Ah, reality television. A stellar way to ignore the state of the world and focus on what's important: other people's drama. The genre has been around since the '70s, but didn't get popular until the '90s when MTV gifted us the powerhouse that was and forever will be The Real World. After that, we saw a boom of reality TV content. From Bunnies revealing what it's really like to live in the Playboy Mansion to belting your heart out for a golden ticket to Hollywood, networks couldn't get enough of the stuff.
And while reality TV is great and all, there's also a lot of it. From The Bachelor to Top Chef, we've got a wide variety of shows on this list for pretty much every person on earth. Without further ado, these are the best reality shows of all time—not in chronological order, don't yell at us if you think this is a ranking!—and where to find them. Some of them are lost in the abyss that is YouTube. Others just require a Hulu subscription. Either way, you're about to be entertained for hours on end. Who knows, maybe you'll find your next new favorite show.
When was it on? Let's go back...back to the beginning, when the show premiered in 2004 on MTV and concluded in 2006.
What's it about? The show follows the lives of eight high schoolers living in Laguna Beach, California, and made Kristin Cavallari and Lauren Conrad the people they are today.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Please binge-watch every season immediately, if not to hear Kristin iconically shout, "STEPH-ENNN!"
Where can I watch it? You can watch re-runs on MTV or on Amazon Prime below.
When was it on? The show premiered on MTV from 2006 to 2010.
What's it about? Though the show uses the term "reality" loosely, The Hills is a follow-up to Laguna Beach and follows the lives of Lauren Conrad, Audrina Patridge, Whitney Port, Heidi Montag, and more.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Seasons 1-5 are the best. After Conrad leaves in the middle of the fifth season, Kristin Cavallari becomes the main star of the series until the show concludes at the end of season six.
Where can I watch it? You can watch re-runs on MTV or on Hulu below.
'Keeping Up With the Kardashians'
When was it on? The series premiered on E! in 2007 and will air its 20th and final season in 2021.
What's it about? Do we really need to answer this?
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? For some great nostalgia and iconic lines ("Kim, would you stop taking pictures of yourself? Your sister's going to jail!"), the early seasons are the best.
Where can I watch it? *Ryan Seacrest voice* Only on E!
'Love Is Blind'
When was it on? Before the world shut down in March 2020, we received the gift of Netflix's Love Is Blind.
What's it about? Couples go through several rounds of dating without ever knowing what the other person looks like. Once they finally meet each other in real life, they must decide whether they want to follow through with their engagement and, ultimately, marriage.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? So far there's only one season, so you should definitely binge-watch that.
Where can I watch it? Netflix.
When was it on? The show premiered in 2000 and has been running for 40 seasons (!!!) and counting.
What's it about? Contestants compete on an island with limited resources to survive. The winner receives a cash prize.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Here's a list of all 40 seasons of Survivor ranked.
Where can I watch it? On Paramount Plus, CBS, Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu below.
When was it on? The show ran on MTV from 2009 to 2016 for six seasons. Spin-off shows include four seasons of Snooki & JWOWW (2012-2015) and three seasons of Jersey Shore: Family Vacation (2018) that's still on the air.
What's it about? Known as one of MTV's most-watched television shows, Jersey Shore followed eight roommates who spent their summer working and living together in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Following seasons of the show included new locations like Miami, Florida, and Florence, Italy. The show gave us new lingo (Gym, Tan, Laundry, anyone?) and probably helped self-tanner sales.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Season two in Miami is, without a doubt, one of the best of the six seasons. It gave us the anonymous letter to Samantha written by Snooki and JWOWW, Angelina leaving for good, new relationships, and so much more.
Where can I watch it? MTV has every episode free if you sign in with your cable provider, or you can head on over to Hulu.
When was it on? The original series aired on Bravo for five seasons from 2003 to 2007. The reboot began on Netflix in 2018.
What's it about? This makeover series, originally titled Queer Eye for The Straight Guy (they dropped the "straight guy" part for the revival, which is all-inclusive), focuses on the Fab 5, a group of queer and gay men who each have an individual focus on fashion, style, personal grooming, interior design, and culture, perform a makeover on a person in need.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Just watch the entire revival. If you get through the first episode without crying, you are a stronger person than I.
Where can I watch it? The fourth and fifth seasons of the original series are available for purchase on Amazon Prime, and the revival is streaming now on Netflix.
'The Real World'
When was it on? The show ran for 32 seasons on MTV (1992-2017).
What's it about? The show that started it all! The opening credits described the show better than I could: "This is the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house, work together, and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real." And oh, it got so real.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? The Real World: San Francisco is easily the most famous season, and the impact Pedro Zamora had on AIDS awareness in the 90s changed everything. Oh, and it also features one of the best uses of Lisa Loeb's "Stay," possibly ever.
