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Your 2023 reality TV recommendations and favorites

Your 2023 reality TV recommendations and favorites
Your 2023 reality TV favorites and recommendations (Photo of television and room by Kam Idris/Unsplash; 2023 image on TV by BoliviaInteligente)

A few weeks ago, I asked for your help in filling in the gaps I’ve left in this year’s reality TV. What shows—streaming, cable, broadcast; YouTube or international—did you love that I missed?

I’m grateful for everyone who submitted! The shows you mentioned and your thoughts about them were fun to read.

While a few of these will actually be on my list of the best reality TV of 2023, there are also shows I haven’t heard of, and definitely ones I wish I’d watched—and maybe still will!

Thanks again to everyone who submitted! And feel free to add others in the comments.


Siren: Survive the Island (Netflix)

I don’t remember if you had covered it earlier this year, but I loved the combination of Hunger Games and Capture the Flag. The competition itself was raw and gripping and the format just felt fresh and unique. —Clark Wilcox


This was a fantastic Korean reality show (with English subs) that involved 6 teams of various physical careers (police, fire, soldiers, athletes, stuntwomen and bodyguards), all comprised of 24 women.

Essentially it is an action-packed game of capture/protect the flag where each team picks a different type of base. They hide the flag somewhere in the base and strategize about raid strategies. When the siren sounds randomly they can choose to attack or defend (or both) using any combination of players.

Alliances can be formed between teams to join forces, with the team that captures a flag winning the base. Many fun twists and turns along with compelling drama made it one of my favorites for 2023. —Kevin


Survive the Raft (Max)

The general idea of bringing together a diverse group of people to work toward a common goal with group and individual challenges has interesting potential. The people on the show had such potential too.

We group watched it and had great conversations based on the show, and it was interesting how different watchers “took to” different participants. —Beth Tindall


Well, full disclosure, this is one that I worked on as an editor, so you may not want to count my entry. That said, I was surprised this show didn’t get more buzz—along with being a lot of fun, I thought it was both compelling and relevant, sociopolitically and as an examination of human nature.

It’s an adventure competition series based on a real-life experiment from 1973, in which a Mexican anthropologist assembled a group of people of wildly different backgrounds and viewpoints and put them (and himself) on a raft to sail across the Atlantic. The goal was to see whether, despite their differences, they could and would cooperate for their mutual benefit (survival).

The show follows the same premise, although the goal of survival is replaced with (naturally) cash prizes, and the temptation of betraying one’s shipmates for personal gain is ever-present. Even excluding my own contribution (I was finishing editor for the last couple months of post), I think it’s tremendously exciting and well-crafted, and—without ever being too on-the-nose about it—really is something of a metaphor for this turbulent moment in America. —Michael Chaskes


Fboy Island: Australia (The CW app)

Fboy Island host Nikki Glaser in season 2 of the now-cancelled HBO Max reality competition
U.S. Fboy Island host Nikki Glaser in season 2; season 3 (Photo by Hassen Salum/HBO Max)

I cannot believe I’m raving over an international edition of Fboy Island, but here I am. This is the best trashy dating show that I have ever watched. It’s perfectly cast, the storylines are hugely entertaining, and it has the most satisfying ending of any reality show that I have ever seen. —Rebecca


I’ll admit that I watched it illicitly first, but now the entire international franchise is on TheCW.com, along with both seasons removed from Max.

Aussie FBoy is a bit more brazen in its humor (the house decor is Freudian and curse words are uncensored), and the hostess Abbie is the one-woman-reality-empire down under reality, previously a Bachelor runner-up, I’m A Celebrity… winner, Masked Singer panelist, radio host and touring standup. (In other words, Katie Thurston’s spirit animal)

The finale has an unfair-but-oh so satisfying twist not yet seen in the US version. This and the well crafted kiwi version remind us what FBoy USA lost in the move to Network TV edge and budget.

Season 3 looks more like FBoy AirBnB House, with lame dates, humid air that leaves the protagonists sweaty, no Limbro or Villa for Nicky’s humor and worst of all, a bird even poops on the sofa and then Nicky during a girltalk segment. —Keith


Bering Sea Gold (Discovery)

I’m not proud of this, but I’ve become overly intrigued by the main characters. Also, I hate traveling but I’d still take a free trip to Nome to see if it’s as dreary as advertised. —Stephen Randall


The Mole/De Mol (Vier)

The Belgian version of the Mole is still the best thing on TV anywhere in the world—so much so that Netflix borrowed most of its challenges and made them worse for US Season 6.

This year’s season was set in Arizona but was—as with most Belgian seasons—heavily themed and the theme they chose was movies. Not only did we have an entire Western-themed episode, but there were challenges themed around Speed and Back to the Future—on top of the usual delights such as a bingo challenge against very competitive old people, one contestant needing to teach a class about Belgium with some…interesting interruptions and a war movie parody involving potato guns.

