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The 17 Best Reality Shows of 2021 (So Far)

Perfect for all that time spent on the couch.

legendary the big day too hot to handle
HBO and Netflix

Reality TV often gets a bad rap—how many times have you been embarrassed to admit you spent an entire weekend catching up on your fave "trashy show"? But as 2020, and 2021, are proving to us, the form is evolving. These shows aren't just vehicles for you to feel good about your life choices, although there are some shows on here that do just that. They're ways to get inspired, educated, and involved, too. Some of the classics of the genre are saying goodbye, like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and others are making some long-overdue changes—looking at you, The Bachelor franchise. And some are new and exciting, like Legendary and The Big Day. Below, some of the best reality TV shows to watch as you look for new content, or comb through the back catalog of your newest binge-watch. And stay tuned, because we're also waiting on confirmation for some equally incredible shows (come on, The Circle; please give me more Love Is Blind, always; Million Dollar Beach House??) and we'll update this list when we get renewal announcements and new shows. It's going to be a good year.

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'RuPaul's Drag Race'

From the Rusicals to puppets to the legendary RuMixes, RuPaul's Drag Race is an entire world of pageantry and performance, all headed by iconic Mama Ru. If you don't happen to have the encyclopedic knowledge of the show, and are intimidated to watch it for the first time, Drag Race UK is apparently a little less intensely self-referential. Or you could watch the show from the beginning to catch up, so why not do that? Also, get in on the ground floor of spinoff We're Here, which just got renewed for season two.

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WATCH IT (UK)

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'The Bachelor'

Chris Harrison's out as host, and one of the frontrunners has been taken to task for racially insensitive behavior. This is exactly why you should be watching, because you're looking at what was once considered the reality dating show (slowly, painfully) contend with its long and troubling history. If nothing else, the Women Tell All/After the Final Rose should be intensely watchable.

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'Keeping Up With the Kardashians'

The most classic example of the genre, the show that basically defined reality TV for over a decade, is finally going off the air after 20 seasons on E! (only to reappear on Hulu). So give this the sendoff it deserves. It's unclear whether they'll cover the Kim-Kanye divorce, but chances are the sisters will wrangle up plenty of drama for their final bow. Mark your calendars for the E! premiere on March 18.

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'The Big Day'

Reality TV shows about the 1 percent can often skew problematic, both for their OTT depictions of limitless spending (which feels especially crummy mid-pandemic) and their clumsiness around elitism and classism. But The Big Day makes a solid effort to address issues of culture, race, sexual orientation, and gender roles. It's also revelatory about Indian weddings if you're unfamiliar, so you'll learn a lot while ogling the absolutely gorgeous ceremonies.

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'90 Day Diaries'

If the prospect of the 90 Day Fiancé finale has you bummed out, there are MANY spinoffs to appreciate from this bonkers show (come for the awkwardness, stay for the horrors of the immigration system). One is 90 Day Diaries about the couples in the pandemic, 90 Days Bares All with uncensored stories, the 90 Day Journey miniseries, and the spinoff The Other Way Strikes Back! Also just announced: 90 Days: The Single Life. You could basically spend all your TV bandwidth just on this.

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'When Disaster Strikes'

A different kind of "reality TV," you owe it to yourself to watch this docuseries about real-time responses to catastrophes around the world—from drought to cyclone to hurricane—and the frontline workers who try to save lives. This isn't for when you're just hoping for a light watch, but it is important viewing.

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'Worst Cooks in America'

Do I watch this to feel better about my cooking skills? Yes. Do I sometimes come away from the show realizing I've been cooking something wrong my entire life? Uh huh. Do I occasionally learn a new cooking technique? Absolutely. The reason this show is in its 21st(!) season is because all of that—plus watching someone slowly become not-the-worst at something—never gets old.

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'Married at First Sight'

Season 12 of the very bingeable series takes place in Atlanta and promises to be characteristically messy (do we really watch for the occasional couple who stays married forever? Like Marie Kondo, I came for the mess.) Next up, the show's casting for a season in Boston, so get ready for some delightfully terrible accents and incomprehensible discussions about sports.

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'Painting With John'

John Lurie wants to make it clear at the very front of this series: None of his trees are happy. Obvious dig at Bob Ross aside, this is a hypnotic look at the painter at work, while he dispenses words of both wisdom and nonsense—"I was hoping this show would be educational, but I really don’t know what the f*ck I’m doing," he says. And yet, his work, and temperament, prove otherwise.