Where can I watch it? Seasons 1-32 are all available on Amazon Prime.
The 'Real Housewives' Franchise
When was it on? The Real Housewives of Orange County, premiered in 2006; followed by in New York City and Atlanta in 2008, New Jersey in 2009, Washington, D.C. and Beverly Hills in 2010 (D.C. aired for a single season), Miami in 2011 and aired for three seasons, Potomac and Dallas in 2016, as well as the international installments, The Real Housewives of Athens premiered in 2011, Vancouver in 2012, Los Angeles (in French) in 2013, Melbourne in 2014, Cheshire in 2015, Auckland in 2016, Sydney, Toronto, Hungary in 2017 and South Africa in 2018.
What's it about? The simplest way to put it is... rich women doing things. It's better than it sounds.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Oh, god. Dip your feet in the water with Beverly Hills's first season, and then go from there.
Where can I watch it? Every American installment (except Dallas) is available to stream on Hulu.
'The Bachelor' Franchise
When was it on? The Bachelor began airing in 2002 on ABC and has aired for 23 seasons, and has given us plenty of spin-offs: several spin-offs including The Bachelorette (which began airing in 2003 until 2005, and then returned in 2008 and has aired 14 seasons), Bachelor Pad, Bachelor in Paradise, and The Bachelor Winter Games.
What's it about? A single suitor has a pool of romantic interests to pick from and find the person of their dreams through a sea of eliminations.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Oh, man. Season 17, Sean Lowe's season, is a safe place to start.
'Girls Next Door'
When was it on? The show ran for six seasons on E!, from 2005 to 2010.
What's it about? The first five seasons focused on Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson, who were then-girlfriends of Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine. The show allowed viewers to look into the lives of Playmates from the female gaze showing the day-to-day life of living in the Playboy Mansion to what went into planning a Playboy party.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Season 1, without question!
Where can I watch it? While you'll have to buy most of the seasons on Amazon, some fans of the show have uploaded a couple of episodes on YouTube, including the first one.
'My Super Sweet 16'
When was it on? The show ran for 10 seasons between 2005 and 2017.
What's it about? One of MTV's better reality shows documented the lives of wealthy teenagers planning a birthday extravaganza. While most of the episodes focused on the big 1-6, other episodes included lavish quinceañeras, one titled My Super Swag 18, and a Super Sweet 21.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? A personal favorite is season two, due to episode seven having a 2006 Rhianna cameo.
Where can I watch it? Seasons two through ten are available on MTV.com, and you don't even need a birthday invite to get in.
When was it on? The show ran on Fox from 2002 to 2016 for fifteen seasons and then was revived two years later on ABC.
What's it about? In case you've been living under a rock, the show's premise is auditioning for a panel of celebrity judges and competing to see who will be —you guessed it—the next American Idol.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Eh, all of them. It's hard not to be in awe of this amount of talent. But my personal favorite, forever, is the original, Kelly Clarkson.
Where can I watch it? This is a case where it's okay just to get lost in a YouTube hole on the American Idol channel, but the most recent episodes are streaming on ABC, too.
'The Simple Life'
When was it on? The show ran for five seasons on Fox (2003–2005) and E! (2006–2007).
What's it about? It's the show that blessed us with Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton, and we have never been the same since. The show followed the two socialites as they were taken from the comfort of their lives in Beverly Hills and put into rural environments and given manual jobs, all to comedic effect.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Season 2, the "Road Trip" season, is end-to-end hilarious.
Where can I watch it? The entire show is available to watch on Amazon.
'Million Dollar Lisiting' Franchise
When was it on? Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles premiered in 2006, followed by Million Dollar Listing New York in 2012 and a single season of Million Dollar Listing Miami in 2014.
What's it about? Bravo shows us the lives and work of some of the best real estate agents in the most expensive cities. It's what you always wanted HGTV's House Hunters to be.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Former fashion-model turned real estate agent Steve Gold joined the New York cast in season six. You'll thank me later.
Where can I watch it? Sign in with your television provider on Bravo to watch all seasons for free.
'America's Next Top Model'
When was it on? The most legendary and iconic of reality shows premiered in 2003. The first six seasons (a.k.a. "cycles") aired on UPN, then the following sixteen cycles were aired on The CW until the series was first canceled in October 2015. The series was revived in 2017 with cycle 24 and is currently airing on VH1.
What's it about? Tyra Banks hosts this competition for aspiring models to compete for the title of "America's Next Top Model" and the opportunity to begin their career in the modeling industry.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Season 6. Trust me. I know what I'm talking about.
