For the past decade, reality TV has become a part of our culture. Long before Honey Boo Boo came along, we had shows where seemingly real people competed against one another for prizes and fortune. Some programs like Survivor and The Amazing Race still exist today. But scattered amongst the land of reality programs are the bones of those shows that couldn't keep up. What follows is my personal list of the worst of the worst and the reasons why. It's JG's Ten Truly Terrible Reality Competition Shows…
One of the best things about competitive reality TV in the United States is watching its evolution. In 2000, both Survivor and Big Brother debuted for CBS. Both programs, while still staged to an extent, had far more reality in them than they seem to do today. Everything was sort of, well, raw.
Because of this, we were treated to the debacle known as "Lost" on NBC. Not to be confused with the "Lost" that everyone on the planet thinks of when they hear the name, this show was a meandering mess of nonsense that had nothing going on with it. Nothing.
I'm not being sarcastic either. They took people who didn't know each other and teamed them up. Then, the show dropped them off in Mongolia blindfolded with a camera man. Contestants were told to get home without dying.
That was the show.
Seriously. They admit it right in the promo.
In one memorable moment, a team was nearly kidnapped and murdered on a train. That was fun. It was like The Amazing Race if the Amazing Race decided to replace all of its regional history lessons and challenges with a guy screaming "RUN! RUN FOR YOUR DAMN LIFE!" That was Lost. No competition. No route markers. No point. Just running home for your life.
If this unamazing race wasn't doomed enough, it premiered on Tuesday September 4th, 2001. I'll give you a minute to do the math.
The only thing I loved about this show was the final moments of the final episode. As was expected, people quit. Who wouldn't? One team in particular made a joint decision to walk away. Nothing to be ashamed of. Well, maybe a little ashamed. But, it's not like you have to admit that you gave up. After all, NBC isn't going to show it to anyone.
At least that was the thought process people had back in 2001 and reality TV was in its infancy. After watching one contestant give up, we saw him return home. His father, completely disinterested, lounged on the couch like a Pillowpet. His quitter son danced around him and said, "Yo pops! I could have won, but my partner quit. He quit. Man. Why did he quit?" He even turned to the camera at one point and repeated, "Too bad my partner quit." His final moments on camera saw him dancing around his father while a narration said, "The journey has left some to come to grips with their own reality."
Threats, fear, and lying to your father. Now there's a recipe for terrible reality TV.
Nearly seven full years before anyone was gyming, tanning, or laundering on MTV, ABC's "The Family" was doing about as much good for the public perception of Italian-Americans as the "You Toucha My Car, I Breaka You Face" bumper sticker.
This train wreck of a show debuted in March of 2003 and featured one family living in the clichéd reality mansion while competing against each other for the coveted $1,000,000 prize. The group's last name was never given and, instead, they were referred to as "Cousin Mike", "Uncle Michael", "Dawn Marie", Super Mario, and all the names you'd expect from a show looking to exploit Italian families. It was like the scene from Goodfellas when Paul Sorvino introduces Karen to a thousand cousins named Petey.
I'm sure you're thinking that this reality competition is on this list because of the way it pitted family members against one another. The tribe would compete for advancement and vote out one of their own. Rather than leaving the lap of luxury, the banished relative would remain as a non-contestant. Sound exciting? It wasn't.
Now let's get to the real astounding things about this hot garbage. First, it went on hiatus halfway through its run. That's right. The show debuted in March of 2003 and then, suddenly, was yanked from the air only to return at the end of July. Nothing says "momentum" like a four month break.
When the show finally returned (despite many thinking it never would), it just got worse. Why? Well, because there were twists galore in store! ABC had so many great ideas to throw a wrench at these goombas. Like what? Follow me here.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the show comes down to two participants. At this point, the family members vote for a winner and we all have a big Survivor party with pizza. Makes sense, right? Wrong.
Nope. Instead, ABC sprung on us that there had been a "top secret board of trustees" secretly judging them the whole time. Uh oh. No one knew who the secret judges could be.
Now, keep in mind, the only people you've met on this show were the Family, host George Hamilton, Susan Lucci for some reason, and the house staff (cook, butler, maid). It's like an episode of Law and Order. If you've only met six characters and five are eliminated as suspects by the last ten minutes, number six is the killer. So, why don't you take a wild guess at who the members of the board of trustees were?
