Limited solely by the broad and changeable confines of what can believably happen in real life, reality television has long been a genre that highlights the most awkward, emotional, and bizarre dimensions of ordinary people and everyday life. The immensely varied canon that has been developing since the early 90s runs the gamut between touching and exploitative yet always manages to shock and amuse. The genre’s tendency towards the extreme and ultra-novel has pushed it to some ~ weird ~ places over the last twenty years, and certain titles can give the vibe that they were created in a parodied alternative world to the one that we all know. As far as I’m aware, this has not been the case, and the twelve titles listed below did, in fact, grace national television in real life and often unironically. These shows blur the lines between cringe and genius, prompting a permanent rework of the whole concept of watchability and jettisoning humanity across an immutable point of no return… entertainment-wise.
The Flavor of Love (2006)
Arguably one of the most iconic reality television shows of all time, this three season series followed the ups and downs of twenty beautiful single women who took to a Los Angeles mansion in order to compete for the affections of Flavor Flav. The American rapper and hypeman rose to fame as part of Public Enemy during the late 80s and early 90s, and became known for consistently accessorizing with a large clock. Throughout the series, Flavor Flav’s exceptional outfits and musical entrances almost make you forget about the twenty-year age gap between him and most of the contestants.
Charm School (2007)
This lesser known spin-off of Flavor of Love sold itself as a “finishing school” where select contestants from the show’s first two seasons went to learn “proper etiquette” with host Mo'Nique and compete for a cash prize and the title of Charm School Queen. The second season expanded its reach for contestants to the show Rock of Love with Bret Michaels and was hosted by Sharon Osbourne. The third and final season switched its host once again to Ricki Lake, and expanded its contestant pool once more to include names from Real Chance of Love. For anyone with an intimate knowledge of the VH1 reality television world, this is an absolute blast. For anyone else, this is your sign to watch more VH1 early 2000s reality television.
Preacher’s Daughters (2013)
Following the lives of three rebellious teenage girls who are struggling to balance “temptation” with the strict moral codes of their Christian preacher parents, this show chronicles the perspectives of the girls and their family members as they navigate issues such as having sex before marriage and deciding whether or not Halloween is too pagan. With episode titles such as “Daddy’s Little Angels,” “Lead Us Not Into Temptation,” and “Tempted by the Fruit of Another,” this series puts a fresh religious spin on classic adolescent rebellion.
The Mormon Bachelor (2010)
After being rejected as a contestant on ABC’s The Bachelor, Erin Elton and her roommate Aubrey Laidlaw started an online spinoff of the show called The Mormon Bachelor. The web-series adaptation is closely modeled after its more secular counterpart, but exclusively features Mormon contestants and is dedicated to staying true to the values of The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints. The show strongly emphasizes helping contestants find true and lasting love, and those who participated in the program have gone on to form lasting marriages.
This classic MTV dating game show features a unique variety of contestants who participate in speed-dating challenges where the primary contestant is able to quit and start new dates whenever they want. Most of the participants sit together in a van where they chat and get to know each other before subbing in and seeing how long they can last on their date. The challenges/dates often take the form of obstacle courses or other random outdoor activities, and many of the show’s highlights can be found in the “three facts about me” lists that contestants present in order to characterize themselves. You’ve probably seen clips from it online.
Best Funeral Ever (2013)
In a market saturated by stories about birth, birthdays, dating, and weddings, it can start to feel like something is missing. People rarely spend much time fantasizing about their dream funerals, and this makes perfect sense because (barring exceptional circumstances where you fake your death or become undead or something) it’s not like you can ever go to it. Generally, funeral planning is pretty depressing and people try to avoid it at all costs. This in mind, Golden Gate Funeral home in Dallas likes to see funerals as a celebration of life — and works hard to have fun with them. This truly unique series follows grieving families who attempt to give their loved ones the creative, lively, usually themed funeral services that their memories deserve. Make of this what you will.
I Wanna Marry Harry (2014)
There was a point in time when many people wanted to marry Prince Harry, and a group of unscrupulous reality television executives decided to try and capitalize on this by creating one season of incredibly immoral and bizarre television. In this series, a guy named Matthew Hicks was made over to resemble Prince Harry, and twelve American women were positioned to compete for his affections. This show went to extraordinary lengths in order to convince the series contestants that Matthew Hicks was actually Prince Harry. The showrunners provided very little direct information about what the show’s premise was, kept the contestants incredibly isolated, hired paparazzi and security guards to interrupt dates, and had production team members gaslight any contestants who expressed doubts about Hicks’ identity.
The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns (2014)
This series follows five twenty-something women who are on their way to taking religious vows and becoming Catholic nuns. Providing a rare glimpse into the everyday happenings of three different convents, this Lifetime show depicts the often unseen lives of nuns and the rituals that one must go through in order to become one. As the main characters discover more about the responsibilities of life as a nun, themselves, and their relationships to their faith, the viewers have the opportunity to follow along to find out who will ultimately follow through on the decision to become a bride of Christ.
Farmer Wants a Wife (2008)
Following the precedent established by The Bachelor, this American take on a British series of the same name follows ten young and single “city women” who have decided to compete for the affections of one charming farmer. While the contestants participate in challenges that are intended to test their city-bred sensibilities and prepare them for their potential futures on the farm, the farmer himself makes homey remarks such as "She's cuter than a speckled pup sleeping in the shade of a wagon wheel” to add to the series’ rustic charm.
Whisker Wars (2011)
The world of competitive facial hair growing exists – and it is absolutely fraught with dramatic tension. This series follows a group of bearded hopefuls who enter bearding contests around the country with aspirations of qualifying for Beard Team USA and making it to the world championships in Trondhjem, Norway. Come for the beards in the promotional images, but stay for the hearts found along the way.