Where can I watch it? The first twenty-two seasons are available to stream on Hulu.
'Love Island UK'
When was it on? The U.K. phenomenon has had six seasons since 2015. Other versions of the show have been mimicked in Australia, Finland, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and the United States.
What's it about? If I'm being honest, it's basically a bunch of hot Instagram people (with accents!) living in a villa together in Spain under constant surveillance trying to "couple up" and be the winning couple (chosen by the public) to win £50,000.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Watch the latest season, since each season averages around 50-something episodes.
Where can I watch it? Get ready to crack on (you'll understand soon) with a friend's or your own Hulu account, because they have all six seasons ready to binge.
When was it on? Project Runway first aired on Bravo for the first five seasons beginning in 2004, followed by Lifetime for the next eleven seasons (as well as seven seasons of Project Runway: All-Stars). It returned to Bravo for the seventeenth season in 2019 and has aired two new seasons since.
What's it about? Aspiring fashion designers compete for a chance to break into the fashion industry compete in various weekly design challenges.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Seasons 2, 4, and 12. Take your pick.
Where can I watch it? Seasons eight to sixteen are available for purchase on Amazon.
'Are You The One?'
When was it on? The show premiered on MTV in 2014 and has eight seasons.
What's it about? Twenty singles have 12 weeks to find their deemed “perfect match,” based on a series of algorithm tests they completed before coming on to the show. If everyone finds their perfect match, the group will leave with $1 million. The show’s eighth season featured their first group of sexually fluid singles ever.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Season six is a personal favorite of mine—it was the first time they didn't film in a tropical setting—but any season is a good place to start.
Where can I watch it? Since Netflix cares about our well-being, you can watch seasons one and two if you have an account.
'Flavor of Love' / 'I Love New York'
When was it on? Flavor of Love ran for three seasons from 2006 - 2008 on Vh1; I Love New York ran for two seasons from 2007-2008 on Vh1.
What's it about? If you've ever used this GIF of Tiffany "New York" Pollard indignantly saying "BEYONCE?" you can give your thanks to Flavor of Love. After falling in love with Brigitte Nielsen on The Surreal Life, Flavor Flav decided reality tv found him love once, why not try it again? Pollard, after coming in second place twice on Flavor of Love, was gifted her own spin-off, I Love New York. Neither series was successful in their goals of finding love, though.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Oh, season 1 for sure.
Where can I watch it? Flavor of Love is available for streaming on Hulu.
When was it on? The show premiered on Bravo in 2006 and has aired seventeen seasons.
What's it about? Top Chef features professional chefs competing against each other in various culinary challenges for prizes while being judged by a panel of chefs and food and wine industry people. It's the Olympics of TV food competitions.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? All of them, but if you're really short on time, start with Top Chef:Las Vegas or Top Chef: Chicago.
Where can I watch it? Every season is available to stream on Hulu.
'Say Yes To The Dress'
When was it on? The show has run for nineteen seasons on TLC since 2007.
What's it about? Following the day-to-day in Kleinfeld Bridal, one of the most notable bridal salons in the world, as brides come in and choose a dress for the best day of their life. Its makeover meets self-care.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Just find a marathon on. You don't need to watch this one by season.
Where can I watch it? Seasons 14-17 are available to stream on Hulu.
When was it on? Shark Tank began its run on ABC in 2009, and has aired 12 seasons.
What's it about? Aspiring entrepreneurs get a chance to pitch investors, or "sharks" for the opportunity to invest in their company.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Another "catch it on a marathon" one — you can even start from whatever episode's on this week.
Where can I watch it? Every season is available for streaming on Hulu.
'RuPaul's Drag Race'
When was it on? The show has run for 12 seasons beginning in 2009.
What's it about? Drag queens compete to see who is best and who lip-synchs for his or her life and "sashays away."
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? If you can get through the "Vaseline" filter of season 1, feel free to start from the beginning, as the series becomes more self-referential as the series goes on. But if you can't, start with season 4 and bounce around from there.
Where can I watch it? Seasons one through six are available to stream on Hulu.
'The Great British Baking Show'
When was it on? The show first aired in the UK in 2010, with the first four seasons airing on BBC Two, moved to BBC One for the next three seasons, and then with the seventh season, the show moved to Channel 4. On the other side of the pond, most episodes aired on PBS starting in 2012.
What's it about? The most charming show on television, this devastatingly British competition series follows amateur bakers as they compete against each other in a series of rounds with different themes, hoping to impress a group of judges with their baking skills
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Season 1 on Netflix is season 5 in the UK world, but really, with this show, you can start wherever. A personal favorite is the third "collection" (a fancy way of saying "season") on Netflix.
