Unforgettable Reality Dating Shows From The '90s And '00s

It's hard to forget the perhaps not-so-real dating shows of decades past. A quick ticket to fame was seemingly as easy as giving up some of your dignity and agreeing to be filmed vying for the attention of one lucky suitor in the '90s and 2000s. But hey, no judgement here! From the back-of-the-van antics on MTV's "Next" to the infamous love story of Tiffany "New York" Pollard and Flavor Flav on the Public Enemy rapper's VH1 hit, reality TV dating shows were every bit of addicting as they were cringeworthy and wild. 

There are no shortage of opportunities to compete for love on television these days, and while the overall themes may have gotten less cringy or controversial over the years, there are always suitors willing to take a chance at love — and maybe grow their influencer profiles in the process. With widely popular shows like "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" still attracting audiences decades after their premieres in the early 2000s, there's proof that viewers everywhere have continued to be just as invested as the contestants themselves. "They're part-reality TV, part-soap opera, part-game show," London Metropolitan University's Dr. Karen McNally explained to Cosmopolitan in July 2022, "which means that they're combining elements of fiction and non-fiction, characterization, relationships, melodrama, competition, and aspiration that are very potent."

We're taking a trip down memory lane, rewinding Flav's oversized clock necklace, and looking at the most unforgettable reality dating shows from the '90s and '00s. 

Singled Out

Chris Hardwick and Jenny McCarthy co-hosted MTV's "Singled Out" in the mid-'90s, helping to filter suitors out in a series that takes two contestants — a woman followed by a man — and puts them in the hot seat to pick one lucky date out of 50. It's essentially rapid-fire speed dating in the cheesiest way possible. The catch? Contestants can't see their potential dates. Suitors are dwindled by the contestant naming qualities that are non-negotiables (like hair or height), because how deep can you get in a half-hour of airtime, right? The second round has the potential matches (now down to about 7) doing something superficial like signing an autograph, only to be selected by the contestant based on their ... handwriting. (We don't get it either.) Finally, the remaining three answer more personal questions to determine who will be the perfect match.

The series originally aired from 1995 to 1997 and also featured Carmen Electra co-hosting, appearances from future stars Fergie and Jennifer Love Hewitt, and even a "Boy Meets World" crossover, per VH1. It was briefly rebooted with host Keke Palmer in 2020 on the short-lived streaming platform Quibi, but if you'd like to tap into your nostalgia, some episodes — in all their pixelated glory — are available on YouTube.

"When people go, 'Oh I watched "Singled out," I'm sorry to bring it up,' I go, 'That show was so much fun!'" Hardwick reminisced on SiriusXM's "The Jenny McCarthy Show." McCarthy agreed: "I had a blast! It was a daily show, it was a grind — we shot four shows a day."

Change of Heart

"Change of Heart" emerged on TV screens everywhere in 1998. The show features unmarried couples being set up with new partners and has them decide (after a short episode's worth of deliberation) whether or not they want to embark on a new romance or return to their current partner. Couples discuss their current relationship, their grievances, and what they are looking for in a partner before meeting their new potential matches on a blind date. 

Queue up men fighting over their bicep muscles and women shaming each other, and you have the perfect recipe for a superficial, albeit entertaining dating show. Episode descriptions proved as much, with one in particular reading on YouTube, "Steve says Angie curses too much and he doesn't like her toes. Angie thinks Steve is a sexual 'wimp' and says he never helps out around the house." 

"It doesn't surprise me that people use the show to break up with someone," on-and-off host Chris Jagger told the Los Angeles Times. "We've all been there and it's hard to actually break up. So I see the show as a good thing." Of the couples who didn't have the titular change of heart, however, he said, "They'll be on the entire half-hour just ripping each other apart and they've been on really good dates with these new people, but in the end they decide to stay together. And I'll be thinking, 'What? Are you kidding me?'" The series lasted five years of riveting reality television, before ending in 2003.

Room Raiders

One of MTV's most iconic dating shows was "Room Raiders," where the infamous blacklight reveals all hidden truths about potential partners. In the series, three prospective suitors have their rooms inspected by the contestant to determine who is the best match. The raider uncovers all the secrets in the room, judges hygiene, and makes assumptions about how a future relationship might be based on how the room in question is kept. Because what better way to get to know a person than to snoop through their underwear drawer — right

Contestants break out the spy kit to take their snooping to the next level — and their revelations are either the nail in the coffin or a sign that the suitor is in fact dateable. In this throwback clip, one contestant finds a collection of teeth in one of the rooms he's raided, so it's safe to say the only date that guy is winning is with the tooth fairy. A 17-year-old Zac Efron even makes a cameo on the show, proving that movie stars sometimes get their start in the wildest ways.

