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Worst Reality Shows You Forgot Existed

Whether it is an uber-exploitative makeover show or a nonsensical dating show, bad reality television can make the watching experience downright unpleasant. When it comes to reality television, it is not hard to think of a multitude of examples that would fall into the "bad" category. In fact, there are so many bad reality TV shows that we could not even find the space for some true clunkers -– "Who Wants to Marry My Dad?," for instance –- on our list. But not to worry, because these choices reflect some of the lowest points of pop culture and television history.

To create this list, we opted for reality shows with truly terrible concepts and remarkably cringe-inducing execution. We steered clear of awful shows that have persisted for many seasons and instead chose more obscure reality shows that have faded from cultural memory. None of these programs lasted long –- most for just a single season –- but they are all worth revisiting from a "What were they thinking?" standpoint. Without further ado, here are some of the worst reality television shows that you may have forgotten existed –- for good reason.

The Swan

"The Swan" is one of the most despicable shows that Hollywood has ever produced, and its 2.6 (out of 10) rating on IMDB only solidifies that it is universally perceived as awful. In fact, in 2010, Entertainment Weekly listed the show as the worst-ever reality program. "The Swan" premiered on FOX in 2004 and ran for two seasons, despite widespread criticism. The show featured female contestants who went through extensive, painful plastic surgery procedures in the pursuit of beauty. The goal was to turn the "ugly ducklings" into "swans" –- in the process, promoting unattainable beauty ideals and a problematic focus on aesthetics.

"The Swan" took makeover television to the next level, but that was not the only ick factor. In each episode, two women competed against each other to see who had the better makeover, and the winning women walked in a pageant in the finale. The ultimate winner of the show received a modeling contract and other sponsorships. "Hurtful and repellent even by reality's constantly plummeting standards, The Swan is proof that the genre's hucksters have no built-in boundaries. They will plumb ever lower depths until the market, or the courts, stops them," wrote USA Today's well-known critic Robert Bianco, who called the show "obscene."

Dating Naked

Most people would not want to go on a date naked, and they most certainly would not want to go on a date naked and have it filmed. And yet, VH1 did not seem to have any issues finding contestants to participate in their reality show, "Dating Naked," which ran for three seasons, from 2014 to 2016. The show is currently being resuscitated for a fourth season on Paramount+, which just goes to show that no bad idea is too bad to revive if there is money to be made. The most memorable thing about the original show was the failed lawsuit a contestant brought when VH1 accidentally revealed her genitals without pixelation (see Deadline).

While "Dating Naked" always paired up contestants and had them date in the nude, the rest of the concept changed depending on the season. In the first season, contestants were new each episode. In the second and third seasons, there was one main man and one main woman, and each received a new potential love interest per episode. Contestants were also always on a beach, so we can only imagine the amount of sand that needed to be removed from each and every bodily crevice.

He's a Lady

"He's a Lady" has such a dated concept that it reads much more like a show from the 1980s than one from the early aughts. And yet, it is indeed a relic from 2004, when it aired on TBS for six episodes. In "He's a Lady," male contestants sign up for a show with vague instructions, only to later discover that they must dress up in drag in order to win the $250,000 prize. The men are tasked with taking on the identity of their female significant other, which we are sure led to some interesting marital conversations.

"He's a Lady" promoted the idea that there exists a gender binary, and that crossing gender lines is taboo or wrong. Men freaked out at the idea of wearing a bra, and they were tasked with -– gasp –- "feminine" tasks like wedding planning. As with many of the makeover shows of this era, "He's a Lady" ended with a pageant. The entire premise hinges on the idea that "real" and "macho" men in dresses are inherently funny, that certain traits and activities are fundamentally gendered, and that it is fun to trick people into participating in something they did not sign up for. "He's a Lady" just does not hold up well in 2021 –- but did it ever?

The Princes of Malibu

Before "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" came out in 2007, there was a big push to make the Jenner side of the family happen (spoiler alert: they never happened). "The Princes of Malibu" followed Brandon and Brody Jenner, Caitlin's sons from her marriage to Linda Thompson, and their friend Spencer Pratt, of "The Hills" infamy. A big part of the show was the dynamic between the brothers, their mother, and their then-stepfather, famed musician David Foster.

There would be no lifestyle reality television without narcissism and materialism, but "The Princes of Malibu" had none of the other necessary components to offset the ick factor. There were no compelling storylines, no emotional arcs, and no "Real Housewives" type of fights. It was just a family with two spoiled, lazy kids who refused to grow up, and parents who clearly hated each other (Thompson and Foster divorced shortly after the show premiered). The show lasted a mere six episodes, and FOX moved the last four of them from Fox proper to their Fox Reality offshoot channel.

