Reality TV you should check out in February

Although the Olympics will interrupt a lot of original programming for two weeks starting on Friday, there are new and returning reality shows debuting throughout the month. Just I did in January, I’m highlighting a few that stand out to me as worthy of watching–some are new, so we’ll see if they live up to their potential, and there are a few old favorites, too.

The Amish: Shunned, PBS, Feb. 4. The Amish have been the subject of several reality series, but it’s safe to say this American Experience film is very different on every level. A sequel, basically, to last year’s The Amish, which was filmed over a year, it follows seven people who’ve been shunned from their communities. The first chapter is online, and along with the trailer below, makes it clear that the filmmakers are treating their subjects with respect rather than as cogs in a reality TV drama machine.

Top Chef Estrellas, Telemundo, Feb. 16, Sundays at 8. This is not only a Spanish-language spin-off of Bravo’s Top Chef, but it’s a new format, too: celebrities competing for charity who will stick around and become sous chefs after they are eliminated. While the trailer below uses subtitles, it’s not clear if the actual show will, too. Top Chef Masters and Taco Bell superstar Lorena Garcia judges the series, which was filmed in the same kitchen set as the New Orleans season.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, Logo, Feb. 24, Mondays at 9. It pains me somewhat to include this show here, but I’m doing in part as self-promotion, and not just doing it because its promos have been awesome. Perhaps more than any other series, people encourage me to watch this, always pointing out that it sends up other reality TV competitions. I’ve resisted because I couldn’t stand the first season and don’t really like RuPaul’s shtick, but at the encouragement of my significant other, I will both watch and recap this season, perhaps with a twist that hasn’t exactly been figured out yet.

The Profit, CNBC, Feb. 25, Tuesdays at 10. This twist on the business makeover format adds a dose of Shark Tank, because Marcus Lemonis invests his own money in the businesses he’s trying to help/save. The show’s first season was full of drama and insight, but also felt a little rough around the edges compared to some of the other shows in this genre–probably because this is real and authentic instead of over-produced.

Game of Arms, AMC, Feb. 25, Tuesdays at 10. AMC reality series have been hit or miss, from the artistry and entertainment of The Pitch to the staged nonsense of Comic Book Men. But I’m eager to see what an arm wrestling show will be like. It’s also not a made-for-TV competition; while each episode ends with a match, the show follows “arm wrestling clubs across America, embedding with teams in Baton Rouge, New York City, Erie, Sacramento and Kansas City,” as AMC said when it announced the series.

Survivor Cagayan, CBS, Feb. 26, Wednesdays at 8. While the brain/beauty/brawn thing seems gimmicky and will probably ultimately become irrelevant even as it’s being over-emphasized, I’m excited for a three-tribe season with all new players who seem like a good group overall.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.