Reality TV shows were once sneered at as a form of low entertainment, but they’ve slowly taken over the world. Sure, reality television is still a guilty pleasure for many people, but for others it’s a unique genre that reveals a lot about the human condition. It’s also just lots of fun to watch. That’s why a genre that started mostly in English — the earliest reality show is debated, but it could be Candid Camera (1947) or An American Family (1973) depending on how you define it — has spread all across the world. Today, there are reality shows in other languages pretty much everywhere.
Do these different reality shows reveal massive differences in culture from country to country? Well, not entirely. One of the most popular reality shows across all of Europe is still Top Gear, a British show about cars. It’s caught on in many non-English speaking places, but maybe most ironically never fully caught on in the English-speaking United States. The streaming service Netflix has also found it can reproduce the same show premise in different countries to wring more content out of a single idea.
Yet, there is a lot to be learned while watching reality television in other countries. It can show you how people are different, but also how they’re all essentially the same. We rounded up some of our favorite reality shows to watch, all of which give you a peek at a different aspect of humanity.
Japan —テラスハウス (Terrace House)
When you hear “Japanese reality television,” you might think of the really outrageous clips that circulate on the internet every once in a while. One example is that clip of four people taking an absurdly long time to climb up some slippery stairs. Terrace House, however, is not like that at all.
The premise is a bit like Big Brother: six strangers move into a house and start interacting with each other. What happens, though, is not the typical outrageous drama and ego-stroking as on most reality shows. Instead, the action is very relaxed and low-stakes. Unlike some reality shows, you can watch it without feeling kind of gross after. The show is now on Netflix so you can watch it pretty easily, and if you just want a taste you should check out the Terrace House out of context Twitter.
France — The Voice: La Plus Belle Voix (The Voice: The Most Beautiful Voice)
Where To Watch: YouTube
You have probably heard of The Voice, which has now been on NBC for 14 seasons (and counting). You may not know, however, that The Voice is also in many, many other countries. In fact, the original show was The Voice of Holland, a Dutch reality show, but that has been over for a while now. One country where it’s still going strong (besides the United States) is France.
Music, as we’ve said before, is a great way to learn a language. Combining that with reality television just seems like a natural combination. Many of the song selections may be in English, but you can watch performances from this show to see what more modern French music is like. It can be a nice break from the American version of the show, and it’s always good to open up to music from other parts of the world.
Mexico — Acapulco Shore
Can you guess from the name what this reality TV show is based on? That’s right, it’s Jersey Shore but on a whole different shore — on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. So whether you’re looking for fluffy entertainment to try out your Spanish or Jersey Shore just isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck.
Besides being in Spanish, the show is pretty much exactly the same. It’s a bunch of young, self-obsessed people living a life of partying and fun. Here are just a few of the quotes from cast members on the show:
- “The rule is: if I don’t remember it, it never happened.”
- “The important thing isn’t to have a lot of women, it’s that they don’t know each other.”
- “Ripped guys also have heart.”
You pretty much know what you’re getting into with this show. Not recommended for children.
Ukraine — Oryol i Reshka (Heads or Tails)
Where To Watch: YouTube
Reality TV shows and travel shows are usually put into separate categories, but this Ukrainian show (presented in Russian) puts the two together. Each episode, two people — the presenters change from season to season — travel to a new city somewhere in the world. The twist is that one person gets an unlimited credit card to work with, while the other is given the equivalent of $100. It’s a light-hearted challenge, and it allows for two different views into the city.
If you heard the premise and thought, “This sounds excellent, I hope I don’t rush through every episode too quickly,” don’t worry. There are almost 600 episodes stretching 26 seasons, with the show covering cities all over the world. It’s almost impressive they haven’t run out of ideas yet.
Germany — Die Kochprofis (The Cooking Professionals)
Germany has its own weird dating shows, but we would be remiss to not include at least one cooking show on this list. This show has been on since 2005 and is still going strong. It should be noted the show has been criticized and even sued in the past because of selective editing, but that’s pretty much par for the course in the world of reality television.
The format of the show is pretty predictable, as far as cooking shows go. There’s a restaurant that is having trouble in some way. The four “cooking professionals” show up to try out the food. Then, the cooking professionals take over to tell the kitchen staff what to do to improve the restaurant. Finally, there’s a closing dinner to show how far the restaurant has come since the beginning. And of course, there are emotions throughout to show the journey of the restaurant owners as their lives are transformed.
United Kingdom — Love Island
Yes, it’s not in a foreign language, but we really wanted to mention the United Kingdom. The most famous reality TV show out of the United Kingdom is probably The Great British Bake-Off (or The Great British Baking Show, if you’re watching in the United States). It’s a lovely show where everyone is kind and you can hear the phrase “soggy bottom” over and over again. But that show is old news, and the new show the Brits are obsessed with is the exact opposite of all that: Love Island.
Love Island is a dating show on steroids. The whole premise is that people have to couple up in Mallorca, and the couple that makes it to the end gets £50,000. Throughout the seasons, people are given the chance to switch up their couples, contestants are regularly voted out by the audience and new contestants are brought in. Oh also, everyone is almost disconcertingly attractive and the sexual tension is extreme. Maybe there’s something to learn about the human condition when watching the show. Then again, maybe not.
Multiple — The Circle
Where To Watch: Netflix
As mentioned in the intro, Netflix has started releasing multiple versions of its reality TV shows. This isn’t entirely new — we mentioned there being multiple versions of The Voice above, and shows like Survivor and Big Brother have countless spinoffs — but it is still a fascinating strategy. And if you happen to fall in love with a certain concept, you don’t have to wait for a new season. You can just watch it in another language.
One example of this is The Circle, a reality show built around the idea of social media. Contestants live in a single complex, but are put in separate rooms and communicate solely through an interface, where they’re allowed to present themselves however they want (so a person can pretend to be someone else). The contestants then “rank” each other, and whoever ends up at the top at the end of the season wins a cash prize. In addition to having an American version, you can also see the show created in Brazil, France and the United Kingdom (though that last one isn’t on Netflix).
Not interested in The Circle? Don’t worry you have options. There’s also Too Hot to Handle and Love is Blind for you to enjoy. All of these shows have come out pretty recently, too, so if they’re successful, you can look forward to many, many more Netflix reality shows created across countries and languages.
This article was originally published on September 14, 2018. It has been updated to feature more shows. Header photo courtesy of Netflix.