Lost Chronicles: Unearthing The Overlooked Moments In Reality TV History

Reality TV is in something of a heyday now (thanks, Scandoval), but those of us who came up in the trenches remember when the premise of every trashy show was, “get a bunch of hot people drunk in a house… and maybe give them a cash prize?” Okay, so things maybe haven’t changed much since the early 2000s, but they were at least regular hot people with zero ethics back then, as opposed to the highly curated and enhanced hot people with, like, two ethics that we have today. You know what I mean — early reality TV was held together with little more than boob tape and a dream. Most of the iconic early 2000s reality shows would never be able to get made today, which is all the more reason to take a walk down memory lane to celebrate the hot messes that raised me. No, not you, Mom and Dad!

Joe Millionaire 

joe millionaire
Image Credit: Getty Images

A bunch of women think they’re competing to date a millionaire, only to find out he makes $19,000 a year. (And who would’ve thought, wages haven’t changed since!) Iconic for being one of the first reality TV dating shows to capture the watercooler, but it’s also wild that this show spawned other programs that rely on deception as the central plot point. (I Wanna Marry Harry, anyone?)

Moment Burned Into My Brain: The twist at the end, obviously. (And I’m not just saying that because I barely remember a single thing that happened on the show except for Zora’s town promising to dedicate a holiday to her if she won.) My mom predicted that they’d give the winners some money in the end, but my 12-year-old self did not see that coming.

Mr. Personality

Monica Lewinsky during Opening night of the Broadway show Take Me Out curtain call and after party at Walter Kerr Theatre & The Supper Club in New York, NY, United States. (Photo by Gregory Pace/FilmMagic)
Image Credit: Getty Images

Deep cut alert. Was this really a show or did I make it up? It was hosted by Monica Lewinsky — yes, that Monica Lewinsky. It was basically a precursor to the Masked Singer in that it involved a lead woman dating a number of men who had to wear a mask the whole time. Only this wasn’t some involved prosthetic get-up. I remember it as the mask from The Phantom of the Opera, but I just looked it up and it was SO much worse. Imagine a Spartan headpiece without the mohawk, and now picture wearing that for days on end.

Moment Burned Into My Brain: I don’t know, my dad saw that I was watching this garbage and yelled at me to turn it off.

A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila

Image Credit: Prime

Oh, you thought I was going to say Flavor of Love and talk about when Pumkin spat on New York, or when Hottie tried to cover a raw chicken in marshmallows, defrost it in the microwave, and serve it to Flav’s mom? Or Rock of Love, when Heather got Bret Michaels’ name tattooed on the back of her neck? (And then added “Sucks” below it before the reunion because she got dumped?) Yeah no, that’s amateur hour. Real reality TV fans remember when VH1 gave a Myspace girl (who later became a Nazi) her own dating show — and the big twist? She was bisexual. (Pause for 2007-era gasps.)

Moment Burned Into My Brain: When watching Dani be adorable made me realize I am attracted to women. So much about this show was deeply problematic. Like, how they pretty much lied to the female contestants and made them think they were making history with the first gay female dating show. But the giant bed they made everyone sleep on? That was truly unhinged. I can only hope that there were bunk beds hidden away in other rooms in the mansion they tried to pass off as Tila’s home. 

Charm School

Image Credit: Amazon

I had to give Flavor of Love some… well, love. Charm School was an etiquette boot camp hosted by Mo’Nique (this sentence sounds like it’s out of a fever dream) where past contestants competed for a cash prize and the most “reformed” won.

Moment Burned Into My Brain: There was, if I recall correctly, a challenge where the contestants had to give their clothes away to a charity thrift store and whoever’s haul earned the most money won that challenge. Smiley (who you’ll recall from Flavor of Love season 1) realized her team was behind, so she sold her late mother’s ring to try to take home the prize (which was a shopping trip at Forever21, so it was probably worth less than the value of what they donated). Thankfully, Mo’Nique “miraculously” found the ring and gave it back.

Princesses: Long Island

Image Credit: Bravo

I never understood why this show didn’t get a second season. *Reads old reviews* Oh yeah, now I remember. In retrospect, all the pearl-clutching over the insinuation that these women were Jewish American Princesses is pretty quaint. This show about a group of friends in their late 20s was off the walls in a very low-stakes way. Like, there’s some drama about getting caught in a storm and missing a camp? 

Moment Burned Into My Brain: When they were all at a party and Ashley started talking to some guy… so she called her dad in the middle of the conversation to tell him about the guy she was currently talking to. Like, as they were speaking. There’s being close with your parents and there’s… whatever that is.