Where can I watch it? In the US, you can find (most) of the seasons on Netflix.
The 'Love & Hip Hop' Franchise
When was it on? Love & Hip Hop: New York first started airing in 2011, followed in 2012 by Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood in 2014, and Love & Hip Hop: Miami is the most recent, premiering in 2018.
What's it about? The series follows the lives of hip hop and r&b musicians, performers, managers, and producers living in, well, New York, Atlanta, Hollywood, and Miami. You can thank the show for giving us Cardi B.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? New York, season 4 because of the love triangle between Peter Gunz, Tara and Amina. Atlanta, season 1. Hollywood, season 2. And Miami's only had one season!
'Below Deck' & 'Below Deck: Mediterranean'
When was it on? The show has aired on Bravo for eight seasons starting in 2013. Below Deck: Mediterranean began its run in 2016.
What's it about? Below Deck, or as I like to call it, Maids on a Boat follows a young yacht crew of a multi million dollar charter boat in the Caribbean as they handle their jobs serving guests and the interpersonal communication issues. Sounds boring? Imagine being young, hot, and trapped at sea. Yep, it gets real.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Every season has its shining moments, but without question, start at season three, and try not to buy a mermaid suit.
Where can I watch it? Every season is available to stream on Peacock for free.
When was it on? Vanderpump Rules started its run in 2013 and has aired for eight seasons.
What's it about? Following the trials, tribulations, and tequila drinking of the employees of Lisa Vanderpump's restaurant, SUR.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? SEASON ONE EPISODE ONE AND YOU ARE SO WELCOME.
Where can I watch it? The entire series is available on Hulu.
The '90 Day Fiancé' Franchise
When was it on? The original show, 90 Day Fiancé, premiered in 2014 and has aired eight seasons. The first spin-off, 90 Day Fiancé: Happily Ever After?, began airing in 2016 and has aired five seasons, and the second spin-off, 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, premiered in 2017 and has aired four seasons.
What's it about? 90 Day Fiancé, or as I like to call it, 90 Day OG follows couples who are in the K-1 visa process, which means that as foreign fiancés of American citizens, they have 90 days to decide if they're going to get married before the visas of the foreign half of the couple expire and they must leave the United States. Happily Ever After? (The question mark is imperative.) follows couples from previous seasons and their relationships post-marriage. Before the 90 Days follows six couples as the American counterpart goes abroad to be with their partner before the K-1 Visa process begins.
What's the best season to watch as a beginner? Definitely start with 90 Day OG, and start with season 2. You won't regret it.
Amanda Mitchell is a writer and podcaster with bylines at Marie Claire, OprahMag, Allure, Byrdie, Stylecaster, Bon Appetit, and more. Her work exists at the apex of beauty, pop culture, and absurdity. A human Funfetti cake, she watches too much television, and her favorite season is awards season. You can read more of her work at amandaelizabethmitchell.com or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lochnessmanda.
The 74 Best Gifts for Dogs, Dog Owners, and Dog Lovers In 2021
You're not a regular dog mom, you're a cool dog mom.
By Jenny Hollander • Published
Fine Line Treatments That Work
The products and pointers you need to make an impact.
By Chelsea Hall • Published
The 23 Best Winter Dresses You Can Get on Amazon
Your next great outfit is just a click away.
By Taylor Ayers • Published
'Only Murders in the Building' Season 2: Everything We Know
The next season of the Hulu hit comedy will go in a "bigger direction."
By Neha Prakash • Published
The 27 Best Comedy Movies of 2021 (So Far)
From Melissa McCarthy as a superhero to Awkwafina as a dragon.
By Katherine J Igoe • Published
The 22 Best Action Movies of 2021 (So Far)
This winter's biggest films include a lot of kicking ass.
By Kayleigh Roberts • Published
'All Her Little Secrets' Is an Impressive Debut
"The only thing better than reading a new author is being blown away by their first book."
By Marie Claire • Published
'Selling Sunset' Season 5: Everything We Know
Don't leave us hanging, Netflix!
By Quinci LeGardye • Published
75 Movies You Have to Watch at Least Once in Your Life
The essentials. (Netflix password not included.)
By Bianca Rodriguez • Published
Join #ReadWithMC: Marie Claire's Virtual Monthly Book Club
Never feel guilty about skipping book club again.
By The Editors • Published
'The Fastest Way to Fall' Is Our December Book Club Pick
Read an excerpt from Denise Williams's novel, here, then dive in with us throughout the month.
By Marie Claire • Published