Over the past two decades, reality TV has exploded all over the world, and is now one of the most-watched genres in the history of television. The premise of the genre suggests a view into the lives of real people with real issues, mostly doing things to entice the curiosity of the viewer. Many shows attempt to bring the star of the show a little closer into orbit with the everyday viewer at home. Behind the scenes, a lot of these shows are anything but real, especially as they often employ a convoy of scriptwriters to help producers spice up a specific storyline. Editing can also affect how any cast member is perceived, and as the shows on our list of popular reality shows illustrate, more often than not a prominent villain is nothing more than the work of an imaginative team of producers.
1. Pawn Stars
When it comes to fake reality television, ‘Pawn Stars’ takes the cake. Fans love watching its stars interacting with “walk in” customers who are ready to sell their prized possessions for a fortune, or leave with egg on their faces after finding out that their item is worthless. As it turns out, show leads like Rick Harrison don’t even work behind the counter at the pawnshop to begin with, as a manager he is usally in the office rather than the shop front. Interactions are vetted, participants sign waivers before appearing on screen, and shooting is done in a private area. This gives producers the chance to anticipate what may happen in the interaction, and takes away any real astounding moments when someone brings in something that is actually valuable. Then again, you don’t expect people with high value items to head to a pawn shop to begin with, especially if they can get a better deal from an auctioneer or private collector.
2. Love It or List It
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but in reality a lot of the families on this popular home makeover show don’t really consider moving out of their homes, especially if HGTV is going to pay for all the renovations in the first place. The alternative houses they are forced to go view are often not even on the market to begin with! If you’re excited to be a participant, don’t put too much merit in hosts David and Hilary giving you expert advice about your home. The pair may be a spunky duo, but in reality they’re actors, not renovation specialists. It’s well known among industry insiders that the confrontations are staged, and any kind of building or structural problems are mostly discovered well before they even start the renovations process.
3. Duck Dynasty
A little bit of Google research can go a long way, and if you happen to find yourself looking at old photos of the ‘Duck Dynasty’ cast, you’ll realize just how fake the cast of this program are to begin with. While meant to chronicle the happenings of the Robertson family, an entrepreneurial family that became wealthy for creating products specifically for duck hunters, the show is about as scripted as they get. Showrunners and producers craft tense scenarios upfront, leading the cast in a flurry of confusing confrontations. Some fans have even discovered that bleeps are inserted into clips to scale up the so-called tension in the scene. ‘Duck Dynasty’ is peak fake reality TV, and it can be hard to believe it ran for over five years across 11 seasons.
4. House Hunters
‘House Hunters’ is renowned for helping couples to find their dream homes. Whether you’ve always wanted to own a home, or are looking to move soon, or just like seeing houses, a vast majority of people can relate to a show built around this concept. As it turns out, most couples that are filming the show have already bought their dream homes. Producers like to play it out as a real search, when in fact, the couples have already signed on the dotted line for their mortgage. This allows the show to play into unrealistic budgets and to fabricate some of the key interactions during any given episode. Good TV? Perhaps. Fake reality TV? Absolutely.
5. Jersey Shore
If you watched MTV in the early 2000’s, chances are you caught one of the hundreds of episodes of ‘Jersey Shore’, a show that chronicles the day-to-day shenanigans of a cast of characters known for reckless behavior, partying and drama. While a lot of what the show features happened in real-time, producers do what they can to amplify the cast missteps in every scene. Anyone staying over at the house gets vetted by producers, even though they are portrayed as nameless hookups. Many of the fights between cast members are staged, and while people like “Snooki” have gone on to have lucrative endorsement deals, the show predominantly succeeded by making fun of Jersey culture.
6. Long Island Medium
Theresa Caputo has built a recognizable brand for herself as a Hollywood medium with a hit television series. While ‘Long Island Medium’ is excellently edited to make her paranormal encounters with the public seem real, researchers suggest her team does a lot of work in getting as much information as they can about the person before they get their reading. Social media can be of great use for this, and skeptics are quick to note the public profiles of a lot of the people on the show itself. Theresa has a waiting list of nearly two years, so clearly people are buying into what she does. While it’s worth enjoying for entertainment value, don’t put your money on an authentic encounter if you happen to get a call about participating on the show.
