Reality competition series has come a long way from the days of Star Search and Candid Camera. Today, reality competition shows range from testing competitors’ survival skills to demonstrating singing chops or showcasing a variety of different talents, from fashion to sports, cooking, or even building Lego. With Netflix having announced a new Squid Game reality competition show, it’s clear there are no signs of the genre slowing down.
Needless to say, reality competition series run the gamut, and so does the list of the best ones. Sources like Ranker poll readers, asking them to vote on favorites. And while some top entries are predictable, others might be surprising. Note: Ranker lists are live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this publishing.
Note: Due to the nature of Ranker’s live voting, the rankings of the list are subject to change.
10 Chopped (2009-Present)
Still going strong after an impressive 52 seasons, fans eat up (pun intended) everything Chopped has to offer. A reality cooking game show, each episode features chefs going head-to-head-to-head-to-head with one another in a cooking challenge. The prize is $ 10,000, enough for a family vacation or to add some serious gear to their kitchen set-up.
Just cracking the top 10, Chopped has spawned many spin-offs as well, including Chopped Sweets focusing on desserts, Chopped All-Starsand Chopped Grimm Mastersalong with several Ultimate Champion seasons pitting the top competitors from each season against one another once again.
9 RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-Present)
With multiple Emmys to its name, including being the only show to ever win both Outstanding Reality-Competition Program and Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program (accomplishing this three times over), it’s no surprise that RuPaul’s Drag Race makes the cut. It also ranks among the best LGBTQ + TV shows on Hulu right now.
RuPaul himself serves as the host of the competition series that sets out on the hunt for the next big drag superstar. There have been 14 winners to date and a variety of spin-offs developed, ranging from All Stars to Celebrity editions.
8 Project Runway (2004-Present)
Despite the departure of long-time host Heidi Klum and mentor Tim Gunn, Project Runway continues, now in its 19th season with more than 30 international adaptations. The focus of this reality show is to find the next big fashion designer, with the winner preparing a line to be shown at New York Fashion Week.
Indeed, Project Runwaynow hosted by Karlie Kloss, has introduced the world to some huge names in fashion, including Christian Siriano, who now serves as the fashion design mentor on the show.
7 American Ninja Warrior (2009-Present)
In just a few seconds, a difficult obstacle course someone has trained months to conquer could be all over. Or, if they’re lucky, they could make it to the end and qualify for the next round. It’s intense and fascinating to watch people with seemingly superhuman strength making it through some of the most difficult obstacles that involve them hanging, jumping, balancing, and more, defying gravity, and using every muscle in their bodies.
A great watch for the whole family, American Ninja Warrior has aired 14 seasons to date. While there have been many fan-favorite contestants from American Ninja Warrior, only three people have ever achieved Total Victory. This requires not only the completion of a devilish final course but also doing so within a time limit.
6 Face Off (2011-2018)
One of the lesser-known titles on this list, Face Off aired on the Syfy channel and featured prosthetic makeup artists creating the kinds of masks and costumes that would typically be seen in science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies and TV shows. The final products were examined by a panel of expert judges who eliminated one artist each week until the last person standing became the winner.
There were 13 seasons in a total of the show that might not have had as wide an appeal as the others on the list but ranks as a favorite among those who watched.
5 Hell’s Kitchen (2005-Present)
Arguably the king of cooking reality competition shows, it stands to reason that at least one of Chef Gordon Ramsay’s shows would rank within the top 10. But Hell’s Kitchenhis earliest, even cracks the top 5. Aspiring chefs clamor at the opportunity to work with the foul-mouthed, Michelin star chef, soaking up his knowledge about cooking while also trying to keep up with the fast pace and quality control in his kitchen. .
The prize is a big one: the chance to work in one of Ramsay’s restaurants around the world. Where are the Hell’s Kitchen winners now? Indeed, many past winners have gone on to take this prize and continue to work in, and even run, establishments within Ramsay’s empire.
4 Big Brother (2000-Present)
One of the earliest ever reality competition TV shows of this new generation, Big Brother continues to air to this day, with Julie Chen serving as host through its entire run. Inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, 16 or so players from all walks of life are placed in a house together where they must live, strategize, and compete in a variety of physical and mental competitions for the final prize of $ 500,000. Each week, one (or more) people are put up for eviction by a person named the Head of Household that week and voted out by their housemates.
Prepping for season 42, which premiered in the summer of 2022, Big Brother is actually based on the British show of the same name. There have been several international versions launched since as well, along with a celebrity US edition and even a special streaming edition on CBS All Access (now Paramount +).
3 The Challenge (1998-Present)
The longest-running reality competition show on this list, The Challenge began as a spin-off of The Real World and Road Rules and continued to feature a variety of players who had recently appeared on other MTV reality shows. It has been receiving renewed interest of late thanks to featuring favorite players who appeared on shows from other networks as well like Big Brother, Survivorand The Amazing Race.
With a total of 37 seasons, The Challenge was initially not called The Challenge: it began as Road Rules: All Stars and switched names to The Challenge in season 19. The focus of each season is to challenge the players to compete in various physical missions, and battle head-to-head with others after which team members vote them out. While fans do think The Challenge needs some reinventions, it continues to remain one of the most popular in the genre.
2 The Amazing Race (2001-Present)
Debuting shortly after others like Survivor and Big Brotherfans love The Amazing Race not only for the aspect of competition, but also for the reliance on teamwork and communication with a partner, whether that’s a spouse, sibling, close friend, or someone else.
What truly sets the show apart, however, which is effectively a highly sophisticated scavenger hunt, is that it takes players all over the world where they get to experience different cultures, languages, and environments. Meanwhile, viewers get to learn about different countries, traditions, and history, making the show as educational as it is entertaining. The Amazing Race has racked up 10 Emmy Awards since it launched.
1 Survivor (2000-Present)
Even though it has been on the air for 22 years, with Jeff Probst as host from the get-go, Survivor still manages to delight fans. It has a formula that’s followed every season, from the players heading out to a remote island where they must build their shelter, find their food, and forge their alliances. Each season features weekly Tribal Councils, competitions, and reward challenges.
Through the seasons, the show has tried to shake things up with various themed episodes and tribes, new twists, from the immunity idol to the shot in the dark, and other interesting elements. It’s truly the players, however, that fans love to watch. What’s most exciting is that the journeys often lead to personal growth, confidence building, and the development of valuable new skills and coping tools that make participating worth it for more than just the chance to win a million dollars.
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