Reality TV shows that went too far

By nature, most reality shows are pretty ridiculous. At this point we all know they entail some level of manipulation by producers, increasingly insane premises, and publicity-hungry participants. However, some particularly shady gems really stick out in our memories. 

Let's check out the shows that took it too far and ended up, to everyone's benefit, getting canned.

Escaping the KKK

When A&E first started publicizing its eight-part documentary series Generation KKK in December 2016, the subject matter prompted major media backlash, particularly around the show providing a platform to hate groups. 

According to Variety, the show, which was supposedly going to portray the experiences of people attempting to leave hate groups like the KKK, "sparked outrage on social-media networks, where actors such as Wendell Pierce and Ellen Pompeo, railed against the effort." The network subsequently changed the title to Escaping the KKK: A Documentary Series Exposing Hate in America, and also reportedly paired up with "the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change to produce educational material that would accompany the episodes."

Crisis averted? Far from it. 

Variety reported on December 24th, 2016 that producers for Escaping the KKK (which had been scheduled to premiere on January 10, 2017) had made "cash payments… to some participants in order to facilitate access." This was a huge no-no, and A&E swiftly cancelled the show. 

On December 30th, the total sketchiness of the situation came into clearer focus, as some of the show's participants alleged that producers had paid them hundreds of dollars "to distort the facts of their lives to fit the documentary's predetermined narrative: tension between Klan members and relatives of theirs who wanted to get out of the Klan." All in all, it's undeniably a good thing that this one never saw the light of day.

Are You Hot?

Perhaps the Los Angeles Times most aptly described the premise of the ridiculous 2003 ABC reality show Are You Hot?: The Search for America's Sexiest People: "Are you hot? Would you like to show some skin on national television to prove it? Would you like a panel of C and D-list stars, including Lorenzo Lamas and Rachel Hunter to judge you and eliminate you?"

Apparently enough people did want all of the above that the show was able to air for one excruciating season of five excruciating episodes, before it was canceled due to low viewership. ABC and the producers of the show also found themselves involved in a lawsuit, after Howard Stern claimed that the show had ripped off a bit from his radio show which he'd been planning to develop into a series (he later withdrew his complaint.)

All in all, an epic fail. 

Born in the Wild

Lifetime's 2015 reality series Born in the Wild captured the experiences of couples who ventured off into remote places to give birth, without the help of a traditional medical team. Or, as the intro to the show explained, "Modern parents, giving birth in the wilderness, like their ancestors." Mmmkay.

The show was immediately greeted with criticism and skepticism, and debates about the ethical questions it posed raged. One critic noted, "There are people out there with real problems. Why should anyone give a damn about those who appear determined to (potentially) create their own?… the most logical reaction is to wince at putting an infant's life at risk to essentially score "We don't need no stinkin' doctors" points."

Ultimately, for all its grunting and screaming, Born in the Wild died after just one season.

Boy Meets Boy

Bravo's 2003 The Bachelor-esque series Boy Meets Boy originally seemed like a potential groundbreaker in TV history as the first gay dating show. 

However, any hope of progress was quickly dispelled as viewers learned that, unbeknownst to "bachelor" James Getzlaff, some of the 15 men that he was courting were in fact not gay. Contestant Dan Wells revealed, "They pitched it to me as an acting job on a reality show: "Look, you're gonna be acting like a gay guy, it's improv."… But I reached a point when I was like, Dude, this isn't cool. People started getting emotional. Then you see the difficulty James had with his decisions, and here am I toying with him. It wasn't very nice." No, it wasn't.

In the finale's "twist," Getzlaff finally learned what viewers already knew: that one of his final three prospects was straight, and if he chose that one, they would win $25k. Understandably, after the show wrapped, Getzlaff told Newsweek (via Inquisitr): "I felt betrayed… They told me they put the twist in there because they wanted straight people to watch. I said to them, 'Well, you've played gay people as entertainment for straight people. Of course they're going to watch."

As Entertainment Weekly put it in a round-up of the worst reality shows of all time: "Cruel, offensive, and worst of all, boring." Accordingly, Boy Meets Boy didn't return for another season.

The Moment of Truth

The Moment of Truth aired on Fox back in 2008, and at least for The Huffington Post, takes the cake for "most repugnant game show in television history."

The premise was that contestants would be hooked up to a lie detector test, and if they could make it through a series of 21 increasingly personal questions, they'd win $500k. Not surprisingly, this resulted in a ton of uncomfortable moments, including contestants admitting to being attracted to their spouse's siblings and to sleeping around.

Luckily The Moment of Truth lasted for just one season. It seems viewers couldn't stomach another round of this particularly nightmarish form of exploitation.

The Swan

In her 2011 book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, writer Jennifer Pozner asserted that Fox's 2004 series The Swan is easily "the most sadistic reality series of the decade." Honestly, we have to agree.