7. Fixer Upper
While ‘Fixer Upper’ is not as staged as some of the other renovations shows on the market, it still manages to make the list for some of the antics adopted by producers to create “real life” reality television. One example of this is when hosts Chip and Joanna reveal the renovated house to the family at the end of the episode, when in fact, most of the furniture ends up right back on the moving truck once production wraps. Participants have spoken out about the fact that everything does happen in real time, but are quick to note that they are often asked to repeat certain things so producers can attain the desired effect. It’s safe to say that this show should come with a “based on true events” notice before each of the episodes kick off.
8. Beachfront Bargain Hunt
Reality shows involving real estate are hot property in the television world, especially as they offer the creators of the show access to a mass audience. It’s safe to say that everyone dreams about owning a home one day! As it turns out, on ‘Beachfront Bargain Hunt’ the couples have a lot to say about the house they turn down because they’ve actually already closed a deal on another house. The show documents them walking through fake potential homes and offers them reasons to reject the property, similar to how a writer will feed lines into an actor on a movie set. More shockingly, if you want to be a realtor on the show, you have to already be in the closing stages of an existing deal to sell a house. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news to authentic house hunters all around the world.
9. Mountain Men
The History Channel does a great job of advertising ‘Mountain Men’ with beautifully shot and edited promos that keep people coming back for more time and time again. One thing the promos have in common with the actual show is an excessive exaggeration. Some of the castmates have admitted to being asked to overstate their personalities, effectively being someone they absolutely aren’t in real life. The cast is also far more well off than the storyline allows them to divulge and a lot of the “serious” incidents are set up in advance, with cast reactions being filmed days or weeks later. A close call with wolves? Nope, just a few interesting shots with everyday dogs.
10. Designed to Sell
‘Designed To Sell’ might not be a favorite home of home renovation enthusiasts in comparison to other shows like ‘Extreme Makeover’, and perhaps this has something to do with the overly fake premise of the program itself. HGTV is happy to stage fake open houses to get the shots they need, even inviting friends and family to act as fillers if they need people at the last minute. Better yet, a lot of them are asked to pretend to be interested buyers. If you can look past this, you might be stopped dead in your tracks when hearing that they shoot multiple endings for each episode, so the producers can decide how it all pieces together in the greater scheme of the episodes within the given season. Does it get more fake than this on primetime television?
11. Hunting Hitler
While the premise of the show might be alluring to TV viewers, History Channel’s ‘Hunting Hitler’ is somewhat offensive considering there are many people who would prefer to believe that the former leader of the Nazi’s has been six feet under for a while now. The show is based on an idea that he faked his death and escaped to South America, with show hosts exploring new leads and “scientific evidence” that is hardly that groundbreaking. At times, the show focuses more on clues that seem to point in the direction of Hitler being dead to begin with. There are multiple fabrications spread across the series and some consider it to be exploitative by capitalizing on something related to real life horrors that people are still trying to heal from.
12. Keeping Up with the Kardashians
The Kardashian clan is undoubtedly one of the most famous families in the world, having been on the air for 13 years across 18 seasons already. The show has made household names out of sisters Kim, Khloe and Kourtney and even featured Kylie and Kendall Jenner growing out of their childhoods into high profile careers and motherhood. Few people know that the house featured in exterior shots in the show doesn’t even belong to mother hen Kris Jenner, and was used as a stand-in until the property itself was sold two years ago. Known for fabricated storylines and attempts to create drama out of smaller family altercations. Some go so far as to cross over into the public eye on social media, but insiders suggest that this is all done to help boost ratings. From marriage proposals to feuds on vacations, a lot of what you see should be taken with a pinch of salt.