Despite all the made-for-TV moments the show has given us, following its 2009 wrap, it's been alleged that "Room Raiders" was anything but real. "Everything on the show is staged," a source claimed of a friend's brother's appearance to BuzzFeed in November 2022. "All of the items that they would find were planted. At the end of the show, the prize was not a date with the girl that he 'picked' — he just got her phone number."

Date My Mom

In a strange but entertaining twist, MTV's "Date My Mom" invited contestants to go on dates with three separate mothers who attempt to make a case as to why their child is the best pick. It involves a lot of painfully cringeworthy moments where preppy jocks make inappropriate jokes and just downright cross the line with women twice their age. In 2021, Jezebel retroactively reviewed some of the more unhinged or uncomfortable moments — where some mothers even go so far as dancing with their offspring's potential partners. "As a teenager, I don't think you realize just how scripted and awkward and clunky it is," staff writer Ashley Reese said, with pop culture reporter Hazel Cills similarly noting, "Whoever scripted this show was just — I feel like it was a pair of 12-year-old boys."

It's safe to say that early 2000s reality television had no filter — and should probably be tucked away in a vault somewhere for good. "Date My Mom" aired from 2004 to 2006, before the network apparently decided that audiences everywhere might have seen just about everything they needed to. But if you're in for reliving the series' most surprising moments, certain YouTube compilations serve up some shocking highlights, like one contestant kissing a mom, and a mother rubbing lotion on another contestant's abs. 

Do mothers really know best? MTV seemed to think so.


No one can forget MTV's "Next." The popular reality TV dating show is like speed-dating taken to the next level — so much so that some contestants don't even make it off the bus before their potential significant other shouts, "Next!" The series takes a single guy or girl and pairs them up with five potential suitors. The infamous catch, however, is that the contestant can quit the date at any point and send the suitor back to the "Next" bus, where they're forced to watch their castmates either go on dates or be rejected, as well. 

The show, which aired for six seasons between 2005 and 2008, gives us incredible one-liners, popped collars, and aggressive dating tactics that no longer exist today. Imagine it being socially acceptable to quit five minutes into your dinner date by shouting a magic word — maybe MTV was onto something, as harsh as it is. "Even if this guy isn't a professional basketball player, I'm hoping he's hung like one," one contestant says as she prepares to welcome her daters in this vintage video clip. Meanwhile, the longer the contestants make it, the more money they make. The twist here? If a suitor makes it to the end of the date and is offered to go on a second, he or she can accept the date or take the money and run. 

Die-hard "Next" fans rest assured, MTV has you covered. As of this writing, the series is available to watch on Paramount+ in all of its Hollister-wearing, low-rise jean-hugging glory. 

Parental Control

Keeping with the theme of putting parents into the dating lives of their children, MTV gave us "Parental Control" from 2005 to 2010. In this seven-season series, parents choose potential matches for their son or daughter in hopes that going on a date with any of their selections will lure their child away from their current significant other. Meanwhile, the current boyfriend or girlfriend has to suffer through watching the dates onscreen alongside the parents, with the son or daughter then choosing to stay with their partner or leave them behind for one of their parents' choices. With the parents trying (and typically failing) to insert themselves into their children's tumultuous relationships, the show once gave us the infamous line, "I'd pick her too, if she wasn't dumb and ugly."

As seems to be the case with reality dating shows, the truth here is apparently stretched. Former contestant Chase Thomas, for example, recalled his experience in a Medium blog post, claiming, "The entire thing was pre-planned by the producers. It was filmed out of sequence over three days. There was no script, but we were often told what to say." Chase also alleged that contestant Klarissa's parents were not together and that her significant other was just a friend. 

In this case, Chase is not selected to ride off into the sunset with his potential new girlfriend. To catch up on "Parental Control" episodes and find out who Klarissa ultimately chooses, this MTV dating show is also available on Paramount+.

A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila

In the first of its kind, MTV took on a bisexual dating show similar to "The Bachelorette" in 2007, with one woman navigating the waters of a rather large dating pool on "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila." The series' star Tila Tequila turned into a pop culture starlet after becoming Myspace famous, with the show following her as she dates 16 women and 16 men ... which, to be honest, seems downright exhausting. 

