Who doesn’t like to get engrossed in the world of reality TV?
Now that we’ve looked at the scripted offerings out there, it’s time to look at the unscripted offerings that defined this decade of TV.
Please remember that with have almost two dozen favorites lists that we couldn’t showcase every show on every list, so we parsed them out a bit to make it more fun. And these lists are not in any particular order.
They’re in the order the entries were received by TV Fanatic staff, so don’t read into them!
To qualify, a show that began in another decade had to be airing during the decade, run a larger number of seasons from 2010 through 2019 if it started before 2010 or run the entire decade. Here we go!
Dance Moms – Lifetime (2011-present)
Dance Moms changed the bar for reality TV. What was expected as just another cheesy reality show when it began in 2011 turned out to be one of the most addictive series in history.
The way Abby Lee Miller treated these kids is controversial and a prime example of tough love — tough as hell. But once the angry moms upped their confrontational game with her and each other, taking prisoners was not an option. We have seen Abby go through trials and tribulations we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemies, too.
The catfights with and between the moms are the reason to watch this show. Lawsuits and restraining orders have evolved from the little wars, and it’s the most amazing guilty pleasure to watch.
RuPaul’s Drag Race – Logo/VH1 (2009-present)
Stylish. Dramatic. Witty. RuPaul’s Drag Race is the reality TV show that grew from campy indie darling to mainstream juggernaut.
In its decade-long “herstory” on the air, the show became an established voice supporting LGBT+ talent and promoting love, creativity, and the importance of drag queen culture to the world.
But at its heart, Drag Race is still a reality competition series. We’ve seen the queens compete to be America’s Next Drag Superstar in creative challenges ranging from designing iconic runway outfits, portraying celebrities in Snatch Game, to “reading” each other just for fun (because reading is fundamental!).
And in addition to its 11 seasons of Drag Race (and multiple spin-off series), the show has created a legacy of providing a platform for drag superstars to establish their careers around the world and on mainstream channels, like Monet X Change, Bianca Del Rio, Shangela, and Trixie Mattel to name a few.
Queer Eye – Netflix (2018-present)
Who wouldn’t want to be visited by the Fab Five? Queer Eye returned to our screens with a new cast of fabulous and fun advisors ready to change lives.
And they should stick around for years to come! Queer Eye brings all the heart to each episode with thought-provoking and heartwarming transformations that make a profound impact on the lives of everyone involved.
You can feel the genuine sincerity and care from the cast as they get to know their clients. Queer Eye tackles more than just a new hairdo or fitting into the perfect dress; it’s a show about metamorphosis and developing the confidence to become the person they were always meant to be.
Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby, and Jonathan have become mainstays in popular culture, and they’re changing the world one episode at a time.
Vanderpump Rules – Bravo (2013-present)
In a sea of Real Housewives, Bravo managed to find a standout show in a group of aspiring actors, musicians, models, trophy wives, etc. working at Sur restaurant, owned by Lisa Vanderpump. Vanderpump Rules is everything you want a reality show to be.
It has an attractive cast, drama around every corner, and friendships/relationships that you grow to love and hate. These tumultuous friendships are what keep fans coming back season after season. It isn’t only the on-screen drama that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.
Between seasons, fans can be kept up to date with all the goings-on of the cast via their social media, and the drama that unfolds off-screen is just as juicy as what we see on. Is Vanderpump Rules or its cast going to change the world? Most likely not. But is it entertaining as hell? Absolutely.
The Challenge – MTV (1998-present)
Yes, this show could be put on best lists for three different decades, but that says a lot about this MTV staple.
Starting as a competition for cast members of The Real World and Road Rules, The Challenge has become a whole different beast in recent years.
The show has evolved so much since its conception. Once made up of goofy games mixed with mildly physical challenges and eliminations, it slowly became more athletic and competitive.
Through a period of time, much of the show focused on the drunken antics of the cast in the house between challenges and on alliances that drew hard lines in the sand. Now, the show is a true athletic competition, so much so that production has actually limited the alcohol intake of the cast. After all, you can’t be running a 20+ mile final hungover.
