25 Controversial Reality TV Shows

Posted by , Updated on January 17, 2024

Reality TV is as popular as ever. The premise of these shows is to present to the audience an unscripted situation with real people or celebrity contestants. However, misconceptions can occur to where the show may be compared to actual life situations or present scripted or reenacted moments as live, spontaneous events. The truth is, these shows are far from reality and some are even fake! Here are 25 Controversial Reality TV Shows.

Ghost Hunters


An American paranormal reality television series, Ghost Hunters first aired on October 6, 2004 and ran until 2016. In it, paranormal investigators, including Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, explored reportedly-haunted buildings. In 2008, it was criticized by several critics when in one of its episodes, the collar of the lead investigator, Grant Wilson, was claimed to have been pulled down by an “unforeseen” force three times. Because one of his hands was strangely positioned at his side during the video, critics were led to believe that it was only him who was pulling a string to make his collar move. This moment called into question the events of the entire show and the presence of the paranormal activity captured on camera.


The Bachelor


The Bachelor is an American dating game show that started in 2002, hosted by veteran television personality and news anchor, Chris Harrison. The other two famous dating game shows related to The Bachelor are The Bachelorette and Bachelor Pad. It was revealed that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are all scripted shows, characterized by the producers’ editing of footage to create a fictional story line and bullying to make contestants say things to the camera that will heighten the drama of the show.


The Pick-Up Artist


Another American dating-themed show, The Pick-Up Artist featured male contestants described to be “unsuccessful” when it comes to love and relationships, thus they are taught how to “pick-up” women in different situations. The level of difficulty changes as the show progresses, causing other men to be eliminated from the dating game. However, the show was put into controversy after the discovery of fake profiles released by the show regarding its contestants. Needless to say, it didn’t last long.


Cake Boss


Cake Boss was an American reality television series that followed the family-owned Carlo’s Bakery, where they make cakes and handle interpersonal relationships between family members and the workers in the shop. It premiered in 2009 on TLC and extended up to six seasons with the last season’s debut on May 27, 2013. In 2010, Masters Software, Inc. of cakeboss.com and CakeBoss bakery management program, and Discovery Communications of Valastro’s Cake Boss, reached an agreement after an issue arose causing confusion over identical trademarks. Cake Boss also suffered from criticisms after its producers breached an agreement with a special guest from the LGBT community. These legal troubles far surpass those of the typical small business bakery.


Joe Millionaire


Said to be a wildly successful and the most-watched reality television series after its first season finale, Joe Millionaire became a cultural phenomenon in 2003. The show presented a man who claimed to have won millions of dollars and was looking for a woman to marry him. He dates a group of women and eliminates one for each episode, until only one of them remains. The secret about the real identity of the man, Evan Mariott (Season 1), is that he was actually a construction worker. This was revealed to the woman at the end of the show who then had to decide if she still wanted to marry Mariott. Rich or not, these scenarios do not represent real life. Audiences must have agreed because the show ended after the second season. 


WWE Smackdown


WWE Smackdown is a professional wrestling television program launched in 1999 in the United States and is now being broadcast in different nations and air times. WWE divided itself into two wrestling shows as part of its brand extension in 2002: Raw and Smackdown. Sometimes labeled as a “male soap opera,” the WWE shows have very scripted dialogues and outcomes designed for entertainment, meaning the winner of the match has already been decided before the match even begins.


Crossing Over with John Edward


John Edward, an American television personality and known psychic medium, was the producer and host of the show Crossing Over with John Edward (1999-2004), where he claimed to communicate with the deceased friends or relatives of his audience. The show appears in a split screen so viewers can see John Edward’s continuous reading; and on the other side, the audience being read either confirms or denies John Edward’s claims. However, John Edward’s ability has been criticized for using hot and cold readings, or using wide array of general guesses to create an impression of psychic ability.


Keeping Up with the Kardashians


Keeping Up with the Kardashians is a series that has aired since 2007 and follows the lives of the Kardashian/Jenner family. The dynamics of the family became their key to celebrity, not scripted but definitely not real life. It’s more of a guilty pleasure rather than a representation of the average American family.


