10 reality shows that were hits in other countries before the US
Published 3:30 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2024
10 reality shows that were hits in other countries before the US
American fans of reality television might be surprised to discover that some of the most popular reality series did not originate in the U.S. but outside of it. Before we knew it as “The Voice,” there was already “The Voice of Holland,” and Japan had conceived “Money Tigers” nearly a decade before “Shark Tank” became a thing in the States.
Driven to supply something new and noteworthy season after season to an insatiable market, entertainment professionals are always looking for success elsewhere to adapt to their own markets, and they often do a good job of finding it.
OLBG came up with a list of 10 reality shows that were hits in other countries before they became household names in the United States, gathered from various sources. These adaptations sometimes involve creative tweaks, such as the audience voting aspect of “Big Brother” from the Dutch version or the level of theatricality in the original South Korean version of “The Masked Singer.” But time and time again, a hit in another country is often a surefire idea back home.
The U.S. isn’t the only country to find a good thing and run with it: All of the reality shows on this list have been adapted in countries all over the world. Read on to learn about some popular reality series you probably didn’t know started elsewhere.
M. Caulfield // Getty Images
Deal or No Deal
Before “Deal or No Deal” was hosted by comedian Howie Mandel and featured little-known models like Chrissy Teigen and Meghan Markle, it was called “Miljoenenjacht” (Dutch for “hunt for millions”) in the Netherlands. The franchise was launched in 2000, though it was also based on another German game show called “Die Chance deines Lebens” (“The Chance of a Lifetime”).
The German show only lasted for six episodes and had a more unwieldy premise, but the Dutch version spurred an international franchise. While America’s “Deal or No Deal” has since ended (although there are solid plans to revive it), “Miljoenenjacht” is still going strong.
The biggest difference is that “Miljoenenjacht” has a grand prize of up to $5.5 million (depending on the exchange rate) as opposed to the usual $1 million on “Deal or No Deal.”
Theo Wargo // Getty Images
In 1997, a Swedish show called “Robinson” (formerly “Expedition Robinson”) aired to great success. The premise is about 16 or so individuals who are dumped off in an exotic, remote location where they compete against one another in challenges for a cash award, which will ultimately be awarded to one plucky contestant who has managed to withstand the daunting conditions.
Since then, the show has been adapted to air in dozens of other countries, but it became the juggernaut that it is today after it debuted on CBS in 2000. The success of “Survivor” over 20 years ago was so monumental that it is often credited as kickstarting the reality television empire of the 2000s. Both the original version and the American version utilize a similar format and are still going strong, but only one has the hosting excellence of Jeff Probst.
Eamonn M. McCormack // Getty Images
Dancing with the Stars
“Dancing with the Stars” is a popular, long-running ABC reality series in which celebrities and other notable figures are paired with dancers to compete against one another and be rated by a panel of judges and the audience. But before “Dancing with the Stars,” there was Britain’s “Strictly Come Dancing,” which has aired on BBC since 2004.
Built on the same premise that led to America’s “Dancing with the Stars” (including all the other various iterations of the show around the world), “Strictly Come Dancing” originated from another English series called “Come Dancing,” a ballroom dancing competition for noncelebrities or professional dancers. Thus, “Strictly Come Dancing” mainly focuses on ballroom in addition to Latin styles of dance.
Tom Williams // Getty Images
The popular cooking series “Iron Chef” didn’t start out on the Food Network but Japan’s Fuji Television under the same name. The series, which premiered in 1993, follows the same format as the American version, in which guest chefs compete with one of the show’s resident Iron Chefs in a time-sensitive challenge centered on one specific ingredient or theme.
Both the American “Iron Chef” and the Japanese original have ended, with the latter having aired over 300 episodes between 1993 and 2002 and the former over 240 episodes between 2004 and 2018 (however, a Netflix spinoff aired in 2022).
But even before that, there was 2001’s “Iron Chef USA.” Hosted by William Shatner, the show did so poorly that it ended its run quickly.
