The 10 Best Reality Shows of 2014

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The 10 Best Reality Shows of 2014

Indeed, it was a difficult task getting the Paste writers and editors to vote on their favorite reality shows of the year. But, low and behold, a few of us have managed to weed through the madness, the staged drama, and all of those catfish to find a few gems in the reality TV world. Thank you, cooking shows—and thank you little kids out there, being forced to take football so seriously, at such a young age. Here are our picks for the Best Reality TV Shows of 2014.

10. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

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Stars: Guy Fieri
Network: Food Network

Maybe it was that “Legends of Texas” episode with Matthew McConaughey, but low and behold—Triple Ds won us over this year. Still, we’re not sure if you watch Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives for the comfort food recommendations and recipes, or for Guy Fieri. The rest of America seems equally as confused… and that’s okay. There’s really nothing quite as entertaining as waiting for crazy stuff to come flying out from that big mouth, under that notorious head of bleach blonde insanity. Anthony Bourdain loves to slam the road-food trippin’ show and its host, but there’s something just lovable enough about the combination to keep Fieri and his antics on our list.—Deirdre Kaye

9. Last Comic Standing

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Stars: Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Russell Peters, J.B. Smoove
Network: NBC

The return of Last Comic Standing was a welcome surprise for stand-up fans. America’s love for a good laugh seems to be at an all-time high, and LCS pushed plenty of laughs onto the continually growing population of couch potatoes tweaking for another giggle. This season’s cast was made up of some of the most quirky, lovable and, well, annoying comedians we’ve seen from the NBC show yet. And, unlike many other reality shows, the judges seemed truly interested in critiquing and encouraging each contestant towards greatness.—Deirdre Kaye

8. Going Deep with David Rees

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Stars: David Rees
Network: National Geographic

Building off the success of How To Sharpen Pencils, his book that delves into the minutiae of making sure your writing instrument has the perfect point, David Rees’s new series sets the author and cartoonist on an exploration of seemingly simple tasks, guided only by his abundant curiosity and wicked wit. Following his lead, we are given instructions on how to make a perfect ice cube, more efficiently tie our shoes, swat a fly with authority, and dig the perfect hole. Sound ridiculous? You’re goddamn right it is, but if you get on board with his quixotic adventures and giddy enthusiasm, you’ll be hooked. Next thing you know, you’ll find yourself sharing in his joy at being able to give a more firm handshake, and wondering if you too can make a paper airplane that will leave your friends and family chartreuse with envy.—Robert Ham

6. Chopped

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Stars: Ted Allen
Network: Food Network
Four chefs cooking three courses in one kitchen. The rules for Chopped are so simple, yet every episode is completely varied and fascinating. With a basket of mystery ingredients used for each course, watching four chefs put their own spins on what they’ve been given is endlessly exciting. Chopped is so good, it makes the drama that unfolds from two people wanting to use the same freezer, completely thrilling. If you’re not careful, you can easily lose an entire weekend to Food Network’s incessant marathons of their best and most consistently fun show.—Ross Bonaime

5. The Amazing Race

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Stars: Phil Keoghan
Network: CBS

Let’s be honest, most reality shows do not bring out the best that humanity has to offer. The medium attracts those who will do anything to get their 15 minutes in the spotlight. The FOX series Utopia, for example, was ruined because the series cast a bunch of fame-seeking jerks. But here’s the deal with The Amazing Race which just completed its 25th season: contestants can act as outrageously as they want. But their success in the competition is based on a combination of wit, brawn, strategy and luck. It’s all about who makes it to the pit stop first. The series refuses to wallow in contestants’ bad behavior. That means that sometimes the nice guys finish first—as was the case this season, where the perpetually optimistic Maya Warren and her friend Amy DeJong won. Even after all this time, the challenges are exciting, the scenery breathtaking, and host Phil Keoghan remains an utter delight. The man speaks volumes with his eyebrows. But perhaps the main reason I enjoy the show, is because I know I wouldn’t last five minutes in The Amazing Race. I can watch the teams search for clues in the mud in the Philippines, tight rope walk over Singapore, or drink pig’s blood in Hungary—all from the warm and cozy comfort of my couch. —Amy Amatangelo