The Jersey Shore


Jersey Shore was an American reality television show that followed the lives of housemates living together over the summer in New Jersey. It received criticisms from the Italian government because of the term used on the show, “guido,” which is a general ethnic slur for Italian Americans and Italians. A number of Italian-American organizations supported the fight to stop airing the show, of which MTV responded with a press release stating that the show is only intended for “an aspect of the youth culture.” After calls for the removal of the show were expressed, several advertisers refused to continue airing their ads, since many disagreed with MTV’s statement.


Real Housewives


First premiered in 2006 as The Real Housewives of Orange County, Real Housewives is a reality television series in the United States which is aired by different broadcasters in the international arena. It follows how bourgeois housewives and women from several American cities maintain friendships and overlapping social relationships with one another. These housewives are in a bubble that most people are unfamiliar with (meaning most of us are not from a bourgeois society), making what it means to be a housewife a lot different from the average person’s.


Mob Wives


Over six seasons from 2011 to 2016, Mob Wives featured women from Staten Island  who are related to arrested and/or imprisoned men for crimes committed under the Mafia. The show has received criticism because of its Mafia theme and because it puts Staten Island and Italian Americans in a bad light, according to Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, who called the show “disgraceful.” Relatives of the victims of the Mafia also expressed their disappointment with the cast, saying that being relatives of men from Mafia is not something to be proud of.


Storage Wars


An American reality television series that airs on A&E, Storage Wars features a couple that auctions off abandoned lockers along with whatever contents may be inside. Dan and Laura Dotson are the auctioneers, while buyers are featured as individuals or a team. In California, contents of unpaid rents of lockers for three months or more are considered for auctioning as a single item. A&E publicists have defended claims that the units being auctioned are stocked by producers, saying that no staging in the show is involved, and actual items are featured.


The Hills


The Hills was an American reality television series that ran on MTV from 2006-2010 which followed the lives of young women from Los Angeles, California. Every season ended with a developmental finale, showing major events like new relationships or the departure of a major character. Episodes of the show were mostly about the lives of the female stars, though it focused more on each cast member’s personal life rather than social and professional stature. Though it is a great guilty pleasure, depicting the lives of Californian socialites can make an audience believe that this is how everyone from Los Angeles lives instead of recognizing that it’s a dramatized show that follows a select few hamming it up for the camera.


The A-List


The A-List is a show that ran from 2010-2011 which followed gay and bisexual men in New York City. The first season of the series focused on the challenges and success faced by two of the major characters, Reichen and Rodiney, and interactions between other members of the cast. The second season opened up with Reichen’s social media scandal after his break up with Rodiney. Critics of the show said that it didn’t accurately depict the lifestyles of gay men in general but rather dramatized the extravagant lifestyle of the men on the show, much like the Real Housewives show does for wealthy women. 


Hell’s Kitchen


Hell’s Kitchen is an American reality cooking show competition which broadcasts on Fox and is hosted by British celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, who is known for his incredibly bad temper. In fact, of the often outrageous events that occur on the show, it has been speculated that show is indeed scripted. During the second season of Hell’s Kitchen, it was speculated that the customers eating meals prepared by the contestants were, in fact, paid actors. One of the most controversial accusations of staging relates to the contestant Joseph Tinnelly, who, during one elimination round challenged Ramsey to fight. The incident was labeled as an “overplayed and possibly faked scene, conducted to cause action and tension on the show in order to spark viewer interest.”




Created by Simon Cowell, X-Factor is a television music competition show that originated in the United Kingdom. It was originally created to replace Pop Idol and is now held in several countries around the world. The mechanics of the show involves drawing in aspiring pop singers through competitive auditions and selecting the one with the “x-factor,” which refers to that special characteristic that makes one a promising star. Some critics believe that the auditions conducted by the show are senseless because contestants are already pre-selected, giving you the illusion that they are being chosen on screen.


