Highest-rated reality TV shows

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2022

High Noon Entertainmment

Highest-rated reality TV shows

Whether you’re someone who lives for the drama of reality TV or just considers it an occasional guilty pleasure, its dominance can’t be understated.

The trend started during the 1940s and 1960s, with shows like “Queen for a Day” and “The Dating Game” entertaining audiences and serving as early prototypes of what would become popular contest shows like “The Voice.” In the ’50s, quiz shows dominated the airwaves and paved the way for primetime staples like “Jeopardy!” (though a bombshell cheating scandal almost killed off the genre entirely).

The genre transformed with “An American Family.” A predecessor to powerhouse shows like MTV’s “The Real World” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” the 1973 PBS documentary is considered the first reality series on American television. It followed the lives of an upper-middle-class family in Santa Barbara, California. The director thought viewers would be shocked if they could look at the real lives of American families.

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During filming, the parents went through a divorce and the drama attracted 10 million viewers at the height of its popularity. While there have been variations of reality TV since, the early 2000s saw a new explosion of shows like “American Idol” and “Big Brother,” which shaped reality TV as we know it today.

Despite accusations that some shows are staged, scripted, manipulated by producers, or otherwise not “real,” the genre is now inescapable, with hundreds of reality shows making their debut in American homes and impacting pop culture. To help pick out the shows that stand out in this wide-ranging genre, Stacker looked at IMDb data for shows with more than 1,500 votes and ranked them by their user ratings. From dance-offs to communicating with animals, no topic has escaped reality TV’s grip. Who knows, along the way you may find your next show to indulge in.

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A contestant appears in an episode of The Colony

Original Productions

#50. The Colony

– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Years on the air: 2009-present

This Discovery Channel program follows a group of people who must survive in a simulated post-apocalyptic environment. Past season themes have included surviving a global viral outbreak and the collapse of modern civilization.

Andrew Zimmern in Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern

Tremendous Entertainment

#49. Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern

– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Years on the air: 2006-present

In “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern,” chef Andrew Zimmern travels to exotic locales where he samples the culture’s most unique delicacies. Unlike other travel food series, this show walks viewers through the entire process of the dish—from its history to the procurement of ingredients, preparation, and the customary method of consumption.

Drag queens chat in the dressing area

World of Wonder Productions

#48. RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked!

– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Years on the air: 2009-present

A spinoff to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the Logo TV show exhibits the drama, fights, and secrets we never saw during the airing of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” RuPaul narrates the behind-the-scenes footage.

Series host Mike Rowe

MRW Productions

#47. Dirty Jobs

– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Years on the air: 2005-present

Imagine a food travel show, but instead, the food is first eaten by horses, then spat back out and pooped on for good measure—that is the essence of “Dirty Jobs.” Hosted by Mike Rowe, the show takes a look into the various jobs throughout the country that involve messy, disgusting, or difficult duties. The series has been nominated for several Emmy Awards and spawned the spinoff “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” with Rowe and the Dirty Jobs crew.

Contestants appear on Shark Tank

MGM Television

#46. Shark Tank

– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Years on the air: 2009-present

A spinoff of the Japanese show “Dragon’s Den,” the show chronicles aspiring entrepreneurs who must pitch their product to business investors or “sharks,” with the hopes of reaching an investment deal. Winner of several Primetime Emmy Awards, the ABC series is a massive success, achieving over 9 million viewers at its peak.

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Billy Eichner in Billy on the Street

Funny or Die

#45. Billy on the Street

– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Years on the air: 2011-present

Comedian and voice actor Billy Eichner created, produced, and starred in this comedy game show series. Each episode features Eichner walking the streets of New York, stopping random pedestrians and quizzing them on their pop culture knowledge. The delightfully silly show is made even better by frequent celebrity cameos (Will Ferrell, Lena Dunham, and Stephen Colbert have all made guest appearances).

Two fighters in the ring

UFC – Ultimate Fighting Championship

#44. The Ultimate Fighter

– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Years on the air: 2005-present

UFC and MMA’s take on reality TV sees 16 top mixed martial arts fighters competing for a UFC contract. The show has helped provide a platform for future successful fighters. Highlights include YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice against veteran Roy Nelson, which attracted 6.1 million viewers, making it one of the most viewed MMA fights in history.

