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What Are the Different Types of Reality TV?

Reality TV thrives on variety, offering viewers a window into unscripted dramas, competitions, lifestyles, and adventures. From the intensity of survival shows to the glitz of talent hunts, each genre captivates with its unique blend of authenticity and entertainment. Discover how these shows reflect the complexities of human experience—what's your favorite reality TV spectacle? Join the conversation and explore the spectrum.
Alex Tree
Alex Tree

Some of the different types of reality TV are talk shows, home makeovers and self improvement, and dating shows. Talk shows are very common and often named after the person who does the talking. Home makeovers and self improvement are relatively self explanatory, focusing on decorating, physical appearance, and sometimes mental health. Dating shows are sometimes like game shows, and usually follow two or more people trying to find a life companion. In addition, there are hidden camera shows where one or more people do not realize they are being filmed.

Talk shows are realty TV shows that usually have a main person talking about current events, people’s life stories, or other points of interest. These shows might focus on family issues, political events, or other niches. Some reality TV talk shows are done for comedy, drama, or news. Successful talk shows can air for decades, sometimes airing every weekday.

Hoarding tendencies have been featured on reality television.
Hoarding tendencies have been featured on reality television.

Home makeovers or self improvement reality TV shows focus on improving a home or a person, respectively. Makeovers to a home might consist of the entire house, one room, or the front or back yard. They are often given to low income people or people who have poorly decorated homes, if not given out randomly. Self improvement shows usually focus on improving a person’s appearance, but sometimes the show’s stars attempt to help people with hoarding tendencies or other mental or physical problems.

Many reality TV shows focus on paranormal investigations.
Many reality TV shows focus on paranormal investigations.

A lot of reality TV shows follow a person on dates to witness the drama, awkwardness, or success of the event. Some dating shows are essentially games where contestants try to win over the current star’s heart. The person who wins gets to continue dating the star, then the show moves onto the next star. Losers usually get nothing but a few minutes on television, but sometimes they are paid a small amount of money.

Reality TV shows might put people in dramatic situations to see how they react.
Reality TV shows might put people in dramatic situations to see how they react.

Hidden camera shows are a kind of reality TV where most people do not know they are being filmed. These shows often focus on trying to scare people, point out biases, or make fun of people’s poor knowledge of a subject. For example, a hidden camera show might film people’s reactions to a car possibly being stolen. The show lets several actors of different races “steal” the car with plenty of onlookers. If the onlookers react differently to certain races possibly stealing a car, the hidden camera show might reveal their presence and ask about the reaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main categories of reality TV shows?

Dating programs are one popular kind of reality TV.
Dating programs are one popular kind of reality TV.

Reality TV encompasses a variety of formats including competition shows, like "Survivor" or "The Great British Bake Off," docu-series that follow real-life events, such as "Keeping Up with the Kardashians," dating shows like "The Bachelor," makeover or renovation series, exemplified by "Queer Eye," and talent contests, such as "America's Got Talent." Each type offers a unique window into human experiences and skills.

How do competition-based reality shows differ from other types?

A large cash prize is the goal of reality TV competition shows.
A large cash prize is the goal of reality TV competition shows.

Competition-based reality shows focus on contestants striving to win a specific prize or title, often through a series of challenges or tasks. Unlike other reality TV formats, these shows typically have a clear endpoint with a winner, and they often incorporate elements of strategy, skill, and sometimes luck. They can be individual or team-based and span across various themes from cooking to survival skills.

What impact have reality TV shows had on popular culture?

Singing competitions are among the most viewed reality TV shows.
Singing competitions are among the most viewed reality TV shows.

Reality TV has significantly influenced popular culture by providing a platform for everyday people to become celebrities and by popularizing certain lifestyles and trends. Shows like "Jersey Shore" have impacted fashion and language, while "The Real Housewives" franchise has affected perceptions of luxury and drama in everyday life. Reality TV has also sparked discussions on societal issues and has been a catalyst for memes and social media trends.

Are reality TV shows scripted or unscripted?

Some reality TV programs focus on home renovations and improvements.
Some reality TV programs focus on home renovations and improvements.

While reality TV is intended to depict real-life situations, the level of scripting varies by show. Some are largely unscripted, with producers relying on the natural interactions of participants. Others may have structured formats or scenarios to encourage drama or ensure entertainment value. However, the dialogue is typically not scripted, even if situations are somewhat guided by the production team.

How do reality TV shows select their participants?

Educational programs are designed for younger audiences.
Educational programs are designed for younger audiences.

Reality TV show participants are often selected through a casting process that includes applications, interviews, and auditions. Producers look for individuals who are compelling, relatable, or have a unique story to tell. Some shows require specific skills or attributes, while others seek a diverse cast to create dynamic interactions. The selection process is crucial for setting the tone and direction of the show.

