Reality shows where people compete for odd things in odd ways have become a television staple over the last two decades. But even amongst the oddest, a few stand out as being just too weird. And contrary to what you might believe, America doesn’t hold a monopoly on insane reality TV. For example…
10. Prize Contest Life
Prize Contest Life was a bizarre, late nineties Japanese take on The Truman Show. Nasubi, a 23 year old Japanese man, lived in an apartment that was completely bare except for a telephone, magazine rack and coffee table. There was no bed, TV, cushions or even clothes for him to wear. The aim of the game was for him to win items that he could use by entering as many competitions as possible. He applied for the job under the understanding that if he was successful, the footage would be edited and shown as a segment on a different program — what he didn’t know was that he was the show.
Over the course of Prize Contest Life he won a variety of random items, such as tickets to a Spice Girls contest he couldn’t leave the apartment to see, a pair of ladies underwear (the only clothing he had for the show’s whole run), a bike he couldn’t ride, a watermelon, some bags of rice, golf balls, duck meat, and much more. Months later the show was a huge success, prompting the producers to hire a staff of fifty people to make sure that Nasubi’s genitals were censored at all times. When Nasubi finally managed to reach the goal of one million yen he was flown to Korea where he had to enter yet more competitions to pay for the price of his fare home. Eventually, after fifteen months of isolation and with no idea that he was famous, Nasubi was taken to a TV studio and led into what he thought was an empty room. On live TV, in front of 15 million people, the room collapsed and revealed a naked and bewildered Nasubi to a studio audience.
9. Man Vs. Beast
The premise of Man Vs. Beast was to pit humans against animals in various tests of skill and athleticism to see who would win. If you guessed exactly how that idea would pan out then congratulations! You’re officially smarter than everyone involved in pitching and developing this idea. Unless the competition between humans and animals is “who’s better at having opposable thumbs” then animals will win pretty much every time.
Man Vs. Beast was not unreasonably accused by several animal rights groups of animal cruelty, in addition to being accused by everyone else of being crass, sensationalistic and downright dangerous. It also looks like a deleted scene from The Running Man. Among the “highlights” of the show was a passenger plane pulling contest between an Asian elephant and 44 midgets, a sumo wrestler in a tug of war against an orangutan and an eating contest between a man and a Kodiak bear.
Dadagirl is an Indian game show where contestants are bullied and humiliated throughout their attempts to win a cash prize by the show’s three dadas (bullies). In 2008, a video emerged online depicting an episode that had gone badly wrong. The video, usually titled “How Can She Slap?”, features a man being bullied by a game show host who then goes on to slap him. After slapping her back he’s then assaulted by a crowd of more than a dozen men while he keeps shouting “How can she slap?” The contestant went on to launch a lawsuit against the show, claiming that although a fair portion of the show was scripted he didn’t agree to be slapped in the face on live TV and his subsequent beating was very real.
7. Armed & Famous
2007’s Armed & Famous featured several C-List celebrities training to be real cops: La Toya Jackson, Erik Estrada, Wee Man, Jack Osborne and Trish Stratus. After their training was complete they went on patrol with real police officers and visited real crime scenes. The show was cancelled from CBS primetime and moved to another slot on VHI for a short run, but was then the center of a lawsuit after a woman claimed that her home had been entered illegally by several police officers, Latoya Jackson and Jack Osborne — not the sort of thing that happens every day. Another incident involved Erick Estrada shouting at a stabbing victim who confused him with Emilio Estevez. What a classy bunch.
6. Who’s Your Daddy
In Fox’s Who’s Your Daddy the contestants were adoptees looking for their birth fathers. But it wasn’t that simple, because there were eight fake fathers whose job was to mislead the adoptee into picking them. If the adoptee did so the fake father got all the money. Yes, they had people going through the emotional turmoil of finding out who their parents were and it was turned into a game show with $100,000 on the line. It’s hard to think of a more cruel and pointless show than Who’s Your Daddy — when it aired in 2004 it was inundated with bad publicity and poor ratings and was quickly taken off air after only one episode was broadcast, proving that even reality TV fans have their limits. On the off-chance you actually want to watch it you can find it on YouTube.
5. There’s Something About Miriam
There’s Something About Miriam was a British dating show with a twist. Six single men competed for the affections of the titular Miriam and a purse of £10,000. For three weeks the men entertained Miriam, went on dates with her, kissed and cuddled, etc. At the end of the show Miriam choose a winner and revealed her secret: she was born a man. While the cameras rolled the contestants put on a stoic front, but apparently afterwards one broke down in tears while another punched one of the show’s producers in the face. The show’s contestants ended up suing the show before it could be aired. The producers pointed out that even though they’d never specifically said that Miriam had once been a man the contestants had all been attracted to her before the reveal. Probably none of this was any good for Miriam’s self-esteem.
The purpose of Tore! is for several contestants to complete various puzzles. If they lose they’re dropped an indeterminate distance into a chasm which opens up underneath the play area. It’s hard to tell, but this Japanese show might be less of a game show and more of an inter-dimensional leakage from a parallel reality where people are captured and taken to huge dystopian puzzle fueled death factories and forced to compete in lethal contests. If you don’t believe us, take a look at the video above. When those alarm bells start ringing and the ground rolls back the drop that opens up looks infinite, and when people fall there’s no way of seeing where they’ve gone. It’s hard to believe anyone could get away with this sort of madness in the West without getting sued.
3. Naked Jungle
In 2000 the UK’s Channel 5 released a show called Naked Jungle. It featured an out of shape former children’s TV presenter and several contestants competing in various physical challenges while all stark naked. People who tuned in for nakedness were disappointed by the choice of contestants, while people who turned in to watch contestants clamber over obstacles were disappointed by how tacky is was. Naked Jungle was critically panned by everybody and even debated in the House of Commons, with the Daily Mail claiming that the show “plumbed to new depths”. If the Daily Mail is criticizing you for appealing to the lowest common denominator you know you’ve failed terribly.
2. Kid Nation
Kid Nation aired in 2007 and lasted one season. The premise was to see what would happen if 40 children between eight and 15 years old were taken to a privately owned town and left mostly unsupervised for a number of weeks. During the course of the show the kids managed to govern themselves fairly effectively and not turn to Lord of the Flies style savagery. They cooked and cleaned and carried out repairs and chores mostly without issue. However, there were allegations of child abuse and endangerment after several children were injured (a few children had to seek medical attention after accidentally drinking bleach, and one received facial burns after attempting to cook) and the show was panned by critics who claimed it was irresponsible and dangerous.
1. Space Cadets
In the British show Space Cadets, a team of eleven regular members of the public applied to be the first reality TV show contestants to travel to space. Over the course of two weeks they were trained at an undisclosed location until the big day when they entered a shuttle and were shot into space. Except not really — it was all a ruse. Their “spaceship” was a model in a television studio designed to look and feel like the real thing. Upon “re-entry into Earth’s orbit” they were placed in what they thought was a landing module which split apart and revealed that they were actually in front of a live TV audience laughing at them for falling for such a ridiculous premise. “Aw, man,” said one of the cadets, “we’re not astronauts, we’re just asses.” Yes, you are.