Cast of characters assembled by a pool

Bunim-Murray Productions

#43. The Challenge

– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Years on the air: 1998-present

Originally titled “Road World/Road Rules Challenge,” this competition show includes crossovers of other MTV shows like “Are You The One” and “The Real World,” where past members of those shows compete against each other in various challenges for a cash prize. The tension and alliances of members make it as much a soap opera as a competitive reality show.

Fishermen sort through a pile of crabs

Discovery Network

#42. Deadliest Catch

– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Years on the air: 2005-present

This documentary series chronicles the tenacious life of Alaskan crab fishermen—one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Even the film crew is put in situations where their own lives are in danger. However, the show’s uniqueness lies in its deep exploration of the philosophies of a fisherman.

Series host Mike Rowe

Amazing Race Productions

#41. The Amazing Race

– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Years on the air: 2001-present

The show pits 11 two-member teams as they race around the world. The race is generally split into 12 legs, with each leg requiring teams to decipher clues, navigate foreign areas, interact with locals, perform physical and mental challenges, and vie for airplane, boat, taxi, and other public transportation options on a limited budget provided by the show—all for the grand prize of $1 million. The show’s popularity has amassed 10 Emmy Awards and still pulls in more than 5 million viewers per season.

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Scott Lane in Shot in the Dark

Karga Seven Pictures

#40. Shot in the Dark

– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Year on the air: 2017

This Netflix documentary series follows three freelance journalists who race around Los Angeles each night trying to be the first to get video coverage of newsworthy events. The series gives viewers an inside look at the high-intensity life of a stringer but did face some backlash for the way it side-stepped examining any of the moral implications of the work.

A still image of a woman in Life Before Zero

BBC Worldwide Productions

#39. Life Below Zero

– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Years on the air: 2013-present

Given the interconnectedness of our world today, many folks forget that there are places even in the U.S. that are (nearly) inaccessible. “Life Below Zero” focuses on these parts of Alaska, that aren’t accessible by car, and the hardy, determined people who make a life there anyway.

Host Morgan Spurlock walks with miners

Actual Reality Pictures

#38. 30 Days

– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Years on the air: 2005-2008

A documentary-style program where an individual is inserted into a lifestyle completely different from their own upbringing, beliefs, religion, or profession for 30 days. Hosted by “Super Size Me” filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, the FX show explored and provided an enlightening, alternative look into various communities throughout the country.

Cesar Millan poses with a dog and a fan

DigitalRalph // Wikimedia Commons

#37. Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan

– IMDb user rating: 7.9
– Years on the air: 2004-2016

The National Geographic show followed Cesar Millan and his incredible ability to communicate with dogs and translate to their owners. Millan uses behavior modification techniques and the philosophy that exercise, discipline, and affection are required “in that order” for dogs to be healthy and balanced.

Two battle bots duking it out in an arena

BattleBots Inc.

#36. BattleBots

– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Years on the air: 2015-present

Though it has switched networks several times over the course of its run, the premise of “BattleBots” has remained the same—a group of mechanics builds remote-controlled robots that face off in an arena combat elimination tournament. The show, which is a mix of STEM content and WWE antics, is based on a British series called “Robot Wars.”

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A racing car on a lighted track

Whalerock Industries

#35. Hyperdrive

– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Years on the air: 2019-present

Charlize Theron executive-produced this reality series about elite racing drivers who compete against one another on one of the world’s largest racing courses. As of May 2022, there is no word yet on whether this popular Netflix show will be receiving a second season.

Chip and Joanna Gaines

High Noon Entertainmment

#34. Fixer Upper

– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Years on the air: 2013-2018

Home renovating power-couple Chip and Joanna Gaines help clients in the Waco, Texas, area turn their houses into remodeled homes made for the real estate runway. Their formula is simple: Couples pick out a home, then Joanna designs it and Chip serves as the lead contractor. Overall, their budget is typically less than $200,000. Of that, they usually spend a minimum of $30,000 on renovations.

Karl Pilkington in The Moaning of Life

Me + You Productions

#33. The Moaning of Life

– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Years on the air: 2013-2015

When “The Moaning of Life” started, its host, comedian Karl Pilkington, had just turned 40. Faced with new uncertainties brought about by middle age, the Brit traveled around the world to see how other countries dealt with some of life’s more serious issues (marriage, the pursuit of happiness, the decision to have children). The show’s blend of light-hearted moments and more earnest consideration of bigger issues made it entirely unique.

