The reality TV genre often gets dismissed as irredeemably trashy and filled with fame-starved men and women who'll stab one another in the back to get more time on camera. But that's not always the case. Many reality series are more like a cross between a documentary and a game show, featuring ordinary people who demonstrate wits, skills and human decency as they compete to win money. And some, like the Netflix hits "Nailed It!" and "Floor Is Lava," are good, goofy fun, ideal for all ages. These seven shows are exciting, funny, moving and educational.
In this extreme survivalist endurance test, contestants are scattered across the wilderness, given access only to basic outdoor gear and camera equipment. The object of the game is to stay warm, fed and occupied while avoiding the kind of life-threatening injury or existential ennui that might make them push the "tap out" button. This show is one of the quietest and least sensationalistic of its ilk.
The Amazing Race
The creators of this "race around the world" overemphasized interpersonal conflict in the early years, but by Season 5, "The Amazing Race" developed into an ambitious and broadly appealing reality series. With its culturally diverse contestants and exotic locales, this show offers both visually exciting gameplay and an opportunity for viewers to see how different people live.
As the title implies, cruelty is a prerequisite for "Cutthroat Kitchen." The chef contestants can sacrifice some of their potential prize money in order to buy "sabotages," forcing their rivals to cook with faulty equipment or weird ingredients. But don't let this gimmick be a turnoff; the meanness is all in good fun. The chefs' bizarre handicaps push them to improvise - and, in turn, teach lessons about problem solving.
Forged in Fire: Knife or Death
In this spinoff show, tools get a real-world test as contestants cut through a variety of objects - ropes, ice, wood, plastic, meat - as quickly and cleanly as possible, with customized weapons that range from knives to axes to swords. The competitors' personalities and the difficulty of the tasks make this series especially fun to watch with a group. Every time an expert chopper slices cleanly through a large, hanging fish, it's hard not to cheer.
Penn & Teller: Fool Us
Magicians Penn Jillette and Teller built an audience in the '80s with an act that combined shock-comedy with a punk attitude. On "Fool Us," Penn & Teller are no longer magic's bad boys; instead they praise the showmanship and creativity of younger colleagues who perform baffling illusions. Though there's a competitive element here, this is mostly a high-end magic show, featuring some of the best performers in the world.
Project Runway: Junior
"Project Runway: Junior" contains nearly everything that made the original a hit, from the fiendish design challenges to the shrewd judging. The big difference is that these teenage designers treat their time together more like a congenial summer camp than like a must-win struggle to become fashion's next big thing.
The Great British Baking Show
This internationally popular cook-off is considered TV's nicest show. While making eye-catching cakes, pies and breads, the bakers are supportive rather than ruthless. By casting people who represent a variety of ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds, the show's producers present a utopian vision of Britain in the 21st century, one where people appreciate each other for their differences.