Reality TV shows of the 2000s
“The Simple Life”
The 2000s was an iconic decade for many reasons, and quality reality television is certainly one of them. Over those 10 years, audiences were able to experience just about every type of reality TV show imaginable — from following the lives of elite Orange County, California, teens to spending time with eccentric, attractive Italian Americans in New Jersey to watching aspiring chefs duke it out for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at working in one of Gordon Ramsay’s kitchens — the options were endless! To start us off? Two words: That’s hot. “The Simple Life,” which ran from 2003 to 2007, saw privileged Los Angeles socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie experience life without luxury. Stripped of their money, wardrobes and vehicles, Paris and Nicole spent time with families who might as well have lived on a different planet. It’s hard to pick just one favorite moment from the series — from the time Paris literally thought Walmart sold walls to when the ladies worked at a tanning salon, there are just too many!
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We don’t know what’s better — the fact that this show’s theme song was “Come Clean” by Hilary Duff or that it gave us the iconic Lauren Conrad (better known as L.C.), Kristin Cavallari and Stephen Colletti love triangle. MTV’s “Laguna Beach” branded itself as “The Real Orange County,” having debuted in 2004 just a year after the teen drama series “The O.C.” premiered on FOX. It was responsible for launching the careers of many of its stars into the mainstream — for example, Lauren went on to become a fashion designer and author; Kristin became a television personality and jewelry and lifestyle brand designer; Stephen took up acting. The MTV series, which ran for three seasons, also gave us a great spinoff series…
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Fans were ecstatic to see Lauren Conrad’s life after high school as she ventured to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of working in fashion. “The Hills” chronicled Lauren’s new life in the City of Angels, as audiences watched her live the L.A. dream with besties Heidi Montag, Audrina Patridge and Whitney Port. While there were many memorable moments from the series, the most notable is perhaps the infamous blow-out fight between Lauren and Heidi that gave us the iconic “I want to forgive you, and I want to forget you” line. “The Hills” premiered in 2006 and featured Lauren as its protagonist until she left in 2009. From 2009 until the show’s conclusion in 2010, “Laguna Beach” alum and former L.C. rival Kristin Cavallari took over as the main character.
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“Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica”
“Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica,” which ran for three seasons from 2003 to 2005, followed Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’s marriage (before it ended in 2006) and gave fans a look into the everyday lives of the successful singers as they tried to balance romance and their careers. While Jessica didn’t exactly come off as a genius (long live her Chicken of the Sea comments!), the show is quintessentially early 2000s.
“The Ashlee Simpson Show”
Jessica Simpson wasn’t the only Simpson sister with an MTV reality show! Ashlee Simpson got the same star treatment in 2004 when “The Ashlee Simpson Show” debuted on the network. The series, which ran for two seasons until early 2005, chronicled the release of her debut album, “Autobiography,” the career success that followed and the young singer’s year-long relationship with fellow musician Ryan Cabrera.
“American Idol” premiered on FOX in 2002 and left a lasting impact on popular culture as well as the reality television landscape as a whole, serving as a pioneering example of what it meant for audiences to be able to engage and interact directly with the content they were consuming. Fan interaction was huge for “Idol,” which also boosted the career of pop music mogul Simon Cowell, who famously went on to create groups like One Direction and Fifth Harmony. And “Idol” winners like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson went on to craft immensely successful music careers.
Given just how many seasons and spinoffs there’s been, it’s hard to believe that “The Bachelorette” premiered all the way back in 2003. While the series continues to grow its fanbase, there’s something particularly special about its earlier seasons. The first season had Trista Rehn — now known as Trista Sutter — as its inaugural bachelorette, and she was an absolute sweetheart. What’s more adorable is that she’s still married to the man she met and fell in love with on the series, Ryan Sutter, with whom she shares two children. “The Bachelorette,” along with its male counterpart “The Bachelor,” were among the two most popular reality television series of the decade.
“Big Brother,” the CBS reality game show hosted by TV journalist Julie Chen, premiered in 2000. The concept made it enticing to watch — a handful of contestants referred to as Houseguests enter a home where they are under 24/7 surveillance and must form alliances and compete against each other for a $500K grand prize. The series was a favorite because of its focus on the importance of game play — while reality television shows are often mindless, enjoyable sources of escapism, “Big Brother” was refreshing in that it required strategy. The series is still on the air today!
“Keeping Up With the Kardashians”
“Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which debuted in 2007, introduced us to the famous Calabasas, California-based Kardashian-Jenner family. Sisters Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Kendall, Kylie (and, early on, their brother, Rob) and momager Kris and her second husband, Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, delivered a show that was addictive to watch largely because of the way in which the sisters interacted with each other — it was hard not to be enticed by the family’s interpersonal dynamics and the luxury lifestyles they led. “KUWTK,” which concluded in 2021 after 20 seasons on E!, really captured the essence of the 2000s. For those still in need of a weekly Kardashian-Jenner fix, the family’s new reality show, “The Kardashians,” airs on Hulu.
“Meet the Barkers”
Way before he married Kourtney Kardashian, blink-182 drummer Travis Barker found love with former model and beauty queen Shanna Moakler. Their marriage and family life with three kids was chronicled on the MTV reality TV series “Meet the Barkers” for two seasons in 2005 and 2006. The same year their show ended, so did their romance.