Without The Real World or Road Rules on air anymore, MTV has been forced to evolve and add new cast from shows under the Viacom umbrella. This has been a mixed bag, but there is no denying that The Challenge is one of the true greats of reality television.
Jersey Shore: Family Vacation – MTV (2018-present)
Reviving past shows is a risky business, but for some reason, the Jersey Shore cast managed to deliver some vintage drama in this revival.
Through three seasons, they’ve bickered, made up, and bickered all over again. There’s been nostalgia, tears, and most of all, hilarious moments. The show may well be around forever at this rate.
Big Brother USA – CBS (2000- Present)
This American version of a UK reality show is one of the most successful reality TV programs of not just one decade, but two of them.
For over 20 years, we’ve been following a group of houseguests placed into one house to compete for half a million dollars. It’s an addictive series that has a passionate fanbase and a prominent digital footprint across all forms of social media.
Despite many controversies over the years, it hasn’t slowed the series down but only made it stronger. Like clockwork, dedicated and devoted Big Brother fans who swore they wouldn’t return to the series, come back to experience another crazy season.
And various castmates have gone on to make careers for themselves in other entertainment areas or become coveted reality tv show stars and household names.
Married At First Sight – Lifetime (2014-Present)
Another American series that was inspired by a foreign one, this reality show posed the question “what happens if you marry a complete stranger assigned to you at the altar?”
It’s a controversial series, especially since it doesn’t venture out into diverse couples beyond hetero and mostly same race pairings, of a young age, but viewers feverishly tune in to watch four different couples of complete strangers marry each other and then try to navigate married life with a complete stranger over a course of eight weeks before deciding if they’re going to remain married.
They don’t have the highest success rate, but there are still less than a handful of couples who have found some success, and it has spun off into other series. It’s a series that keeps people tweeting and talking every single week.
90- Day Fiance Franchise – TLC (2014- Present)
This controversial reality show follows Americans who have found love abroad and must engage in a complicated process of marrying their foriegn lovers in hopes of starting the process of getting them to the States.
It’s insane, kooky, and often has folks on the edge of their seats. It’s nothing to see a bunch of questionably mishmashed couples with Americans dating those from all over the globe one or both of whom have ulterior motivations.
You see the sugar daddies, the scammers, the gold diggers, and more.
It introduces you to various cultures, and explores what happens when some can’t adapt to a new one. It showcases family angst, relationship drama, and the financial restraints placed on all involved. The series is insanely entertaining and one of the best reality series offered up.
Real Housewives Franchise – Bravo (2006- Present)
This hit Bravo series has expanded into an entire franchise with various shows following “housewives” from cities all over the country.
It’s a meme gold mine, and has become a staple in meme and social media culture. It has fostered some of the most iconic reality show stars, and the franchise often includes various celebrities too, from Lisa Rinna to Kim Fields. It’s nonstop cattiness, drama, and shade-throwing. It’s juicy drama, mindless viewing, but pure entertainment through and through.
Hell’s Kitchen/Gordon Ramsay Franchise – FOX (2005-present)
Gordon Ramsay has become an American household name since the last decade, and he has created an entire empire off of his many cooking shows.
From competition shows like the notable Hells Kitchen which has chefs competing for a chance to run one of his restaurants around the world, to Master Chef which brings the brightest and best chefs from around the country to compete for a chance to publish their own cookbook and open their own restaurant, he’s been cursing, mentoring, and advising those onscreen for a while.
Master Chef Jr, has him at his most endearing and warmest as he mentors young chefs. He also has saved restaurants with Kitchen Nightmares, saved business with Hotel Hell, and explored other cultures and learned how to make food that honors them with various other series.
The majority of Gordon’s shows have been on FOX, but he’s a household name who has shows spanning multiple stations and pertaining to many things, at the heart of them his love of food.
Live PD – A&E (2016-present)
Bursting onto the scene in 2016, Live PD seemed like the successor to the successful series, Cops.
