Even the most dedicated fans of reality television can agree that there have been way too many reality shows over the years. The first decade of the 21st century gave rise to a reality gold rush, and every network on your DVR wanted a piece. When we think of reality television, we probably best remember hits like Duck Dynasty and Survivor, but the most interesting pieces of the genre are the misses. Hopes of finding the next great reality show have led to some of the most ridiculous, amoral, and just plain weird concepts ever dreamt up by Hollywood executives. As reality television’s time in the limelight continues to fade away, we look back and remember the weirdest reality TV shows of all time.
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Finding Bigfoot (2011–Present)
The slew of “tough men doing tough man things” reality shows is pretty ridiculous. But, among the shows following bearded men through some sort of wilderness, the worst has to be the one where they are in pursuit of a fictional creature. Unlike many of the shows on this list, Finding Bigfoot has been a hit (at least by Animal Planet standards). The series has spawned a spin-off, Finding Bigfoot: Further Evidence, and the ratings have held strong.
Of course, the show has had its critics. After one reporter criticized the show, and Animal Planet’s other offering Mermaids: The Body Found, co-host James “Bobo” Fay responded as any rational man would. He said, “You can’t equate bigfoot to mermaids.” Good point, Bobo.
American Hoggers (2011–2013)
Another popular subgenre of reality show is the “blue collar family doing blue collar job” series, made most popular by Duck Dynasty, and seen in Swamp People, Country Buck$, and a number of other series. American Hoggers narrowly edges out the competition from other good old boys by featuring the family with the most ridiculous job.
What does an American Hogger do, exactly? Great question. The Campbell family is a clan of hunters and animal removal specialists that has one sworn enemy in life: feral hogs. In Brown County, 100 miles outside of Austin, TX, feral hogs present a big problem for local farmers. They are known to damage livestock and spread disease. In the interest of equal time, it is important to note that this isn’t an entirely charitable endeavor on the part of the hoggers. Jerry Dean Campbell, the head honcho of the hog culling outfit has dreams of becoming the next “wild hog sausage mogul.”
I Wanna Marry Harry (2014)
A show that promises to marry a lucky lady off to a British royal is already strange enough, but add in the fact that this particular royal is an impostor, then you have one of the most ridiculous television shows in history. The conceit was that our Bachelor-like main character was presented to the contestants as Prince Harry. The only problem is that Prince Harry is incredibly well known. Most people have seen pictures of him, even in the farthest reaches this side of the pond. As a result, this already hard to believe premise was further muddied by contestants who may have been playing dumb to keep their spot on the show.
As an exercise in the limits of willful ignorance, I Wanna Marry Harry is pretty great. As a TV show…well, not so much.
Mr. Personality (2003)
When you come across some reality show concepts forgotten by time, you can’t help but wonder why they didn’t live on as memes and conversational oddities forever, a reminder of our past sins. Such is the case with Mr. Personality. The premise behind Mr. Personality was that a woman would choose her husband based not on looks, but only by what’s inside. How would she do that, you might ask? The answer the producers came up with was to force the potential suitors to wear masks throughout the proceedings.
If that’s not weird enough for you, consider that the show was hosted by Monica Lewinsky.
Doomsday Preppers (2012–2014)
Prepping for the end times has been a preoccupation of humanity since the very beginning. As long as humans have had the capacity for speech, they have been shouting about the possibility that the end is nigh. The latest incarnation of humans with their eyes firmly fixed on Armageddon is the doomsday prepper, a person who builds shelters meant to protect them in case civilization were to suddenly come to an end.
One aspect of this show that is simply incredible is that a company named Practical Preppers assigns grades to the shelters at the end of each episode. Not only has someone taken the time to figure out what an ideal shelter looks like, but they are also profiting off of it. Before you judge the show, think about this quote from contestant Jay Desai: “You can’t always rely on the government or society to help you. The more people that are prepping minded, the better off we’ll all do."
OK, now you can go back to judging it.
It is a fact that the American television audience has an appetite for celebrities attempting impressive feats. We will watch dancing with the stars, skating with the stars, and pretty much doing any damn thing with the stars. No matter how much you love watching stars do stuff that stars don’t normally do, you have to agree that diving with the stars is probably crossing the line. What kind of stars did they get for this competition? Only the best, of course. Who wouldn’t want to watch Louie Anderson and Miss Alabama 2012 jump into some water in prime time?
If you answered, “basically everyone,” you would be correct. It’s also important to note that half of the contestants suffered serious injuries and the show was still amazingly boring. As it turns out, athletically falling into a pool of water isn’t as easy as it looks.
Vanilla Ice Goes Amish (2013–2014)
Choosing the weirdest Amish reality show is like picking your favorite child: It’s one of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever make. If you were to pick Breaking Amish or Amish Mafia, no one would blame you. But, in terms of sheer ridiculousness, to us there is nothing better than Vanilla Ice Goes Amish. Here’s a quote from the original press release: “This fall, pop icon and knock-out home renovator, Rob Van Winkle, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, will travel deep into the largest Amish settlement in the United States while on a quest to learn the lost art of hand craftsmanship.”
Of course, this raises a lot of questions, the first among them being, “Who the hell would want to watch that?” That’s easy: no one. The show only got a run of two five-episode seasons on the DIY Network, which we haven’t heard of either.
The Swan (2004–2005)
To scrape the bottom of the reality television barrel is a difficult task, but The Swan was a show so crass that it may just have been up to the challenge. Women who were deemed ugly by the show were connected with a panel, including a coach, therapist, trainer, cosmetic surgeon, and a dentist in hopes of turning them into a “swan”: a hotter version of themselves. The show, which may have been the least feminist in television history, lasted two seasons. If you want to feel true pain, take a moment to recognize that Freaks and Geeks and Firefly only got one season.
I Cloned My Pet (2012-2013)
Sadly, the series I Cloned My Pet has been limited to several hour-long specials so far. But, in that short amount of time, the show has been packed full of crazy. In the second installment of I Cloned My Pet, a woman consults a medium in hopes of finding out her dead dog’s wishes as to whether or not she should clone him. If you’re holding out hope of being a part of the next episode of I Cloned My Pet, just make sure you put aside a little cash—say, between $50,000 and $100,000—to pay the South Korean company that can make this happen for you. If you are thinking of raising money with a viral song about animal cloning, you should probably think of other options. Someone has already tried.
Kid Nation (2007)
There were moments during the reality TV boom in the first decade of the 2000s that the shows actually being produced were more ridiculous than anything satirists could imagine. Case in point: Kid Nation. The idea behind Kid Nation was basically Lord of the Flies. Kids would build their own society with minimal adult supervision, and we would look on as disgustingly curious voyeurs.
How did things go? Not well. Suffice it to say that the show’s Wikipedia page has a section entitled, “Broader Legal Implications,” which is never a good sign. As it turns out, the producers were up to some shady business (who saw that coming?), including attempting to list the set as a “summer camp” rather than an actual set, and allegedly denying government inspectors access to the set.
Kid Nation was not renewed for a second season, surprising no one.