Unfortunately, Tequila never finds her match after two seasons, albeit passing up same-sex partner Dani Campbell and choosing Bobby Bancroft in Season 1 — much to the dismay of fans and Tequila herself, as she later claimed producers forced her to choose him. In Season 2, she opts for Kristy Morgan, who turns down that shot at love. "By the time the third season came I had an option to not do it and that's why I said no," Tequila told Cherry Grrrl. "I felt like, if you're not going to let me choose who I want..."

Tequila has since become better known for stirring up major controversy off-camera, including aligning herself with alt-right groups, expressing alarming anti-Semitic views, and even praising Hitler (she later apologized). Though she came out as lesbian on Twitter in 2009, Tequila ultimately revealed in a since-deleted 2018 YouTube video that she doesn't identify as lesbian or bisexual and wasn't even single while working on "A Shot at Love" (via The Things), admitting its already problematic premise was faked for ratings. Oh, how the mighty Myspace queens fall. 

Rock of Love with Bret Michaels

Poison singer Bret Michaels has admittedly seen his fair share of groupies in his day, but we imagine nothing compared to the ones he encountered during his tenure on the VH1 reality TV dating show "Rock of Love." 

The rocker is the show's ultimate prize for 25 single women (many half his age) who sign up to fight for their chance at love with the singer. The series premiered in 2007 and ran for three seasons, filled with exotic dancers and fan girls attempting to prove they can rock with Michaels till the end. It follows the popular premise of challenges and eliminations that dominated MTV and VH1 during the 2000s. The women on the show appear unapologetic in their pursuit of Michaels — one in particular even tattoos his name on her neck — but are entertaining nonetheless, with the network spawning the "Rock of Love: Charm School" spinoff in 2008 to follow more of their bad-girl antics.

Unfortunately, the Poison frontman's relationships with the "Rock of Love" winners never stuck in the real world. The one woman who seems to have had the most impact on the rock star is Kristi Lynn Gibson, who has been in and out of a relationship with Michaels since 1994, sharing two daughters with the "Every Rose has its Thorn" hitmaker. On Michaels' 2010 spinoff reality show "Bret Michaels: Life as I Know It," he proposes to Gibson, but they amicably calling off the engagement two years later.

Flavor of Love

There are some images that are imprinted in pop culture history, and Flavor Flav and his eye-catching jewelry were an iconic part of the mid-2000s. The rapper was the star of VH1's "Flavor of Love," and throughout the series' three seasons — which ran from 2006 to 2008 — Flav holds out hope he can find one woman out of 20 competitors to look beyond his giant clock necklace and capture his heart. 

Even those who never watched the show have most likely been exposed to its effect on pop culture, given that infamous contestant Tiffany "New York" Pollard has been made into a popular meme. Of course, there are other non-memeable moments burned into our memories from the series, as well, like Brooke "Pumkin" Thompson spitting on New York in one of the greatest, cringiest reality TV arguments of all time. Like a car crash, it's hard to watch but impossible to look away. 

Sadly, Flav couldn't find someone to pass the time with (no pun intended) on his show, as he and the winning contestants broke up shortly after their respective seasons wrapped. The musician-turned-TV-personality did add some more love to his life outside of the reality television dating world, however — albeit in a more unexpected way. In May 2022, Flav revealed that, while he and former manager Kate Gammel had since split up since being romantically linked in 2019, a paternity test had shown he was the father of her then-3-year-old son.

Boy Meets Boy

Bravo created its own sub-category of dating shows when it premiered its male-seeking-male "The Bachelor"-style series "Boy Meets Boy" in 2003. The six-part show follows James, who dates 15 men in the hopes of narrowing it down to one winning partner to capture his heart. The caveat, though, is that James is unaware that half of the suitors are straight until the fourth episode. The straight men are essentially tasked with attempting to make James fall in love with them, and if they can do so without revealing their true sexuality — they will win a cash prize. Certain rules are put in place on the show to try and help contestants form deeper emotional connections, such as kissing being the limit of physical touch. 

In the end, James isn't duped after all, as he picks a gay man as his final choice. Unsurprisingly, however, the series was met with much criticism, with some arguing the ethics of its overall premise. The Advocate, for example, published a cover story at the time discussing how it would portray the LGBTQ+ community: "Initial reaction has been polarized, with one overriding question: Will this be a groundbreaking portrayal of gay romance on television or a sordid example of setting up gays as the butt of one big, degrading prank?"

Though some thought "Boy Meets Boy" exploited harmful stereotypes, others felt it demonstrated the (now obvious) fact that gay and straight men can co-exist as friends. Regardless of how viewers felt, it wasn't a hit, and the series ultimately ended after its single season wrapped.