Summary

  • Reality shows are often accused of being fake, but some, like “Survivorman” and “The Last Alaskans,” offer authentic portrayals of life.
  • While shows like “The Great British Bake Off” aim for honesty, others like “Bridezillas” have faced criticism for misleading participants.
  • Even though beloved reality TV shows like “Queer Eye” and “The Voice” have faced accusations of being partially staged, they still draw in viewers with their heartwarming content.



For the last 20 years, reality shows have progressively taken up more space on small screens, including The Real Housewives franchise, but some of them seem fake. Since there are so many willing participants and relatively low production costs, networks embraced the new format. Reality television is also shaping the way that viewers perceive the world, influencing politics and popular opinions.

Even though it’s common knowledge that some reality shows are softly scripted or even staged, it’s easy to enter into their fantasy worlds, and fun to discuss the cast members and their conflicts.

These shows are often described as guilty pleasures, but they don’t have to be. While histrionics and memorable sound bites fuel a lot of reality shows, many others try to offer genuine insights into unfamiliar milieus. Reality television is an arena for honest portrayals of everyday life and meticulously edited content. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between real and fake reality shows.


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The Most Fake Reality Shows

Some reality shows just don’t seem real. Scandals erupt that seem to prove the fakery, or the scenes shown onscreen feature heightened drama that feels so histrionic. It’s easy to get the proverbial “bad feeling” about the shows below:

Alaskan Bush People (2014-)


Alaskan Bush People brings the drama, but there are suspicions that there’s more to this rugged series than meets the eye. The family are supposed to be out there roughing it, but they were spotted in Alaskan bars and hotels, sparking allegations that they don’t really live in the woods (and off of the land). If they’re faking it, their ruse has paid off.

The Brown family is famous, just like
Sister Wives
‘ Brown family.

The family’s been grieving since patriarch Billy Brown passed away on February 7, 2021. His death was a heavy blow and the family has weathered other storms. For example, Billy and his son Joshua Brown got into trouble with the law due to alleged fraud. They were convicted of falsifying their application to access monies from a state fund. Their charge was a misdemeanor and each received a 30-day sentence.


While the family’s controversial, a lot of people who fit that category make it big on reality TV. Viewers want emotional fireworks and the occasional dirty deed. So, it’s no surprise that the Browns rose to fame and still claim the spotlight. While it may not be the most authentic reality show out there, it’s interesting.

alaskanbushpeople

Alaskan Bush People

Cast
Asa Siegel , Billy Brown , Ami Brown , Matt Brown , Bam Bam Brown , Noah Brown , Birdy Brown , Rainy Brown , Twila Byars , Bear Brown , Gabe Brown

Release Date
May 6, 2014

Seasons
14

Storage Wars (2010-)


Storage Wars is an iconic series that entertains, but one of its former cast members, the “Yup” man, Dave Hester, accused the show’s producers of planting exciting items in lockers to boost the show’s drama quotient. Dave and Storage Wars producers had a nasty legal battle but later made peace.

Dave, who’d left the show, returned – however, he was dealing with health issues. Now, in 2024, he’s focusing on his auctioneer business, adorable pugs, and foodie activities.

Other cast members have also made headlines. Brandi Passante, who’s looking skinny after breaking up with Jarrod Schulz, now has a new man. She seems very happy with her boyfriend, Clifford Beaver. Meanwhile, Jarrod’s lying low – however, after the split, he did post a shot of him with a new woman.

The cast members have also clashed onscreen. Dave, known as a wily and coldhearted instigator, drove the other cast members berserk, to the point of sparking physical altercations. How did he work his black magic? He would keep bidding on lockers he didn’t even want just to make them pay more. This show’s fun – full stop.


storage wars

storage wars

Release Date
December 1, 2010

Seasons
14

Streaming Service(s)
Hulu

Writers
Thom Beers

Selling Sunset (2019-)

Selling Sunset's Chrishell Stause & Nicole Young in glam montage of both looking down

Selling Sunset is so LA – it’s sun-soaked, decadent and steeped in money, glitz and power plays. Instead of the usual actor/server dynamic, a la Vanderpump Rules, the focus is on real estate. Sure, all the “rich people” homes seem to look the same after a while, with their plate glass windows facing the Hollywood Hills, but it definitely has a vibe.

