Debate of the Day: Good Reality TV?

I remember a long, long time ago when this newfangled thing called “reality TV” had just come on the scene. Survivor was its pioneering force, with shows like the Real World an addendum. Both were innovative in many ways, but now years later, reality TV makes up practically the majority of shows on TV, and has entire channels dedicated to it as places like History, The Discovery Channel and TLC abandon their educational programming for Ghost Hunters and Pawn Stars.

But amidst the hundreds of reality TV shows we’ve seen over the years, there have to be a few examples of shows that actually work. For every Real Housewives installment, there’s a show based in “reality” that’s actually worthwhile. I guess I want to find out which “reality” shows you actively watch that either A) aren’t complete shit or B) are complete shit, but are a guilty pleasure. I may be a scripted TV junkie, but on occasion I have no problem watching a bit of quality reality. Here are some of my favorites:

Top Shot (above) – A rather cool competition about marksman using various weapons to see who’s the best shooter in the nation.

Project Runway – I’ve been called gay many a time for liking it, but I’ve gotten tons of my friends hooked on it, as even if you know nothing about fashion, the challenges are creative, and the designers are really talented.

The Mole – A Survivor-type show originally hosted by Anderson Cooper where one player tried to sabotage the others from winning money in secret. Don’t know why this isn’t on anymore.

American Idol – I’ve seen about six full seasons, but quit recently as it’s too much of a time commitment between endless weeks of auditions and hour long results shows. But if you strip the show down to its essence, you’re actively watching people go from nothing to stardom before your eyes, and it’s hard to deny that some of these people truly are talented, and it’s quite enjoyable to listen to them compete every week.

So those are a few of mine, what about yours?

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  1. The Mole was the greatest one. It should totally be brought back.

    Amazing Race is good, as is Mythbusters.

    Guilty pleasures? too many to list…. flavor of love, rock of love, daisy of love, big brother, storage wars, millionaire matchmaker… i could go on, but in this category, the trashier the better.

  2. The Mole was an amazing show. It’s one of the few Reality TV shows that I watched and enjoyed. I tend to like the reality shows that focus more on actual skill/talent than on being a popularity contest.

  3. Yay project runway! I have to admit, me and my bf are addicted to American Pickers.. it’s such a cheesy show, but the stuff they find can be pretty amazing. Pawn Stars isn’t bad either, cheesy, but I like to see all the stuff they bring in.

  4. I actually like Pawn Stars and American Pickers. I’m fascinated by all the cool, old weird stuff they find. Same with the storage locker auction shows. The stuff they find (and put on the air) is pretty cool.

    There’s a few more on Discovery (in Canada at least) like Canada’s Worst Driver and Canada’s Worst Handyman. Entertaining and scary!

    Depending on how you define reality TV, I love to watch This Old House and Holmes on Homes too.

    And of course, there’s Mythbusters. It’s kind of in that grey zone between scripted and reality TV, but it’s easily my favourite show on TV.

  5. Pawn Stars, American Pickers, and Myth busters. All great shows! I’ve liked the majority of other shows you’ve recommended, so i may give Project Runway a chance..

  6. Ru Paul’s Drag Race is a fantastic show, although whether it’s just a guilty pleasure or not is debatable. It has spawned countless debates between my husband and I about the concepts of gender.

    We’re also liking Tough Enough, the new WWE reality show, although it’s only two episodes in. The meta concepts regarding how to perform actual stunts in a fake sport and how to create a character concept is pretty intriguing.

    The best part is when we watch these two shows on the same night and we get our wires crossed. “Wow, he sure knows how to tuck in those athletic shorts” or “He needs instruction on better make up”. They’re surprising similar in the concepts of constructing a realistic facade for an audience’s entertainment.

    Also, we love most of the cooking competitions (Chopped, Top Chef, Worst Cooks, Next Food Network Star). When the drama doesn’t get in the way, we get some good ideas for future meals.

  7. There is NO good reality TV. A better term for is would be; Cheap, scripted TV made for a low budget with people who aren’t actors but willing to do stupid shit just to be/stay in the spotlight.

  8. American Idol?! Wow. The show’s essence is twofold. A simple fucking karaoke contest, and a risk-free way of making money off of utterly disposable singers. Seriously, man, supporting these wannabe pop tarts instead of serious and creative endeavors from legitimate musicians who no longer have a chance to make it big because people would rather tune into reality tv as a source of “music” than make the effort to support the real deal is the absolute WORST thing a human being can do regarding music. Be ashamed, sir. Then go buy a Husker Du album or something to atone for your soulless corporate sins.

  9. So You Think You Can Dance. Mythbusters. A canceled reality show on Discovery (History?) called Time Warp. ANYTHING but American Idol. The last reality show I want to watch is one in which the results are determined by millions upon millions of hormonal, tween girls.

  10. The BBC had this show called ‘The Murder Game’ and it was amazing. I had hoped to apply to be a contestant for season 2 but alas they only did 1.

    The losing contestants got booted out the show by actually being murdered! Slight hyperbole: they got murdered in the overarching narrative of the show.

  11. My favorite is easily top chef, I also like pawn stars and mythbusters (which I don’t really consider reality, for some reason). But my guiltiest of all pleasures is big brother. I’m not of of those weirdos that pays for the live feed but I faithfully watch all three of the episodes a week they broadcast.

  12. I actually really like Face Off, it’s only had one season so far, and it’s about special effects makeup. The thing I like is that there is very little “drama” in it, it is largely about the craft itself

  13. You are aware that the Real World came first, right?

    And all “reality” television is utter, complete garbage relying on the drooling masses of American wheezing on their couches to tune into the latest train wreck of “personality”.

    Stop making shows about people working.

    Stop makiing dance and karaoke contest shows.

    Just stop.

    It’s really making everybody dumber and more confrontational in the hopes that one day, if their dreams come true, that they can be the next asshat lacking any talent to appear on television for their 14 1/2 minutes of “fame” only to disappear into their own depressing obscurity once again.

    If you are a fan, and I mean really a fan, of reality television then I consider you an uneducated, easliy brainwashed, drooling moron.

  14. When it comes to reality TV. In general, I tend to be drawn towards shows that showcase people displaying talents in a competitive situations. Shows, like Top Chef and Project Runway are prime examples of this type of format. I think it is neat to watch shows like this that focus on show casing talented individuals plying their crafts.

    Props also needs to be given to Survivor. It is the grand daddy of American reality tv, and one I still find the social interactions between the players to be very compelling.

    One new show that I’ve just been introduced to by my fiancee is a series called “Triple Rush” which is a series that follows bicycle couriers in NYC. They do an excellent job of capturing the craziness associated with riding a bike within the jungle of NYC.

  15. Yeah, if Mythbusters qualifies as reality TV it’s at the top of the list but there was another really good show called “Last Man Standing” about a group of 8 atheletes from your various first world nations (U.S., U.K., Ireland, etc.) who went around the globe and competed in strange and often brutal athletic events with peoples of third world countries, usually amongst “warrior” cultures like the Sudan, Mongolia and other small nations in Africa or South America. This was both educational and entertaining. I think it was on Discovery.

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