Many of TV’s biggest reality shows have been around for a really long time — there are people who can legally vote in this country who can’t remember a world without Survivor, The Bachelor/ette, Big Brother, or The Amazing Race. In recent years, a ton of shows from reality TV’s early-2000s wave, includong America’s Next Top Model and American Idol, have been rebooted, with even more golden oldies on the way, like Fox’s upcoming reboot of Paradise Hotel, and HGTV’s just-announced retooling of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
The first few years of the millennium saw a treasure trove of reality TV concepts, a few of which stuck around for the long haul, but many more of which faded away after their initial novelty wore off. But in this reboot-happy culture, no bygone reality series is safe from revival — no, not even Temptation Island. So as the reality TV of today continues to mine this century’s first decade for inspiration, here are some standouts from that era that really could use another lap around the track.
Kid Nation (2007)
The time has definitely come for a new Kid Nation. The CBS show took 40 kids, aged 8 to 15, put them in a Wild West ghost town, and told them they had to create a functioning society. The results were often fascinating and not nearly as Lord-of-the-Flies as one might expect. However, Kid Nation set off the outrage police (and in the days before Twitter, no less), who claimed the producers were endangering the children for ratings. But now there are plenty of shows featuring kids, including one on which they get yelled at by Gordon Ramsay (MasterChef Junior). Surely with some more robust safety precautions in place, we can give the kids another shot.
The Mole (2001–2008)
This U.S. version of a long-running, much-adapted Belgian series might be the smartest reality show ever created — so smart it was hosted by a pre-CNN Anderson Cooper for a while. The basic premise was straightforward enough, with a dozen players competing in challenges each week to earn money — the complication was that one of them was secretly The Mole, working against the rest of the team. At the end of each episode, everyone would take a test about The Mole’s identity and whoever knew the least about The Mole would get the boot. The winner would take home the entire prize pot. It made for a consistently twisty ride, with neither viewers nor participants knowing who the villain might be. The premise might have grown too complicated for some over the ABC series’s five seasons, but I think today’s viewers are ready to open their hearts and minds to it once more.
Seriously, we live in the world of the Try Guys and two different Paul brothers and we can’t find a group of 20-something dudes willing to perform ridiculous and scatological stunts on television? What is wrong with us? Surely we can recruit a new slate of Johnny Knoxvilles and Steve-Os, and maybe even have them test out the original stunts that made this show so outrageous and hilarious all at once. And if MTV isn’t interested, maybe YouTube can take its original content experiment to the next level and invest in the next generation of jackass-ery. Just don’t tell the new school what happened to Knoxville’s penis.
The It Factor (2002–2003)
Less of a reality show and more of a docuseries, this show followed actors (including a baby-faced Jeremy Renner) struggling to make it. It was a fascinating look into just what it took to stand out, the grind of auditions, and the uncertainty of life on the fringes of the entertainment industry. In the first season, an IRS audit threw an actress into a tizzy that she barely recovered from. And since these are actors we’re talking about, they could always be counted on to bring the crazy without the over-the-top drama of, say, Bad Girls Club. Both seasons — the first in New York, the second in L.A. — were shown on Bravo when the Real Housewives weren’t even a glimmer in Andy Cohen’s eye. Another round of this show from Bravo’s tonier early-2000s era might help elevate the network a bit.
Boy Meets Boy (2003)
Speaking of Bravo, in its early days it aired one of the meanest ever tricks on gay people. Boy Meets Boy was a dating show where a gay guy got to pick from a house of eligible hot lads — the trick was that half of them were straight and he had to figure out which were which. (He also didn’t know this going in, which seems especially cruel.) How about we give a hot gay guy a pick of the litter again, but this time with just gay dudes. You know, like Finding Prince Charming, but actually good and with a budget this time.
Mr. Personality (2003)
Most people only remember this Fox show because Monica Lewinsky hosted it, but it’s actually an amazing concept: a woman picks among a dozen suitors, but they’re always fully clothed and wearing masks, so she has to choose them based on who they are on the inside rather than who they are on the outside. I propose a modernization, though, which mostly has to do with Lewinsky’s new career as an anti-online-bullying advocate. Here we would get a Reddit/4chan troll who has to choose between 12 women all wearing masks. At the end he finds out that they’re all women he’s talked shit about online, that they’re all actually real humans, and that none of them want to date him because he is a miserable asshole.
I Love New York (2007–2008)
Yes, Tiffany Pollard is on the new season of Celebrity Big Brother, but why is she not on television all the time? We don’t necessarily need to give her another dating show, but she needs a steady gig. Can she move to New Jersey and become a Real Housewife? Can she replace Carson Kressley as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race? Can Alec Baldwin give her a permanent seat on The Match Game? Can she host the new The Mole? It is up to us as a country to make sure that Tiffany Pollard is continuously employed until the day she dies.
The Swan (2004)
This is what the #MeToo age needs: a program where six average women are given extensive plastic surgery, coached to lose a ton of weight, and then forced into a beauty pageant to see which one of them is the most beautiful. Ha. Just kidding. Some things really should be left alone forever.