A soccer field at sunset

Amazon Studios

#32. All or Nothing: Manchester City

– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Years on the air: 2018

An Amazon Original, “All or Nothing: Manchester City” follows the Manchester City Football Club through the course of their 2017-2018 season. Amazon went all out for the sports documentary series, reportedly paying 10 million British pounds for behind-the-scenes access to the football club, and hiring Sir Ben Kingsley to narrate.

Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice in Kenny vs. Spenny

Blueprint Entertainment

#31. Kenny vs. Spenny

– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Years on the air: 2002-present

Compared to other series on this list, “Kenny vs. Spenny” is a fairly low-budget production, but what it doesn’t have in terms of style it more than makes up for in content. The Canadian series follows two friends, comedians Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice, who compete against each other in various challenges. The loser of each episode has to do something humiliating, which is often chosen by the winner.

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Kenny Hotz in Kenny Hotz's Triumph of the Will


#30. Kenny Hotz’s Triumph of the Will

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Years on the air: 2011-present

“Kenny vs. Spenny” hasn’t released a new episode since 2010, but that doesn’t mean its stars have just been sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Kenny Hotz has spent some of the time since filming a second series, “Kenny Hotz’s Triumph of the Will,” in which he takes on bigger, more “serious,” challenges like helping his mother find love and brokering peace between religious groups.

Bobby Berk in Queer Eye: We're in Japan!

Scout Productions

#29. Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Year on the air: 2019

“Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!” follows the Fab 5 (Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, Antoni Porowski, Karamo Brown, and Bobby Berk) as they travel to Japan to provide life-changing makeovers to a host of different individuals. The one-season series was just as touching and emotional as the original.

Host Josh Gates poses in front of the Sphinx

Ping Pong Productions

#28. Expedition Unknown

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Years on the air: 2015-present

Explorer Josh Gates from “Destination Truth” is on a new adventure to uncover more legends and mysteries. With Gates’ return, no stone, or mystery, will be left unturned.

Participants watch as judges taste their dishes in MasterChef Australia

FremantleMedia Australia

#27. MasterChef Australia

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Years on the air: 2009-present

Each season of “MasterChef Australia” sees 50 amateur chefs competing to prove they have the best culinary skills and are able to prepare the best dish, of anyone in the competition. Through a series of individual and team competitions, a three-judge panel chooses a single winner, who takes home $250,000 in cash, a professional training opportunity, and the chance to publish their own cookbooks.

Two detectives at a crime scene

Grenada Entertainment

#26. The First 48

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Years on the air: 2004-present

An A&E documentary series chronicling the hours following a real-life homicide and the response by investigators, “The First 48” knows how to draw viewers in. The show’s unprecedented access to police departments has generated controversy because such access is not typically given to traditional local news media. Despite this, the program remains popular and has more than 540 episodes in the can.

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Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman in Long Way Up

Big Earth

#25. Long Way Up

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Years on the air: 2020-present

A follow-up to “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down,” “Long Way Up” sees actor Ewan McGregor and pal Charley Boorman set out on another long-haul motorcycle journey, this time from Argentina to Los Angeles. The travelogue introduces viewers to cultures they may otherwise not know much about and highlights the important work UNICEF programs around the world are doing (the men visit programs in three South American countries).

A contestant applies prosthetic makeup to a model

Mission Control Media

#24. Face Off

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Years on the air: 2011-2018

A Syfy show, “Face Off” pits makeup artists against one another in challenges to create prostheses such as those found in science fiction and horror films. The works are then judged by a panel that eliminates contestants until a winner is crowned and given the grand prize of $100,000. 

Bear Grylls in Man vs. Wild

Diverse Productions

#23. Man vs. Wild

– IMDb user rating: 8.2
– Years on the air: 2006-2020

The original survival show, “Man vs. Wild” follows adventurer Bear Grylls as he shows viewers how to survive in “worst-case scenarios” from being lost in the jungle to being stranded in the Arctic. While most viewers love the nail-biting suspense of the series, many can’t overlook the fact that much of it is pre-planned or shot out of order.