Breaking Amish


Breaking Amish is a reality show in the United States that aired on TLC from 2012-2017. This reality television show revolved around five Anabaptist adults who decide to live in New York City and experience a different kind of life there. The cast members experience the realities of New York life and struggle against various situations involving love, family, friendship, and work. Several critics say that the relationships of the cast members in this show are portrayed falsely and that some characters had already decided to leave the Amish life before they even began taping. 


House Hunters


An American reality series, House Hunters has aired on HGTV since 1999. The program involves following couples, individuals, and families who are working with a realtor to find a house in their specified price range. Every episode of this show features three properties shown to the characters and watches them select one of the three in which to call their home. Some say that the show is misleading since it’s required that the house hunters own one of the three properties featured, while the other two are houses that they considered buying and are revisited to explain what they liked or disliked about each one. So, the decision to buy on camera is somewhat fabricated.


Urban Tarzan


Urban Tarzan is a reality television show that began airing in 2013. It revolves around animal wrangler, Urban Tarzan, as he operates the Urban Tarzan Animal Relocation, which is a privately owned service institution. His missions have included capturing a lethal python in a residential neighborhood and chasing a lion that had escaped from a sanctuary. Critics say that the acting of the characters in this reality show is horrible and even dub it as the most fake reality show ever aired on television.


Mystery Diners


Mystery Diners is an American reality show that aired on The Food Network from 2012-2016. The show involved setting up undercover stings and surveillance cameras to monitor the misbehavior of restaurant employees working at certain restaurants. There are controversies that this show was not really a reality show, primarily because the mystery diners and restaurant employees featured in this show were actors who passed the auditions regularly held in Phoenix, Arizona, and were re-enacting the situations rather than filming the actual events.


The Real World


Inspired by the documentary series, An American Family, The Real World depicts contemporary issues that arise when filming a group of people from various backgrounds who must share living conditions throughout the run of the show. Premiering in 1992 and airing nonstop until 2017, it’s known as the longest-running reality television show in MTV’s history, triggering the trend of modern reality TV shows in the U.S. The chosen people, usually seven to eight in number, were selected from auditioning applicants every season. Like other reality shows, The Real World has been accused of being scripted as well as of using tricky editing techniques to increase the dramatic tension that you see on screen between the cast. 


Dancing with the Stars


Dancing with the Stars is the American version of the British television series, Strictly Come Dancing. Contestants of the show are paired celebrities and professional dancers, performing set dance themes and competing for the judges’ points and votes from the audience. The judging panel consists of professional dancers and other former contestants of the show who have already experienced being on the same stage. One pair is eliminated every week with the combined points given by the judges and the votes from the audience. Despite the audience participation, the show itself features performers demonstrating proficiency in a new skill in front of the world, making it seem like anyone can become a professional dancer in just a few weeks’ time. The professional dancers on the show will tell you differently. 


The Amazing Race


The Amazing Race is another reality television game show that captures the attention of viewers all over the world. The show features teams of two (couples or relatives) competing with each other in a race around the world. Challenges are set in various and unique places, and teams race to win the challenges. It’s fun to watch yet unrealistic in the sense of affordability. Not everyone can afford to see the world without a TV show paying for it.


America’s Next Top Model


Often abbreviated to ANTM, America’s Next Top Model is one of the most sought-after reality television shows by women hoping to dominate the catwalk and make a name in the modeling industry. The show’s host and creator is Tyra Banks, head judge and executive producer of ANTM. Criticisms from Yahoo! drafted a list of why ANTM is bad for women, saying that the representation of the models on the show gives girls an unrealistic portrayal of the modeling industry.


The Voice


The Voice is an American singing competition based on The Voice of Holland. Its goal is to find new singing talent from contestants ages 15 and up. Each season begins with a “blind audition,” in which the judges face backward during each song and approve contestants to mentor based on their voice alone. The winner of the show is determined by votes from the audience and purchases of the contestant’s song on iTunes. Though The Voice shows no sign of being scripted, the fact remains that it’s an intense, dramatized competition for a singing contract, which is an unorthodox way to break into the business. 

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