Since 1983's An American Family Revisited, which later inspired MTV's Real World, viewers have been enamored with watching others live their lives—or some variation of it. And while reality TV is often criticized, there’s a lot to be gained from watching the ongoing tales of other people’s lives.
Whether it’s watching a classic rags-to-riches story, following someone chasing after their dreams, witnessing a radical makeover, or just observing someone's day-to-day drama-filled life, these shows allow viewers to escape, even if it’s just for a brief time. Even controversial reality TV moments like when Snooki got punched when she confronted a man who stole the Jersey Shore group’s drinks, or when New York spit on Pumkin on Flavor of Love, gave us invaluable lessons on what not to do in high-pressure moments.
Whether it’s fake or real, it’s damn good television. Here are the best reality TV shows of all time.
55. Say Yes to the Dress (TLC)
Air Dates: Oct. 12, 2007—Present
Shopping for a wedding dress can be a monumental, yet, stressful ordeal. Luckily, Say Yes to the Dress gives a lucky few some help in finding the perfect dress for their special day. The series takes place in New York City’s Kleinfeld Bridal and follows soon-to-brides in the journey of choosing their dream wedding dress, along with the help of their friends and family. There are even two Atlanta spinoffs at Bridals by Lori, one of which helps people pick out bridesmaids dresses—because those are usually the real disaster.
54. Dancing With The Stars (ABC)
Air Dates: May 15, 2014—Present
Dancing With The Stars combines the best of what all reality series have to offer: celebrities, strangers getting together, and fierce competition. The concept is simple: take a bunch of celebrities and match them up with a professional dancer. Most of the celebs do a decent job, but there have definitely been a few standouts over the years, who have either been really bad or really good. DWTS shows us that even the most talented athletes (Ochocino) or popular hip-hop artists (Master P) can have two left feet when it comes to the dance floor. The show most notably brought Alfonso Ribeiro back into the spotlight with his epic “Carlton Dance” and some other impressive moves.
53. College Hill (BET)
Air Dates: Jan. 28, 2004—June 23, 2009
After the success of Real World, BET tried to emulate the same magic of the hit reality series with their own show, College Hill. Instead of random 20-something strangers coming together to live in one house, BET followed the lives of HBCU students who lived in the same house. Similar to Real World, College Hill brought drama, drama, and more drama; in other words, a quintessential college experience. The series lasted for six seasons, but reruns are hard to come by, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
52. Next (MTV)
Air Dates: May 4, 2005—Dec. 21, 2008
If you thought being rejected by someone you like is bad, try experiencing it on national TV. On MTV’s Next, contestants were set up on blind dates, while other potential suitors waited in an RV for their own turn. At any moment, the main contestant could say “next” to end the date. It was highly embarrassing for the suitor, but it didn’t come without benefits. The person who got “nexted” received $1 for each minute the date lasted for. A good date might leave you with $60; a bad date might send you home with $1. Ouch.
51. Growing Up Gotti (A&E)
Air Dates: Aug. 2, 2004—Dec. 5, 2005
Before there was Mob Wives, there was Growing Up Gotti, which chronicled the life of Victoria Gotti, daughter of mob boss John Gotti, and her three sons. A benevolent matriarch with “the warmth of an ice pick” and three loyal sons—what else would you expect from a mob family?
50. 90-Day Fiancé (TLC)
Air Dates: Jan. 12, 2014—Present
We've gotta hand it to TLC; they know how to exploit vulnerable people and make television so good it feels not quite as icky as it should. 90-Day Fiancé follows couples who have applied for or received a K-1 visa, a.k.a. the visa made available to foreign fiancés of American citizens. The couples are given 90 days to decide whether or not to marry each other. The series and all of its spin-offs (there are six so far) remind us of the mid-aughts golden age of reality TV. If you miss those days, check it out.
49. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (ABC)
Air Dates: Dec. 3, 2003—Dec. 17, 2012
Throw Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in the same category as The Biggest Loser: well-meaning, but ultimately harmful. The show’s premise was to provide a family facing severe hardships with a brand new home, catered to their every need. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, it’s been criticized for its opportunistic approach to identifying families in need, as well as financial hardships families have faced after receiving their new homes. But for 10 seasons, it was a guaranteed tear-jerker.
48. Million-Dollar Listing (Bravo)
Air Dates: Aug. 29, 2006—Present
If you’re bougie (or aspire to be), Million Dollar Listing is for you. Get a look at high-end real estate properties and try not to let your jaw smack the floor when you see their price tags. It’s Cribs meets House Hunters.
47. Wife Swap (ABC)
Air Dates: Sept. 26, 2004—Aug. 13, 2010; Jan. 2, 2012—Sept. 2, 2015; March 21, 2013—May 2, 2013; April 4, 2019—Present
If you’ve never seen an episode of Wife Swap, you’re in for a treat. In the show (which has been rebooted several times, including this year), two vastly different families swapped wives for two weeks. In the first week of the show, the wife had to adapt to the family’s lifestyle. In the second week of the show, she was allowed to implement her own rules and habits into the household. At the end, the couples involved met up to discuss their experiences, which usually resulted in drama and sometimes in violence. Ah, reality TV at its finest.