Amanda Edwards // Getty Images
Before Mark Cuban, there were the wealthy investors of Japan’s “Money Tigers.” The series premiered in 2001 and ran until 2004, but its massive success has spurred spinoffs and adaptations worldwide, including the Czech Republic, Finland, and Spain. The show is most commonly recognized in America as “Shark Tank.”
“Shark Tank” debuted in 2009 and has been going strong ever since, using the same format as Japan, wherein a panel of potential investors, or “sharks,” debate whether to invest in the businesses and inventions of various entrepreneurs. The first international format of “Money Tigers,” called “Dragons’ Den,” first aired in the U.K. in 2005.
Andreas Rentz // Getty Images
The Masked Singer
After winning over South Korea back in 2015 with “King of Mask Singer,” the premise made its way over to America in 2019 with “The Masked Singer.” The reality game show involves a panel of famous judges who try to guess the identity of elaborately costumed celebrities. To help them along, these costumed participants sing a song and give clues as to who they are. As with other performance-based shows, judges and audience members vote on the winner.
While the American version crowns a winner out of three finalists at the end of each season, the original South Korean program allows the winner to continuously play until they are beaten and replaced by a new Mask King—like a “Jeopardy!” champion.
With nearly 300 episodes, “King of Mask Singer” is still airing to this day, and America’s “The Masked Singer” has aired more than 130 episodes. But America wasn’t the only country to get “Masked Singer” fever: There are 54 versions of the series worldwide in places like Vietnam, Romania, and Greece.
Frederick M. Brown // Getty Images
Taking its name from George Orwell’s novel “1984,” the popular American reality show “Big Brother”—in which a group of contestants are isolated and monitored in a house together, voting one another out of the competition as they vie for a cash prize—started out as a Dutch game show back in 1999.
When the American version debuted in 2000, poor ratings forced the series to alter the premise by the second season, which initially followed the Dutch version closely. Now, instead of the audience determining evictees and the eventual champion, the players would decide one another’s fate through games and competition, bearing more resemblance to “Survivor.”
Peter Bischoff // Getty Images
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Before Meredith Vieira and Regis Philbin grilled contestants on this trivia game show (and it gained renewed interest with the 2008 film “Slumdog Millionaire”), “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” was a British program. The original series started in 1998—debuting one year before it did in America—and ran for 16 years. A revival series kicked off four years later in 2018.
The original format is still fairly the same, with some variations between the two: One contestant is quizzed on increasingly difficult questions on various subjects, with four possible answers to choose from and various “lifelines” to help them out.
While the British revival is still airing (though the new season is delayed), the American version was axed in 2021 after a carousel of hosts including Cedric the Entertainer, Terry Crews, and Jimmy Kimmel.
ROBYN BECK // Getty Images
Joe Rogan got his start on this popular reality game show that tested the willpower—and stomach power—of its contestants. But did you know “Fear Factor” was adapted from a Dutch TV show called “Now or Neverland”? Well, that’s probably because there actually isn’t much information available on the show despite its inspiring the entire “Fear Factor” franchise.
The original was produced for the U.S. by a Dutch-owned company called Endemol USA, and there are full episodes on YouTube floating around, purporting to be from the late ’90s.
“Now or Neverland” is clearly not airing in the Netherlands anymore. Unfortunately, neither is the American “Fear Factor.” The latter ended its original run in 2006, then had two revival seasons in 2011 and 2017.
Kevin Winter // Getty Images
Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton owe their marriage to meeting while co-hosting “The Voice,” but their match made in heaven might’ve never been had it not been for the original series, “The Voice of Holland.”
Originating in the titular European country, “The Voice of Holland” debuted in 2010 and had singing contestants trained by the coaches—themselves successful musicians—in teams. Their mentees then performed in untelevised auditions, and the singers with the most promise would make it to the blind auditions, where the hosts’ chairs are turned around while they perform and only turn to the front when they are chosen by a coach or finish singing to create new teams to advance to the next round.
Europe’s American counterpart “The Voice” has been running since 2011 and shows no signs of stopping; however, “The Voice of Holland” ended in 2022 after 13 years on the air due to scandal. Even so, the franchise has variations of the show in over 50 countries worldwide.
Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.
This story originally appeared on OLBG and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.