Thanks to the explosion and global popularity of reality TV in the late '90s and early 2000s, viewers have been blessed with so many series that it's often difficult to remember them all. While there are quite a few "unscripted series" that have made for iconic TV throughout the years —
Real World, Road Rules, Real Housewives, Vanderpump Rules, Survivor, The Bachelor and the omnipresent Keeping Up with The Kardashians — there are many reality shows from years past that'll make you say WTF. Although reality TV can provide a much-needed escape from the actual jarring reality of current times, some of these series are so far-fetched that it makes you question how they ever had an opportunity to see the light of day.
From outdoor births and plastic surgery beauty pageants to tricking women into dating and falling in love with a faux-version of Britain's Duke of Sussex, reality TV has figured out how to continuously cross the line when it comes to odd, awkward — and, at times, offensive — programming. With far too many to name, this list of series only scratches the surface of mind-blowing reality entertainment that fans have been privy to over the years.
This 2015 reality series aired on Lifetime and featured couples who had, for some reason, chosen to
give birth to their children in remote places sans the assistance of traditional medical professionals. Truly a "wild" experience.
Fox's 2003 series
Joe Millionaire literally tricked women into falling in love with a man who was lying to them and pretending to be rich. In the end, the bachelor in question, Evan Marriott, revealed his secret to the unsuspecting winner, and after she chose to be with him, they jointly won $1M. Bridalplasty lasted just one season on E! in 2010, and followed 12 engaged or already married women embroiled in a competition for both the wedding of their dreams and their dream plastic surgery procedure. The winner of each week's wedding-themed challenge won a procedure from her plastic surgery wishlist, and the winner of the overall competition received a dream wedding as well as her entire list of plastic surgery procedures.
As one of the first same-sex dating competition, Bravo's
Boy Meets Boy could've easily been a groundbreaking moment for television when it premiered in 2003. However, a cruel and offensive twist on the narrative would quickly stifle the show's progress. It turns out that neither the bachelor nor the gay contestants were aware that almost half of the contestants were only pretending to be gay, as reported by ABC News. And to make matters even worse, a straight man would be awarded with money if he was chosen as the winner.
Named the "the worst reality TV show ever" by
TIME when it premiered on CBS in 2015, The Briefcase featured two families in the midst of financial issues who, in each episode, are are surprised with a briefcase filled with $101,000. After being shown the cash, they're told that they can either choose to keep the money or offer it to another family in desperate need. Each family is not aware of the other family's participation as they contemplate who needs the money most.
Before the days of
Married at First Sight and 90-Day Fiancé, Fox's Married by America made its attempt to force strangers to marry on reality TV in 2003. However, this one never made it past its first season.
premise of this CW show, which ran from 2005-2008, revolved around a group of "Beauties," women who had relied primarily on their looks, and a group of "Geeks," men who had relied heavily on intellect, who are paired up as couples in a competition for $250,000. Challenges included lessons in picking up women, makeovers, and, of course, more scholarly challenges for the ladies.
This 2004 reality series featured a woman who spent time with group of men as she tried to
figure out who was gay and who was straight. In the end, the woman had to choose a man that she thought was straight and the pair would split the prize. If the man chosen was gay, he would receive the entire cash reward.
'Vanilla Ice Goes Amish'
Vanilla Ice took a trip to the Amish country in Ohio and worked to learn their master craftsmanship methods, while renovating homes for Amish families in need. The premise, although thoughtful, made for some really odd TV moments when it aired on the DIY Network in 2013.
While plastic surgery has been around for years, participants of this 2004 MTV series would
go to major extremes to look like their favorite celebrity. Contestants on I Want a Famous Face routinely went under the knife in an effort to look more like famous people, such as Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt, Jessica Simpson, Ricky Martin, and Britney Spears.
recently rebooted series features a group of couples who agree to live amongst single people of the opposite sex as a means to test the strength of their relationships. Not exactly the most romantic of televised social experiments.
Not only did
contestants undergo extreme plastic surgery makeovers the knife to become more “beautiful” in this 2004 Fox show, but they also participated in a beauty pageant at the end in an effort to judge who had become the best looking revamped participant.
'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here'
featured the likes of Tyson Beckford, Melissa Rivers, Caitlyn Jenner, Stephen Baldwin, and Robin Leach in two seasons on American airwaves, and continues to run new similar version in the U.K. and Australia. The celebs are abandoned in jungle-like conditions with only small tools for survival. There are eliminated weekly and the winner ultimately donates their prize to charity.
An early 2000s MTV series,
Date My Mom featured a contestant between the ages of 18-24. Each contestant would go on three separate dates with three moms who ultimately tried to convince them to pick their son or daughter as a romantic interest. The contestant only met the mother and made a decision solely based on their impression of the mother and the description of her child.
Long before Meghan Markle became the Duchess of Sussex, a group of American women were flown to London to compete for the affection of a rich
British guy whom they were told was Prince Harry. However, the guy eligible bachelor wasn't a prince, but rather an oil spill cleaner named Matt Hicks who resembles His Royal Highness enough to fool potential suitors.
'Are You Hot?: The Search For America's Sexiest People'
short-lived 2003 reality series featured celebrity judges like Lorenzo Lamas and Rachel Hunter who rated contestants on their faces and bodies, ultimately deeming them hot or not.
In an episode of
Who's Your Daddy, Fox's 2005 reality show, a person that had been adopted as a baby would be placed in a room with 25 men, one of whom was their biological father. If the contestant correctly picked out their birth parent, they would win $100,000. If they chose incorrectly, the man that they selected got the money instead. Needless to say, this one was cancelled shortly after its premiere.
This reality dating game paired contestants together for three whole seasons starting in 2014. The only catch:
they had to be naked all the time while trying to decide if they'd like to pursue a romantic relationship with one another.
Girlfriend Intervention was just socially inept on so many levels. According to Huffington Post, it featured four Black women — interior decorator Nikki Chu, fashion maven Tiffiny Dixon, beauty expert Tracy Balan, with Bad Girls Club alum Tanisha Thomas serving as "soul coach." Similar to the premise of Queer Eye, the ladies would travel around the country, helping white women change their lives. Or, as the tagline explained, “inside every white woman is a strong Black woman waiting to bust out."
The program, which first aired in 2004, featured two families, typically from totally different lifestyles, and would
swap out the wives/mothers for two whole weeks. Not only was this show incredibly successful, it also birthed celebrity spinoffs.
'Married at First Sight'
As if relationships weren't hard enough.
Married at First Sight, which is still on today, follows three couples, paired up by relationship experts, who agree to marry when they first meet. After tying the knot, the couples head off to their honeymoon. And when they return home, they have to live together as a married couple for eight weeks before they can decide to divorce or stay married.
With reality TV showing no signs of going away anytime soon, it's safe to say that there will definitely be many more cringe-worthy reality series introduced for years to come.