Watching this is like being dipped in honey. It’s so unrealistic as to be soothing.


So-called realtors (yes, they have licenses – this is just a bit of sarcasm) swan into the office in high glam regalia -these over the top fashion victims show major cleavage, sport some aspirational labels (Gucci, Vuitton…the usual), and wear too much makeup. It’s fun. They get into catfights in front of their boss, ring a really loud bell, and generally spice up the usual real estate reality format with their antics. However, no one could call this dream vision of Los Angeles life real.

It feels fake and that’s because it probably is. The conversations are straight out of Melrose Place. Women fight over men and listings. Men play the field. Sure, it’s a good time, but if one wants gritty, “so real” entertainment, they should stay away from Selling Sunset.

Some conversations have all the veracity and depth of adult film dialogue, but hey, people watch adult films too, don’t they?


Long Island Medium (2011-2019)

Stream now on Fubo & Discovery+

Theresa Caputo from Long Island Medium.with bleached blonde hair making a face

Long Island Medium documents the life and career of Theresa Caputo, a self-declared psychic. Caputo is best known for her spunky personality, voluminous blonde hair, and ability to speak with the dead. On her show, she often approaches strangers on the street to give them psychic readings.

Psychics are often met with criticism, and Caputo is no exception.

According to Daily Mail, private investigator Ron Tebo called her a:

vulture preying on the most vulnerable.


Tebo claims that Caputo engages in “cold readings,” which lead subjects into confirming vague statements. More than likely, Caputo has also left some once-adoring fans with the same impression. So, it’s safe to say that the medium is probably not as omniscient as she would like fans to believe. However, Long Island Medium is still an entertaining reality show.

Naked And Afraid (2013-)

Stream now on Hulu & Discovery+

Naked And Afraid is a survival show in the vein of Survivor, albeit with an obvious twist. The show transports participants to exotic locations, strips them bare, and films them while they attempt to live off the land. However, several former contestants have revealed that Naked And Afraid is not as upfront as intended.


This bizarre adventure is supposedly heavily produced to breed conflict and create villains among the cast, and the production crew also supplies contestants with amenities that would not be available to them in the wilderness. Behind the scenes, they are handed prescription medication, tampons, and even vitamin B supplements.

Naked and Afraid TV Poster

RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-)

Stream on Hulu & Paramount+


RuPaul’s Drag Race features contestants competing in drag. In a single season, they exhibit skills ranging from celebrity impersonations to lip-syncing. The show is best known for its fierce looks, snide comments, and incredible lip-syncs. Unfortunately, waistlines and contouring are not the show’s only illusory elements.

According to a Vulture interview with former contestant Jaremi Carey, the show adds soundbites taken out of context to create storylines. Jaremi (Phi Phi O’Hara) returned to RuPaul’s Drag Race because he was promised a redemption arc. Instead, he claims that producers were drumming up drama behind the scenes and goading him into saying things that would reflect poorly on him. Jaremi wasn’t the only cast and crew member to call RuPaul’s Drag Race a fake reality show.

rupaul


The Real Housewives (2006-)

Stream now on Peacock

The Real Housewives is Bravo’s poster child reality TV show. The franchise follows affluent women from several different cities in the US in their day-to-day lives. In addition to going on frenzied shopping sprees and lavish vacations, the women argue over perceived slights and throw each other under the bus at every turn.

Although the show might depict a reality foreign to most viewers, it professes that all the interactions and relationships on the show are authentic. Curious onlookers who caught the New York cast filming in Southampton reported that the process looked like something you would find on a studio set. As per Jezebel, the cast would pause during their discussions to wait for camera set-ups and shoot multiple takes of the same “scene.”


Basketball Wives (2010-)

Stream now on Bet+

Malaysia Pargo on Basketball Wives. crying in restaurant

Basketball Wives follows the lives of women married to prominent basketball players. Shaquille O’Neal’s ex-wife Shaunie O’Neal and Doug Christie’s wife Jackie Christie were among the show’s cast. The series’ women usually get into outrageous disagreements and come together in “ponderosas” to work things out. However, not everyone has been happy about their participation in the spectacle.


