The Best Reality TV Shows on Netflix

Join me in the Nicole Byer fan club.


Netflix

When it comes to reality TV, Netflix has a lot to offer. And I mean a lot. Dig deep enough, and you’ll encounter some wacky-sounding offerings, including a show where contestants try to make gourmet meals out of leftovers (Best Leftovers Ever!) and a series that’s all about “animal influencers” (Pet Stars). Those could be good. Honestly, I haven’t spent time with them. What I do know is that the streamer offers some unmissable options, which need to make it into your TV watching routine. 

Here are five of the best original reality TV shows on Netflix.

Nailed It (2018-)

Netflix

Boredom often sends me to the grocery store to snag cake mix and a jar of frosting. The result of my elbow grease is a lifeless, underwhelming heap, but that doesn’t dull the experience. I mean, I still made something, and it even tastes pretty good. Nailed It gets the joy of amateur baking, and radiates it in an easily devourable half-hour. Three nonbakers compete to re-create professional cake pops, iced cookies and show-stopping, multitier cakes. Some hopefuls unveil truly disastrous-looking baked goods, but the show still applauds them for putting in the effort. The focus is on having a good time, not on actually replicating an impossible-looking confection. Charismatic judges Nicole Byer and Jacques Torres offer hilarious (but ultimately nice) assessments of the finished treats, making it easy to crack a smile.

The Circle (2020-)

Netflix

Social media can feel like a game. So why not literally make it one? In The Circle, a group of social-media-savvy contestants try to be crowned the “highest-rated” player at the end of the series. Contestants bring high-energy personalities and their own game-winning strategy — choosing to either play as themselves or “catfish” as someone entirely different (or something in between those two extremes). They’re sequestered into individual rooms and tasked with messaging their fellow contestants by way of a screen. All the players periodically “rate” one another, and the highest-ranked pair gets to choose who to toss from the competition. It’s a creative concept, and the show throws in plenty of twists to liven things up. Think it would be easy to spot those completely faking a personality online? Well, you’d be surprised.

Blown Away (2019-)

Netflix

Blown Away didn’t start out on Netflix. It first aired on a Canadian channel called Makeful. But it’s on the streamer now, inviting you to gain appreciation for a completely fascinating art form. Talented glassblowers face off in challenges and follow a theme, whether it’s crafting a household item, an original cartoon character or a piece about climate change. Less successful cast members are knocked off until a winner emerges. It’s a familiar reality competition formula, but the elaborate art that’s brought from concept to creation is worth sticking around for. Those who recognize glass sculptures only as finished products sitting in a gallery will take interest in the chance to peer behind the scenes. Prepare to be mesmerized, and perhaps even inspired to get up and do something with your hands.

Dating Around (2019-)

Netflix

I’ve said it before, and I gladly will again: Dating Around is a must-watch for reality show fans. This entry to Netflix’s catalog has a no-frills premise, which is saying something considering its wild company on the streaming platform (Too Hot to Handle, Sexy Beasts, Love Is Blind). Make no mistake, there’s still a lot to keep you invested in what’s happening on screen. Singles in New York and New Orleans share a night of drinks, dinner and conversation, giving rise both to unbearably awkward encounters and dazzling chemistry. The show’s scaled-back feel allows its featured cast members to shine. Capturing the ambiance of late-night city spots, everything looks fantastic. If I have to keep praising this show, I will. I’m desperate to get my hands on season 3. 

Rhythm and Flow (2019-)

Cardi B, Chance the Rapper and Tip “T.I.” Harris judge this reality competition that sees young hopefuls compete to become the next hip-hop superstar. We have to start off by mentioning those three — a massive part of the show’s allure is the time we get to spend with them. The series’ format feels similar to options like American Idol. There are live auditions in different cities, only some move on to compete again, etc. But it chops the total episode count by about half. Unsigned rappers are judged both on their vocal ability and their stage presence as they step up and perform. Some of them are stellar, but the show really gets its strength from its big-name judges (and guest judges — the great Snoop Dogg weighs in during the first episode). We know these figures, and we hang on every word they say. When Cardi B shares that she’s looking for “one of us,” it means something, and it helps us to completely invest in the ride.


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