Reality TV Shows That Are Actually Real

Reality TV gets a bad rap—and usually, pretty deservedly so. This is, after all, the genre that spawned the Kardashians and the Real Housewives, either of which should be enough to shut down any new show pitch that doesn't involve a script. Yet somehow, producers occasionally stumble upon genuine, interesting people and convince them to get in front of a camera. Watching a group of rich ladies scream at each other about mean tweets seems like a complete waste of time when you can be following real homicide detectives the moment they catch a case, or a guy who's getting plastic surgery to look a human Ken Doll. This is a list of exactly those type of shows that will have you wondering why you ever learned who Kylie Jenner was in the first place.

Deadliest Catch

Capturing the harsh environment of commercial king crab fisherman in Alaska, Deadliest Catch has become one of Discovery Channel's most successful shows. Even if all of the dialogue was scripted and the interpersonal drama was manufactured by meddling producers or editors, these guys are still on boats in freezing temperature, all so gluttons can eat their fill at Red Lobster. Oh yeah, and sometimes they die. Did we mention that? In the first season, a ship sank and five people perished. It doesn't get much more real than that.

Below Deck

Another show about life on boats—albeit on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Deadliest Catch—is Below Deck, a show about a luxury yacht crew hosting charters for wealthy jerks. There are plenty of goofy, obviously-staged situations, but the workplace tension seems genuine. The crew members work long hours, then have to share cramped co-ed living quarters, while grinning and bearing it to appease their charter clients, who in the show's best moments, are unapologetic, pretentious clowns. Fortunately, most of them get really hammered on real alcohol and slur their way into looking like complete morons on television, which is the singular joy and only redeeming quality of the entire show.


Forget Bear Grylls, whose name alone makes you stop and say "No, there's not a chance that's a real person." If you're looking for a survivalist show, look no further than Les Stroud's amazing Survivorman. This guy is like a real life MacGyver minus the mullet. Getting dropped off in the middle of Earth's most remote locations with nothing but his camera gear (he shoots the entire show by himself), a sort of utility knife, a satellite phone (for emergency calls to a remote crew who are always close enough for a rescue), and the bare minimum of supplies, Stroud must find a way to survive for days at a time. There are no celebrity cameos, no airlifts to luxury hotels at night, and no drinking his own pee. Give it up, Grylls. You've got Kate Hudson with you. How hard is this possibly going to get?

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Former chef Anthony Bourdain traveled the world in this incarnation of essentially the same show he'd been doing since No Reservations. True, the concept is similar to most other travel shows: guy goes to place. Guy observes local traditions. Guy eats local food. But where Bourdain's show differed is in the intentional avoidance of tourist traps and cliché experiences. He used fixers, friends, and local craftsmen to navigate him to past the guidebook stops and into homes and businesses that represent "the soul of the city"—a phrase at which Bourdain would most definitely scoff. He was constantly self-deprecating, almost eager to expose the artifice of television at all costs, which always made for an interesting, if not contradictory attempt at documenting a genuine experience.


People who compulsively collect junk to the point of filling every room of their house floor-to-ceiling are the subject of Hoarders. We've seen an episode where they moved a couch and discovered the skeleton of a dead cat, and another where the homeowners didn't have any working toilets, so they just relieved themselves into plastic bags and flung them into the kitchen. If any of that seems fake to you, ask yourself this question: how much would a television producer have to pay you to let them do either of those things to your house?


From the same network as Hoarders, A&E, Intervention follows an equally horrific subject—drug addicts. Capturing heartbreaking family confessions, actual explicit narcotics use, and the eventual trip to recovery, Intervention pulls back the curtain on the ugly reality of addiction. The addicts mostly live in deplorable poverty, their families get torn apart, and there are almost always children caught in the middle of all of it. By the end of each episode, you're hoping desperately for the title card to reveal a happy ending, but a lot of the time you get the same bleak conclusion: once you go down the path to addiction, the road back is almost impossible.

My Strange Addiction

Admittedly, some of the "addictions" on this show push the limits of believability, like the guy who is "addicted to inflatables," or the guy who picks up roadkill to bury it. Either of those could easily be faked, but the guy who's been getting plastic surgery for years to make himself look like a human Ken doll? You can't fake that. Granted, he looks more like a Ken doll some little girl shoved into an Easy-Bake Oven, but he's getting real surgeries to his body nonetheless. Then there's the guy who's in a relationship with his car. Seriously. Even if this guy made this up to get on television, there's a scene where he gently slides underneath it and starts making out with the bumper. That's forever, man. You're that guy now. And don't even get us started on the stuff some of these people eat: Rocks, sand, urine, couch cushions, paint...this list goes on. Real addiction or not, if you're drinking urine, we believe you. Now please, enjoy your 15 minutes of fame and go away forever.


Even though the stars of Botched are known for their associations with Real Housewives, they're real life plastic surgeons who seem to be excellent at their jobs. Each episode follows their consultations and corrective surgeries with several patients, usually resulting in positive, life-changing transformations. Unfortunately, they always toss in one comical or clearly unacceptable case in which they decline a patient—a segment they could easily ditch for the otherwise compelling television they're making where they not only fix, but improve upon truly terrible cosmetic surgery disasters.

My 600-lb Life

Spanning an entire year in one morbidly obese patient's weight loss journey, My 600-lb Life gives an unflinching glimpse into the world of people who are literally eating themselves to death. There's nothing fake about a human the size of a refrigerator, and how daily practices that we all take for granted, like personal hygiene, become impossible for them. Even after gastric bypass surgery and dramatic weight loss, they still suffer from excess skin, infections, and a lifelong battle with food addiction. Go watch the show and try to not become familiar with the real medical condition known as "lipedema." We'll have a salad ready for you when you get back.

The First 48

Following homicide detectives from the moment they catch a case, The First 48 provides an in-depth look at the crucially important beginning of a murder investigation. They often go beyond the title's time frame, showing investigations, apprehensions, and indictments. They've even captured improper police conduct including the death by police fire of an innocent bystander during a raid, and have weathered multiple accusations of wrongful imprisonment. But just as the justice system is never neat and tidy, neither is The First 48, which for better or worse, makes it one of the most authentic reality shows on the air.


Originally thrown together as a programming scramble to fill gaps created by a writers' strike, Cops follows real law enforcement officers in the line of duty as they take down real criminals. People get chased, handcuffed, arrested, and sometimes shot. You don't get 15 minutes of fame from starring on Cops, you go to jail. Hands down, this is the "most real" reality show ever.