While I was writing my For Real, I had to think up concepts for eleven fake reality shows. (Some of my favorites: TwinCognito, in which twins switch lives and attempt to fool their friends and coworkers; Catwalk, the definitive pet fashion show; and Speed Breed, in which young women race to become pregnant.) Since I didn’t want to accidentally mock any real shows, I had to extensively research what had actually aired during reality television’s long and storied history. It’s a good thing I looked—one of my original fake shows, which involved a family fighting over someone’s estate, was indeed the concept for a real show.
Here, for your viewing pleasure (or, you know, sheer horror,) are the ten most absurd reality shows I came across in my research. These are all real, I promise.
#10: Fire Me, Please: CBS, aired for one season in 2005
Two people report to new jobs in different locations with the objective of getting fired as close to 3:00 PM as possible. The person who is sacked closest to the appointed time wins $25,000. The show is filmed with hidden cameras, and the managers are not in on the joke (though the owners of the companies are.) This was the first reality show to use a laugh track.
#9: Date My Mom: MTV, aired for three seasons beginning in 2004
Singles go on “dates” with three moms, who try to convince them to date their sons/daughters. The contestants make their decisions solely on the mothers’ descriptions, then choose a winner at a beachfront ceremony with all three mothers. Only after the winner is revealed do the daughters/sons show themselves. It has been alleged that this show was, in fact, scripted.
#8: The Singing Office: TLC, aired for one season in 2008
Office workers are “ambushed” by ex-Spice Girl Melanie Brown and ex-NSYNC member Joey Fatone and asked to participate in a singing audition. The top five singers from each office are coached and taught choreography, then compete against another office in front of a live studio audience. Competitions included Jet Blue Airlines vs. the Los Angeles Zoo and the Anaheim White House Restaurant vs. Sit ’N Sleep Mattresses.
#7: Trick My Trucker: Country Music Television, aired for one season in 2007
A personal trainer and a personal stylist give out-of shape truck-drivers makeovers with a focus on improving their physical appearances, diets, and exercise regimens. The truckers are are then tracked for several weeks, and the one who makes the most improvements to his lifestyle is rewarded with gas money. This show is a spin-off of CMT’s Trick My Truck, in which rigs are “stolen” and customized.
#6: Parking Wars: A&E, aired for seven seasons beginning in 2008
This show focuses primarily on employees of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and follows them as they ticket, tow, and “boot” cars. It also shows members of the public trying to retrieve their impounded vehicles. In later seasons, the show begins following parking officials in Detroit, Providence, Staten Island, North Hampstead, and Trenton as well. Unbelievably, a hundred and four episodes of this show aired before it was canceled.
#5: Drop! the Celebrity: ITV, aired for two episodes in 2003
Twelve British celebrities get in a plane, which ascends to 12,000 feet. Video of them is broadcast to a studio audience of one hundred people, who vote on which celebrity they’d most like to see parachute from the plane. The winning celebrity is the one who remains inside the plane longest, and £10,000 is donated to charity in his/her name. The show is most famous for the moment TV presenter and singer Cheryl Baker sprained her ankle during a bad landing.
#4: Boys Will Be Girls: E4, aired for one season in 2006
Two band managers audition singers who have previously been members of boy bands. When the final four are selected, the twist is revealed: they must pass themselves off as a girl band called The Honeytraps. At the end of the series, the band recorded a cover of “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)” by A Flock of Seagulls. The single was never sold in stores but did fairly well on the British download charts the month it was released.
#3: The Baby Borrowers: NBC, aired for one season in 2008
Couples between the ages of eighteen and twenty care for a baby, then a toddler, then a pre-teen, then a teenager, and finally an elderly person (which makes no sense, given the name.) Each caregiving session lasts three days. The parents of the young children monitor the surrogate parents via video and are allowed to step in if the contestants appear to need assistance. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry formally requested that NBC cancel this show, as they feared it would traumatize the young children involved.
#2: Chains of Love: UPN, aired for one season in 2001
Four people are literally chained by the wrists to one person of the opposite sex for four days, including when they are sleeping. One person is eliminated at a time, and the man/woman in charge decides how much money the eliminated person should receive from the $10,000 pot. At the end, the man/woman in charge can opt to continue dating the winner (unchained) or send him/her away and keep the remaining money. Contestants are unchained only to change clothes and use the bathroom.
#1: Bridalplasty: E!, aired for one season in 2010
Twelve brides-to-be and already-married women make plastic surgery wish lists. Each week, the winner of a wedding-themed challenge receives one surgery from her list, and one bride is eliminated. The winner receives her dream wedding and her entire plastic surgery wish list. Her husband-to-be does not see her new look until their wedding day. The show included an “Exclusive Injectables Party,” hosted by plastic surgeon Dr. Terry Dubrow, who also performed all the procedures on the show.