Netflix has become the perfect home for the reality show. The compulsive, addictive nature of real people in often extraordinary situations is perfect for the binge-watch model, and there are more reality shows hitting the service every month. There's also a huge variety of shows on there--from bargain hunts, body art, and makeovers to science experiments, troubled teens, and souped-up sleeper cars, there really is something for everyone.
In the early days of Netflix, the company would buy in shows from other networks, and there is still a wealth of great series that screened elsewhere before hitting the service. But with its increasing focus on original content, Netflix is now producing some of the best reality shows out there, with great hosts, interesting concepts, and high production values.
So here's a look at 15 of the best reality shows to check out on the service. And once you’ve done that, read our recent guide to the best food and travel shows on Netflix. Let's get real!
15. Money for Nothing
There's a whole subgenre of reality shows about making use of discarded objects, and the British series Money for Nothing is one of the best. The concept is simple and valuable. Host Sarah Moore finds some discarded junk and with the help of designers, transforms it into something desirable. For example, old microphone stands are turned into stylish lights, ceiling crown molding into a mirror, old kids toys becomes Christmas decorations, and a shabby old table transforms into, er, a stylish modern table. Best of all, if the item is sold (usually for some crazy amount) the cash goes back to the original owner.
14. White Rabbit Project
Given the popularity of online conspiracy theories, it's surprising that White Rabbit Project didn't get more than a single season before Netflix cancelled it. But the 10 episodes that you can find on Netflix make for great viewing. Presented by the Build Team from the much-loved Mythbusters, this is another mix of science and light-hearted entertainment. While Mythbusters attempted to prove or disprove a variety of urban legends, White Rabbit Project looks at weird historical and pop-culture phenomena, including escape-proof buildings, bizarre World War II weapons, and superhero tech. It's perhaps a bit unfocused at times, but the trio of Kari, Grant, and Tory are as engaging as ever.
MeatEater delivers exactly what the title suggests. Over the course of seven seasons, outdoorsman and conservationist Steven Rinella hunts animals across the world for food, from deers in Montana and geese in Alaska to New Zealand stags and Amazonian fish. While it's not one for vegetarians, Rinella does present a balanced, well-reasoned defence of the hunting lifestyle.
12. Shot in the Dark
The movie Nightcrawler put the spotlight on "stringers"--freelance news reporters who seek out footage to sell to news outlets. But this is the real thing. A Shot in the Dark follows three LA-based video reporters as they tour the city at night looking for anything that might make the news next morning, whether it's car crashes, fires, or gun fights. The most famous incident in the show is the moment where one cameraman pulls the driver of a burning car moments before it explodes, but the whole shows makes for compulsive but sometimes queasy viewing, implicating the viewer in the sensationalist, often tragic entertainment that these men are hunting for.
11.Highway Thru Hell
The Discovery Channel makes some of the most gripping reality shows out there, and Highway Thru Hell is no exception. This aptly-named series showcases the dangerous-yet-vital work performed by a heavy vehicle towing company on the extremely hazardous highways of British Columbia. These guys have the expertise to pull even the biggest trucks out of the snow and ice when they get stranded. Like many of the best reality shows, it's an enthralling mix of larger-than-life thrills and human drama, especially when dealing with some tough financial realities.
10. Skin Wars
Actress Rebecca Romijn's role as Mystique in the first three X-Men movies made her the perfect host for this body painting contest. It takes the format of America's Top Model and applies it to the world of body paint, with aspiring artists creating some outlandish designs in an attempt to win the grand prize of $100,000 from a panel of judges (including an out-of-drag RuPaul). While the format is nothing new the content is fascinating, with every episode delivering some truly incredible body art.
9. Fastest Car
Like the best reality shows, Fastest Car has a great, simple central concept. It pitches some of the world’s fastest sports cars against souped-up sleeper cars, to see which is fastest. Of course, it’s these ultra-modified jalopies you’re rooting for, but victory for the little guy (or car) is not guaranteed, making for some addictive TV. Honda CRX vs Ferrari California? Pontiac minivan vs Porsche GT3? Fastest Car provides the answers in hugely entertaining style.
