that are scripted in everything but name, using recruiting actors to play “real people” and fabricating circumstances and storylines around them.
Then there are the reality TV shows that are pretty close to being real. These shows basically leave the cameras running and capture real drama, danger, comedy, and tragedy, even if they occasionally have to re-enact moments in order to please the producers and the network.
With that said, here are the 8 Fakest Reality Shows (And 8 That Are Totally Real).
16 Fake: 90 Day Fiancé
The show 90 Day Fiancé could also be called Green Card Marriage: The Series. Each season follows multiple couples who are engaged and together in order for one of them to be able to emigrate to the United States on a K-1 visa.
The catch here is that the couple has to get married before the 90-day period that is afforded to them by the visa expires. Naturally, this leads to plenty of drama, a lot of culture shock, and much soul-searching.
However, it’s also worth noting that the production team scripts a lot of scenes in order to provide more drama.
One of the stars of the show, Mohammed Jbali, even released video of him being coached and going through the plan for filming a scene where he goes to court to finalize his divorce from his green card fiancé.
15 Real: Hoarders
Hoarders follows people who suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder. As a result, these people hoard garbage, detritus, and knick knacks to the point that their houses or apartments becomes stuffed with items.
Most people who suffer from this disorder have very little room left in their homes.
In the show, these people work with therapists and psychologists in order to face their problems hoarding before (or sometimes after) it becomes a health and safety hazard.
Unfortunately, every bit of Hoarders is real, as is all of the suffering that the hoarders and their family and friends must face due to this compulsive behavior.
Fortunately for the audience, the help they get is real too. For example, spinoff show Hoarders: Then and Now provides viewers with the steps that former hoarders have taken in order to confront their addiction.
14 Fake: Amish Mafia
It’s easy to see why people tuned in to Amish Mafia: there’s a perverse pleasure in seeing people from a culture deliberately subvert that culture’s norms by their actions.
In this case, seeing a former Amish group brandishing guns and bombs in order to protect businesses in the Amish central Lancaster County in Pennsylvania is extremely entertaining. Amish Mafia followed members of the titular organized syndicate who used violence and coercion to maintain the Amish way of life.
Unfortunately, everything about the series was completely fabricated. Local law enforcement confirmed that there was no “Amish Mafia”, and the series itself even admitted that most of it is staged.
In fact, most of the regulars on the series aren't even Amish and therefore have no ties to the church.
13 Real: MythBusters
MythBusters, in addition to showcasing what an incredibly talented and intelligent cast can do in the name of science, is notable for the fact that its stars actively defied the attempts of executives to bog the show down with reality show-like drama.
When it debuted in 2003, reality TV was still in its prototype phase, and MythBusters had the misfortune of debuting in the shadow of American Chopper. Executives pushed for on-set arguments on camera in the style of American Chopper, but hosts Jamie and Adam promptly disagreed and stated that they wouldn't fabricate fights for the sake of ratings.
The show ran for thirteen years after, proving that reality shows don't have to include scripted drama.
It took the time to address obvious scientific myths that were based on false facts that were portrayed in movies and shows.
12 Fake: Storage Wars
Storage Wars was actually sued by a former actor of the show for being fake. Its former star Dave Hester claimed that the A&E series about storage locker auctions violated the Communications Act of 1934, which states that it is illegal to rig TV contests.
Among other things, Hester alleged that the auctions were staged and were never filmed in real time.
He also stated that A&E would routinely plant memorabilia and “surprise” finds in the storage lockers that the cast would then bid on and “discover.”
A&E countered this, stating that the show was protected by the first amendment, and since it required no “intellectual skill,” “intellectual knowledge,” or “chance,” Storage Wars didn’t fall under the Act’s jurisdiction.
It’s telling and damning that A&E's defence relied on attacking the program’s nature, rather than refuting the charges that it was fake.
11 Real: Diesel Brothers
The wacky adventures of two Mormon gear heads may seem larger than life and exaggerated, but aside from a few restaged shots, Heavy D and Diesel Dave are just as crazy in real life as they are on the set of Diesel Brothers.
They really are experts at restoring and repurposing diesel vehicles. They are also as wacky and spontaneous as the show depicts, and they really do give away powerhouse diesel creations to lucky fans in contests on their website.
Not only that, but Heavy D and Diesel Dave are also just as humble and generous as they are on camera. They helped organize a massive humanitarian donation for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and drove down to help with relief efforts themselves.
10 Fake: Matchmaker
Matchmaker aired for eight seasons on the Life Network in Canada as a standard dating show. In the seris, couples meet and go on a “blind date," where the couple either instantly gets along and sparks fly or drama flares and the incompatible couple go their separate ways. At least, that’s the show wants us to believe.
Behind the scenes, it’s a completely different story, according to Reddit user DomashnaRakija DomashnaRakija claimed that their cousin was on Matchmaker and met their “blind date” before cameras even began rolling so that producers could prep them and tell them what to do.
Questions asked during the episodes are also scripted, as the producers provided racy responses for each contestant to use.
Behind the scenes, contestants are also encouraged to make out if they get along or to start fighting if they don't. However, it’s hard to imagine any sparks flying under such artificial circumstances.
9 Real: Say Yes To The Dress
At this point, Say Yes To The Dress is one of the only reality TV shows on TLC that can still claim to be 100% “real.” Nothing is staged for cameras, and all of the drama, insecurities, joy, and pain of the brides-to-be is true to life.
This is also true of the day-to-day operation of Kleinfeld Bridal, the Manhattan-based wedding boutique that appears in the show.
