If you flip on your TV right now and change to a random channel, odds are you’ll land on a reality show.
From cooking competitions with sappy personal stories, to home reno shows featuring sassy married couples, reality TV totally dominates the airwaves. But back when reality TV was still a novelty, we couldn’t stop watching these 13 shows.
1. Blind Date
Two people go on a blind date, while cameras record them. The premise of this show is so simple, it’s hard to believe nobody thought of it earlier. Okay, so there was a UK version, an Australian version, and a similar show from the 1950s, but anything worth doing is worth doing four times.
Before Tinder was invented, episodes of Blind Date were the best way to collect embarrassing date stories that made you cringe. At least all our embarrassment was secondhand, on behalf of these unlucky-in-love contestants.
2. Star Search
Nowadays, American Idol, X Factor, America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and a dozen other talent shows are spitting out winning contestants faster than we can keep up. But Star Search was airing when many people were still surviving on just three TV channels.
That explains why so many of the show’s contestants, from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera to Martin Lawrence, wound up becoming huge stars.
3. Newlyweds: Nick and Jess
Stars: they’re just like us…kind of. This pioneering reality show gave fans a fly-on-the-wall look at Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’s home life. But all we learned is that celebrities are just as boring as us. Still, this show asked the tough questions, like “is ‘chicken of the sea’ tuna, or fish?”
4. The Simple Life
Speaking of man’s search for meaning in a cruel and indifferent universe: each episode of this reality show put socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie in an unlikely situation. Whether it was “really real” or not didn’t matter, because the show itself was pretty funny.
5. Joe Millionaire
The Bachelor premiered in 2002, and in 2003 Fox turned the series on its head with the now-infamous Joe Millionaire. The show’s female contestants competed to win a millionaire’s heart, but the twist was that Joe was never really a millionaire.
Add in the extra swerve that the couple would win $1 million if they stayed together anyways, and you had a recipe for must-see TV.
6. Trading Spaces
Before home renovation shows dominated cable, this clever interior design show captured our attention. Neighbors on a tight budget would each redecorate a room in the other person’s home.
But the appeal of Trading Spaces was never about paint swatches or throw pillows. It was about watching the stunned reactions when a reno went really bad. We can’t wait for this show to come back!
7. The Real World
“This is the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a loft and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite, and start getting real.”
That classic opening said everything you needed to know about the original “real life” reality show, which turned a cast of regular college-aged kids into celebrities. Between The Real World and its spin-offs Road Rules and The Challenge, we’re still obsessed.
8. The 1900 House
Yes, even snooty PBS dipped their toe into the world of reality shows with this British import about a family who partied like it’s 1900. Despite the fact that there were no cash prizes, eliminations, or special challenges, people still tuned in to see how the Bowler family coped without running water.
9. Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County
Before there was The Hills, we were following Lauren Conrad as she loved and learned at Laguna Beach High School, alongside her rich and suntanned friends. Was the drama overblown? Probably. Were the plot lines basically scripted? Also probably, but this was still totally addictive TV.
10. My Super Sweet 16
Guilty pleasure. Hate-watching. However you describe it, we couldn’t bring ourselves to change the channel when this show was on. It followed spoiled teenagers planning the perfect party with the budget of a small aerospace company, and usually featured at least one tantrum.
Remember: I asked for the pink hummer, not the yellow one, Dad!
11. Making the Band
This series broke ground for ABC, as the only show in the original TGIF block that wasn’t a sitcom. It followed producer Lou Perlman’s quest to make a new boy band, which eventually became O-Town.
The show had unexpected drama when band member Ikaika Kahoano quit the band, describing his time on the show as “wack.” Later seasons swapped Perlman for Sean Combs, which was probably a good idea.
12. The Osbournes
If Nick and Jessica were the most boring couple on reality TV, Sharon and Ozzy were definitely the most interesting one. With their kids Kelly and Jack, The Osbournes focused on the dysfunctional family’s everyday adventures, including trying to decipher exactly what Ozzy was saying.
Warning: this clip features strong language….we think.
13. The Apprentice
This reality competition pitted budding entrepreneurs against each other in a different business-related challenge each episode. It gave us some classic TV villains, including Omarosa. Gee, I wonder what the host is up to these days?
Which of these shows was your guilty pleasure?