Host Marcus Lemonis in a scene from The Profit

Machete Productions

#22. The Profit

– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Years on the air: 2013-present

This CNBC show features struggling small businesses who are offered capital investment and expertise from successful businessman Marcus Lemonis. The show is hailed as a must-watch for small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Host Jason Silva interacts with three children

Magical Elves Productions

#21. Brain Games

– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Years on the air: 2011-present

“Brain Games” promises to be a mind-bending experience, and it mostly delivers, coaxing viewers and onscreen volunteers to participate in experiments tied to visual, auditory, and cognitive processes. These are dubbed “brain games” in the National Geographic reality show hosted by Jason Silva.

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A woman watches a sword she is forging closely

Outpost Entertainment

#20. Forged in Fire

– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Years on the air: 2015-present

A niche reality series if there ever was one, “Forged in Fire” follows bladesmiths as they compete against each other to forge the best weapon. Although it may seem that it would only appeal to those already enmeshed in the craft, viewers report that the series is enough of a straightforward competition (aka has no manufactured drama or hyperspecific terminology) that it can easily be enjoyed by the most casual viewers.

Karl Pilkington in An Idiot Abroad

Me + You Productions

#19. An Idiot Abroad

– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Years on the air: 2010-2012

Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and Karl Pilkington team up in this globe-trotting travel series. The show sees the travel-averse Pilkington shuttled off to far-fetched destinations, while Gervais and Merchant regularly call their friend, assigning him travel tasks and experiences he’s bound to hate.

Host Adam Savage in an episode of MythBusters

Beyond Entertainment

#18. MythBusters

– IMDb user rating: 8.3
– Years on the air: 2003-2018

Created by Peter Rees, this science-entertainment-fused program follows Hollywood special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman in their mission to test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes, internet videos, and news stories. The show has been praised for its scientific approach and methods of testing.

An exploration of Lillooet, British Columbia, Canada

Frantic Films

#17. Still Standing

– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Years on the air: 2015-present

Not to be confused with the CBS sitcom of the same name, “Still Standing” is a Canadian reality series about some of the country’s smallest towns. Comedian Jonny Harris acts as the show’s host, traveling to these often-struggling communities and getting to know the residents, crafting a unique comedy routine based on the insights he gleans.

Ian Washburn unboxing a battery pack in Bad Unboxing

Ian Washburn

#16. Bad Unboxing

– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Years on the air: 2014-present

One of the only YouTube TV series to make this list, “Bad Unboxing” sees content creator Ian Washburn open some of the fan mail he receives. Tokens sent include everything from handmade objects to adult toys to hateful notes.

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Football players at training camp

NFL Films

#15. Hard Knocks

– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Years on the air: 2001-present

Each season, this sports documentary chronicles the life of an NFL team and its players during training camp and leading into the season. It’s reality TV plus sports, combined with the production of HBO and NFL Films, so all that makes “Hard Knocks” a real head knocker.

A contestant holds up a fish in the wild

Leftfield Pictures

#14. Alone

– IMDb user rating: 8.4
– Years on the air: 2015-present

The History Channel launched its own survival show where 10 survival experts attempt to hold out on their own for as long as possible in the wilderness with just the contents of a backpack to aid them. The $500,000 on the line makes the struggle worth it for these contestants. 

A dog being given medical care in The Incredible Dr. Pol

National Geographic Television

#13. The Incredible Dr. Pol

– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Years on the air: 2011-present

Filmed in rural Michigan, “The Incredible Dr. Pol” follows a veterinarian as he cares for the region’s animals. While Pol and the staff at his clinic care for traditional pets like dogs and cats, they spend most of their time tending to larger farm animals.

Anthony Bourdain in Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

Zero Point Zero Production Inc.

#12. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations

– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Years on the air: 2005-2012

The second Anthony Bourdain series to make the cut, “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” follows the chef as he explores various cultures and communities through their food. Episodes are set in countries all over the world, as well as in cities dotted across the U.S.

A lineup of contestant on a pink set

World of Wonder Productions

#11. RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars

– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Years on the air: 2012-present

RuPaul does it again, inviting past contestants of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to compete in the Drag Race Hall of Fame. The winner is then crowned queen, and may she slay for many years to come.

