HBO / Hulu / Bravo / Netflix / TLC
I think we can all agree that there’s nothing more relaxing than a well-orchestrated reality TV show. Whether it’s living vicariously through Christine Quinn’s jaw-dropping outfits or fake shopping for million dollar apartments in New York, reality shows can pretty much make all of your dreams come true (onscreen anyway). And it goes without saying that an unhealthy dose of drama appears in every single episode, making each show endlessly entertaining.
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Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag’s feud defined a generation (“I wanna forgive you and I wanna forget you”), and over a decade later, the late ’00s series still holds up. From the birth of Speidi to Justin Bobby wearing combat boots to the beach to Brody Jenner’s faux relationship drama with just about everyone, The Hills remains a reality TV staple. Sure, The Hills: New Beginnings already got canceled, but that’s even more reason to return to where it all started.
Netflix’s Selling Sunset was an instant smash hit, and it’s easy to see why. The glossy real estate show is as much about decadent properties as it is girl gang drama and flawless hair and makeup. Christine Quinn’s beef with Chrishell Stause kickstarted the series, which is already in its fifth season. We hope it never ends.
It’s hard to believe that people haven’t gotten wise to online scammers after watching an impressive eight seasons of MTV’s Catfish, but here we are. Nev Schulman and Kamie Crawford make every episode entertaining, whether they’re exposing con artists abroad or uncovering decade-long liars. And you can always go back to where it all began with the 2010 documentary Catfish, that tells Nev’s own internet romance disaster.
The looks! The fashion! The shade! With 14 seasons and several spinoffs in the books (so far), Drag Race remains one of the most thrilling reality shows on television, as queens from all walks of life compete for the title of “next drag superstar” under the guidance of Mama Ru. Each week brings a new high-fashion runway looks, side-stitching skits, and life-saving lipsyncs. It’s not just a competition show, it’s a celebration of individuality. Now, sashay away and start your next binge.
Juliette Porter’s friendships with a hapless group of twenty-somethings are the focus of this MTV opus. The show has weathered many a real-life drama (such as the firing of its male lead), and it’s sometimes hard to believe this group has stayed together through it all. Luckily, the beautiful beach town setting will help you forget your troubles, mainly because you’ll be too busy keeping up with the cast’s mischief.
We’re only three seasons in, but Netflix’s Love Is Blind has already taken the world by storm. In fact, new versions of the series have already popped up in Japan and Brazil, with more on the way. While there haven’t been many success stories to date (thank goodness for Lauren and Cameron Hamilton), Love Is Blind is always fun to watch, even when it all goes horribly wrong.
Most of us have a love/hate relationship with ABC’s The Bachelor franchise, but that’s only because it manages to pull us back in every time we try and quit. Bachelor in Paradise is undoubtedly the franchise’s most fun iteration, with The Bachelorette generally managing to be less-cringeworthy than The Bachelor. It seems likely that Bachelor Nation will be around for years to come, regardless of how many more scandals it faces.
It’s not unreasonable to say that Summer House has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride since it started. Most of us are probably glad we don’t have to spend every summer weekend drinking in the Hamptons, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy watching other people do it. If you like your reality TV messy, and enjoy screaming at the screen when relationship red flags continually appear, then Summer House is most definitely for you.
The Below Deck universe is expanding, and we are so here for it. Captain Lee, the Stud of the Sea, helped start the franchise, which has since added Mediterranean, Sailing Yacht, Adventure, and Down Under to its roster. The yacht staff never fail to entertain us with their witty one-liners, especially when the guests go from bad to worse. It goes without saying that Kate Chastain and Hannah Ferrier are missed, but Aesha Jean and Daisy Kelliher are pretty great too.
The Real Housewives Franchise
It can feel a little hard to keep up with The Real Housewives franchise, but that just means that there’s a literal archive of seasons to dip into. If you’ve ever shared a GIF, then you’re probably better acquainted with the series than you might think. Stop resisting the inevitable and start watching.