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'Inside the World's Toughest Prisons'

Season five of the compelling show just hit Netflix, as we travel the globe looking at the prison system in different countries. Our guide is UK journalist Raphael Rowe (who served time before being ultimately acquitted of the crime he was accused of). This would be a good companion piece to 13th as an eye-opening look of the horrors of incarceration around the world.

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'Nailed It'

My love for Nicole Byer is endless, and this is (one of) the perfect vehicles for her. Her reactions alone—"I teeheeheed"—are worth the watch, but so are the horrible horrible cakes that will haunt your dreams, maybe forever.And it was just announced that we're getting a season five on March 26, which is the news my quarantine-weary soul needs right now.

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'Craftopia'
the kelly clarkson show    episode 4074    pictured lauren riihimaki    photo by weiss eubanksnbcuniversalnbcu photo bank via getty images
NBC

If you love glitter as much as these kids (and if you don't, we probably shouldn't be friends), get excited for Craftopia. It features one of my favorite YouTubers, Lauren Riihimaki—a.k.a. LaurDIY. The crafty kiddo contestants, who are way, way more talented than I am, compete to make the most creative and complicated creations (alliteration definitely intended). The show's been renewed for a second season, so get those glue sticks out now.

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'Love Island'
las vegas   august 22 love island   pictured carrington rodriguez, mackenzie dipman and kaitlynn anderson the summer sensation love island premieres tonight 800 1000 pm, etpt get ready tonight, host arielle vandenberg welcomes 10 sexy single islanders to their beautiful villa perched high above the las vegas strip to find love after quickly coupling up, they soon learn that their stay may be cut short as an eleventh islander moves in, ready to turn some heads itll be a sizzling summer of love and drama   and its all happening in real time, nightly starting tonight photo by adam torgersoncbs via getty images
CBS Photo ArchiveGetty Images

It's like Bachelor in Paradise, but longer and more ridiculous. There are Love Island versions all over the world, but the UK show is essentially required viewing. Ratings for the US equivalent have been bad, but the show's Instagram account promises a season three in Hawaii. Great news, if you're interested: The show is currently casting.

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'Lego Masters'
lego masters l r contestants jessica and sam in the finale season finale episode of lego masters airing wednesday, april 15 901 1000 pm etpt on fox photo by fox via getty images
FOXFox

It's the opposite of Nailed It, with Lego bricks. Watching these artists compete to make the most gorgeous sculptures is both fascinating and heartbreaking, especially when one of the meticulous creations accidentally crashes into a million pieces. It's confirmed for a season two, so get ready to be mesmerized all over again.

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'Legendary'
legendary hbo max
zach dilgardHBO

This might be the most lavishly gorgeous reality show of all time? The series follows modern ball culture, as eight voguing houses try to outdo each other and compete for $100,000. Contestants have nine total balls to demonstrate their many modeling/dancing/lip-syncing/performance talents. HBO Max has confirmed a second season with returning MC Dashaun Wesley and judges Leiomy Maldonado, Jameela Jamil, Law Roach, and Megan Thee Stallion, so absolutely brush up on the first before that happens.

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'The Bachelorette'
the bachelorette   abc's "the bachelorette" stars tayshia adams kwaku alstonabc via getty images
Kwaku AlstonGetty Images

In a similar fashion to The Bachelor, this one's worth the watch for the people bringing change to the franchise. If you're not caught up, skip straight to Tayshia Adams' episodes to watch her take charge of the season with grace and wisdom—and give us one of the best love stories the franchise has ever seen. A lot of people were mad that we didn't get a Bachelor in Paradise last year, but there are plenty of reality shows with beaches and bikinis at this point. It's unclear who the next Bachelorette will be, but the fact that it's still up in the air is hopefully a sign that producers are listening to audience members, who want more of what we saw with Adams.

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'Too Hot to Handle'
too hot to handle
Courtesy of NetflixNetflix

I didn't realize watching horny adults try NOT to have sex would be so fun and funny, but here we are. It's basically the meta version of every other sexy-adults-on-a-beach show out there: Aggressively honest about its intentions, and never above poking fun at the contestants. Per Deadline, we're definitely getting a season two, this time in Turks and Caicos, with the details under wraps to fool both the audience and the participants.

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