Cringe Television: 24 Worst Reality TV Shows Ever

Tyra Banks

Many reality shows are captivating and have something interesting to offer. Others are just guilty pleasure viewing. However, there are many more reality series that are simply garbage — shows that are not only toxic, offensive, and weird, but they’re just not good.

1. Dance Moms (2011-2019)

Dance Moms Maddie Ziegler, Mackenzie Ziegler
Image Credit: Lifetime.

Topping the list of the most toxic reality shows is Dance Moms. I know the drama can be insanely entertaining, but watching what these little girls go through, how they behave, and even worse, how their parents behave, is disturbing on a level that’s hard to explain.

2. I Wanna Marry “Harry” (2014)

I Wanna Marry Harry (2014)
Image Credit: Ryan Seacrest Productions.

This reality show was just mean. Women were coaxed onto the show with the promise that they’d have a shot to win over Prince Harry’s heart. Yes, the Prince Harry. But it was just a Harry lookalike, so the show was stupid from the get-go.

3. The Jenny Jones Show (1991-2003)

The Jenny Jones Show (1991-2003) Jenny Jones
Image Credit: Telepictures Productions.

The Jenny Jones Show was like the most horrendous tabloid magazines come to life. This was toward the beginning of talk shows, and Jenny did anything and everything to get crazy reactions from people. The show and its host have even been accused of being the catalyst for a horrible murder.

4. 19 Kids and Counting (2008-2015)

19 Kids and Counting (2008-2015)
Image Credit: Figure 8 Films.

Everyone has the right to make their own decisions regarding their family, but I think most people would agree that 19 kids are too many. It's heartbreaking to watch the eldest children be forced to raise the youngest. That’s not even mentioning the horrific information that came out about some cast members when the show stopped airing.

5. The Swan (2004-2005)

The Swan (2004-2005) Caroline Flack
Image Credit: FremantleMedia North America.

Nowadays, the movie makeover montages that turn “ugly,” “nerdy,” and “tomboy” women into someone who caters to the male gaze are seen as toxic. Well, The Swan was that montage come to life, where real women were “transformed” from ugly ducklings to swans. It was cruel and probably did a lot of damage to the self-esteem of girls watching it.

6. The Biggest Loser (2004-2020)

The Biggest Loser (2004-2020)
Image Credit: Universal Television Alternative Studio.

Do I even need to explain this one? Being healthy is important, but the contestants on this show were literally emotionally, physically, and mentally abused. Watching an episode nowadays is uncomfortable, and Jillian Michaels seems like a monster.

7. Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew (2008-2012)

Celebrity Rehab with Dr Drew (2008-2012)
Image Credit: VH1.

Rehabilitation is an arduous journey and not something that should be filmed and aired on national television for people to critique and laugh at. The idea that the people behind this show were truly dedicated to helping people recover is a sick joke.

8. Fear Factor (2001-2018)

Fear Factor (2001-2006)
Image Credit: Endemol USA.

Fear Factor was tough to watch, especially if you’re an empathetic person. People were put through horrible, painful, and terrifying situations. They were allowed to quit anytime, and everyone consented to the challenges, but it was still a brutal series.

9. America's Next Top Model (2003-2023)

America’s Next Top Model
Image Credit: 10 by 10 Entertainment.

Listen, I loved watching America’s Next Top Model as a teenager, but that probably wasn’t awesome for my self-esteem or self-perception. Tyra Banks presented herself as someone who would uplift these aspiring models, but instead, she tore them down constantly.

10. My 600-Pound Life (2012-Present)

My 600-Pound Life (2012-)
Image Credit: Megalomedia.

I didn’t know until I wrote this that this show is still on. Like Celebrity Rehab, it doesn’t help anyone to show people at some of their lowest points. In addition, the show exploits the subjects and does not provide any mental health care to help them.

11. Boy Meets Boy (2003)

Boy Meets Boy 2003
Image Credit: Alan Light – CC BY 2.0/Wiki Commons.

A Bachelor-esque dating show for gay men? How lovely and progressive for the early aughts, right? Wrong. This twisted show followed a gay bachelor looking for love among 15 male contestants. However, halfway through the series, they reveal the 15 contestants feature straight and gay men, which is just cruel and unnecessary. Luckily, it ended after one season.

12. Hoarders (2009-Present)

Hoarders (2009-)
Image Credit: TLG Motion Pictures.

While I do enjoy watching Hoarders occasionally, it is definitely one of the worst reality TV shows. Watching the show can be painful and nauseating because of the squalor some of these people live in. It’s also sad to watch people struggle so much with their mental health and be forced into a very stressful situation.

13. The Apprentice (2004-2015)

The Apprentice (2004-2015)
Image Credit: MGM Television.

