It would be impossible to rank all MTV reality shows—after all, they’ve been in the game longer than most. Since they became pioneers of the genre with The Real World in 1992, they’ve been cranking out reality fare, from Punk’d to My Super Sweet 16. But in 2004, they debuted Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County, their reality TV counterpart to the show The OC.
It was a runaway hit…despite the fact that many of the scenes just featured the stars of the show staring at each other in silence. The stars of Laguna Beach seemed different. There was drama, but rarely the type of outsized freakouts that characterize other shows like Jersey Shore. They were beautiful, shallow, dead-eyed, and deathly boring—but somehow, it worked. Ever since Laguna took off, MTV has been steadily pumping out similar shows, to varying degrees of success. Here are some of them, ranked from worst to best.
The City never really stood a chance. Sure, there have been many spinoffs that have surpassed their predecessors, but a spinoff of a spinoff? Not likely. It didn’t help that The City followed an, ahem, lesser (AKA very bland) The Hills cast member—Whitney Port. The City had the glossy façade of its precursor, but without some of the wackier antics that made it good. Port and co-star Olivia Palermo floated from fashion office to fashion show to fashion party with a monotonous blondeness. The one thing it had on its side? The deadpan wisdom of Kelly Cutrone punctuating the more boring parts of the show.
Floribama Shore was supposed to be the next Jersey Shore. It features a cast of hard-partying friends who spend their summers in the Florida Panhandle. While it hasn’t reached the same cultural saturation point as its predecessor, it has been on the air for three seasons—which is more than many other shows can say. However, it’s missing a crucial something which would make it real competition for its forerunner…it’s just simply not as entertaining. The cast of Jersey Shore had two things in spades: charm, and sheer chaotic energy. The cast of Floribama certainly does have these two attributes, but only about one-tenth as much.
Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County
Laguna might have ranked higher on the list. Its first season was unimpeachable, with a great cast that included Lauren Conrad. Sadly, some faded and didn’t return for season two, and by season three, the show featured an entirely different cast. The producers made the mistake of thinking the name and the setting were enough to keep a show going. However, it had been the cast that had made it special—a mistake that MTV eventually corrected with Laguna’s spin-off, The Hills. Laguna was a good show and a hugely influential hit, but it flew too close to the sun and got burned.
Siesta Key took the formula of The Hills—namely, extremely empty-headed people taking sips from drinks with straws and staring at each other in silence—and translated it to the sunny shores of Siesta Key, Florida. To fully appreciate Siesta Key, you must know its absolutely bonkers origin story. The show, at least at first, centers around a local rich jerk named Alex Kompothecras. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that his father is listed as one of the show’s executive producers. That’s right: Daddy bought him his own reality show.
Before the show even debuted, it was the subject of controversy due to Kompothecras’ association with a group of men who had created a viral video where they dragged a shark behind their boat—an act that many decried as animal cruelty. There was talk of boycotting the show and MTV even went so far as to cancel the show’s premiere party.
MTV aired the show regardless, and it became a hit—but that didn’t mean that Kompothecras was out of hot water. In 2020, some of his old social media posts that used extremely problematic language surfaced, and MTV parted way with the Kompothecras family—but not amicably. Producers edited Alex out of the second half of the show’s third season, and his family has been exploring their legal options since.
However, the drama onscreen often fails to measure up to the behind-the-scenes drama—which is not to say that Siesta Key isn’t without its charms. It has all the hallmarks of great reality TV: toxic relationships, backstabbing friends, a stunning setting, grand displays of obscene wealth, and drinking problems. The cast of Siesta Key loves to party way more than anyone on The Hills ever did…and it’s vulgar to admit, but it adds to the show. However, they also do love to stare at each other through extended silences on camera when the going gets tough.
Is it hyperbolic to compare The Hills to The Godfather II? One is a spin-off and one is a sequel, but many would agree that both surpass their antecedents. The Hills took the best stars from Laguna Beach and somehow threw them in with a cast that was just as good, if not better, than them. Laguna Beach may have done it first, but The Hills did it best, and created a number of cultural touchstones in the process. Where would we be without Audrina’s dead eyes, Spencer and Heidi’s crystals, and LC’s mascara smears?
For six seasons, The Hills followed Lauren Conrad (and later, Kristen Cavallari) and her friends as they navigated extremely dumb jobs, roommate and friend tiffs, and nights out at Les Deux, the Hollywood nightclub whose name they constantly mispronounced. Many claimed it as a guilty pleasure, and it didn’t take long for it to surpass the popularity of its predecessor.
Moreso than any of its contemporaries, The Hills seemed to blur the lines between reality and scripted TV. Critics often came at the show for this reason and called its plotlines contrived. However, The Hills also had the audacity to embrace that criticism and lampoon it in the final moments of the show’s finale. Cameras revealed the final farewell scene between two of the cast members had been fake. Producers had shot it in a backlot, in front of a Hollywood Hills backdrop. It was a self-referential stroke of genius, and the perfect cap off to a six-season run that managed to be entertaining despite the fact that the cast spent so much time staring at each other awkwardly without saying anything.