The Moment of Truth

The concept behind the "The Moment of Truth" is not as horrid as for some of the other reality shows on this list, but it just did not work in execution. In the show, contestants needed to answer polygraph questions in front of a studio audience and their loved ones. They have the chance to win progressively more money the more questions they answer, but the questions continue to get more difficult as the round progresses. In total, the contestant had 21 questions to get through (they did the polygraph off-screen and did not know which of the 100 questions they answered would end up being asked on air).

And those progressively invasive questions is exactly where the show tipped over from fun to unsophisticated. Take Michael Greeland, for example – the man won $100,000, but he had to admit on air that he had slept with his friends' wives, that he was attracted to his wife's sisters, and that he had previously dated people more attractive than his wife (per The Huffington Post). We won't deny that the show was entertaining at times, but watching people potentially ruin their real-life marriages, families, and friendships to win money is downright gross.

Joe Millionaire

Evan Marriott was a gorgeous single man who could hold a conversation at least as well as the guys on "The Bachelor," so there is really no reason he could not have appeared as himself on reality television. But instead, Fox cast Marriott as "Joe Millionaire," a character who had inherited $50 million and was in search of a wife. The show does not let the female suitors in on the scheme, so the hook is that they think they are falling for a millionaire and not a construction worker. The show lasted two seasons on FOX back in 2003, but the gig was kind of up after season one and it fizzled quickly after that.

According to People, the season one finale of "Joe Millionaire" was watched by 36 million people. Marriott's choice, Zora Andrich, opted to stay with him in the finale and together they won $1 million. They split shortly thereafter (because, obviously) and season two was set in Italy. It is far from the yuckiest show on our list, but it's hard to get down with the idea of tricking women –- and then potentially labeling them as gold diggers if they don't want to marry a man who lied to them on television. And for what it is worth, Marriott is not a fan of the show, either. He told Vulture that he felt exploited and coerced into doing the show. "I thought I was doing something like Blind Date," he said in the interview. Nope, definitely not "Blind Date."

Boy Meets Boy

Representation of queer people on reality television is typically a good thing, and since so many dating shows are hetero-focused, a gay dating show seemed like a great thing when it was announced in 2003. The problem with "Boy Meets Boy" was that it was more than just a dating show – it was also a big ruse on the main bachelor, James Getzlaff. Half of his contestants were straight, and half were gay, and Getzlaff wasn't told until near the end of the show. And since Getzlaff only won a prize if he chose a gay man in the end, it was at least partially a game show.

"Boy Meets Boy" relied on dated conceptions of what it means to be a man, including stereotypes about both gay and straight men and the traits they are culturally expected to possess. It was also just plain unfair – to James, to the contestants, and to the queer community that deserved a much better LGBTQ+ dating show. Bravo aired the original six episodes of the show in 2003, and thankfully, the network has never ordered any more.

Playing It Straight

Oh, look, another show that relies on cultural constructions of, and stereotypes about, gay male masculinity. In "Playing It Straight," a woman had to go on dates with a house full of men in order to discern which ones were gay and which were straight. The woman, Jackie, chose a straight man in the end and so she won $1 million, which she split with the chosen man. But viewers got nothing in the deal, as this was a mucked-up attempt at hitting big with the "The Bachelor" crowd. It aired for only one eight-episode season on FOX in the spring of 2004, though there were also Australian and British versions.

"Playing It Straight" was slightly better than "Boy Meets Boy," since Jackie and all of the men were in on the idea from the start. But it still left much to be desired, and it is just one in a long line of shows that use sexual orientation as a game. That includes the aforementioned "Boy Meets Boy," as well as the British show "Gay, Straight or Taken?" and the FOX (yup, them again) show "Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay." Here's to hoping that the tired trope is finally finished, given that the last LGBTQ+ dating show, Logo's "Finding Prince Charming," had no such "game" up its sleeve.


Like many shows on this list, "Bridalplasty" aired for just one season -– on E! in 2010 -– but even 10 episodes of this outrageous show is 10 too many. A dozen women competed for a dream wedding on "Bridalplasty," and they also competed for weekly plastic surgery procedures. The woman who made it to the end of the show not only got her big wedding, but also the fulfillment of her entire "makeover" list. Surprisingly (or maybe not), Dr. Terry Dubrow of reality staple "Botched" was the surgeon on "Bridalplasty."

Bridalplasty pushed the limits of decency, and just made viewers feel sad for women who hated themselves so much that they had a full laundry list of wanted surgeries. Feminist website Jezebel called the show "ridiculous," "unhealthy," and "dangerous." Some doctors even questioned the "social, medical, and ethical issues" of the show, as referenced in this article from ABC News. "It's a horrible idea. It absolutely plays into this notion that if you achieve the 'perfect' appearance, everything will be better. The message it sends to girls and women, as if you're not beautiful enough on your wedding day you have to receive plastic surgery from head to toe," said Harvard Medical School clinical psychology professor Roberto Olivardia.

Are You Hot?