Hosted by attorney Dan Abrahams from a control center from which he could help direct the action from live officers across the country, Live PD takes viewers on a journey with police officers on actual calls in real time.
That leads to scenarios from domestic abuse to assaults to live gunfights. Viewers get to know the cops and follow them on their rounds and the cops get an opportunity to prove that they aren’t America’s villains but genine hometown heroes with sparking and witty personalities. Its wild success spawned a spinoff for other first responders on Live Rescue.
60 Days In – A&E (2016-present)
When 60 Days in announced they were putting innocent people into jail for the sake of TV entertainment — OK, well for the sake of fixing the system but probably mostly for TV entertainment — we were all in.
And the execution was excellent, keeping us glued to those screens. Getting a walls-talking perspective of the prison system is riveting. And the danger of the “inmates” being found out causes such anticipation, that each week is a rollercoaster.
The challenge then becomes, how do they continue the show without the real prisoners figuring out the game quickly? Well, that’s been creatively addressed but it’s also scary — too scary for some to watch because being thrown into jail is a real fear for so many.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst – HBO (2015)
What can one say about the show that resulted in the accidental confession, arrest, and confession of the serial killer that had evaded the authorities for so many years? If anyone ever says TV is a waste of time or has no power, direct him/her towards this Andrew Jarecki limited true-crime series.
The sound of jaws hitting living room floors was heard nationwide March 15, 2015, when the series aired its finale. The disturbing question asked, though, was why did Durst’s arrest not happen until the day the finale aired?
Jarecki swears he handed over the evidence as soon as he discovered the audio from the insane miked bathroom confession. Whatever the reason, we’re not sure we will see anything like this ever again.
Making a Murderer – Netflix (2015-2018)
Probably the first binge-worthy Netflix docuseries, Making a Murderer became a quick pop culture hit, sparking outrage from around the nation about potential injustices in the conviction and sentencing of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey.
But the series received heat for only presenting one side of the story. Granted, the prosecution team refused to participate in the production.
Season 2 was hardly as popular as the premiere season, but it, too, was a document of how unjust the system can be, now with new defense attorney Kathleen Zellner representing the two convicts.
This time, we all had had access to read the updates on the case in the national news, and the crazy release order and boomeranging appeal of the order, adding insult to injury for Dassey. Many of us are still addicted to seeking out updates on the case, which may or may not result in a future Season 3.
The Clinton Affair – A&E (2018)
Monica Lewinsky was never given a fair shake during the scandal known as the Clinton-Lewinsky or “Monicagate” scandal of the mid-late 90s. It was an embarrassing moment in U.S. history.
Lewinsky was portrayed as a tramp and her reputation was slammed in every way possible. The Clinton Affair, a six-part series, which included interviews with Lewinsky herself, showed a different side to the scandal that rocked America. It shows how she was mistreated and manipulated by not only President Clinton but also her so-called “friends” and even the FBI.
She was a victim, and the Clinton Affair sets the story straight. It’s not a sob story, but a sobering look into how politics can destroy individuals to keep the secrets secret and the public figures shining bright.
Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath – A&E (2016-2019)
Long considered a cult instead of a valid religion by those outside of its influence, former member Leah Remini and one-time top brass Mike Rinder, Scientology and the Aftermath worked diligently to expose the seedy side of the religion through first-hand witness accounts, an exploration of the bylaws, and more.
It is their attempt to strip Scientology of their protected IRS tax exemption for religious organizations by proving it works against them.
Leaving Neverland – HBO (2019)
Michael Jackson may have died over a decade ago, but the tarnished memories from potential abuse survivors remain. In this HBO two-part documentary, two of Jackson’s most vocal accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, give explosive interviews about everything they experienced after befriending Jackson.
Their families weigh in as well showing how Jackson suckered them into believing he was safe with his boy-like qualities. Their testimony was quite compelling and led to the Jackson family’s attempts to silence the series by suing HBO for breaching a 1992 non-disparagement contract.
Vote below for YOUR favorite Non-Fiction/Unscripted Show of the Decade