Netflix’s Bling Empire follows the lives of a group of ultra-wealthy Asians living in Los Angeles. It’s unsurprising that this reality-version of Crazy Rich Asians was created by Keeping Up with the Kardashians producer Jeff Jenkins. Three seasons have been released to date, so it’s the perfect time to get acquainted with Christine Chiu, Anna Shay, and the rest of the gang.
Netflix’s My Unorthodox Life follows Julia Haart, a former “ultra-Orthodox” Jewish woman who became a successful CEO and fashion mogul. The show focuses on Haart’s family as they get to grips with their non-religious Manhattan lifestyle, and all that it entails. The show is set to return for a second season in December 2022, so it looks like the Haarts will be on our screens for years to come.
Queer Eye‘s “Fab Five” need zero introduction. In fact, the success of Netflix’s reboot has catapulted its stars to international fame, but they continue to deliver style, confidence, and kindness to people everywhere. With six seasons streaming on Netflix, and a seventh rumored to be on the way, Queer Eye fans will never be short of content.
MTV’s The Real World was the first foray into reality TV for many of us (aside from Bug Juice, that is). The series has also undergone a myriad of transformations throughout the years—does anyone else remember Real World Ex-Plosion?! Thanks to Paramount+, ’90s kids and ’00s queens can relive their youth.
Paris Hilton. Nicole Richie. The early ’00s. What more do you need to know? If you’re eternally here for the return of velour tracksuits and pink bedazzled flip phones, then The Simple Life is the only reality show you need in your life.
Project Runway is a reality TV stalwart with an impressive 19 seasons under its belt (and that’s not including the show’s many spin-offs). While Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum have left to pursue their own show, Project Runway remains the original destination for aspiring designers. Case in point: Hester Sunshine. While we await the inevitable season 20 pick up, relive all of the style and drama so far.
Much like Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model quickly became a reality TV mainstay upon its inception. The series is not without controversy, and it’s safe to say the show would undergo some changes if it was made today. But with 24 seasons to date, America’s Next Top Model is bound to have some hardcore fans, even now.
As the breakout star of dating show Flavor of Love, Tiffany “New York” Pollard has inspired a plethora of memes and GIFs. She was even given her own spin-off show, I Love New York, and became a VH1 regular. But you should probably go back to the beginning and watch a group of contestants vie for rapper Flavor Flav’s love. Like, what else are you doing, really?
Whether you’re planning your big day or get some sort of sick satisfaction from watching brides try on a slew of hideous dresses, then Say Yes to the Dress is absolutely essential. Personally, as a divorcée, I break out in a cold sweat at the thought of heading down the aisle again, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a little wedding dress shopping from the safety of my couch.
The Great British Baking Show
No-one was prepared for how quite successful The Great British Bake Off would become. Luckily, Netflix has got you covered, with several seasons of the show currently streaming. Whether you’re a keen baker, an Anglophile, or enjoy watching other people eat, The Great British Baking Show could fast become your new obsession.
The Love and Hip Hop franchise has gifted the world with so much, from its hugely successful spin-offs to literal queen Cardi B. With 10 seasons of New York available, and spin-offs such as Miami, Atlanta, Hollywood, and Chrissy & Mr. Jones all streaming, fans can fully submerge themselves in this franchise. And did we already mention that Cardi B is in it?
This TLC hit focuses on couples who have 90 days to marry after applying for a K-1 visa, available to foreign fiancés of U.S. citizens. The ninth season just started, and the series already has a ton of spin-offs. Whether you’re a fan of online love, or are in it for the inevitably messy relationships that are bound to occur, this is the franchise for you.
After nine seasons, Bravo’s Shahs of Sunset recently went on hiatus after one of its main casts members was charged with a felony. However, Bravo is reportedly still in talks with some of the show’s original stars, so a spin-off or reincarnation isn’t out of the question. But with nine seasons streaming, Bravo’s series about a group of Persian American friends in Los Angeles needs to be on your watchlist.