The owners have a pedigree in fashion and business, with co-owner Mara Urshel having worked as a Senior Vice President and General Merchandise Manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. The other co-owner, Ronald Rothstein, has a degree from the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Having just celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, Kleinfeld Bridal is still thriving. Its owners have no plans to slow down or cancel the show any time soon.
8 Fake: Pawn Queens
Pawn Queens' name sounds like a parody of reality TV shows that would turn up on an episode of 30 Rock. However, while Jack Donaghy had no hand in its creation, the producers of Pawn Queens completely fabricated its characters. Not much is real in the series, which focuses on female pawn shop operators in Illinois.
In a Reddit thread detailing various fake and underhanded practices on reality shows, one user stated that their friend, who was a dental assistant with no experience whatsoever in pawning, was hired by producers after a blind audition.
She was given a completely fabricated backstory and was coached on how and why she supposedly got into the pawn shop industry. The premise is also wishy-washy at best. It is therefore no wonder that Pawn Queens was canceled after only one season.
7 Real: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
Just from listening to interviews with Anthony Bourdain, you get the sense that he doesn't make things up. So it’s no surprise that his TV series on CNN is the real deal. It explores the cuisine and history of various locales around the world through the experience, contacts, and connections of the titular chef, with no room for scripted drama.
Bourdain goes where others fear to tread, including visiting recently war-torn countries like Myanmar and Libya to delve deep into the culture and history of these countries.
Parts Unknown also boasts critical acclaim that few reality shows can equal, having won five Emmy awards and a Peabody Award in 2013.
You’re not going to see Alaskan Bush People pulling in any awards anytime soon. This is all down to the real, visceral style and substance of Parts Unknown.
6 Fake: Love Island
Love Island is a lot like Survivor, but contestants are forced to couple up for romance, money, or opportunity in order to win the competition. Though this might not sound like a hard-hitting fact-based series, the series is allegedly even more fake than most fans realize, according to former contestant and anonymous Reddit user Throwawayuk123456789.
Arguments and dialogue were scripted and most intimate scenes were staged, going through 5-10 takes before producers would pick the take that looked the “most realistic.”
There’s also contact with the outside world and the contestants are shown newly-produced episodes as soon as they’re aired. Furthermore, though the “grand prize” is $50,000 for the winning couple, contestants are paid $75,000 for participating, and the relationships that develop over the course of a season are just as planned and scripted as the arguments.
5 Real: The Amazing Race
While The Amazing Race has some artificial moments-- it is a TV competition after all-- the actual journeys and experiences of the contestants are real. They really do have to make their way around the world, hopping from continent to continent while performing tasks and challenges of mental and physical fortitude.
The planning involved for each season is extremely intense.
Producers have to investigate local cultures, plan routes, and consult with ex-military and ex-intelligence officers who have experience in the areas that the contestants will be traversing.
They also provide advise on the political and social quirks inherent to each area, so diplomatic issues don’t halt the flow of competition, or worse, endanger the contestants.
Producer Bertram van Munster estimates that over 2,000 people worldwide are involved in the planning of each season of The Amazing Race.
4 Fake: Divorce Court
Ah, Divorce Court-- nothing makes for better TV than good old-fashioned marital disputes. Countless daytime talk shows have already become successful due to this tested formula, but Divorce Court presents it in its purest form.
Divorce Court delights viewers with "real" marital strife and issues.
The most recent version premiered in 1999, and succumbed to all of the tainted practices of modern reality TV. Reddit user Butta_Butta_Jam described that her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend were recruited by producers.
However, the couple weren't married at the time. Instead, they were given a completely fabricated backstory that was tailored for maximum drama.
Ironically, the couple is now married. However, since they’ve already been “divorced” on a reality TV show, perhaps this is actually a good luck charm for their future relationship prospects.
3 Real: Deadliest Catch
Even if some scenes are restaged for dramatic effect, Deadliest Catch remains as one of the most real reality TV shows of all time. This is due to the fact that it follows real fishermen on boats enduring storms and churning seas for fresh hauls of fish and crabs.
Each season follows a different boat’s crew and captain, documenting the tragedies and triumphs that come with a profession that depends on the whims of Poseidon.
In fact, deaths have even occurred while the series was filming. This began with Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie, who suffered a massive stroke while offloading crab in port.
He was flown to Anchorage for surgery, but sadly passed away due to an intracranial hemorrhage.
2 Fake: Alaskan Bush People
There’s nothing like a big, wacky family to reel in viewers and good ratings. Combine it with a man-versus-nature schtick, and you’ve got Alaskan Bush People, which follows the day-to-day adventures and drama of the Brown clan and their attempts to survive off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness.
Their definition of “off the grid” left much to be desired off-camera, though. Reports from locals indicated that the Browns frequently stayed in hotels when they weren't filming the series.
The family also often mingled with the locals and frequented bars and restaurants in the area.
Their first homestead was also nowhere near as isolated as the show presented it. It was less than half a mile away from a pizza place, and they had neighbors near their property who did not take kindly to the wandering camera crew.
1 Real: Cops
Arguably the show that started the entire officers-chasing-criminal TV show genre, Cops follows law enforcement officers as they attempt to deal with criminals who are attempting to flee the scene of their crimes. Regardless of the crimes committed, the police officers on Cops had to chase the offenders down. These crimes ranged from all kinds of crazy things.
The crew of Cops has been chasing perpetrators and filming takedowns since 1989, which makes it the longest-running reality show in television history.
Naturally, it’s all real: the danger, the chases, and the cops themselves.
This makes sense if you think about it: no police officer on the street would tolerate producers attempting to add in drama and scripted scenes when they're jobs are already so dangerous.
Can you think of any other incredibly fake or real reality TV shows? Let us know in the comment section!