Television has had its fair share of terrible reality shows ever since it first started with MTV’s The Real World. It’s a medium with the potential for producing some of the most interesting social experiments entertainment has to offer, but also for giving us programs that we as a culture should be ashamed for even considering. It’s a fine line between the two, and more often than not a show will swing heavily in one direction or the other, rarely toeing that middle ground.
But some shows out there have done an exceptional job at being just plain awful. A vast majority of the time, the issue lies in the very core concept of the show, proliferating out into a terrible run that eventually leads to an unceremonious cancellation. For an elite few, this is well-deserved.
1. Sex Box, WE TV (2015)
The newest reality show to air on WE TV, Sex Box is about as nuanced as you might think it is. A couple goes into a private box on air, has sex, and then comes out of the box to talk to a panel of sex therapists about their relationship. In their review of the first episode that recently aired, AV Club dubbed it “goofy, exploitative trash,” for the most unsurprising news concerning a reality show we’ve seen this year. In fairness to WE TV, they’re making no attempt to hide their unabashed attempt at utilizing the “sex sells” theme. If only it wasn’t used for such a terrible show. Not surprisingly, Sex Box was canceled in April 2015, per Deadline.
2. Splash, ABC (2013)
Splash is one of those shows where after hearing its base concept, pretty much everyone was left asking “OK, so then what happens?” Unfortunately, the answer to that question is a terse “well, that’s it.” The show itself centered around having celebrities dive into a swimming pool and well… that’s it. The idea was to show us terrified famous people peering over the edge of a diving board 20 feet above the water, only to face their fears and belly-flop into the record books. To no one’s shock or surprise, it lasted less than two months before even the ABC execs were likely left saying something to the effect of, “Jesus Christ, you guys, who allowed this to exist?”
3. The Swan, FOX (2004)
When we look back on humanity a century from now, there’s a good chance that one of the low-lights in our history books will be the nightmarish concept utilized for The Swan. The show centered around telling its female contestants that they were ugly, and then putting them through round-after-round of horrifying plastic surgery. No progressive, forward-thinking society should ever allow this to happen, and yet somehow FOX green-lit it for a two season run that ended when people came to their senses and realized that this was awful.
4. Dating Naked, VH1 (2014-present)
VH1 has a history of less-than-savory reality shows, but Dating Naked really takes the cake. In it, contestants are set up with a series of dates with various other members of the opposite sex, with one caveat: Every date must take place sans clothes. Butt-naked and full of blurred-out private parts, the show gives us a look at what happens when two people wearing nothing but their birthday suits go on adventures, and hilariously attempt to keep their respective gazes straight ahead. Somehow it’s made it through a full year on the air, but with VH1 it’s easy for a show to keep going simply because we’ve all forgotten it exists.
5. My Super Sweet 16, MTV (2005-2008)
Some may advocate for My Super Sweet 16 as a guilty pleasure, but all it really served to do was show us something we already know: Teenagers are kind of the worst, and this isn’t improved by putting them on camera and telling them that they deserve a $200,000 BMW because they’ve spent 16 years on the planet Earth. It showed us some of the worst people reality TV had to offer back in the mid-00s, and still makes us cringe thinking about the poor parents who had to be berated on-air because a birthday cake’s frosting was the wrong color.
6. Are You Hot?, ABC (2013)
This seminal ABC reality show asked us the question we pose in the mirror on a daily basis: Are you hot? Except for this, contestants weren’t given ways to improve a la The Biggest Loser or forced into plastic surgery as on The Swan. Rather, they simply stood in front of a panel of judges and were told American Idol-style whether or not they were objectively attractive. That was it. It lasted all of one month, and the world was left better off without it clogging our airwaves. We may never know the answer to the profound core concept of Are You Hot?, but we certainly won’t be losing any sleep over that fact.
7. The Briefcase, CBS (2015)
CBS’s The Briefcase came under fire from the moment it hit the airwaves, and for good reason. The basic concept is simple: A family in need is given a briefcase containing $101,000, and are given the choice to either keep it, or give it to another family in equal need. What they’re not told is that the other family has been presented with an identical dilemma. Throughout the episode, they’re essentially guilted into giving away money they desperately need, with the stress reportedly even causing one woman to vomit according to Vulture. Per TVSeriesFinale, CBS canceled the show in December 2015.