The Surreal Life, a 2003 reality show that gathered D-list celebrities in a Real World-like house and had them participate in Road Rules-like challenges, aired on The WB before moving to VH1.
Now, VH1 is bringing back The Surreal Life for season 7. While the early 2000s reality show paved the way for celebrity reality TV, it may be most notable now for leading to shows such as Flavor of Love. All six seasons of The Surreal Life are on PlutoTV.
Once it got to cable, it inspired the creation of two dozen other reality shows, both direct spin-offs and new shows that used cast members or themes from previous series. Will that happen again?
The new season will air this fall, and VH1’s announcement admitted this is part of ViacomCBS’s attempt “to harness its extensive library of IP,” and promised “a wild, over the top journey that pushes [the cast] to reveal different sides of themselves in surprising ways.”
In a press release, MTV Entertainment Group president Nina L. Diaz promised that its “stellar celebrity cast will make captivating television for audiences everywhere.”
So who is that “stellar cast”? A bunch of people who’ve already been on a bunch of celebrity reality TV shows:
- Tamar Braxton, Celebrity Big Brother 2’s winner and star of We TV series including Braxton Family Values, who was also on Dancing with the Stars
- Dennis Rodman, who’s appeared on Celebrity Mole: Yucatán, Celebrity Big Brother UK, Love Island UK, and Celebrity Apprentice (twice)
- Kim Coles, who was on Celebrity Mole: Hawaii and VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club, and also hosted BET’s Pay it Off
- CJ Perry, aka WWE westler Lana, a cast member on E!’s Total Divas who’s also appeared on Total Bellas, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and The Millionaire Matchmaker.
- Frankie Muniz, who placed third on Dancing with the Stars 25 and co-hosted Dancing with the Stars: Juniors
- Manny MUA, a YouTuber who competed on the YouTube series Escape the Night
- August Alsina, a singer best known for his relationship with Jada Pinkett Smith
- Stormy Daniels, a former porn star best known for being paid $130,000 to not discuss her affair with the fired, twice-impeached loser who used to host The Apprentice
The Surreal Life’s long legacy
The Surreal Life itself only aired six seasons plus The Surreal Life: Fame Games. But it spawned four times as many shows.
Seven years ago, Vulture‘s Margaret Lyons and Linsey Fields created The Surreal Life Family Tree of VH1 Shows, a graphic that illustrates the “insane lineage” of this one show.
The spin-offs began after the first VH1 season, season three, which included Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen among its cast. They got their own show, and the rest is this list:
- Strange Love
- Flavor of Love
- Rock of Love
- Flavor of Love: Charm School
- Daisy of Love
- Megan Wants a Millionaire
- Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It
- Rock of Love: Charm School
- Charm School with Ricki Lake
- Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew
- Sober House
- Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew
- Couples Therapy
- My Fair Brady
- Surreal Life: Fame Games
- I Love New York
- New York Goes to Hollywood
- New York Goes to Work
- I Love Money
- For the Love of Ray-J
- Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business
- Real Chance of Love
- Real and Chance: The Legend Hunters
- Frank the Entertainer: a Basement Affair
Two of those shows were cancelled by VH1 because they’d cast someone who was later charged with murder.
While Megan Wants a Millionaire was airing, one of its contestants, Ryan Jenkins, murdered Jasmine Fiore, his ex-wife, who he called repeatedly from the set of the second show he was cast on, I Love Money 3. After filming wrapped on that show, he apparently killed her, fled, and eventually died by suicide.
The production company, 51 Minds, blamed the background check for failing to catch his criminal record of assault and battery. His ex-wife’s mutilated body was discovered “two days after Mr. Jenkins was paid for appearing on a second VH1 show, I Love Money 3,” as The New York Times reported.
VH1 pulled Megan Wants a Millionaire off the air but said it might still air I Love Money 3, though it ultimately was cancelled.