The reality show—Netflix's Love Is Blind here, ABC's The Bachelor there—is the medium through which we’ve witnessed ordinary people fall in love, win (heavily taxed!) fortunes, and fight their way to Instagram sponsorships. The genre is part of the fabric of American television, and has been for 20+ years now. So it only makes sense that streaming services are finally catching up. Because if you haven’t noticed, Netflix seems to be going all in with their unscripted content these days—pushing new, viral-friendly concepts to the top of their landing page every single weekend. While the shows’ premises vary, they share one thing in common: they all play like Black Mirror episodes come to life.
Netflix clearly has no qualms with green-lighting shows that few other networks would ever dare try to. Unsuspecting people are enlisted to test out the streamer’s wildest concepts like a bunch of televised guinea pigs. But to be fair, thus far, the formula has worked—like, really worked. The only show people could talk about last month was The Circle, and the recently wrapped Love Is Blind is currently the object of our collective curiosity/unhealthy obsession. While the streamer’s reality sector continues to expand into incredulous territory, we took a magnifying glass to their shows so far, from the wholesome to the ones that are so unhinged, they don’t seem real.
10. Terrace House
Contrary to the name, most reality shows never truly feel real. The drama is heightened to the extreme, manipulation occurs behind the scenes, and the premise usually betrays the idea of “reality” by removing its characters from the world. None of this applies to Terrace House. The Japanese reality show is so blissfully normal, so low-stakes, so real, that it barely qualifies as a reality show. It’s great TV (as we’ve said multiple times) but bad for this list. Sorry Terrace House, you’re just too nice.
The fashion design show hosted by Queer Eye’s Tan France and Alexa Chung is Project Runway drained of its competitiveness. The competing designers are mostly paired up with their collaborators, friends, or fellow Central Saint Martins students, which adds a heartwarming sense of camaraderie to a show that refreshingly doesn’t feel as cutthroat as its contemporaries. It’s Great British Bake Off for clothes, basically—not deranged enough.
8. Tidying Up With Marie Kondo
Decluttering expert Marie Kondo travels to hoarder havens and gives people her minimalist tidying tips with her KonMari method. Kondo’s philosophy of holding on to items that “spark joy” is far too wholesome, and Tidying Up feels less mean-spirited and exploitative than similar home improvement shows. Kondo encourages the show’s subjects to thank their garbage, and gifts them storage boxes—the only time you’ll see someone cry is because they’re grateful. To borrow the immortal words of the show’s host, I love mess, and Tidying Up is not that.
7. Dating Around
Well... there is certainly some titular dating around! A person goes on blind dates with five strangers, and then they pick someone to go on a second date with. It’s like every dating show pretty much, albeit one with what seems to be an astronomical budget. (I’m pretty sure the exterior scenes are filmed with a crane) It’s a shame that it’s just really boring—turns out splicing five dull dates together as a half-hour montage does not make it any less derivative.
6. The Final Table
This is where the depths of Netflix’s pockets really become crystal clear. I don’t know a single person who watches this show and yet, I feel like this has the biggest budget out of all the shows on the list. This competition pits the best chefs from around the world against each other by challenging them every episode to cook a particular country’s cuisine for a panel of expert judges. It looks like it’s filmed in a gigantic stadium, there’s a rowdy live audience (allegedly) filled with people who just sit and watch people cook, I guess, and the show doesn’t hide that the storeroom contains some of the best (and expensive, probably) ingredients in the world. Again, I couldn’t name a single person who watches this… and yet Netflix spent so much money on it...
5. Queer Eye
The streamer’s reboot of Queer Eye is too earnest to every truly be unhinged, but it has its moments. (Who can forget the episode where Karamo got pulled over… as a prank?) It’s only ranked so high here because I know there is the potential to go fully deranged. There was that time Tan said communism is misunderstood and then the Fab Five stopped him from saying anything else—it’s corporate meddling, I say!
4. Nailed It!
Nailed It! taps into the depraved part of our mind that thrives on schadenfreude. We all fall guilty of becoming armchair critics, yelling “I could totally do that!” at our screens. Nailed It! takes you up on that offer and challenges ordinary people (who can’t bake) to recreate some ambitious culinary treats—usually to disappointing (and often catastrophic) results. They’re not competing to be the best; they’re competing to not be the worst. A show whose only purpose is to embarrass people? Maniacal.
3. The Circle
The U.S. remake of the (ahem, superior) British reality competition simultaneously acts as a fascinating social experiment for our forever online times. In what is essentially a popularity contest, players live in separate apartments and can never see each other. The only way they can communicate is through the in-game social media app known as The Circle. Some enter the game as themselves, while others play the tactical route and enter as catfishes—some even, miraculously, found love on the most deceptive game show out there in the case of fan favorite Joey and Miranda. The Circle perfectly encapsulates the Internet, and that’s why it’s so absolutely monstrous.
2. Love Is Blind
Love Is Blind is performance art. Love Is Blind is truly avant-garde. Love Is Blind exists on a higher plane of existence. This is the show where singles proclaim their eternal love for a stranger they literally just met and then propose to them the next day. Also, they haven’t actually met—they just speak to each other in adjoining rooms separated by a wall. What brings Love Is Blind to the next level though is that the contestants’ families get involved. It’s wild enough that these people willingly sign up for this matchmaking experiment/cruel game, but then the parents have to witness their children make one of life’s biggest decisions in a matter of six weeks. Take Damian and Giannina for example, who went from declaring their undying love for each other to facing rejection from the parents and a failed wedding, all in 10 short episodes. You’ll finish Love Is Blind questioning if love is even real.
1. Awake: The Million Dollar Game
I have never heard of this depraved show until now, and I’m still trying to process the fact that it exists. Contestants are tasked with counting quarters for 24 hours straight—this is awful enough—but then when they are released from their brightly-lit prison, they have to compete in challenges that capitalize on their sleep-deprived states. For example, one challenge involves drinking a slushie as fast as they can—but the twist is, brain freezes are more painful when you’re tired. Does this qualify as torture? Awake embodies the reality competition in that its sole aim is to put people through psychological hell for money. It’s the work of a Bond villain petting a cat in Netflix’s office. UN. HINGED.
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Originally Appeared on GQ