The Million Dollar Listing Franchise
Before Selling Sunset, the Million Dollar Listing franchise was making us drool with high-end real estate in New York and Los Angeles. The series is predominantly led by male real estate agents (although Tracy Tutor is a boss), meaning this franchise lacks much of the eye-popping fashion and dramatic storylines found at The Oppenheim Group. Still, if you want to at least pretend that you’re getting a major home upgrade, then Million Dollar Listing is a great escape.
Based on the British series of the same name, Love Island focuses on a group of single contestants who must pair up in an attempt to win a cash prize. If you don’t couple up, for love or money, then you’re probably going to be eliminated. Hosted by Sarah Hyland, Love Island is a perfect reality TV romp that’s often the talk of the office Slack, so it’s worth brushing up.
Netflix’s Nailed It pits bakers against one another in the hopes of taking home a $10,000 prize. However, the main reason to watch the show is to see the truly terrifying creations many of the contestants make while trying to re-create masterpieces. Hilariously soothing whether you’re good in the kitchen or not.
While I’m personally horrified at the idea of getting married at first sight, that’s probably entirely the point of Lifetime’s super successful franchise. With global spin-offs popping up regularly, it’s clear that people everywhere are prepared to take the plunge in the search of true love. Unsurprisingly, viewers still can’t get enough of this constantly shocking series.
My Super Sweet 16 was one of MTV’s peak ’00s reality shows, and featured the over-the-top birthday celebrations of some of the world’s wealthiest teenagers. The series was so fun to watch because it included extravagant events, expensive birthday presents, and unrealistic expectations.
Now a huge franchise, Jersey Shore initially started as a summer show about a group of friends sharing a house in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Since then, its original stars have become household names, and multiple spin-offs have followed (including the British version, Geordie Shore).
Black Ink Crew follows the staff at a tattoo shop in Harlem, New York, owned by Ceaser Emanuel. The Black Ink franchise has become so successful that there are already spin-offs set in Chicago and Compton.
Home renovation experts Chip and Joanna Gaines became household names with the Fixer Upper franchise. The latest iteration, Fixer Upper: The Castle, follows the couple as they renovate and update the 100-year-old Cottonland Castle.
Whether you love or hate Gordon Ramsay, it’s clear that he knows what he wants when it comes to food. Hell’s Kitchen is a competitive cooking show, in which two teams of chefs compete against one another, and try to avoid elimination. The franchise has been so successful that you can even visit real-life restaurants based on the show.
In this competitive cooking series, a group of amateur chefs fight for the title of “Masterchef” by completing culinary challenges. The contestants are placed under inordinate amounts of pressure in order to create specific dishes, which are then judged by professional chefs including Gordon Ramsay.
Flip or Flop may have ended only a few seasons after Tarek El Moussa and Christina Hall divorced, but that doesn’t mean you can’t rewatch it endlessly. The show follows the pair as they buy disastrous properties, and renovate them in order to turn a profit. If you love seeing disgusting houses being transformed into gems, this is for you.
FBoy Island is a novel twist on the dating show. Three women must determine whether a man is a “nice guy,” and wants a longterm relationship, or he’s an “FBoy.” $100,000 is on the line, making the show seriously tense. Nikki Glaser hosts.
Magic Mike is pretty much unstoppable at this point. With the third installment in the movie series on the way, Finding Magic Mike is the perfect stopgap. The reality show follows a group of “normal” men who are tasked with finding themselves by learning the Magic Mike moves. What more could anyone want?
Selena Gomez’s cooking show quickly became a hit, and it’s easy to see why. Each episode guest stars a professional chef who helps Gomez whip up a new cuisine. The actor and singer makes Selena + Chef endlessly watchable, and she will also put your mind at ease if you’re not that skilled in the kitchen.
Created by Issa Rae, Sweet Life: Los Angeles follows a tight-knit group of friends, and explores the reality of being young, Black, and ambitious in L.A. You can stream the first two seasons on HBO Max, which Keke Palmer did in just two days. Fans are keeping their fingers crossed for a third season.
Amy Mackelden is a freelance writer, editor, and disability activist.
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