4.MasterChef Junior

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Network: Fox
Starring: Gordon Ramsay

MasterChef Junior has no business being as good as it is. For one, the basic concept of having intense, profanity-spewing Gordon Ramsay host a cooking show for children seems more like the set-up for a Saturday Night Live sketch than a legitimate programming decision. Yet, not only is the resulting show not the trainwreck you’d expect, but it is arguably the most charming, joyous reality show currently on television. Junior’s second year features all the laughs, tears and foodie-friendly visuals of its inaugural season.  And while not without the occasional dose of obligatory drama, the show wisely eschews probing the young contestants’ personal lives in favor of seeing them hard at work in the kitchen, thus celebrating the passion each brings to their craft. In a landscape where most reality TV has become exploitative self-parody, it’s refreshing to find a show that’s both relentlessly watchable and genuinely inspiring.—Mark Rozeman

3. Friday Night Tykes

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Network: ESPN

Everything I need to know about football culture, I learned from Friday Night Tykes (and, okay, also from that new Penn State documentary, Happy Valley). What was great about this docuseries, was watching the reaction from people throughout America, when it first aired. Those of us who’d never witnessed—or even heard of—competitive football for children under 10 were shocked and awed. Many even took to Twitter and the blogs to declared that the coaches of the Texas Youth Football Association were basically child abusers. Still, just as many people came forward and basically said, “This is how it is down here; this is how we do football.” So, more than being a sports show, Friday Night Tykes is a study of American culture as it’s defined by race, class, and gender norms—all of this through the lens and experiences of the various teams on the show. And although there are many flat-out hilarious moments, really big questions on how we teach our young boys about goals, achievement, and masculinity also come up in every installment of the show.—Shannon M. Houston

2. The Chair

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Stars:  Julie Buck, Shane Dawson, Neal Dodson
Network: Starz

Much like Project Greenlight, executive producer Chris Moore’s previous high-profile foray into film-centric reality shows, The Chair presents a fascinating, if often sobering, documentation of the creative process. Where the show differentiates itself from Project Greenlight is in its emphasis on the director’s role as story crafter. The central conceit of the 10-episode first season concerns two filmmakers who are given the same script. Their task is to each make a film, independent of one another, that reflects their wildly different sensibilities. Popular YouTube personality Shane Dawson decides to produce a broad, brassy farce, whilst indie filmmaker Anna Martemucci chooses to interpret the text as a Sundance-esque dramedy. Spoiler alert: neither of the projects turns out to be a masterpiece. Martemuccis’s film is mediocre at best, and Dawson’s is nothing short of an offensive disaster. End products aside, however, the series puts forth a very clear thesis—namely, putting any film together is very, very hard work. Compelling and addictive, The Chair is a gift (and warning) to aspiring filmmakers everywhere.—Mark Rozeman

1. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

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Network: CNN
Star: Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain has been eating across the globe, and televising the results, since practically the dawn of the 21st Century. One might think that, at this point, he would be on to something else. After all, how many times can you check out the restaurant scenes in the world’s biggest cities?

With Parts Unknown, Bourdain hits up a lot of locales that he’s previously explored, but these are in no way repeat episodes. The famed author and TV host finds a balance between foodie adventurer and socio-political journalist. So, Las Vegas’ eats are far more interesting when the story of locals in an ever-evolving tourist destination unfold. A trip to Mexico is less about the grub, and more about the effects of drug wars on its people. In Parts Unknown, food is just the gateway into a larger, cultural narrative that is far more riveting than the simple question of, “What will he eat this week?”—Liz Ohanesian