Reality TV has come a long way in the past three decades.
When The Real World first debuted on MTV 30 years ago last month, the seven not-yet-famous roommates wondered if anyone would even watch. Well, we did, and eight years after that, Survivor set off a seismic explosion of reality shows, with singing competitions, dating shows and celebreality trainwrecks soon rushing in to dominate the airwaves. Naysayers declared it was the end of culture as we know it, but like it or not, reality TV has evolved over the years to create its own culture: sometimes cheesy, sometimes messy but never less than fascinating.
These days, reality shows truly offer something for everyone, from high-minded inspirational fare to guilty-pleasure mudslinging and everything in between. It’s a lot to sift through, but we here at TVLine are helping out by rolling up our sleeves and selecting the 30 greatest reality shows of the past 30 years, in honor of The Real World‘s big anniversary. We ranked them based on quality and watchability first and foremost, but we also weighed a show’s legacy, longevity and cultural impact as well. The result: a highly opinionated guide to the very best reality TV has to offer.
Read on to see which shows made the cut and what earned our top spot — and, of course, you’ll have thoughts, too, so join us in the comments to tell us what we should’ve ranked higher or lower and mention any favorites we may have missed.