In this shockingly awful reality show, contestants appear in front of a panel of judges –- including Lorenzo Lamas and Rachel Hunter -– to show off their hotness. Yes, that was the entire concept of "Are You Hot?". The ultimate goal was to crown "The Sexiest People in America," in the process breaking the spirits of all of the other attractive people who for some reason subjected themselves to the process. "Are You Hot?" aired one six-episode season on ABC, back in 2003, and thankfully hasn't been revived — yet.

In the show, contestants stood in swimwear in front of the judges as they pointed out each and every flaw (there was even a laser pointer involved). In 2021, a TikTok user caused renewed conversation about the show after she posted about it. "You need to wear more makeup, unfortunately," a judge can be seen saying to a contestant in the viral clip. And then they told another one that her face was a "five" on a "nine" body. Howard Stern sued the show for stealing the concept from one of his bits (via Entertainment Weekly), which pretty much tells you all you need to know.

The Pickup Artist

Back in the 2000s, a man named Erik von Markovik was busy sharing "advice" about how to pick up women, which he titled the "Mystery Method" based upon his character, Mystery. Mystery wrote a number of books –- the most notable being 2007's "The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed" –- and somehow tricked a group of men into thinking he was cool. His fame rose to new heights with "The Pickup Artist," which aired on VH1 for two seasons starting in 2007. In the show, a selection of normies were tasked with challenges that involved them picking up women based upon Mystery's lessons. The lessons got progressively harder and harder, with one man being eliminated each week until the ultimate "pickup artist" remained.

Even more cringeworthy, each man was given some sort of "hook" or flaw -– like the guy who "cried when his girlfriend dumped him" or "a virgin who hasn't even had a girlfriend." In 2014, Psychology Today published a great piece on the problem with pickup artists and the culture that surrounds guys like Mystery (who they name-checked). "There is nothing wrong with individuals developing strategies to increase their personal confidence in talking to a romantic interest," wrote the authors. "However, treating that potential partner as an object representing psychological barriers to conquer is a deviant approach."

Tommy Lee Goes to College

We have to wonder who exactly was sitting at home thinking "Gee, I wish I could watch a reality show featuring Tommy Lee going to college," and yet, somehow, this show got made. "Tommy Lee Goes to College" ran for six episodes in 2005, on both NBC and VH1, and the premise is exactly what it sounds like: uneducated and uncivilized rock star heads to college. It does not have the shock appeal or ick factor of many of the other shows on the list, but it's easy to stand by its inclusion because Lee is not engaging enough to have his own show, and because most of the storylines were scripted, cheesy attempts at humor.

Lee dropped out of high school, so it had been quite a while since he stepped foot in a classroom when he attended the University of Nebraska for this experiment. He did not actually seem to learn much of anything, but he did start a fraternity and get up to some vandalism, so that's something. "It was definitely bizarre, man," Lee told MTV. "Just being in sort of Middle America, and not attending school as a normal guy...I mean, here I am, walking in, totally bum-rushing the university, and just letting it rip. I'm going to school, where everyone's freaking out, and they're like, 'Oh my God. That's Tommy Lee.' Doing it in that style was very weird for me." Thankfully, a season two where Lee went to a police academy never materialized.

Mr. Personality

Monica Lewinsky is back in the news for the producing role on "Impeachment: American Crime Story," but let's not forget this important hosting gig in Lewinsky's past. In "Mr. Personality," which aired on FOX in 2003, Lewinsky served as the Chris Harrison to a woman looking for love with a selection of masked bachelors. The idea was that the dater would choose a man based purely on personality, given that she could not see her 20 suitor's faces. It turns out that it is not very fun to watch a bunch of masked people on TV, and the show only lasted five episodes.

There were some weird quirks that took this show to an even stranger place than the basic premise. Firstly, men could not discuss their professions –- a somewhat odd choice, when talking about finding a person to marry. There was also a special room, wherein the woman (Hayley) could feel a man's face without his mask in the pitch black dark (via TheOutLine). "I think it probably did come off rather ridiculously in the end," producer Scott Firestone admitted in a 2018 interview with TheOutLine. Yes, yes, it did.

Married by America

There have been many, many terrible reality shows about marriage –- "I Wanna Marry Harry" and "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" immediately spring to mind –- but "Married by America" is the best pick to round out a list of awful reality shows because it was not only terrible, but also forgettable. In the program, five single people were paired up with a stranger by America's votes, after which they had to get engaged and then sequester together while they got to know each other. Couples were eliminated each week, and no couple ever decided to get married in this arranged manner. So, it seems title is not even accurate, if we are being nitpicky (and we are).

FOX is seemingly where some of the worst reality shows came from, and so it should come as no surprise that the network was also home to this clunker. It lasted for one season back in 2003, and created a stir for how it played with the idea of matrimony. "Eventually Married by America led me to conclude that reality dating on television is enjoyable to watch—the young in all their giddy, presentational splendor—but that reality marriage (even by those same heavily bronzed, post-op young) is sorrowful," a Slate reviewer wrote. " You end up watching men and women resign."