A Look Back at the Strangest Phases in Reality TV

Reality television is one of the most popular genres of entertainment, alongside superhero films and eSports leagues. Today, not many people are under the impression that reality TV depicts actual reality—instead, it’s all about crafting the perfect premise and finding the ideal characters to toss into an extraordinary setting.

Although many TV buffs now follow their favorite reality shows week by week, this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, Candid Camera is considered the very first reality TV show. It aired in the US back in 1948, highlighting just how interested people are in watching others navigate reality from a safe distance away.

The Early 2000s Changed Reality

Mid-20th-century origins aside, the true reality TV boom came in the early 2000s. At the time, US networks like MTV and VH1 were competing for primetime air, while others like ABC and CBS were busy rolling out projects like Solved spirit 24.

As the new millennium dawned, just about any content could see airtime. For example, Travel Channel saw success airing a live World Series of Poker event back in 2003. The series was a hit, leading to ESPN airing the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. This helped catapult online poker onto the global stage.

Today, online poker remains a massive industry worldwide. Real-money games are the domain of top platforms which offer different options for players in countries around the world. Some sites even got their start during these early days of ESPN and Travel Channel poker.

The obsession with poker in the early 2000s might come as a surprise to some. However, compared to other titles from the early days of reality TV, playing a game of cards on live television is incredibly mundane.

Celebs Doing… Anything

The public has always been obsessed with celebrities—especially with uncovering the ‘truth’ behind their personal lives. This focus hit a peak in the early 2000s when celebrities were signing on for reality TV shows of all stripes. Cribz (2000), for example, literally took audiences into the homes of their favorite stars.

There were also other shows, like Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica (2003), which brought viewers into the homes of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey—and also up close and personal with their early marital challenges. Then there was The Simple Life (2003), which transplanted the US’s wealthiest and chicest starlets, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, into barns and hay fields across America… all to entertain the masses.

The list goes on and on. The Osbournes (2002) shone a spotlight on the daily struggles of the Osbourne clan, while Hogan Knows Best (2005) brought fans straight into a WWE household. Regardless of how mundane or boring, if it involved celebrities, viewers lapped it up.

Image Credit: Sam McGhee on Unsplash


Today, survival shows remain a popular genre for many networks. Still, the modern list of survival shows doesn’t deliver on the randomness, depravity, or sheer shock value of early projects. Some might even consider Fear Factor (2001), a show that asked contestants to eat raw sheep’s eyes and be trapped underwater, a type of survival show.

Aside from nail-biting challenges, other survival shows really tossed contestants into the wilderness. Survivor, for example, kicked off in 2000 and helped steer the genre. Then came Survivorman (2005) and Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls (2006), which brought audiences an expert look at braving the outdoors.

It all culminated in one of the greatest survival shows of all time, which continues to run today: Naked & Afraid(2013). In the show, two naked contestants are stranded in the wild and tasked with surviving for three weeks. True to the title, they are naked, they are afraid, and they are covered in bug bites.

Special Mentions: Dating Shows

Aside from shameless celebrity romps and all sorts of survival challenges, reality TV also veered into dating territory. The early 2000s kicked off some of the most infamous ongoing series, like The Bachelor (2002). However, not many shows hit a winning formula, which led to more than a few highly intriguing duds.

Some, like Flavor of Love, brought on the most hapless contestants and let them run wild. Later projects, like 2014’s I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’brought together women who thought they were competing for a chance to become a Duchess.

(Disclaimer: Devdiscourse’s journalists were not involved in the production of this article. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

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