Putting aside the fact that Donald Trump was at the center of this show and is certainly not everyone’s favorite guy, the show was cruel and mean-spirited toward the contestants. The things they were put through were unnecessarily harsh and seemed dehumanizing.

14. Undercover Boss (2010-Present)

Undercover Boss (2010-)
Image Credit: All3Media.

Undercover Boss makes me irate. The idea is that CEOs walk a mile in the shows of their lowest-level employees. But they’re not really walking in their shoes. They’re not grinding to make ends meet every day and going home to a rented apartment. No, they spend a day cosplaying as workers and then go home to their mansions. It’s honestly insulting.

15. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (2012-2017)

Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (2012-2017)
Image Credit: Authentic Entertainment.

I’ll never understand why people were obsessed with Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, as it’s easily one of the worst reality series ever made. The family was obnoxious, and the way Honey Boo Boo was paraded around was disturbing. It was just as uncomfortable to watch as it was toxic.

16. Cops (1989-Present)

Cops (1989-2023)
Image Credit: Fox Entertainment.

Speaking of toxic, Cops might be one of the cruelest shows on TV. Imagine opening your door and having cameras and lights shoved in your face while the police try to arrest you. I’m not saying the criminals in the show are innocent, but it’s still showing people at their lowest for entertainment and making everything worse.

17. Kid Nation (2007)

Kid Nation
Image Credit: Forman Productions.

This show feels like a fever dream. It’s about 40 kids under 15 who must create and run their own society for 40 days. This controversial show was canceled because people questioned its safety and legality, so we only got one season, thank goodness.

18. Dated & Related (2022-)

Dated & Related (2022-)
Image Credit: Netflix.

I don’t know what Netflix was thinking with this one. It’s a dating show, but all the contestants are in sibling pairs. So, it’s just brothers watching their sisters hook up with dudes or pairs of sisters competing for the same guy. It was just awkward and uncomfortable.

19. There's Something About Miriam (2004)

There’s Something About Miriam
Image Credit: Sky1.

This show was just as horrendous as Boy Meets Boy. It’s about six single men who compete to date Miriam. However, they don’t know she is a transgender woman, which is revealed at the end. The entire show was messed up and offensive in numerous ways.

20. Cheaters (2000-2021)

Cheaters (2000-)
Image Credit: Bobby Goldstein Productions.

This show captures people at their lowest moments and exploits them. Cheating is not okay, but this is certainly not the solution. People love watching the drama unfold, but the show is just depressing.

21. The Jerry Springer Show (1991-2018)

The Jerry Springer Show
Image Credit: NBCUniversal Television Distribution.

I am far from the first person to dub The Jerry Springer Show as one of the worst reality shows ever. Like Cops, Cheaters, and many other shows on this list, the series exploits its subjects and does nothing to help them with their situations. Maury and The Steve Wilkos Show aren’t much better, but I think the late Jerry Springer took the cake here.

22. Superstar USA (2004)

Superstar USA (2004)
Image Credit: The WB.

Superstar USA is like a parody of American Idol. People audition and instead of picking the best singers, they pick the worst and make them think they’re good — but they’re just making fun of them the whole time. The show was just painful to watch and not very funny.

23. Dr. Phil (2002-2023)

Image Credit: Peteski Productions.

Dr. Phil can be compared to The Jerry Springer Show, but his portrayal as a doctor who wants to help people makes it even more horrible. While he is a real doctor, he doesn’t seem interested in helping people and gives seriously misguided advice to viewers and guests.

24. Deep Fake Love (2023-Present)

Deep Fake Love
Image Credit: Netflix.

This messed-up show is about couples who are put to the test. They live in a house with single people, and their partners watch videos of them interacting. But many of the videos are altered using deep fake technology. It seems like a show intended to hurt people and show off this sinister tech.

Author: Veronica Booth

Title: Freelance Writer

Expertise: Food, Entertainment, Movies, TV, Fashion, Lifestyle, Celebrity


Veronica is a food, fashion, and entertainment writer from Boston, MA, with a passion for all things lifestyle and culture. She graduated from Boston University in 2019 with a bachelor's in English literature. From Anna Wintour to Angelina Jolie to Alton Brown, she has her finger on the pulse of all things Hollywood and celebrity.

If she's not in the kitchen crafting new recipes, then she's binging the latest HBO series and catching up on the hottest trends in Vogue.

She has written for and been syndicated by publications like The Weather Channel, The Daily Meal, The Borgen Project, The Good Men Project, The Express, MSN, Wealth of Geeks, and Not Deer Magazine. Her writing experience ranges from global news articles to celebrity gossip pieces to movie reviews to homemade recipes and more.