The Best Reality Competition Shows of All Time

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Photo Credit: by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Reality competition shows have taken over in the 21st century. The genre has transformed from “guilty pleasure TV” to a media juggernaut. There are podcasts, college courses, and books dedicated to understanding and analyzing reality competition shows. After all, who doesn’t like a little competition?

In honor of the genre’s success, let’s take a look at some of the greatest reality competition shows of all time:

The Circle (2020 – present)

The Netflix show The Circle premiered in 2020 and quickly developed a cult-like following. The reality show utilizes social media by instructing the players to create profiles that can either be authentic or a “cat fish.” From there, the players use their social prowess to gain power in the game and avoid falling at the bottom of the rankings. The series is a fascinating social experiment with a modern twist.

Survivor (2000 – present)

Survivor may be the most iconic reality television show. The CBS show has been on air for over two decades. It just wrapped its 46th season in May 2024. The competition tests a player’s survival skills, ability to socialize, and athleticism. In February 2024, host Jeff Probst spoke to the Paramount Newsroom about the success of the show.

“One of the things about Survivor that has remained consistent is little kids watch it and grandparents in their eighties watch it,” he told the publication. “That’s because this idea of Survivor is universal. There’s something inside me that asks “could I do this?”

Big Brother (2000 – present)

After the success of Survivor, CBS launched another competition-based show-Big Brother. The American series, which is based on a Dutch reality show of the same name, got off to a rough start. The first season was a confusing mesh of different ideas that just didn’t work. The series found its footing in Season 2.

Big Brother is similar to The Circle and Survivor in that it is a game about social strategy and outlasting your opponents but it has one unique difference. The houseguests’ every move is broadcast on the 24/hour live feeds. You can watch them eat, sleep, scheme, and much more. The live feeds aspect adds an interesting level of transparency that viewers love.

RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009 – present)

RuPaul’s Drag Race originally premiered on the Logo TV network in 2009. The show has since become a cultural phenomenon. The series has won 29 Emmys and has spawned countless iconic internet memes. The show casts some of the most talented Queens from across the country who are eager to compete for the crown.

The Amazing Race (2001 – present)

The Amazing Race premiered in 2001 and is still going strong. The series follows teams of two as they compete against each other in a race around the world. The show provides a deeper look at different cultures, whether it be through food, nature, tradition, or thrill.

Dancing with the Stars (2005 – present)

Dancing with the Stars has been entertaining viewers since 2005. The show tests celebrities talent and tenacity as they compete week after week in a rigorous dance competition. It is endlessly enjoyable watching stars battle it out in hopes of winning the iconic Mirrorball trophy. The dancing is incredible and the personal stories of the stars always touches my heart.

The Voice (2011 – present)

The Voice revived a dying genre of talent competition shows. Series like American Idol and America’s Got Talent once loomed large but by the 2010s, the genre was fading into the background. The Voice provided a unique spin on a classic idea. The blind auditions added an exciting element and viewers tuned in to see if talent was really blind. Between the celebrity judges and the jaw dropping performances, The Voice has solidified its place as one of the greatest reality competition shows.

Beat Bobby Flay (2013 – present)

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay has appeared in a number of successful shows throughout his career but his series Beat Bobby Flay may be his best. The show features a variety of successful chefs who are all there for one reason-to beat Bobby. The competition is a fun, fast-paced race against the clock that is a joy to watch.