13. Southern Charm
Bravo has had many prominent reality series in recent years, and ‘Southern Charm’ was meant to be the network’s answer to ‘Real Housewives’. Following the lives of South Carolina’s prominent socialites, there is very little about this series that is real. Some reports suggest that one couple didn’t even live in South Carolina during the filming of the first season. Others suggest that scenes are cut and pasted according to what makes the most sense to move a dramatic narrative forward. This isn’t anything new for reality TV, but it may still come as quite a surprise to fans who have held onto every word of their favorite housewife in the series as statements of fact.
With all the reruns of this series that MTV ran in the 2010’s, and still does today, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of ‘Catfish’. Hosts Neve and Max help people who believe they are romantically linked to someone online who isn’t who they say they are to uncover the truth, sometimes with disastrous consequences and heartbreak. In reality, the catfisher is often the one who talks to producers, signs release forms and agrees to be edited in a way that helps the story come together better. If at any stage they seem surprised for being caught out, you best believe the person is showcasing their acting chops. The sad part of this is that the person who finds out they are being catfished is ultimately catfished by the series itself, perhaps leading to even more heartbreak in the process.
15. American Pickers
‘American Pickers’ is grounded in the haggling process, but as it turns out, the price bargain happens in advance. Guests who have been on the show have spoken out about the fact that locations are scouted by producers and not the pickers. This gives them a chance to investigate before they start shooting and takes any type of real discoveries off the table to begin with. The character of “Hobo Jack” isn’t even a homeless man. He’s a successful collector and owner of multiple properties. The first time he has ever been called a hobo was as a result of the show, largely because producers thought it would add another layer to their storytelling process.
16. Cake Boss
Wouldn’t we all love to have a birthday cake from Buddy’s bakery? The promos sure make the show look enticing, but unfortunately, any semblance of reality goes out the minute from the second they start filming the show. The storylines are all developed upfront and staged after the fact. The show always features excited customers waiting in anticipation for the surprise of the cake delivery, when in fact, they’ve been informed of what they are getting (and seen the final product) before filming even begins. Nobody would pay hundreds of dollars for a cake for a milestone event and take the risk of it being something they don’t like at all. One thing that isn’t staged? The queues outside Buddy’s bakery, featuring tourists from all over the world who have seen ‘Cake Boss’.
17. The Biggest Loser
We all love a good success story, especially when it comes to people making life changes like the ones shown on ‘The Biggest Loser’. Firstly, the show has come under fire for having medical staff without proper training, which includes reports that contestants may have been given substances to help with excessive weight loss each week. The famous scale that the contestants stand on each week is just a prop, and real weigh-ins are done a few days before. From watching the show, you may have noticed that a lot of contestants get involved in some sort of drama, often involving another person staying in the house. The drama is curated before by producers, and editors do their best to make contestants look lazy and aggressive. The show might have had skyrocketing ratings in its early days, but more recently it has faced more and more criticisms for what it represents to begin with. There has been serious criticism from former contestants about the bullying antics of the trainers on the show, the excessive fat-shaming, and the dangerous gambling on people’s health for the sake of ‘good TV’.
18. The HGTV Dream Home Giveaway
As a side note, it’s worth keeping in mind that HGTV really does give away a fancy, massive home to one lucky family each year. This is one of the parts of the show that are actually true, albeit that the network doesn’t show you what happens afterward, and the reality that faces the winners. For starters, painfully high taxes can be expected, and 40% of the value of the property goes to the IRS when submitting their next returns. A small amount of ‘HGTV Dream Home Giveaway’ winners have been able to actually hang on to their homes in the long run, opting to rather see the house as a vacation property, before getting rid of it in a bid to better manage their finances, and to avoid having to maintain properties that are inconsistently priced with what they are earning at work per year.
