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Top 10 Reality Shows

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Everything is relative – even reality. And nowhere is that more true than in reality television. Crazy storylines, fabricated conflicts, false drama: all that is what makes this genre of programming one of the most popular things since sliced bread, and there have been a ton of shows that have reinvented the proverbial wheel. To celebrate the premiere episode of the 16th season of "Dancing with the Stars," is counting down our picks for the top 10 reality shows. For this list, we've decided to choose one series per theme, and to pick shows that were highly rated and had a significant impact on the genre in the United States, for better or worse.

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Top 10 Reality Shows

Everything is relative – even reality. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 reality TV shows.

For this list, we’ve decided to choose one series per theme, and to pick shows that were highly rated and had a significant impact on the genre in the United States, for better or worse.

#10 – Real “Extraordinary” People: “Jon & Kate Plus 8” (TLC 2007-2011)

A show about the ups and downs of raising multiples – what could possibly go wrong? It started off cute, but soon it was all divorce, lawsuits and child labor questions. The lesson? Fame can go to anyone’s head, and make them a douchebag. Plus, it was the first of many questionable TLC shows – for more information, see “Breaking Amish,” “Sister Wives,” and “Honey Boo Boo.”

#9 – Weight Loss: “The Biggest Loser” (NBC 2004-…)

No surgery or fancy makeovers here: it’s all sweat, work and guts. Whether you tune in for motivation or an ego-boost, rooting for an underdog is a tried-and-true formula. Is a weight-loss competition kinda bad? Perhaps. Are the expectations realistic? Not exactly. Is it safe? Probably not. But, like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” this show helped make reality TV a force for good, not evil, so congrats.

#8 – Dance: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC 2005-…)

Take washed-up celebs, add hot dancers, over-the-top tans, and – of course – personable judges, and you’ve got the recipe for a show that draws in millions of viewers and was, at its peak, the top rated show on TV. The dancing theme is also successful on “So You Think You Can Dance,” but seeing stars succeed at a new skill – or better yet, fail – is just fun television.

#7 – Fashion: “Project Runway” (Bravo, Lifetime 2004-…)

In fashion, one day you’re in, the next day, you’re out – and by bringing class to reality TV, “Project Runway” will be “in” for a while. Aided by fashion industry pros like Tim Gunn, amateur designers are whittled down and auf’d by Heidi Klum and her fellow judges – and that’s where the vibrant personalities shine. It beats “America’s Next Top Model” because it’s more about fashion than fighting.

#6 – Celebrity: “The Osbournes” (MTV 2002-2005)

Rock stars. Fights. Dogs. And swearing. Oh, the swearing! That’s what made this MTV’s most watched show. We bet you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw Ozzy struggling with that remote control. This show obliterated the boundary between celebrities and their fans in a way tabloids couldn’t duplicate, and soon we were living with “Newlyweds” and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

#5 – Business: “The Apprentice” (NBC 2004-…)

“The Ultimate Job Interview” is just one of producer Mark Burnett’s many reality show brainchildren. With cutthroat boardroom culture on display, candidates compete for the chance to work for The Donald. Trump shares screen time with other fiery personalities, and those he doesn’t like get axed. “Celebrity Apprentice” brings something new to the table, and reminds us that success in Hollywood does not make smart businesspeople.

#4 – Voyeurism: “The Real World” (MTV 1992-…)

Before “Road Rules,” “Big Brother,” and “Jersey Shore,” there was “The Real World” – in fact, it’s this unscripted series that makes MTV a genre pioneer. A diverse group of 18-to-25-year-old strangers lives in a fishbowl for several months, where themes of intolerance, sexual preferences, drugs, abortion and AIDS consistently surface. Though it gets bad press for glorifying binge drinking, promiscuity and other problematic behavior, it’s stayed on TV for over two decades for a reason.

#3 – Dating: “The Bachelor” (ABC 2002-…)

Despite a reputation for staged storylines and its spotty match-making track record, people eat “The Bachelor”’s dating drama up. And why not? It’s beautiful women cat-fighting over a beautiful man at a beautiful mansion for a beautiful rose. Without it, we may never have had Flavor Flav’s or Tila Tequila’s dating shows, so… thanks?

#2 – Music: “American Idol” (FOX 2002-…)

Before “AI” premiered, Simon was some mouthy Brit, Paula was a washed-up singer/dancer and Randy said “dawg.” What a difference a decade makes: the hugely popular franchise spawned stars, imitators and an Oscar winner – all thanks to your votes. Of course, there were also these guys. The show’s stayed fresh thanks to new blood in the judges’ chairs, and while Seacrest may’ve toned down the highlights, some things never change.

#1 – Survival: “Survivor” (CBS 2000-…)

Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. It’s voyeurism, survival instinct, a $1 million payoff and Jeff Probst’s dimples that make the show a ratings force. Why’d it beat the award-winning “Amazing Race” for the spot on our list? Because, while it wasn’t the first reality show, “Survivor” definitely ignited the craze.

Do you agree with our list, or do you vote us off the island? For more top 10s about your favorite shows, be sure to subscribe to

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