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Discussion Comments


For those of you that are interested in actually appearing on reality TV, there are plenty of opportunities from networks, which are usually posted on the site for various shows. Usually there is a place where you can submit a reality TV application form.

I've done a few of these applications and they usually just require a photo, brief bio and sometimes a video sample. You can just upload something to YouTube and provide the network you are applying to a link as requested.

While I haven't been picked for any shows yet, it is fun to imagine what could happen. I still feel like reality TV is the best way to get those elusive few minutes of fame everyone seems to want.


Reality TV is one of those guilty pleasures that a lot of people enjoy, myself included. I usually lean towards watching shows that focus on those with disorders like hoarding and shows that deal with the drama of everyday life. I think that my biggest problem with reality TV is trying to avoid reality TV spoilers when I am surfing online.

I find that fans of reality TV, especially VH1 reality TV, tend to talk a lot about the episodes in forums and think nothing of revealing how an intervention or plot twist will turn out. Personally I like to be surprised and hate when I end up knowing what happened in an episode I missed.


I absolutely hate the talk shows that exist for drama. There is nothing entertaining about getting the same violent reactions out of people every time you tell them bad news, and there is nothing exciting about a bunch of bleeped out curse words.

These shows annoy me to no end. I refuse to watch them, and I won't let my kids watch them, either. If I'm ever in a store and the television in there is tuned to one of these shows, I leave promptly.

Having said that, I do love talk shows with substance. When real issues are discussed and guests act in a polite manner, I enjoy watching the show.

These shows frequently have musical acts or authors that I love, so I always tune in on days when they are featured. There is no drama and no violence, and I feel safe watching the show in front of my children.


@orangey03 – Don't feel too bad. A large percentage of the population enjoys shows like that, too, or they wouldn't be so popular.

I felt a little disgusted at myself for watching a reality show where the contestants were all given plastic surgery to be more attractive. They had their teeth fixed and bleached, liposuction, and breast implants. Then, they were given personal trainers to help them get into shape.

I realized in horror after watching several episodes that all the women were being made to look the same! Whoever was in charge of the show made all of them blond, large-chested women with tans.

I'm all for shaping up and having your teeth fixed, but I see nothing wrong with being a brunette or a pale redhead with a modest chest. The contestants were modeled after one ideal, and it resulted in a bunch of clones.


Sometimes I feel a little dark and twisted for enjoying it, but I love watching hidden camera shows where people are confronted with something that terrifies them. People are put on these shows by their friends and family, so the producers get the inside scoop on exactly what will draw the biggest fearful response from them.

They do everything from faking a car's breakdown in a corn field full of aliens to sending a fake murderer into a person's office with a weapon. My husband says that if I ever put him on a show like that, someone would get hurt, because he wouldn't hesitate to break a person's neck if they were coming at him.

I feel a little guilty for laughing sometimes, but some people's responses are just so funny! It's because I know what they don't know, I'm sure.


Reality shows that actually allow regular people to apply create intrigue in the general public. The reason for this is that ordinary people realize that they could potentially be on television and become stars.

Everyone has some degree of a desire for fame. These shows foster the hope that it could one day happen to us.

Of course, there are some shows that no one would like to be on, like the kind where you are the victim of a prank, or a talk show where you are told that your spouse is cheating on you.

The shows that offer monetary prizes or the chance to show off your talents are the kind that give people hope for a better future. That's why open auditions draw tens of thousands of people.


I know I am dating myself a little bit here, but I remember watching some of the very first reality shows. When I was a teenager, I loved watching the Dating Game. That was probably a precursor of shows like The Bachelor and other popular match making shows.

Candid camera was another one of my favorites and I still like watching old episodes of that show.

I consider myself a pretty private person and don't think I would willingly try out for a reality TV show. I think it would be much more stressful than what it would be worth.

I don't mind watching some reality TV shows, but I think that a lot of them are over the top and don't portray much reality at all.


I don't live in a very big town, and a few years ago a girl from around here was on The Biggest Loser. I always wondered if she had to go through some reality TV tryouts, or just send in a video tape.

She ended up doing really well on the show and once she got back home began running in local marathons and working at one of the gyms. She also began a romance with another contestant on the show, which I hear is very common for that show.

I also had a couple of friends who tried out for The Amazing Race, and all they had to do was make a short video to send to them. They were never called back for anything.

I think we are so interested in reality TV because it gives us a glimpse into the lives of other people and how they are live. When I have watched some reality TV shows, I realize that I live a pretty sane, normal life, and I really want to keep it that way.