What? No, not a monkey in a suit. What kind of insane guess is that?!
Too hard? How about if I throw in the fact that the entire house staff was played by actors. One dude was even in the Brendan Frasier film "School Ties". Now do you know? Yup.
The Help. They were the judges.
So, there it is. The servants, who had been taking care of these miscreants for a few weeks (months if you were watching it on TV) jumped in before the family vote and chose the winner. Done. Makes sense. Let's eat Survivor Pizza.
Again, wrong. They didn't get to choose a winner. No. They simply chose another family member they liked the best to compete against "Anthony", the person the family voted to win. Nothing to sneeze at, but not a game-changing finish…especially when family-favorite Anthony beat him in the finale battle anyway.
So, there it is. We have a new millionaire! Anthony wins. Makes sense, right?
Wrong again. What? No, I'm not kidding you. This stupid show still wasn't over. Immediately after winning, Anthony was told that he had a choice. He could either keep the prize for himself or split it evenly with every member of his family.
ABC then put him in solitary confinement for 24 hours to decide.
And that's when the final nail in the ridiculous Family coffin was drilled. A day later, the young Guido with a heart of gold chose to split the prize with all his family members.
Aw. Rather than keeping a cool million, he kept $100,000 and gave $100,000 to each person he played the game with.
…NEGATING THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE SHOW!
This thing went on for, what felt like, decades. Competitions. Twists. Fights. All for what? So they could all split the prize anyway? Would any of these people have kept the money all for themselves anyway? This Anthony kid was the most spoiled of the bunch. If he didn't keep it, none of them would have. What a waste of time. It's as if the American Idol winner was given the choice to split his big record contract into 16 little ones with all the rejects. Ugh.
To this day, The Family remains one of the most elusive reality shows anywhere. It's hard to find pictures or videos online about it at all. According to IMDB, the show has an 8.0 rating. Then again, that's out of 11 votes…and there were 10 people on the show. So, yeah. Again, do the math.
You can't screw up a finish any worse than that, can you? I mean, what can be worse than a big fat obnoxious family and a non-finale?
My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss
By 2004, reality TV was morphing. It had become a parody of itself and, because of this, spawned a whole line of reality parodies. Shows like Joe Schmo, WB's Superstar USA, and My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé all forced unwitting participants into an elaborate practical joke that everyone else was in on but them. We all pointed and laughed together as incredulous rubes held their heads and screamed, "What is going awn!?"
Fox's initial venture into the world of reality parody was "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé". It took a somewhat snooty girl and had her convince her family that she'd found true love and became engaged to a - wait for it - big fat obnoxious guy. The trick? She thought the guy was another contestant when, in reality, he was the actor who went on to be the Grey's Anatomy bartender named "I don't give a crap".
So with this big practical joke doing fairly well with viewers, it was a natural progression to tackle The Apprentice. Unlike Mark Cuban, who's "Benefactor" reality show ended up being an unintentional parody of Donald Trump's program, My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss held nothing back. It featured Mr. N. Paul Todd as the insane business leader and the cast as confused hopefuls.
He offered life advice that made no sense. He chastised them for no reason. Even worse, when the eliminations came…no one could figure out why. The reason? N. Paul Todd had a top secret boss that he answered to. The contestants, unaware of the ruse, didn't know this. The viewers at home did. As the shows came to a gripping climax, he'd go see "the big guy" and disappear behind a door. We all waited with baited breath to find out who the real head honcho was.
It was finally revealed on television in July of Never. Yup. Never. The show got cancelled after episode five. Poof. Gone. Thanks for wasting five weeks of my life.
Rumors started to float around about who the real boss was, but none could be verified. Then, nearly six months later in 2005, the remaining episodes were begrudgingly put on the Internet by Fox. That's when we all learned the true identity of the man doing the firing.
What? No, not a monkey in a suit. What kind of insane guess is…?
Oh wait. It
was a monkey in a suit.
What the freaking hell?! A monkey in a suit?! Seriously?! We waited a year for that?