19. Deadliest Catch
‘Deadliest Catch’ brings the drama even just in the title of the show. Widely known for their fabricated drama, the best kept secret is that the show is actually causing some issues for the fishing industry itself. TV fishing crews get paid well to be on the show, which means they can focus their energy on it as an acting gig, rather than on meeting their daily quotas in order to earn a living. Astonishingly, the extra income allows them to price out regular fishermen and subsequently everyone finds it harder to earn a living. Dramatic storylines in tow, the fake storms that are often fused together to showcase one mega-storm in final edit are nothing in comparison to the disaster that the program may spell for the local fishing community in the long run.
Ever watched ‘Bridezilla’ and wondered how anyone could marry such a toxic person to begin with? That’s exactly the point. The melodrama is taken to new heights at the request of producers, and people are cast based on their ability to bring shocking and entertaining moments to the episode. Producers do what they can to make people angrier or get them to cry, and often these scenes are shot time and time again. The more swear words they can include, the better. As you can imagine, even just being followed around by a TV crew as you prepare for your big day can add to the anxiety and stress, which is why so many participants look back and struggle to recognize themselves in the versions they are being portrayed as on screen.
21. Ice Road Truckers
A little known fact about the popular ‘Ice Road Truckers’ is that the first scene in the series showcasing a truck dropping ice into cold water was actually done using miniature models built to scale. If anything, this set the stage for the rest of the series to be as fake as it gets. It came as no surprise that cast members have come forward and admitted that the show is fully scripted, as well as edited in a way that makes certain people look like heroes, and others like villains. This is usual reality TV tricks, although it’s worth keeping in mind that the topic of discussion in the show is actually something quite serious. Ice road trucking is dangerous, and producers do what they can to make it look as risky as possible.
22. The Bachelor
Fans of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette, look the other way! These long standing shows have built legions of fans based on someone finding “the love of their life” in what can only be described as a game show type contest to vie for the attention of a single person. The usual scripted storylines are added to the series aplenty, and as it turns out, many of the couples on the show end up separated or divorced after a short while. The producers have done this for so long, that they already know which people will fare best with the audience base of the show. They do what they can to ensure that people who create the most drama end up winning, or coming close to it.
23. The Real Housewives
‘The Real Housewives’ may have a hard time defending itself against accusations that it isn’t scripted. Aside from having “real” in the name of the show – which is somewhat laughable – cast member Terese Giudice from the New Jersey version of the series was forced to swear under oath that the show was scripted during real life court proceedings. Naturally, fights are planned and dramatized for TV, with the show doing its best not to reveal that many of the cast members may project living lavishly, but underneath the surface they often face huge financial strain. Any takers for this kind of lifestyle after all?
24. Naked and Afraid
While contestants really are out in the wilderness and naked during filming, some former contestants on ‘Naked & Afraid’ have admitted that the camera crew, as well as nearby civilization, really hurts the impression that you are as alone as the show makes it out to be. One past contestant even recalls hearing a DJ playing club music nearby one night, as well as running into local kids out to play soccer during filming. As with any reality show, the program focuses on smart editing and producers doing what they can to get the shots that they need as part of a broader narrative for the episode.
25. Property Brothers
TV stars Jonathon and Drew Scott are famous for ‘Property Brothers’, where the former realtors do little more than smiling and posing for shots, while hiring real contracting crews to do the actual physical labor show in the series. HGTV is renowned for these types of programs, where “finding a house” is actually done in advance and the cast is under contract for a home already before they even step on set. If you spot someone on the show looking particularly torn about a decision to find a house, don’t put too much weight on it. In the end, they’re acting just as much as the hosts are.
26. American Idol
‘American Idol’ has been a cultural phenomenon since its debut in the UK as ‘Pop Idol’ back in 2001. The show has captivated audiences for many seasons, including navigating judge changes and format alterations to try and keep the series alive amid growing competition like ‘The X-Factor’ and ‘The Voice’. Funnily enough, the people receiving golden tickets to Hollywood week from the blind auditions are often scouted before, and while they have to wait in line, producers indicate to the judges whenever someone is on the shortlist. The same applies for the worst of the singers, who are often fast tracked in the line to ensure they are filmed before shooting wraps. As many tell-all’s on Youtube suggest, the series is as scripted as any other reality show you have on the market.