@Moldova-- I agree with you, I watch them all the time too! I'm getting married next May so I spend all of my time watching home decoration and wedding shows. I learn a lot from them!

In fact, the wedding and bride shows have helped me select designs for my dress and table decoration during the reception. I watch home renovation and decoration programs to get ideas on how to set up my own home.

It's also very funny to watch what reality TV contestants go through during these experiences. Every time I see Bridezilla on reality TV, I feel so bad for the people around her and also hope that I don't become one during my wedding! I think reality TV is very real because it can happen to anyone!


@cafe41-- I had no idea that there is such a thing as reality TV casting! I thought regular folks applied and got selected by chance! How is it a reality show if the people aren't selected from the regular public then?

Are shows like America's Biggest Loser and Next Top Model considered reality TV?

I guess they are both competitions, but they are very much like a reality show as well because it shows the lives of people over a period of time. I think it could be included in the "self improvement" category.

I've seen both of these shows before and it's hard to bear them. I feel very bad for the people taking part, the model show is more entertaining and bearable than the weight lost show which is horrible. I feel like they are torturing those people on that show! I don't know how it gets so many viewers.


I like self improvement reality shows because I think it helps people gain confidence and self esteem and helps them change themselves and their appearance. It's a good example for other people who also want to make some changes in their life or lifestyle.

I also find competitive reality TV shows like Survivor fun, because it's interesting to see how people cope in that environment and how they interact with each other while fighting for food and resources. It's entertaining and educational.

I dislike reality shows like Big Brother though because I don't like to watch people's personal life and conversations on live stream. I think people deserve some privacy, even if they're taking part in a TV show. I know that some of this is necessary because it is reality TV. But I think that these shows where there are cameras inside a house that captures everything that is going on in those people's lives is just wrong.


@Crispety - My favorite reality television programs are the home staging and real estate programs. I love to look at homes and see how people decorate them. It helps me get new ideas for my home and most of the tips are really inexpensive.

I also like to watch the real estate shows in which the agents are selling these multimillion dollar properties. I love looking at these estates and wonder how these people sell these expensive homes.


@Cafe41 - You have a point, which is why I don’t want those shows because they tend to play out like soap operas and unlike many people I really don’t like the drama.

I prefer to watch makeover reality TV. There is this show that I watch in which three friends help to pick the wardrobe and hair style for the reality show contestant and at the end they have a very dramatic change in their appearance and it is always for the better.

I like positive shows like this. I also like the talent reality shows and I love to learn about the reality TV audition and how they made it to the program.

American Idol does this and it really is interesting to see the auditions and learn about the contestant’s background. I think that it personalizes the program for the viewer and most people become hooked on the program this way because they develop a connection with the stars and are rooting for their success. I think that is why the ratings for this show are so high.


I think that whenever I watch a reality television show it is hard for me to remember that these people have had reality TV auditions and there was actually a reality TV casting call that took place.

A lot of times when I watch these programs, I just think that the program is so natural that I often forget that there is some staging and editing that takes place, so what I see is really not the entire truth.

Sometimes these shows have a way of showing bits and pieces of something in a way that makes things appear more controversial than they really are in order to draw more viewers.

I think that this is the case with a lot of these reality show participants that either live together or have their everyday lives featured on television.

Many of these stars are featured as living an opulent life, but in reality a lot of them are bankrupt or having financial problems that the program does not delve into because it would destroy the fantasy that they portray on television.

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    • Hoarding tendencies have been featured on reality television.
      By: Joseph Helfenberger
      Hoarding tendencies have been featured on reality television.
    • Many reality TV shows focus on paranormal investigations.
      By: Vitalez
      Many reality TV shows focus on paranormal investigations.
    • Reality TV shows might put people in dramatic situations to see how they react.
      By: Anton Zabielskyi
      Reality TV shows might put people in dramatic situations to see how they react.
    • Dating programs are one popular kind of reality TV.
      By: Grafvision
      Dating programs are one popular kind of reality TV.
    • A large cash prize is the goal of reality TV competition shows.
      By: s_kuzmin
      A large cash prize is the goal of reality TV competition shows.
    • Singing competitions are among the most viewed reality TV shows.
      By: imkenneth
      Singing competitions are among the most viewed reality TV shows.
    • Some reality TV programs focus on home renovations and improvements.
      By: tinabelle
      Some reality TV programs focus on home renovations and improvements.
    • Educational programs are designed for younger audiences.
      By: Joanna Zielinska
      Educational programs are designed for younger audiences.
    • "Teen Mom" is a popular reality TV program that shows the struggles young women face from an unplanned pregnancy.
      By: Africa Studio
      "Teen Mom" is a popular reality TV program that shows the struggles young women face from an unplanned pregnancy.