The show tried to tie it into some sort of grand statement about the nature of reality TV. I guess they figured saying that sounded nicer than looking into the camera and going, "Hey audience! Go f**k yourselves!"
Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire?
The granddaddy of 'em all. Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire was, to many, the first horseman of the apocalypse.
This show could be an entry just on title alone. Without any other information, you can infer the premise and get the reason for the outrage. It sounded like a joke from the Simpsons - an extreme reality TV title thrown out there to show how far we've fallen.
But it wasn't a comical take on society's love for trash television. It was legit. Making matters worse, this show aired during the infancy of reality TV. Broadcast way back in 2000, it wasn't the culmination of our reality TV obsession. It was out of place and, if it ever should have seen the light of day, it shouldn't have been so early. It was as if the cavemen discovered fire and then David Blaine ran up to them and swallowed it whole. You'd have had a whole lot of dead cavemen. That's not fun.
This show killed the reality cavemen. Not only was it morally insane, it was plagued by controversy. You see, the irony is that had this show taken place today, it would barely be a blip on our ADD radar. But in the ancient days of trueish TV, this was a big deal. Everyone watched with baited breath - even those who felt they were above it. Why? Simple. People thought this show would be the downfall of civilization. Intellectuals today laugh about Honey Boo Boo, they cried over Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire.
Presented like a beauty contest, this debacle had but one judge. A mystery man in silhouette who gave thumbs up to those who's swimsuits would make them wife material. The whole macabre dog and pony show was hosted by Jay Thomas. He's best known as the guy you point to and go,
"Oh. Crap. That guy. Where did I see that guy?"
Sounds pretty predictable, no? Salacious objectifying of gold digging women. That's what we signed up for. In the end, the mystery millionaire selected Darva Conger - whose sexy name brings up images of an Ethiopian flesh eating disease. He then stepped out to reveal his doofy face and name. This captain of industry was…Rick Rockwell.
Huh? You have no idea who he was? She didn't either.
That didn't stop him from marching onto the stage and instantly shoving his tongue down her throat. Seriously. That's how he said hello. Everyone felt a bit uncomfortable, but hey. That's what the money grubbing flesh disease signed up for. And they lived miserably ever after.
What followed in the weeks to come was a torrential downpour of insanity. It was revealed that Rick was "technically" a millionaire thanks to some "wise real estate investments". By trade, this filthy rich wife-herder performed stand-up comedy.
Let that sink in. Not that there's anything wrong with standup comedy, but you wouldn't expect the mystery millionaire on a gold-digging wife show to do that for a living, right? I mean, maybe if he was famous from it like Chris Rock or Carrot Top, but then you realize…I have never heard this dude's name. I've heard of famous comedians. I've never heard of this Rockwell guy (unless he's the same Rockwell who sings "Somebody's Watching Me", but I'm pretty sure that guy was black). But hey, at least he didn't have some criminal past.
Aw junk. Cue the bugles. Rick Rockwell had a restraining order against him ten years earlier by a woman who claimed he hit her. Sure he denied it like Johnny from The Room, but it wasn't about his side of the story. It was about the story itself. A restraining order might be something that - I don't know - would be important for a future bride to know.
And, with that, everyone was off the Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire bandwagon. Darva filed for a divorce and claimed that she didn’t realize she'd be forced to marry the multimillionaire so soon. I suppose reading the title of the show she was on was too much work. After mere days, the matrimony was over and she did what any former trophy wife of a multi-millionaire would do:
Thankfully, reality TV learned their lesson and brides were finally treated with respect. At the rate things were going, they'd have shows where they sliced brides open as a reward by 2011. Chop, chop...
Never before has a show been conducted on a more shallow premise than Bridalplasty - the reality competition where brides-to-be compete for a dream wedding and dream plastic surgery.
Straight from E! Television, the same network that brought us The Anna Nicole Smith Show and Melissa Rivers's face, came the most depressing program ever. Twelve women with next to no self esteem battled in challenges for the right to get their "surgery wish list" filled before their big day.
Of course their husbands would love them no matter how they looked except for the fact that they really wouldn't. It left this jumbled mess of bridal estrogen to collide frantically within the unoriginal mansion they shared. It was bizarre and sick.