It remains the smartest dumbest show on TV and an absolute delight. —Michael Harmstone


Survivor Michigan: All Stars (YouTube)

The Survivor Michigan series often has better gameplay than the CBS version! They include more character development than a typical CBS season (and significantly less Jeff Probst), and the players are a joy to watch.

The All Stars season was the culmination of 4 seasons, and it was interesting to see the players navigate the 100-day season while they also finished their college experience. I’m looking forward to Season 6 (which premieres tonight, 11/28!). —Casey Archer


Love Island Games (Peacock)

It was the culmination of many years of Love Island series from around the world. There were cast members from UK, USA, Australia, Sweden, and Germany. The games were interesting as was the drama that resulted in non-competition reality show stars now being thrust into competition mode.

I also liked how they cast some of the most entertaining contestants from past seasons. The format could use a few tweaks for season 2, but all-in-all it was a great first outing. —JF


Portrait Artist of the Year (Prime Video)

This show has it all! Celebrity sitters, knowledgeable yet relatable judges and portrait artists from all over the United Kingdom. Thousands of artists submit their own self-portrait, and the best are chosen to compete.

Each week three celebrities are the models, and it’s so much fun to see the portrait process and then the big reveal to the celebrities. Ultimately one winner is chosen to move forward to the next round. They go on to the semi-final and the final, where the prize is a commission to paint a celebrity and have the portrait displayed in a prestigious art gallery.

This is a show with so much heart, yet the viewer learns a lot at the same time. I’d definitely recommend this series, and hope all your readers have a chance to watch it. I’m hooked, and I’m so glad there are seven seasons to enjoy! —Amanda Fecteau


The __ That Made America (History Channel)

Each of the (Toys/Machines/Brands/Megabrands) That Made America series dives into an iconic product, brand, restaurant, etc (right now new episodes of the Toys series is airing) its history, inventors, launch and success via narration, commentary and historic recreations. —Cat


The Greatest Show Never Made (Amazon Prime Video)

Interesting to learn the rise of reality TV shows and the fanatic following of them. Fascinating to watch what people will do, and did, to be on a TV show! I love the way the directors recreated the set and immersed the people in it to go back in time. —Martha Q-S


The Rehearsal (HBO)

What starts as a wacky reality TV premise—host Nathan Fielder helps people “rehearse” for big moments in their lives—spirals out into a bizarre soul-searching series as cringe-worthy as it is emotionally resonant.

The Rehearsal proves what time of content can be created when the reality TV art form is taken seriously (and given a health budget to match!).

Nathan not only throws people into a real social experiment that yields fascinating results, he also grapples with how the experiment impacts them, and in the process presents a blistering, necessary critique of the unscripted television apparatus. —Joe


Taskmaster (YouTube)

Taskmaster's Greg Davies and Alex Horne
Taskmaster’s Greg Davies and Alex Horne (Photo by Avalon UKTV)

It is really the flip side of The Great British Baking Show. British comedians sign up for a few weeks of doing absolutely ridiculous tasks, all set in and around a lovely garden shed, and they compete for prizes they bring in according to silly categories.

Everyone has fun, it’s hilarious, and they put all the episodes up, in full, on YouTube for international audiences. The New Zealand version (especially Season 2) is just as good. —Patrick Cleary


A very comedic take on a British classic, the panel show. Taskmaster Greg Davies gleefully judges the efforts of five celebrities (mostly comedians) across 10 episodes. They undertake a series of tasks devised by his sidekick “Little” Alex Horne that are strange/whacky/deceptively complex challenges that can be accomplished in a multitude of amusing ways (or not).

Watching the same comedians over the season, you get to see their thought processes at work (or not). Laugh (with Greg) at them and their (paltry) efforts as they win each episode (and that week’s prize task, gifts for the Taskmaste—the best pointy thing, softest thing, ugliest gift received) and vie for the season championship and the golden bust of Greg’s head.

All performed at a little house—and its shed—somewhere in London, for me there’s nothing more enjoyable than watching the insanity of it all, and nothing more British (certainly when tasks are performed holding a cup of tea). Comedy Central took the format, with Horne attached, some years ago. They bastardized it, somehow stripping the charm out and making it pretty unwatchable. —Matt Harrington


The Devil’s Plan (Netflix)

A person in a black mask with glowing blue jack-o-lantern-styel eyes and mouth talks into a microphone
The Devil’s Plan’s masked host addresses the players (Image via Netflix)

Fun South Korean Big Brother/Survivor variation with much more cerebral puzzle games!