Just as “American Idol” gave aspiring singers the opportunity to showcase their vocal prowess, “Project Runway” gave burgeoning fashion designers the opportunity to reveal their talent in front of millions. The series, which premiered in 2004, was hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum for 13 years until 2017; another iteration continues on today. What made the fashion reality series so special in those early days was how it gave unknown designers from all walks of life such a huge platform to further their careers and enter the mainstream fashion world (Christian Siriano, anyone?). Another reason to love this ’00s reality series? Tim Gunn!
Who knew watching celebrities get pranked could be so entertaining? Hosted and co-created by Ashton Kutcher, “Punk’d,” which premiered on MTV in 2003 and ran until 2007, was a hidden camera reality television series that saw celebrities get put in puzzling situations only to find out that it was all a practical joke. The series’ first episode, which showed Justin Timberlake being made to believe that the government was seizing his property due to unpaid taxes, was listed as No. 3 in Time Magazine’s 32 Epic Moments in Reality TV History list. Halle Berry, Ciara, Rachel Bilson, Tony Hawk, Ryan Cabrera and more stars were also pranked on the show.
If you’re anything like us, you’ve seen far too many compilation videos of Gordon Ramsay giving the contestants on “Hell’s Kitchen” some serious tough love. The reality television cooking series, which premiered in 2005, follows two teams of chefs — red and blue — as they duke it out in hopes of winning the chance to become the head chef at one of Gordon’s restaurants. The show has been so successful, it’s still on the air today!
“Flavor of Love”
“Flavor of Love,” which debuted in 2006 and ran for three seasons, followed rapper Flavor Flav of Public Enemy on his journey to find love. Aside from the meme-worthy moments Tiffany “New York” Pollard gave us, the show also incorporated the iconic “clock ceremony” (similar to the “The Bachelor” franchises’ rose ceremony) where contestants who were not eliminated received gold clocks to wear around their necks to symbolize safety. Up until its series finale in 2008, “Flavor of Love” was a memorable ’00s reality dating show that was as cringeworthy as it was addictive.
“What Not to Wear”
“What Not to Wear,” which premiered in 2003, follows sartorially-inclined individuals Stacy London and Clinton Kelly as they help unsuspecting “fashion felons” make over their wardrobes. On each episode, the contestant is given $5K to spend on new clothes under one condition: They must throw out their entire existing wardrobe. The series was a delight to watch — it not only incorporated fun and informative fashion tips but showed contestants facing their fears and growing more confident by the end of the episode.
Hosted by Jeff Probst, “Survivor” premiered on CBS in 2000 and remains on the air today. The reality competition series follows a group of strangers in an isolated area where they must fend for themselves for however long they’re on the show. They have the opportunity to compete for resources, rewards and immunity from elimination, with the last person standing being awarded a grand prize of $1M. Similar to “Big Brother,” “Survivor” has amassed a cult following over its more than two decades on the air.
“America’s Next Top Model”
Created by supermodel Tyra Banks, “America’s Next Top Model” — which premiered in 2003 — is a reality television series that showed aspiring models competing for the coveted title and a chance to kickstart a career in the fashion industry. While the show was entertaining to watch in its earlier seasons — and had no shortage of drama (remember Tyra’s melodramatic “I was rooting for you” rant in season 4?), past contestants have since slammed the show, which featured plenty of problematic moments, as well as its host’s bad behavior.
“The Osbournes,” which premiered on MTV in 2002, is often credited with paving the way for the slew of family-based reality television shows that followed — without the series that showcased the eccentric dynamics between the unconventional members of the Osbourne family, we might never have gotten “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” “The Osbournes,” which focused on Ozzy, Sharon, Kelly and Jack, served two purposes: It gave audiences a more intimate look at the rock star’s family life and helped MTV rebrand itself as more of a reality TV channel, for better or for worse!
“Pimp My Ride”
Note to self: Go to West Coast Customs for a car upgrade. If there’s one series that perfectly captures the essence of MTV reality television during the early 2000s, this is certainly it. Hosted by rapper Xzibit beginning in 2004, “Pimp My Ride” showcased lucky contestants who got their cars upgraded in the most extravagant and often unnecessary of ways. From multicolored flame throwers to chocolate fountains, these newly customized vehicles were the definition of extra — but that’s exactly why viewers enjoyed tuning in.
“Making the Band”
Co-created by late con artist Lou Pearlman, “Making the Band” was a reality television series that ran from 2000 to 2009 and created musical acts like O-Town, Danity Kane, Da Band, Day26 and Donnie Klang. After the first iteration of the show, which featured O-Town (pictured), rapper-producer Diddy oversaw all subsequent seasons. Under his guidance, the show became a cultural phenomenon for the way it revolutionized the public’s understanding of what it meant to create a breakout musical act.
It was always a relief when you made it to the end of the one-hour episode and heard host Joe Rogan, who was then best known as a UFC commentator, say the words, “Fear is not a factor for you!” to the more-than-deserving winner. “Fear Factor,” which premiered on NBC in 2001, saw contestants competing in unusual and often disgusting stunts in hopes of winning a grand prize of $50K. If you had the stomach for it, “Fear Factor” made for a pretty entertaining watch.
Never have we ever wanted so badly to live in a beachside house with seven complete strangers. “Jersey Shore,” which premiered on MTV in 2009, was among the last great shows to debut before the 2010s. From the infamous phrase “Gym, Tan, Laundry” to the intricate tutorial Pauly D gave us revealing how he does his hair, the series was iconic in its own right. With all of its drama, tears and cringeworthy moments, it was hard not to love this crazy bunch.
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