Over the past two decades, reality television has grown to become one of the most popular forms of show that is broadcast. These types of series can be very cheap to create and attract large audiences, making them very attractive to network executives who want to save as much money as possible. However, as more and more shows appear on different channels though, it is becoming harder for them to stand out and many producers have turned to ever increasing bizarre selling points that can be distasteful, shocking and just plain cruel.
That shouldn't be too much of a surprise, as reality television has often depended on shock tactics and nastiness to grab attention. The vast majority of reality shows will feature events or actions designed to attract audiences who want to see outrageous scenes. This has led to participants routinely being embarrassed, duped and put into difficult situations that inevitably end up with violent confrontations, outbursts and meltdowns. In search of ever increasingly far-fetched ways to elicit controversial reactions, producers have come up with some unbelievably cruel shows. While most skirt the line of decency, some fall short and cannot be justified. It is these types of programs that this article explores as it looks at the ten worst offenders from around the world.
10 There’s Something About Miriam
This reality dating show saw a group of men compete for the affections of a dream woman and the chance to win £10,000. The show revolved around the men’s attempts to convince the woman that they were the perfect date. The only problem was that the producers had failed to mention that Miriam was in fact, a pre-op transgender woman. This ended up eliciting various responses from all of those taking part as they felt they had been duped. It wasn't just those who took part who thought it was cruel. Critics and the public thought the entire idea was entirely exploitative and unfair on the contestants. Almost forgotten about in the whole case was Miriam and the transgender community at large, who were portrayed in a very unfavorable light that may have led to a backlash against them.
9 I Wanna Marry Harry
The idea behind I Wanna Marry Prince Harry, was essentially that a man who somewhat resembled British Royal Prince Harry, would try to convince women that he was in fact the real prince. Unfortunately though, the producers behind the show employ various tricks and give out various information to the contestants who have been whisked to an English castle, to dupe them into really believing the look-a-like is really Prince Harry. In fact, they do it to such an extent that it is almost impossible for the woman to believe anything other than that. This makes it all the more cruel and embarrassing for those taking part when they finally found out the truth, as they have been set up on national television without being able to do anything about it.
8 Who’s Your Daddy
For those who grew up with adoptive parents, the search for their birth parents can be a difficult and emotional journey that can take plenty of energy and years of building up to it. However, Who’s Your Daddy put all of that to one side and instead, invited contestants to try to find out who their real father was out of a lineup of nine men, who all would try their best to persuade them that they were the real parent. If the participant guessed correctly, they would win a $100,000 prize. Obviously, those who watched it immediately saw this as incredibly unpleasant television. The bad publicity caused by the obviously cruel show led to network executives pulling it after just one episode, it’s just a shame they ever commissioned it in the first place.
7 My Big Fat Revenge
The premise of My Big Fat Revenge might seem like a purposely good idea at a glance, but in practice, it turned out to be more controversial than its creators probably ever imagined. In it, contestants would go through an exhausting weight loss program designed to help them lose significant amounts of weight as quickly as possible. Not only was the exercise and dieting regime often painfully rigorous, causing plenty of suffering to those taking part, but the healthier lifestyle and weight loss was being pursued simply to get revenge on someone who had previously been nasty to the contestant. In the end, those being confronted would often give half-hearted apologies or react angrily and the now thinner contestant would be left without any meaningful outcome.
6 Kid Nation
Kid Nation was a reality television show that first aired in 2007. It took a group of 40 children of various ages and then basically abandoned them in a small town without any adult supervision, to see if they could learn to live by and govern themselves. While the children were mostly able to live fairly harmoniously without many problems, the show attracted plenty of unwanted attention due to the fact that some of the participants had to be hospitalized for various reasons. This included general injuries from falls, and sickness from drinking bleach and burns. The makers faced criticism for recklessly endangering children who were put in dangerous circumstances simply for the purpose of entertainment.
5 Man vs. Beast
Unlike most reality TV shows that pit contestants against each other, Man vs. beast instead set out to see how well humans could compete against the animal kingdom in various tasks. Contestants would face off against animals in strength tests, endurance challenges and even gymnastic ability tasks. Of course, the vast majority of the times the animals were far better than the people taking part, thanks to their special adaptations to deal with those problems. This isn't where the cruelty comes into the equation though, none of the humans taking part were ever seriously harmed, but it did face numerous complaints from animal rights and welfare groups for being overly harsh to the creatures involved. Not only does the show simply ridicule animals by making them challenges in a game show, but there were also serious allegations to do with the welfare of the animals and the stress they would go through taking part in the tasks.
4 I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
This British reality television show essentially sees celebrities and other public figures taking part in gruesome challenges, as they attempt to win prizes for those taking part and avoid being voted off the show by viewers. However, despite being fairly popular in the UK, it has faced a mountain of criticism since its inception due to the nature of the challenges and the unnecessary suffering. While many will accept that the celebrities are only doing the show to raise awareness for themselves, critics point out that this does not excuse the humiliation they suffer or the stress they go through as part of the show. Those taking part will often have to face terrifying events or have to eat live insects and other horrid food, prompting many of those involved to quit. I’m A Celebrity has also faced accusations of animal cruelty for the animals and living creatures that are killed purely for entertainment purposes.
3 Susunu! Denpa Shonen
Susunu! Denpa Shonen is the epitome of the crazy Japanese reality show that people have seen in various clip shows and in short videos on the internet. It’s hard to imagine governments in the West allowing such a television program to be made, considering the challenges often bordered on lunacy. Throughout its run, it would pit contestants in a variety of situations that were certainly cruel, including forcing a young man to live naked in an apartment for a year surviving only off of commercial sweepstake winnings, and having two men marooned on an island for four months with the only means of escape being to build a raft. A third example was a challenge that had participants being denied food for days on end if their baseball team did not win. The cruelty was made all the worse by the fact that producers would routinely change the rules if a contestant was performing too well so that they would suffer more.
2 Child Genius
Child Genius was a Channel 4 TV show that aired in 2014. It saw highly intelligent children, aged between 7 and 12, competing against each other in a competition organized in association with British Mensa to find the best child genius in the United Kingdom. However, it faced criticism from several quarters after the initial episodes were shown as the intense pressure from parents and organizers created a harsh environment for the children taking part. Without the emotional maturity to deal with the toxic competition, the children would often crack or break down. Even when they were not succumbing to the frankly insane barrage of tests, most of the contestants appeared to wholly hate their time on the show and look entirely miserable throughout. It was made all the more cruel by the fact that these were young children rather than adults.
From the initial concept of Dadagiri, it is easy to see how it could be considered to be punishing and harsh to those taking part. It is a gameshow like show whereby the contestants would compete to win prizes, all while taking abuse from a collection of professional bullies. Of course, much of the action contained within Dadagiri was scripted, as is the case with the vast majority of reality TV, yet the verbal and mental abuse was still likely to cause plenty of suffering to those taking part. Improvisation sections also left contestants open to additional cruelty when the crew would often ratchet up the tension by being more abusive. This went to such an extreme that a man was assaulted and then beaten up by the crew and host after retaliating.