Top 10 Controversial Reality Shows

Script written by Kurt Hvorp When it comes to reality shows, sometimes a line or two is crossed. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Controversial Reality Shows. For this list, we're going back through television's storied history to find the reality shows whose content was questionable at best, and heavily criticized at worst. Special thanks to our user Kyungsun Lee for submitting the idea on our Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest!
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Top 10 Controversial Reality Shows



When it comes to reality shows, sometimes a line or two is crossed. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Controversial Reality Shows.

For this list, we’re going back through television’s storied history to find the reality shows whose content was questionable at best, and heavily criticized at worst. We’re not including any shows that didn’t make it to air, such as “All My Babies’ Mamas” – our focus here is strictly on programs that have had a chance to make an impact, for better or worse.

#10: “Teen Mom” (2009-12)


Teenagers have a tough enough time without having a child to worry about. Playing off this idea, in 2009, “Teen Mom” was born as a way to chronicle the lives and hardships of four teenage mothers, previously featured in the first season of “16 and Pregnant”. Though the concept may be interesting, the show received some criticism for glamorizing teen pregnancy… To say nothing of its stars’ questionable decisions and aggressive behavior.

#9: “There’s Something About Miriam” (2004)



There was indeed something going on here – but we don’t necessarily condone how it was handled. In this limited reality series, Mexican model Miriam was wooed by 6 men, each competing for a trip with Miriam and £10,000. However, there was a catch: Miriam was a pre-op transgender woman, a fact only revealed to the men in the last of six episodes. This detail angered many transgender groups and critics, who viewed the show’s premise as cruel; even the six men were up in arms, banding together to sue the show for damages.

#8: “Big Brother” (1999-)



When a show shares a name with a fictional symbol for all-encompassing authority, you know it’s something... unique. Named after the character from George Orwell’s book “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, this franchise has built itself on a reasonably simple premise – set up cameras in a group house, insert some competitors, and let the sparks fly. Controversy is not unknown across the fifty-plus incarnations of “Big Brother”, which includes footage showing competitors making bigoted remarks or resorting to bullying, alongside allegations of game rigging.

#7: “Jackass” (2000-02)



Nothing quite like self-harm and death defying stunts for the audience’s amusement, right? Well, from the outset of this MTV show’s two-year run, “Jackass” built a reputation for some of the most risky stunts and pranks on television – which can be divisive for people. U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, for instance, sent a letter to MTV’s parent company Viacom; the senator felt that airing the show posed a threat to children. While we doubt the show’s direct effect on kids, it has been stated as the inspiration behind a 16-year old being doused in gasoline and set ablaze. Yikes.

#6: “Sister Wives” (2010-)



Marriage knows no bounds, it seems. Such appears to be the basis of this reality show, centered around ad salesman Kody Brown, his four wives, and their group of children. Focusing on the life and times of a polygamist family can seem odd to some... especially in the United States, where polygamy is illegal. From 2011 to 2013, the Brown family engaged in a court case questioning if their situation violated America’s laws against multiple marriages. The Brown family ultimately won, but the show’s subject gained notoriety as a result.

#5: “The Jerry Springer Show” (1991-)



It’s easy to forget how different television was in the 1990s. Just look at “The Jerry Springer Show”, a talk show hosted by ex-politician Jerry Springer. The show heavily fixates on two things: sensationalist stories and mid-show fights. The frequency and degree of violence in these fights caused several religious figures and television personalities to criticize the show in 1998. More intriguing, though, are allegations that the fights were staged and based on a quota. It’s certainly attention-getting, we’ll say that much.

#4: “The Swan” (2004)



Such a beautiful name for such controversial subject matter. “The Swan” was a weekly series about women deemed “ugly” being given extensive makeovers and plastic surgery, all leading up to a beauty pageant. Much of the show’s premise and proceedings were heavily criticized by feminist scholars and journalists, for its perceived mean-spirited and conformity-driven nature. Fortunately for them, “The Swan” suffered low enough ratings that it was cancelled before a third season could be green lit.

#3: “My Husband’s Not Gay” (2015-)



Uh... where to begin? Well, this TLC show kicked off as an hour-long special, spotlighting four Mormon men who were married to women – but were also attracted to men. Web and television critics alike quickly jumped on the chance to critique the show, debating whether or not it was worth watching. In addition, the organization GLAAD claimed “My Husband’s Not Gay” poses a threat based on its portrayal of homosexuality. Regardless, it remains to be seen where the show goes from here.

#2: “Blachman” (2013)



Television’s restraint loosens a little bit more with this fascinating Danish series. Consisting of only six episodes, “Blachman” is surprising in its simplicity; the host Thomas Blachman sits with a male guest, a woman walks in and strips off a bathrobe, and Blachman and his guest discuss both the woman’s body and their roles as men. Nevertheless, the show raised eyebrows with its questionable subject matter and perceived sexism. Perhaps that’s why the show was cancelled after a mere month on the air.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- “Jersey Shore” (2009-12)
- “Fear Factor” (2001-06)
- “19 Kids and Counting” (2008-)

#1: “Toddlers & Tiaras” (2009-13)



This is among the most impactful of controversial reality shows, especially considering the discussions it’s raised. “Toddlers & Tiaras” spotlights families involved with child beauty pageants, with toddlers being the focus – a given, considering the title. However, this has invited criticism of parents who dress their children in adult-themed costumes and expose them to potentially great risks. Whether or not the concerns are valid, the show eventually spawned the spin-off show “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo”. Make of that what you will.

Do you agree with our list? What controversial reality show draws your eye? For more surprising Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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