Beauty and the Geek 

Image Credit: Prime

I fully believe if this show had stayed on the air, we wouldn’t have incels. Hot girls and nerds teaming up for a prize, learning that hot people can have things beyond their looks to offer the world (like beauty tips), and smart guys can figure out how to string a sentence together to talk to women? It was on track to solve world peace.

Moment Burned Into My Brain: This isn’t a moment per se, but I’ll never forget how Megan Hauserman got her start as a beauty, then went on to Rock of Love where her whole shtick was being hot and superficial. And then they gave her her own spin-off called, and I truly cannot make this up, Megan Wants a Millionaire. Real subtle! 

The Pickup Artist

Image Credit: VH1

Typing the above sentence about guys stringing a sentence together to talk to women sent a Jimmy Neutron-esque brain blast from the past and reminded me of this show, which was led by a Steampunk magician who always wore a giant felt hat who called himself a “pick-up artist” and went by the name “Mystery.” Mystery!! The only mystery was where he got off thinking he was the best person to mentor the group of average Joe contestants. 

Moment Burned Into My Brain: Actually, now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this show popularized negging, so we should probably burn it in a fire forever. Bye!

Dash Dolls 

Image Credit: NBC


With a whopping 2.7 star rating — out of 10!! — on IMDb, it’s truly a mystery why this masterpiece only lasted one season. A Kardashian spin-off about the dramatic retail employees who run their boutique, Dash? Dash Dolls walked so Vanderpump Rules could run. Shouts out to the stud-covered denim booty shorts I got in Miami during their closing sale that are still in my closet because “you never know.”

Moment Burned Into My Brain: Probably when Shalom gives Durrani a pink Bentley for her birthday (very My Super Sweet 16-coded) and then crashes it immediately (also MSS16-coded) and tries to blame it on another one of their coworkers. Oh, btw, this happens after Shalom scolds Durrani for “eating in his car” when she is in fact taking a sip of water.

Gallery Girls 

Image Credit: Bravo

The fact that the following is the first line in the Wikipedia entry for this show should tell you everything you need to know: For the scripted Comedy Webseries by Lena Dunham, see Delusional Downtown Divas. It was as if “While you are in high school, I am in Brooklyn trying to survive in this economy, working” was a show.

Moment Burned Into My Brain: Amy saying that they don’t let anyone from Brooklyn in the doors at Dorrian’s. Dorrian’s is on just about every “Douchiest NYC Bars” list. They let anyone in with a pulse. Gallery Girls had such great one-liners, though. I do need to start saying, “It’s teetering on the precipice of moroseness” more in meetings.

Pretty Wild 

Image Credit: IMDB

I don’t know that this show is forgotten because it lives on forever in the memes and gets quoted constantly, but it wouldn’t be a list of reality shows that didn’t get the respect (and 14+ seasons) they deserved without mentioning the iconic Alexis Neiers. 

Moment Burned Into My Brain: Is that even a question? The Nancy Jo call! The Bebe kitten heels! The voicemail that took a million takes!

The Surreal Life

Image Credit: VH1

It’s honestly amazing I still have a brain after how much of my formative years I spent actively turning it to sludge with shows like this. The Surreal Life brought us so many cursed relationships: Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen, Adrianne Curry and Chris Knight.

Moment Burned Into My Brain: Gonna go on the serious side and mention the show’s casting of Alexis Arquette. There’s a moment where she tells the rest of the cast that she’s trans and encourages them to ask questions. Tawny Kitaen is the only one who takes her up on it, and they have an open and honest conversation about what it means to be trans.

Rob & Chyna

Image Credit: E!

God, this cursed show. Talk about two people who never should have procreated. Then again, Blac Chyna breaking up with the man who would later go on to be Kylie’s ex, to then have a baby with Kylie’s brother, was a level of PR mastery we just don’t see enough of these days.

Moment Burned Into My Brain: I’ve gotta give it to the pilot, which is a rare honor, but it’s worthy. It came when Chyna yelled to Rob over the phone, “ARE YOU STILL TEXTING BITCHES, YES OR NO??” What a cultural moment that was. You know what, I’m gonna bring it back.

Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club

Image Credit: MTV

Unfortunately, Linds was no LVP, and she doesn’t even own her club in Mykonos anymore. But, man, was it a wild ride watching like five guys named after Greek gods and one girl named Sara try to pretend to give a shit about being servers — oh, I’m sorry, Ambassadors — at Lindsay’s beach club and act like they’re not just there to be on TV.  

Moment Burned Into My Brain: Nine words. “That’s how you throw a party in Mykonos, bitch!”