According to Complex, former cast member Matt Barnes said that participating in the show is his biggest regret. He revealed that the entire show is staged and scripted. Basketball wife Tanya Young backs up his claims. In a detailed article from The Daily Beast, Young explains how producers pit women against each other and sow discord within the group.

Bridezillas (2004-2020)

Stream now on WEtv & Hulu

A bride-to-be on Bridezillas looking upset in white wedding dress

Tying the knot is a monumental event in anyone’s life, but the women on this show take getting married a step further. The brides-to-be often come across as demanding, spoiled, and stubborn. Bridezillas delivers on what the title promises. The most minor hiccups can knock the blushing brides off their rockers and provoke incredible reactions.


Not all brides have been pleased with the Bridezillas treatment. Per Salon, former participant Cynthia Silver says she was tricked into believing she was participating in a documentary titled Manhattan Brides. Additionally, according to Life & Style, Julia Swinton-Williamson, from the show’s second season, had a similar experience and sued the show for misleading her.

Southern Charm (2014-)

Stream now on Peacock & Bravo

The trials and tribulations of wealthy young Charleston residents are on display in Southern Charm. The show followed The Real Housewives formula and was an unexpected hit for Bravo. Despite its success, a cast member went public and voiced her concerns about the show’s truthfulness. Danni Baird stated in an interview with Inquisitr that scenes were inserted into the narrative long before they took place.


It has also been reported that the show’s most tumultuous couple, Kathryn Dennis and Thomas Ravenel (who’ve since split up), did not even live in Charleston while they were filming the first season; they resided in Florida. Their shadowy past may lead viewers to question how much of their relationship is correctly portrayed on the show. This made it seem like the so-called reality series was fake.

Sometimes, information about possible fakery surfaces, changing the way that viewers think about reality series. However, if enough drama is shown onscreen, it’s likely that viewers will continue tuning in, despite their concerns about staged or softly scripted onscreen action.

Southern Charm Poster

Southern Charm

Cast
Craig Conover , Cameran Eubanks , Jenna King , Thomas Ravenel , Shep Rose , Whitney Sudler-Smith , Landon Clements , Kathryn Dennis , Austen Kroll , Chelsea Meissner , Eliza Limehouse , Naomie Olindo , Leva Bonaparte

Release Date
March 3, 2014

Network
Bravo


The Voice (2011-)

Stream now on Peacock

The Voice has earned a prime-time spot and high ratings thanks to its winning formula. On the show, hopeful singers are coached by music superstars as they compete to win a record deal. However, according to one potential competitor, the contest isn’t as fair as it seems. As covered by International Business Times,

Rock singer Adam Wiener stated in a Facebook post that he was courted by the show but declined the offer.


Wiener turned the opportunity down because of the restrictions put on contestants. He claimed that the competition was pre-cast and that the producers decided the music style he would perform and the specific songs. Wiener’s revelations have some fans questioning what other aspects of The Voice might be controlled by producers.

The Voice

Cast
CeeLo Green , Shakira , usher , Miley Cyrus , Alicia Keys , Jennifer Hudson , Nick Jonas , Ariana Grande , Camila Cabello , Chance the Rapper , Niall Horan , Reba McEntire , Dan + Shay

Release Date
April 26, 2011

Seasons
25

Master Chef (2010-)

Stream now on Hulu

MasterChef USA star Gorden Ramsay with a competitor

MasterChef is a popular cooking contest that has been heating televisions and kitchens across the globe. On the show, promising amateur chefs audition to compete for the title of MasterChef and 250,000 dollars. Despite the tempting premise, a former contestant alleged that all seasons of the MasterChef competition are almost entirely fake.


In a lengthy blog post recapped by Inquisitr, Ben Starr explained that participants had to agree to potentially fictionalized and humiliating portrayals of themselves. Starr also claims that editors would piece together different pieces of dialogue to create statements that were never uttered. Regarding authenticity, placing words in contestants’ mouths is far from an honest depiction of the MasterChef experience, making it a fake reality show.