In each of the two seasons it was on the air, The Swan arranged for 16 contestants to undergo complete plastic surgery makeovers, providing everything from tummy tucks to breast implants to nose jobs. The contestants weren't allowed to see themselves until their "big reveal." Each episode featured two contestant's stories, with one contestant being eliminated for not being sufficiently transformed at the end (though the show's team of "experts" ultimately oversaw the transformations…) This all led up to one final pageant, where one contestant was finally crowned "The Swan." 

Critical reaction to the show was appropriately harsh, with outlets like USA Today slamming the show as "Hurtful and repellent even by reality's constantly plummeting standards…obscene." Later, former contestants described how the show cashed in on and exploited their insecurities, and left some with serious psychological trauma. 

Luckily, the show went off the air after its second season.

I Wanna Marry "Harry"

As its title suggested, if you wanted to marry (Prince) Harry and could suspend your disbelief long enough to seriously think he'd be looking for love on a reality show, Fox's 2014 fiasco I Wanna Marry "Harry" was made for you. Especially if you could overlook the blatant fact that the "Prince Harry" in question was not Prince Harry, but instead a construction worker named Matt Hicks. 

Basically, 12 women were competing to win the affection of a young man they were convinced was Prince Harry. That's pretty much it, and reviewers wasted no time rightfully ridiculing the show.

Even though it was pretty obvious from the get-go that the guy was a phony, the show's "winner" later told Splinter that "[t]hey actually had a therapist come on set at one point and talk to a few of us who were saying it wasn't [Prince Harry]. We found out later that it wasn't a real, licensed therapist. It was just someone from the production team." OMG. 

Sadly TV viewers didn't even get to see how it all turned out for "Harry" and the women, and, as the AV Club writes, "due to low ratings and scathing reviews, the show was canceled after only four episodes, and Fox burned off the final four online." 

Man Vs. Beast

Whaddya know, another fail for Fox. 

Man Vs. Beast was an absolutely nutty series of two specials that aired on Fox in January 2003 and February 2004. As Vocativ writes, the specials consisted of "what could best be described as creative athletic challenges that directly pitted one human (or select group of humans) against one animal." No joke. Contestants faced off against chimpanzees, giraffes, brown bears, you name it.

Reviewers were understandably appalled by the show. The Ottawa Citizen (via Vocativ) called the show "Another sign of the impending apocalypse." The Telegraph remarked that "No one comes out of this story well. So who on earth came up with such an idea, and why?" 

Not surprisingly, ratings were low, and Fox ultimately decided that the third time wouldn't be a charm for Man Vs. Beast.

The Briefcase

CBS's 2015 show The Briefcase was called "the worst reality TV show ever" by TIME Magazine. Why? Let's break it down.

In each episode of the show, two financially struggling families are surprised with a briefcase full of $101,000. According to TIME, they're then told "that they can either choose to keep the money, which they desperately need, or gift all or part of it to another family in need. They aren't told the other family has also received a similar briefcase and instructions." The "contestants" struggle over the decision of what to do, and visit each other's homes to try to judge who needs the money more.

As TIME wrote, "Putting [struggling families] in front of television cameras and presenting them with a "Faustian bargain" is cruel and unusual." The show quickly garnered an online petition demanding its cancellation, and a number of highly-critical reviews pointing out its exploitative premise

After all the backlash, the show was cancelled after its first season.

Who's Your Daddy?

Another stellar offering from Fox, 2005's Who's Your Daddy? was cancelled after just one episode. Basically, people who had been adopted as children were tasked with guessing who, out of 25 men, was their real dad, for the chance to win $100k. If they picked the wrong guy, he got the money.

At the time, Fox's head of reality programming told Variety (via The Guardian): "It's the most emotional show we've ever put on the air… I guarantee you: if you have any heart, you'll be bawling at the end of the show." 

Audiences and adoption-rights groups didn't agree, and Who's Your Daddy? got the ax right after its premiere aired.

All My Babies' Mamas

In 2013, buzz started to build online about a special slated to air on Oxygen entitled All My Babies' Mamas. The show would reportedly follow the exploits of rapper Shawty Lo, along with the ten mothers of his eleven children. As the New York Times reported, "a pitch reel soon popped up on YouTube… with video clips of the rapper Shawty Lo and his 11 children born to 10 women. A graphic read, "1 man, 10 baby mamas, 11 kids. Oh, and a new girlfriend … who is the same age as his oldest kids."

It wasn't long before major criticism about the show's potential to perpetuate negative stereotypes about black people poured forth, along with an online petition that accused Oxygen "of trying to profit from "inaccurate, dehumanizing, and harmful perceptions of Black families." 

So Oxygen backed away, saying in an official statement: "As part of our development process, we have reviewed casting and decided not to move forward with the special."