How sick was it? Well, really think for a second. Not every plastic surgery is done out of vanity. Some people genuinely need reconstruction done. For example, one contestant had battled breast cancer and treatments had left her disfigured. It was heartbreaking…
..especially when they all conspired to vote her off before she was able to win even one surgery to fix it. By the end of the program, most of the women who had surgery were already the best looking ones in the house. It was insane. One contestant named Cheyenne looked like a model and managed to get a nose job while others were sent home to ugly up their houses and darken the neighborhood with their lack of self-confidence. For weeks, doctors and contestants would highlight what was physically wrong with these women in hopes that they could win an event and correct it through surgery. Then, when they never win an event and are sent home, they leave with the knowledge that everyone around them sees their fat arms. It's no longer in their heads. It's real. Thank you, E! TV. It's not like these girls had self esteem issues or anything to begin with.
What's crazy is that even when you remove the plastic surgery from this program, it's still a superficial mess of greed and exploitation. Typical events included brawls over dresses and setting the table competitions. I kept waiting for the event where the girls lined up and everyone in the film crew spit at them.
But perhaps the worst part was the elimination. When a bridal-bee was sent packing, pretty host Shanna Moaklar would condescendingly look at the girl and say,
"Your wedding will still go on, it just won't be perfect."
And with that, the rejects returned to their horrible lives to hang themselves from a tree with their wedding veils while the winners were returned to average Joe husbands that they were too hot to be with now. So, long story short - everybody plays, everybody loses.
If Bridalplasty made you weep for the suicidal women in society, Average Joe did the same for dorky dudes.
Presented by NBC in 2003, Average Joe was the next step for programs like "Joe Millionaire" and "For Love or Money" which pitted financial greed against true love. Rather than cash tempation, looks were on trial. Average Joe made you wonder whether or not a beauty queen could really fall in love with an "average" guy.
For many, this would be a no-brainer. If the guy was halfway normal and the girl wasn't hung up on appearances, of course it could. Why not? We all know mismatched couples. As the tag line of the show said, "Beauty is only skin deep."
That's why NBC found themselves a female starwho
was mainly interested in appearance and 16 mutants from Planet Galoogore to awkwardly giggle through conversations with her for a few weeks. God forbid anyone actually clicks. If they did, when would NBC get to play doofy sound effects when the guy inevitably falls down or something? These things are important.
But, at the end of the day, it all sounds harmless enough, right? I mean, an average mutant man gets to go on dates with a gorgeous woman. What could possibly mar a concept like this?
Did you say, "Bring in a bunch of buff male models to join the competition halfway through?" Oh. Good. Because that's what happened.
After weeks of bonding with the lovely Melana, the Joes were accosted by a whole bunch of dudes from the Planet Fitness "I lift things up and put them down" commercial. Metrosexual meatheads with an agenda to conquer the woman and mock the nerds.
Wow. Sounds like the guys are real jerks, huh? They were. But luckily Melana had gotten to know all the little Urkels and Screeches before the American Gladiators arrived. Surely she'd see that beauty is only skin deep. She sure did.
Unfortunately, she also decided that skin deep was deep enough. She chose one of the models and Average Joe made history when the first season's winner wasn't an actual Average Joe. It sort of negated the whole point of the program. Like little Anthony splitting his million bucks with the Family, Average Joe had thrown away their entire premise and reinforced a sad fact of nature that we all try to pretend isn't there. Looks matter more in situations like this than anyone wants to admit. Bummer.
Normally, I would stop at one season, but the second incarnation of Average Joe deserves a mention too. Once again, the beauty queen had chosen an attractive guy over one of the mutant squad (making it two straight seasons of Average Joe winners being abover average). When the final episode aired, we were teased with a big surprise. Female prize Larissa Meek had a secret she hadn't told her new new beau.
She was once a dude? Nope.
She once killed a man just to watch him die? Nope.
She once dated Fabio? Nope.
Hold on. Did I say "nope"? I meant "yup". That was the big secret.
Huh? Yeah. She once dated Fabio. That was the shocker When the viewing audience learned this, they, of course, shrugged. Who cares? How is that a big deal? It's not like the guy is going to leave her over it.