Vanderpump Rules (2013-)

Stream now on Peacock

The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump heads this show about the waitstaff in her restaurant, SUR. The staff members have a tendency to poach each other’s partners and steal alcohol and cutlery from their boss. Although the relationships on Vanderpump Rules are genuine, there are clues that other aspects of the show may be contrived.


In one episode, a fan noticed that cast member Kristen Doute was shown intermittently with and without her necklace during a scene. There is a clear indication that the same scene was shot several times and pieced together afterward. As covered by Starcasm, Stassi Schroeder has also claimed that she was forced to fake a breakup for the reality show.

This all points to the fact that
Vanderpump Rules
is staged for cameras.

Vanderpump Rules Poster

The Most Real Reality Shows


Survivorman (2005-2016)

Stream now on Discovery+

Les Stroud on Survivorman sitting by a fire in the sand

In Survivorman, Les Stroud is dropped off in the wilderness with a survival kit. As he films himself, Stroud teaches viewers how to survive under the same circumstances. Survivorman is often described as one of the best survival shows on TV. No camera crew is following Stroud around, and he is pretty much left to his own devices. Although Stroud sometimes exaggerates how much danger he’s in, his show gives valuable insights about surviving in the wild. Stroud is the real deal, and so is his show.

The Last Alaskans (2015-2019)

Stream now on Discovery+

The Last Alaskans cast member with frozen beard in parka


Alaska has been a popular destination for reality television makers. Alaskan Bush People, Edge Of Alaska, and Alaska: The Last Frontier are a few reality shows that come out of this state. Alaskan reality series often focus on curious characters and depict a somewhat romanticized idea of rural life. While it’s easy to believe that Alaskan Bush People is a fake reality show, The Last Alaskans seems different.

The Last Alaskans is a counterweight to other exaggerated representations of life in the land of the midnight sun. The show follows the remaining families living in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The people inhabiting these lands are restricted to only seven cabins and have access to few modern amenities. Their daily struggles revolve around surviving the seasons and avoiding packs of roaming wolves.

They have little desire for fame, and the show is about as honest a representation as one can find of people living in harmony with nature. More shows should offer this kind of raw authenticity.


Undercover Boss (2010-)

Stream now on Paramount+, Peacock & Hulu

Undvercover Boss shot of the boss posing as regular guy

Undercover Boss has often been ridiculed because of the unconvincing disguises worn by the show’s featured bosses. These CEOs and high-ranking managers do not dress up for amusement. They do it to take on low-level jobs within their own companies – eventually, they give back to employees who may feel underappreciated.

Even though the show might seem like a fake reality series, it is surprisingly real. The undercover bosses choose their disguises and undercover personas, and everything that happens while the cameras are rolling is entirely organic. The production crew never reveals much about how they operate. However, they go through a rigorous selection process to decide who will appear on the show.


Judge Judy (1996-2021)

Judge Judy has entertained audiences with witty rebuttals and Judy Sheindlin’s keen sense of justice for over two decades. Despite the show’s popularity, some cases brought before the judge have been so preposterous that audiences wondered if they were real or part of a fake reality show.

The two sides receive compensation for participating, and the outcome is decided before filming begins.


Viewers can lay their worries to rest; Judge Judy has 65 researchers sifting through the country’s small claims courts. When they encounter an exciting case, they contact the two sides to find out if they want to appear on the show. If this is the case, the claim must be taken out of court and into arbitration. Nevertheless, there are some details to which viewers are not privy.

The First 48 (2004-)

Stream now on Peacock

An officer on the reality show The First 48.

Detailing crime and police work is a surefire way to draw viewers in.The First 48 is a real-life addition to the line-up of police shows that fill the TV schedule. In homicide investigations, the first 48 hours after a crime has been committed are considered the most important.

When these hours have passed, the chances of catching the perpetrator drop by 50 percent.


The First 48 documents how homicide detectives try to catch culprits during these crucial hours. Critics have been alarmed by the disproportionate number of Black criminals shown on the show. The series struggles to present a balanced perspective of crime in America but its depiction of what goes on in a police investigation is accurate.



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