The rules may seem complicated but when you see them in practice during competitions they make sense. Likeable personalities and an insight into South Korean culture if you’re not familiar make this a fun watch! —Jillian


Killer Cases (A&E)

Maybe not the entire series if you’re not a true-crime fan, but I highly recommend season 4, episode 2 if you’re a Survivor fan! It’s a story of a young man (The Eagle Scout) who reports that an intruder entered his home and killed his parents and his sister.

The interesting thing to me, is that one of the detectives on the case is Sarah Lacina from Survivor! It was fascinating to see her in her real life, doing her actual job. —Melissa


Ready to Love (OWN)

Ready to Love feels like a real dating show with real people. I love how it focuses solely on black dating. —Emily


Married at First Sight (Lifetime)

The “experts” pair singles who meet for the first time at the altar and become legally married. The stakes are much higher than other dating shows because they have to actually get divorced to get out of the relationship.

I love the Australian and UK versions of it too (although their laws prohibit an actual marriage at first sight) —Julie


Penn & Teller: Fool Us (The CW)

The show runs somewhat on autopilot at this point, despite trading cohosts with CW’s new regime. What is notable is the first act in the recent season 10 premiere: Penn’s firstborn, Moxie.

Penn was already fooled before any magic because Moxie (abetted by Penn’s wife) faked being in Scotland preparing for the fringe festival for taping dates. Seeing Penn truly flabbergasted that his child that should be in Europe was on his stage was oh so delicious.

What is even more notable is the show is silent about the fact that Moxie is a trans man. While younger and then publicly identifying as female, Moxie appeared twice with P&T in their segment of the show and once as a reveal in a contestant’s act.

I’m not sure, but I think this quietly makes Mox one of the few people to appear on the same reality show (and perhaps only in competitive show) as both male and female identities in different seasons.

Again, the show called NO attention or press to the transition part. Moxie was just Moxie. Which is beautiful, IMHO. In being careful, a couple of pronouns were awkward on the show, so Moxie even gracefully clarified his gender identity in an unofficial AMA on the Fool Us subreddit—with full positivity from P&T fan base. —Keith


Love After Lockup (WEtv)

Andrea and Lamar on Love After Lockup: Life After Lockup
Andrea and Lamar on Love After Lockup: Life After Lockup (Image via WE tv)

It’s actually pretty real in a lot of ways. Some go back to prison, have other secret girlfriends / boyfriends, some die. And this season added where are they now on Thursday nights which is very real. —Jason Tarlowe


Sister Wives (TLC)

These people are trainwrecks! Kody Brown is just a jerk who mistreats all his “wives”. Robyn, his favorite, is no better. There’s a reason she’s known as Sobbin Robyn on social media commentary. She constantly “cries” and I use this term loosely as there are no tears. It’s no wonder the other three have all left him, but it took way too long for them to do that. I’d love to get your take on this show. —Yvette Smith


Theality TV (Revry)

I am a longtime reader of Reality Blurred (since middle school and I am now in my mid thirties). One of the items on my bucket list has always been to appear on a reality show.

In 2020, my dream came true: Theality TV is a reality show that documents the making of an off-Broadway musical in NYC (including the entire casting process). 

The series is fun, funny, bizarre, unpredictable, campy, dramatic, and more…everything that you’d expect from a reality show about the theatre business. Think of it as a mix between Project Greenlight, Jury Duty, and Glee. —R.J. Magee


Project Greenlight (HBO)

A person sitting on a soft teal chair, leaning forward, hands together and holding a notebook
Meko Winbush interviewing for the Project Greenlight 5 director role, which she won (Photo by Max)

It was addicting to watch, and compelling to see how the finalist of the series didn’t seem engaged but did seem engaged at the same time—without taking the feedback provided at times. —Joe


Project Runway: Season 20 (Bravo)

An absolute love letter to past seasons (and to Nina Garcia, who seemingly hasn’t aged). PR20 did everything that Top Chef 20 didn’t. It handsomely celebrated its past, highlighting the current successes (and challenges) of its designer contestants, and its importance (in particular Kara Shaun and what she meant to young designers of color). This season made me laugh, bought me to tears (multiple times) and used Christian Siriano splendidly (his relationship with previous competitor Rami was a joy to watch). I fell in love with Project Runway all over again. —Matt Harrington

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Happy discussing!

Kim

Sunday 10th of December 2023

Lots of those are great pics... and there are a few I haven't heard of, but will definitely check out. LOVED Devil's plan. It was a much better reality version of Squid Game. Didn't love survive the raft as much as I had hoped...

JF

Sunday 10th of December 2023

Thanks for the inclusion! Great stuff as always, Andy!

Melissa

Friday 8th of December 2023

Ooh, I forgot about The ___ That Made America! I have all the toys episodes piled up in my DVR. I love the food episodes.