27. Storage Wars
A&E’s ‘Storage Wars’ has built a strong following for the network, largely as people enjoy the surprise of seeing what people stumble onto after bidding for abandoned lockers with unknown owners. In recent years, David Hester, known as a big start of the series, has sued the network claiming that most of the production was fake. The lawsuit detailed that valuable items were planted in certain lockers, and that lockers were often littered with junk to try and throw the cast off the scent. A&E settled the lawsuit without agreeing with or denying the claims brought forward during the investigation.
28. Breaking Amish
‘Breaking Amish’ captivated audiences in America as a result of its shocking premise: the series showcases Amish youths looking to abandon their upbringing in exchange for a life in the big city. As it turns out, TLC made some mistakes during the casting process – two of the stars who were shown to have only recently met, were proved to have had a relationship for over a year as a result of social media, and as it turns out, they even had a child together during this time. One cast member was even arrested four years prior to shooting for public intoxication, meaning he had been out of the community for longer than the show alluded to. These scandals meant that the series got the ax after just 20 episodes.
29. Mystery Diners
The Food Network has a lot of great shows, but ‘Mystery Diners’, a series where restaurant owners contact Charles Stiles to set up a sting operation to out bad employees, takes the cake as an idea that may have been better left in the production boardroom. Most of the time, the “bad employees” are hired actors, paid on the premise of signing non-disclosure agreements. Radar Online even went as far as to pinpoint a character called “Chef Dave” from The Grove Bar in Arizona, who was actually an actor named David Gilbert, the owner of his own production studio. If that doesn’t tell you how fake the show is, nothing will.
30. South Beach Tow
While many of the companies featured on ‘South Beach Tow’ are real, the incidents shown during each episode are 100% dramatized and in many cases, total works of fiction at the hands of the production team. The show may follow two towing companies and their endeavors to be first to help people get their cars towed, but previous employees have spoken out about just how scripted the series is. While the incidents are based on real-life scenes, a lot of the noise made by castmates about “rival towing companies” and how they are stealing tows is fabricated, with names of employees for these companies completely made up by the production team.
31. RuPaul’s Drag Race
There’s no denying that ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ has become a cultural phenomenon and is well known for bringing LGBTQ+ issues to the forefront of the minds of people from all over the world. That said, the competition, which features drag queens squaring off against each other for a grand prize, often involves fabricated drama and good editing to showcase some contestants in a negative light, and others that are more popular with the public in a positive way. Past contestants claim that producers egg them on to say nasty things, in a bid to create better television. Fake or not, the show remains a hit.
32. Basketball Wives
‘Basketball Wives’ delivers exactly what the title suggests, following the spouses of prominent NBA players as they navigate the highs and lows of being married to a sports star. Shaquille O’Neal’s wife stars in the series and even acts as a producer for the series too, along with a couple of other famous names and faces. As with many VH1 shows, the series is highly scripted and very often scenes are staged. Previous castmates have talked about producers trying to start off air problems in a bid to dial up the drama on air. At the end of the day, a reality show is only as good as how long it can hold the attention span of its viewers. ‘Basketball Wives’ does whatever it can to try and stay on the air.
33. The Apprentice
It’s hard to believe there was a time when American president Donald Trump was just a billionaire TV host. ‘The Apprentice’ introduced him to a younger audience and subsequently began a search for him to find proteges to help run some of his businesses. The show might have been a hit at the time of airing, but since Donald moved into the White House a lot of behind the scenes stories have started to surface. As it turns out, Trump often fired contestants without consulting producers, which meant that they had to tailor and edit the footage to make certain contestants look unfavorable before their big exit. From a purely aesthetic perspective, the boardroom the series filmed their dismissals in was as fake as it gets, and even the shots where contestants leave the building in a taxi were staged.