That's what we thought...until he did.
To this day, I've never fully understood this twist or the reaction the guy had to it. Then again, I don't know how a show called "Average Joe" could end two consecutive seasons with good looking couples.
International Big Brother
People who follow this site know that I love Big Brother USA. To me, the 24 hour live Internet feeds make BB the most honest reality show on TV. Even when CBS and producer Alison Grodner try to sway the TV broadcast in a particular direction, web viewers get glimpses of how things are really playing out.
Internationally, though, Big Brother is very different. There is no Head of Household putting people up for eviction each week. The houseguests don't vote people out. Instead they nominate two people for the viewers to pick from. In fact, for many countries, discussing your nominations for the week is against the rules. It's completely different than what any U.S. viewers are used to where discussing votes takes up 95% of the show.
This changes the dynamic drastically. Whereas the United States BB rules allow players to ruthlessly cut each other apart, International broadcasts feature contestants trying to endear themselves to the public. When this act goes on day in and day out, it leads to some pent up frustration and some of the most violent and ugly reality show moments from around the world.
Racial slurs have become commonplace (in the American version too) but it doesn't end there. Who could forget the infamous "turkey slap" incident of Australia? That's when…well, here. Look.
This act of sexual assault made headlines all over the country. But at least she didn't get the snot kicked out of her like this female contestant on Russia's Big Brother.
Or the Czech one…
Or... well you get the picture. In an effort to get viewers to tune in, not only do the contestants take things up a few notches, but the show does too. After all, with no voting talk going on, a lot of entertainment value is put on the shoudlers of the producers. So they consistently try to outdo how they torture the housemates. From mole costumes to name changes, they ruthlessly haze the houseguests. But in perhaps the most shocking and insane moment in International Big Brother history, Bulgaria decided it would be funny to have a new houseguest convince the other contestants that he's actually mentally challenged.
Say what?! Say this -
Wow. Reminds me of that WWE wrestler who acted mentally challenged on TV. What was his name? Oh yeah. Shane McMahon.
The Joe Schmo Show 2
I mentioned The Joe Schmo Show earlier. Considered by many to be ground zero for parody reality shows, the first Joe Schmo was well received. Presented as nothing more than a basic reality completion, the program showcased Matt Kennedy Gould surrounded by actors depicting nutty situations. It even featured a pre-SNL Kristen Wiig as a quacky psychologist. Fun times.
When the season ended, everyone was left with a sense of pride. Despite being fooled for weeks, Matt was showered with prizes and adulation. Everyone was happy. It wasn't like it was a fake romance show or anything. That would have been cruel. Nah. This was all in good fun.
That's why the next season set out to correct that error and bring cruelty into the equation. This edition would feature two clueless contestants (one male, one female) competing for a chance to "win the heart" of either Piper or Austin. It also crashed and burned in the first minute.
How? Well, the first minute of the show, all the contestants were lined up. It was meant to imitate the long standing opening second mass-eliminations on shows like The Bachelorette. Soon the field would be cut down substantiall and, because of this, Spike TV had stand-ins there just to be eliminated. That's when
"Schmo-ette" Gretchen Weiss turned to one of them and asked,
"How did you find out about the show?" She responded that he agent set it up.
The production truck went apeshit.
It was all downhill from there. Gretchen questioned everything. When Cammy (affectionately referred to in the credits as "The Moron") paused her tearful revelation of a pornographic past to Gretchen so the camera man could change his battery, it was over. Weiss simply looked around and asked if everything was fake.
And that was that. Tim, the male Schmo, was still unaware. So the producers left him where he was. They quickly made the untrained Gretchen one of the actors on the show (proving how hard "acting" on this show really was) and brought in a new girl to fool. The whole thing was a mess.
All this is before we even get into the doomed romance angle. Tim was, in many ways, the true Average Joe. Not a mutant, but not a model, Tim was just a normal person. Piper, the woman he was trying to win, was outside of his league in terms of looks. So even as the show tried to make her personality unappealing, he still tried to hook up with her constantly. Scripted racist remarks and gas attacks didn't stop Piper from being the object of Tim's desire. This proved the long held belief that most men will have sex with most women in most places at most times no matter what. Put that on a TV shirt and wear it to the next PTA meeting.
