Man at His Best

The 7 Cruelest Reality TV Shows To Ever Be Made

These seven are enough to make you lose all faith in humanity.

BY CATRIONA WIGHTMAN | Mar 6, 2016 | Film & TV

Reality TV often gets a bad rap, and sometimes, that is totally deserved. But we're not talking about Simon Cowell slagging off someone's performance or Big Brother messing around with the nominations—these 7 shows are toe-curlingly cruel. 

1 | Nothing But the Truth

Not content with refereeing fistfights on his talk show, Jerry Springer branched out for this late night Sky One game show that is possibly one of the cruelest series we've ever seen. The premise of the show was simple enough—contestants hooked up to a lie detector had to answer questions, and if they were honest they would win money.

That all sounds simple enough, but the contestants also had to do this in front of their friends and family. So for example, when one man was asked whether he had ever fantasised about his girlfriend's best mate—in front of his girlfriend—it got very awkward indeed.

2 | Space Cadets

If there was a real reality show offering to send members of the public into space, it would probably be the best reality show ever. Unfortunately, Space Cadets (hosted by Johnny Vaughan, obviously) was only pretending to blast off regular Joes—and it took great pleasure in how ridiculous it was that they all believed it. 

The baffled and befuddled contestants really did think that they'd been flown to Russia (they were flown around the North Sea for a bit before returning to England) and three of them really did think they'd been shot into space. Yes, even without zero gravity. When they discovered the truth, one sighed, "This is embarrassing", while another sighed, "Oh my God, how heartbreaking… I want to go home now.”

3 | The Swan

Look, there is a way to do makeover shows. How To Look Good Naked, 10 Years Younger… they're basically empowering programmes about making women feel good about themselves. The Swan was not that. If anything, it went out of its way to make women feel terrible about themselves.

We're not talking dressing in black to make you look slimmer—this was an all-out assault on the women's appearances, "transforming" them with the help of a plastic surgeon and sending home one woman each week who presumably hadn't managed to conform to the producers' standards of beauty enough. Everything about The Swan seemed mean-spirited—so it's no wonder that one critic dubbed it "the most sadistic reality series of the decade”.

4 | There's Something About Miriam

When the contestants on your show file a lawsuit alleging conspiracy to commit sexual assault, defamation, breach of contract, and personal injury, well, you've probably gone too far. Mind you, Sky1 still aired There's Something About Miriam after the men involved settled for an undisclosed amount.

The whole premise of the show is icky—six men believed they were on a dating show until winner Tom Rooke was told at the end that the woman he had been wooing was transgender. It's hard to know what precisely is the most offensive layer to this, although the transphobia of it all is definitely leading the pack. (Just take the above clip with its "could you tell?" red button interaction. Ugh.)

5 | Superstar USA

The X Factor and American Idol might have reputations for being mean to their contestants, but that is nothing compared to Superstar USA, which was set up to spoof talent shows. The only problem is that the contestants believed they actually had talent and had no idea that the producers were putting through the worst singers. Even executive producer Mike Fleiss said: "It's a show that probably shouldn't have been made because it's just that mean and nasty, but God, it is fun to watch."

The "winner" was Jamie Foss—a young woman who also had to face numerous references to the size of her bosom throughout the competition (quote: "I don't know if you know this Jamie, but you have really large breasts"). Possibly the worst thing about this whole sorry state of affairs, though, was that producers were concerned the audience would give the game away by laughing or booing throughout the final performances… so they told them that the contestants were all there thanks to fictional charity "The One Wish Foundation." Gross.

6 | Who's Your Daddy?

About once a week we return to the Internet to check that this show really was a thing, just because we can't believe it genuinely existed. The show, which was meant to be a series but only aired one 90-minute special, saw a young woman who had been put up for adoption as an infant trying to guess which of 25 men was her biological father.

If there's any good news about this tacky, tasteless endeavour, it's that the star of episode one—actress TJ Myers—picked out her daddy correctly and pocketed the $100,000 prize. Let's not dwell on the fact that if she'd got it wrong, the man who had hoodwinked her would have won the money. Because, eww.

7 | Prize Contest Life

Another thing that we can't quite believe really happened. Japanese show Susunu! Denpa Shōnen popped a comedian called Tomoaki Hamatsu (nicknamed Nasubi for his aubergine-shaped face) into a bare room and forced him to strip nude—his bits, obviously, were covered by an on-screen graphic in the shape of an aubergine.

The concept of the show was that Nasubi had to enter sweepstakes in magazines—anything he won, he could use in his little room. Sadly, he never won clothes—but he did end up eating some dog food that he was sent (it made a change from the rice he'd been surviving on). But things actually got worse—Nasubi finally thought he'd reached the target of winnings totalling a million yen, but he was transported by the producers to another room in South Korea and had to start all over again.

When he finally did win, the producers took him to a third room—and he sighed and took his clothes off, not realising that his weird journey was finally at an end and that he would be revealed to a live audience. What makes all this even worse, though, is that Nasubi didn't even realise he'd been on TV as he thought the whole thing was a pre-record. If you're intrigued, This American Life has an astonishing segment on this whole story, which might just really be the cruelest reality show ever.

From: Digital Spy.