8. Filthy Riches
Another entry in the "people turning trash into gold" subgenre, this National Geographic production focuses on people who live off the natural world, whether for food or profit. From eel catchers and worm traders to wood salesmen and plant pickers, it's a fascinating look at people who have rejected more "regular" ways of living in modern America and instead choose to get their hands dirty.
7. Ultimate Beastmaster
There's no way that a show produced by Sylvester Stallone, hosted by Terry Crews, and called Ultimate Beastmaster was ever going to be anything other than supremely entertaining, and it is Ridiculously athletic contestants from around the world face off on a massive monster-themed obstacles course for a big cash prize. It's Netflix's first completive series, and the international flavor demonstrates the company's interest in creating worldwide brands, with multiple hosts presenting each individual event simultaneously.
6. Sing It On
Inspired by the hit movie Pitch Perfect and produced by John Legend, Sing It On puts the spotlight on the world of competitive a cappella. It uses the American Idol auditions format, with five existing groups looking to replace graduating members, before they go on to participate in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, which is supposedly the "Super Bowl for a cappella." The teenage behind-the-scenes drama isn't always that interesting, but the show does a great job of showing just how much hard work is involved in becoming a winning a cappella group. And man, can these cats sing.
5. Undercover Boss
Based on the British series of the same title, this is a show for anyone who feels their boss has no idea what real work is. The concept is simple. he boss of a company goes "undercover" as a new employee to find out how his operation really works, and what other employees think of the way things are run. Each episode usually (ok, always) ends with the the boss revealing himself to his or her "new" colleagues and promising to make the workplace much better. Undercover Boss has clearly touched a nerve with America's underappreciated workforce and has proved a ratings juggernaut.
4. Coach Snoop
25 years ago, Snoop Dogg was one of the world's biggest rappers; now, you're as likely to find him coaching kids football as you are spitting rhymes. In Coach Snoop, the laconic hip-hop icon mentors a team of at-risk kids, keeping them off the street and on the football field, using his own troubled background as proof that there is a way out. What could have been a ridiculous and sentimental show is actually a heartfelt, surprisingly raw experience, where the sport is really just a backdrop for some very human stories.
3. Girls Incarcerated
The most recent show on this list, Girls Incarcerated follows the teenage inmates of a Juvenile Correctional Facility in Madison, Indiana. While there have been plenty of shows about prison life over the years, the fact that these are all minors makes it a different experience. It's hard not to feel some sympathy for many of them, and while the show doesn't attempt to condone their crimes, it doesn't outright condemn them either. Instead, it allows the girls to tell their own troubled stories and reveal what led them to make some very wrong decisions.
2. Terrace House
This Japanese reality show began broadcasting in Japan in 2012, but in 2015, Netflix took over production and brought it to an international audience. The format--six strangers living in a house together--is a tried-and-tested winner, with the likes of The Real World and Big Brother popularizing it in the West. The difference here is however cultural and in tone. While those other shows are quickly-edited soap operas that often revolve around conflict, jealousy, and ambition, Terrace House is, well, slow and nice. With glossy production values, likeable and interesting people who actually want spend to time with each other, and a calming, relaxing vibe, it proves that you don't need to argue to entertain.
1. Queer Eye
Queer Eye was a much-loved reality show that ran for five seasons between 2003 and 2007, in which a group of gay men attempted a full clothing-and-lifestyle makeover on a hapless straight dude. A decade latter, Netflix revived the show to much acclaim. The central quintet of super-stylish experts (termed the Fab Five) are new and while the formula remains the same, this version goes beyond the central concept to address issues of support, friendship, and inclusivity. It's sweet, funny, and compulsively watchable--and thankfully will return for Season 2.