34. The Voice
‘The Voice’ is widely popular thanks to its “blind” auditions, where celebrity judges hit a button to turn their chairs around and “bid” to add contestants to teams from only hearing their voices during the audition. As it turns out, and like it’s ‘American Idol’ competitor, a lot of the contestants are vetted and brought in ahead of time in order to populate a well rounded cast for each season. Fans were stunned when in 2015, the lead singer of Low Cut Connie revealed that he had been approached by producers about being on the show. He turned them down, and fans of the series were shocked that he had been approached to begin with. The truth hurts after all.
35. MasterChef USA
‘Masterchef’ is a very popular show, with the Australian version of the program generating millions of viewers each year, and making household names out of its contestants in the process. Originating in the UK, spinoffs in other countries like the U.S have also done well, albeit that in this particular version there have been many reports of attempts to spice up the kitchen drama aside from just the cooking element of the show. One former contestant revealed that the contract he signed to appear on the show indicated that he had to agree to be “fictionalized” – essentially stating that if he was humiliated by his portrayal in the edit, he would have to live with it. Producers sometimes add in dialogue during key moments, and do what they can to elevate the show where possible. Thankfully, the Australian version is still dubbed as one of the more real seasons of the whole bunch.
‘Chopped’ is a favorite of fans of The Food Network, and as with many reality shows, it pits contestants up against each other in a bid to find the best-of-the-best in their niche. On the lookout for a culinary genius, the show eliminates contestants based on who has the weakest dish each week. As it turns out, producers like to add some variables into each cook, with some reports suggesting that certain staples are purposefully kept in limited supply in the pantry to create tension between contestants. There also seems to be a rush for contestants to grab ingredients before cooking, when in fact, they have ample time to have a look at what they want as they wait around on set for filming to start, especially if there are delays on the day.
37. Geordie Shore
As with many reality shows, British and American show concepts are interchanged between the two, hoping to find a strong audience between one or both of the two markets. ‘Geordie Shore’ is the British version of the hit MTV series ‘Jersey Shore’, which we’ve already listed here as one of the fakest shows in the world. The same applies to its British counterpart, which was caught in a social media storm in 2018 due to a trailer showcasing the birthday of one of the cast members. The problem? The trailer was released on the day of her actual birthday, meaning timelines did not match up and a fake birthday was filmed for the series. The cast member didn’t even try to deny that it was fake, replying to tweets confirming the scripted nature of the series.
38. Made in Chelsea
‘Made In Chelsea’ is a popular British reality show that follows some of the most affluent young adults in the Chelsea region as they navigate life and love among their circle of entitled acquaintances. As with many of these types of shows, the drama is totally staged. While the cast has gone through many changes over the years, one former star recalled getting calls in the morning of shooting letting him know where to be that day, what he was supposed to do, and how he should act. Another recalls dinner scenes being filmed at 7am, often involving producers spurring cast members on with leading questions, to try and get them to drag out their initial responses.
39. Alaskan Bush People
For some people, the idea of living out in the Alaskan wilderness would be a scary thought, which is exactly why the Discovery Channel thought it would make an intriguing concept for one of their latest reality shows. ‘Alaskan Bush People’ follows the Brown family, who apparently consists of a group of people born and raised in the wild. The truth? The family didn’t even live in the wild when they were cast. Their so-called “bush home” was used for filming purposes only. The truth will always get out, and a legal dispute about the family residence revealed that the family lived outside of Alaska for most of 2009 to 2012, losing out on Alaskan residency dividends they were after. Ouch!
40. The Island
‘The Island’ is the US answer to the hit UK series hosted by Bear Grylls. Contestants are dropped on a deserted island for four weeks and left to their own devices for food, shelter and staying alive. You’d think that they may really have to fend for themselves to begin with, but miraculously, bodies of water (scoped out by producers) are revealed as soon as things get too dire. Food also has a knack of appearing on the show, thanks to producer foresight. When the authenticity of the show was questioned by fans, producers admitted that they had to do what they could to ensure all participants had enough to survive the 28 day shoot. At least they’re not going around lying about it.