When the big reveal finally came, Average Tim was flabbergasted. He didn't lose his mind or hit anyone, but who would have blamed him if he did? Although thought to have killed the brand, Joe Schmo 2 simply sent it on a long vacation. In August, Spike TV announced "Joe Schmo 3: The Full Bounty". Look at the bright side, it can't be any worse.
Uh oh. Did I just jinx it?
You know who suck? Kids aged 8-15. That's what CBS taught me.
In one of the most bizarre show concepts ever created, Kid Nation featured 40 children living in a ghost town and creating a new society. That's what we were promised in the promos.
But that's not why we watched it. No. We watched it because prior to its premiere, we learned that people were up in arms about it. Just like "Who Wants To Marry a Multi-Millionaire", Kid Nation was an apocalyptical horseman. Parents groups were livid! What about the children?! THE CHILDREN!
Strangely enough, they had a point. There were also stories about kids getting dehydrated during filming and even one who accidentally drank bleach. Huh? Yeah. Accidentally drank bleach. After reading about that online, the entire duration of the show became a big game of
"guess which kid drank bleach". My money was on this weird little dude:
Even if you're not a fan of reality TV, you know that every franchise has a villain. How would CBS handle this problem with Kid Nation? After all, you can't make a ten year old kid the villain of your show.
So what did they do? Yup, you guessed it.
They made a nine year old kid the villain of the show.
Her name was Taylor and her catch phrase was,
"DEAL WITH IT!"
You just shook your head every time she spoke and thought,
"That kid's mother must tell her to "deal with it" a lot." The Deal-a-Thon came to a close when she was chastised at a "Town Hall Meeting" by a boy who either was told what to say every time he spoke or had an accent that made it sound that way. He finished by ennunciating to the crying girl,
You deal with it!"
Everyone cheered. Taylor drank some bleach.
I'm only kidding. Not sure if she drank the bleach, but they sure cheered so who could blamer her if she did. In the end, Kid Nation reminded willing non-parents everywhere why they didn’t have kids. It was all part of the top secret population control conspiracy theory Jesse Ventura told me about. Don't just blame CBS for putting out the Illuminati anti-kid propoganda. Fox was in on it too.
American Idol has a cut off age. In 2003, that age was 16. So, of course, we needed a show like American Juniors to bring us the voices of those too young for Idol. After all, without American Juniors, the world would have went without artistic masterpieces like this:
If Kurt Cobain had lived to see that, he'd have killed himself again.
The age change wasn't the only thing that differentiated American Juniors from its Idol counterpart. Not only were the judgmental judges gone but the search wasn’t for one winner, but rather a five person pop group. Each week, one new person was added to the band. This allowed Ryan Seacrest to prolong the inevitable…people were going to get cut.
You see, no one had been cut each week. They just simply hadn't made it yet. Sure they were disappointed, but they'd be around next week. We all cheered the winner and were excited about the future. So when that final week arrived -
This was it. Ryan Seacrest had to go through the gang and mercilessly butcher them one by one like the Terminator. So the powers-that-be at Juniors decided that when Ryan went kid-by-kid on finale night, they should have a better line than
"go the f**k home." What they did was bury the lead and change the subject.
Check this out - those eliminated would receive a free trip to Disneyland! Yay! So rather than having Seacrest tell them,
"The journey ends for you tonight", he'd cheerily exclaim that they were going to Disneyland. So weird. You ever see a kid weep uncontrollably upon learning that they're going to Disneyland? I have. It went like this.
Miranda, please stand up. Miranda, you sang "Ice Ice Baby". America voted. Miranda, you're going to Disneyland!
OK, moving on…
Suzy, please stand up. Suzy, you sang "This Little Light of Mine". America voted. Suzy, pack your bags…
Because you're going to Disneyland!
To this day, I don't know how or why Disneyland agreed to this.
In one final footnote, one of the American Juniors resurfaced years later to audition for American Idol. Cocky and self-assured, she swaggered in and sang for the judges. Simon Cowell basically told her to go into the bathroom and slit her own throat.