5 Reality TV Shows to Watch If You’re Missing Your Faves

updated Sep 21, 2020
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Credit: Apartment Therapy

This year, fall TV looks a little different. All this week, we’re creating our own must-watch lineups from under-the-radar shows available on streaming sites, so that one thing you won’t have to worry about in 2020 is running out of TV to watch.

If you love reality TV, you’ve probably noticed that your favorite shows have been surprisingly good at adapting to filming during COVID-19. Almost all of them immediately shut down back in March, but they eventually found their footing—”The Bachelorette” has been filming a strictly quarantined season in California (and premieres on Oct. 13 on ABC), “The Real Housewives” began filming confessionals from the ladies’ homes, and “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” pulled off some truly epic reunion specials filmed over Zoom.

Other shows that are thankfully coming back (with adjustments, of course) for fall TV season are “Dancing with the Stars” (which premiered on Sept. 14 on ABC), “The Real Housewives of Orange County” (premieres Oct. 7 on Bravo), and “Amazing Race” (premieres Oct. 14 on CBS)—but if your TV watching schedule still feels interrupted and empty, don’t worry. I’ve put together a list of recommendations for slightly lesser-known shows based on some of the most popular reality TV shows out there. It was hard to narrow them down (and I’d be remiss not to mention that several seasons of “The Great Pottery Throw Down” are now available on HBO Max), but I did my best to suggest ones I truly believe in.

1. If you love “House Hunters” and judging peoples’ homes

Watch: “Instant Hotel“. Two seasons, available on Netflix

It’s an Australian reality competition show that single-handedly got me through a bout with the flu last year. In it, “Instant Hotel” owners (aka Airbnbs, Vrbos, etc.) let four other pairs of competitors stay in their short-term rental. The pairs rate their stay based on categories like local entertainment, value, and quality of sleep, and the winner (at least in season one) wins a grand prize trip to California, USA. Seeing the insides of homes is entertaining enough, but the show also features truly memorable people, from a South Australian man with a mullet with an affinity for ’50s style Americana to a margarita-loving woman named Bondi who (you guessed it) lives in Bondi Beach. There’s also a delightful amount of drama, in case all of that didn’t sell you enough.

Honorable mention: “Escape to the Country,” a relaxing house-hunting show from the BBC. 20 seasons, but 25 episodes available on Amazon Prime Video.

2. If you love the gentle camaraderie of “The Great British Baking Show”

Watch: “Blown Away“. One season, available on Netflix

We’ve recommended plenty of GBBO-like shows before, but allow me to add another to the mix: “Blown Away”. It’s a glass-blowing competition, and if you’ve ever been lucky enough to witness glass blowing IRL, you know how calming and inspiring it is. This show gives you a cool look into the world of professional glass-blowing, and will make your jaw drop seeing how some shards of glass can become a gorgeous work of art. There’s some slight cut-throatness, to be sure, but the overall vibe is “cool art studio pals making stuff in front of ten-thousand degree flames.”

Honorable mention: “Sugar Rush,” a timed baking competition in three stages. Three seasons available on Netflix.

3. If you’re addicted to the Real Housewives and their drama

Watch: “Family Karma“. One season, available on the Bravo app

I don’t know about you, but I love when a reality show features people who’ve known each other for years and really gets into their deep-seated drama. “Family Karma” does exactly that, and more. It follows a handful of Indian-American families living in Florida, and while the “kids” (all in their 20s and 30s) have their own storylines, including an engagement that may or may not result in a marriage, two friends with intense romantic chemistry, and several messy people who live for drama, so do the “adults”. In fact, the fighting and friendships among the aunties is maybe the best part. They truly bare their souls, their insecurities, and their feelings in a way that feels incredibly refreshing and relatable. Fingers crossed they’re able to film a second season during the pandemic!

Honorable mention: “Styling Hollywood,” which follows celebrity stylist Jason Bolden and his husband, interior designer Adair Curtis. One season, available on Netflix.

4. If the newest season of “The Bachelorette” isn’t enough for you

Watch: “Dating Around“. Two seasons, available on Netflix

You know how secretly thrilling it is to realize you’re sitting next to a first date at a restaurant—especially if it’s a little awkward or seems like it’s going amazingly? Just me? Well whatever, “Dating Around” is delightfully voyeuristic, in that it lets you witness one person go on five first dates—and then choose the one person they want to go on a second date with at the end of the episode. Every episode features a new “dater”, so if you really can’t stand someone (and trust me, that’ll happen), you can just skip it or grit your teeth through it. Unlike “The Bachelor,” there’s a nice amount of diversity in terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation, and it’ll make you excited to explore new restaurants in New York and New Orleans whenever it’s safe to again.

Honorable mention: “Are You the One?,” the first reality dating show to exclusively feature openly LGBT and sexually fluid contestants. Eight seasons on MTV, but 6 seasons available on CBS All Access.

5. If you still watch every season of “The Real World”

Watch: “Below Deck“. Seven seasons, available on Hulu

OK, you probably know about this one if you love reality TV, but if you haven’t watched it yet, you’re not allowed to watch another show until you give this one a shot. I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules. “Below Deck” is like “Real World” in that it’s a bunch of hot 20- and 30-somethings all thrown into a living and working situation together, and every amount of drama, hookups, and workplace arguments occur that you’d hope for. Add on some truly high-maintenance charter yacht guests that rotate out every two episodes or so? Absolutely brilliant. I’d recommend starting with season 3 and then going back to season 1 one you’re all caught up, but if you’re a purist, start with season 1. You really can’t go wrong. (The spinoff, “Below Deck Mediterranean,” is also good and arguably more popular, but I have a soft spot for the original, featuring the stud of the sea, Captain Lee.)

Honorable mention: “Terrace House,” a show featuring six strangers living together under one roof that originated in Japan. Five seasons, available on Netflix.