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Karamo Brown, Antoni Porowski, Jonathan Van Ness, Tan France, and Bobby Berk in Queer Eye

KC Film Office

#10. Queer Eye

– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Years on the air: 2018-present

A reboot of the original Bravo series, “Queer Eye” follows the “Fab Five” as they employ their various specialties (food and wine, fashion, grooming, culture, design) to transform the lives of deserving participants. The feel-good show is beloved for its LGBTQIA+ representation as well as its representation of people of color.

Contestants gathered in full drag

World of Wonder Productions

#9. RuPaul’s Drag Race

– IMDb user rating: 8.5
– Years on the air: 2009-present

Remaining a huge hit, this VH1 show documents famed drag queen RuPaul and her search to find “America’s next drag superstar.” It has an elimination-style format where contestants are given challenges as a panel of judges decides who gets the boot. The show is celebrated for its colorful personalities and clever quips. And if you’re looking for drama? It’s got enough to last the coldest of winters.

The Witchcraft & Superstition episode of Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham

Boardwalk Pictures

#8. Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham

– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Years on the air: 2021-present

“Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham” follows Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish (of “Outlander” fame) as they drive around their native Scotland, learning about their heritage. Despite only having nine episodes in total, the mini-series was a huge hit with Starz viewers who wanted more from their fictional escape.

NFL players on the field

Two Arizona Cardinals football players on the field

#7. All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals

– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Year on the air: 2016

Narrated by actor Jon Hamm and produced by a partnership between Amazon and NFL Films, this heavy-hitting documentary follows the life of this NFL team. Unlike “Hard Knocks,” the show chronicles players, owners, and coaches’ lives throughout an entire NFL season.

Sal Vulcano, Brian Quinn, James Murray, and Joe Gatto in Impractical Jokers: Inside Jokes

NorthSouth Productions

#6. Impractical Jokers: Inside Jokes

– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Years on the air: 2016-present

A spinoff of the original “Impractical Jokers,” this show actually just re-airs old episodes of that series with pop-up trivia sprinkled throughout. Fans seem to love the chance to get to know the jokers (James Murray, Brian Quinn, Sal Vulcano, and Joe Gatto) better, and appreciate the inside glimpse at the group’s off-screen dynamic.

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Michael Theo in Love on the Spectrum

Northern Pictures

#5. Love on the Spectrum

– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Years on the air: 2019-present

Dating reality series are nothing new, but this Netflix series switches the age-old concept up a little by focusing on neurodivergent singles. Originally an Australian series, the streaming giant released a U.S.-based season in 2022.

Matt Lucas, Crystelle Pereira, Prue Leith, and Paul Hollywood in The Great British Baking Show

Love Productions

#4. The Great British Baking Show

– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Years on the air: 2010-present

There’s just something about this British baking competition show that viewers find heart-warming, comforting, and almost unbearably wholesome. Maybe it’s the judges—Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith—maybe it’s the earnest, amateur contestants, or maybe it’s the complete lack of drama and backstabbing.

Cast members from Impractical Jokers

Jamessmurray~commonswiki // Wikimedia

#3. Impractical Jokers

– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Years on the air: 2011-present

Best friends and comedy troupe Joe, Murr, Q, and Sal push each other into participating in public pranks that are then filmed by hidden cameras. The show is praised for its twist on prank-based comedy. Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times stated that “The gag pays off twice: once in the reaction of the unsuspecting passer-by, once in the discomfort of the fellow doing the asking.”

The Repair Shop sign


#2. The Repair Shop

– IMDb user rating: 8.7
– Years on the air: 2017-present

Another British series, “The Repair Shop” sees a group of expert craftsmen work to restore family heirlooms. A number of incredibly valuable objects, like a Picasso vase and a Frederick Appleyard painting, have been featured over the course of the show’s seasons.

Jeremy Clarkson and Lisa Hogan in Clarkson's Farm

Con Dao Productions

#1. Clarkson’s Farm

– IMDb user rating: 9.0
– Years on the air: 2021-present

In “Clarkson’s Farm,” British media personality Jeremy Clarkson (of “Top Gear” fame) attempts to run his thousand-acre farm in the Cotswolds. Although it’s not always a productive venture—the farm is literally named “Diddly Squat” thanks to its inability to produce many usable crops—fans love watching Clarkson muddle his way through the process.

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