The List

The World’s Most Jaw-Dropping Reality TV Shows

Live sex, human Tetris, baby giveaways, and more.

The late fall doldrums are a dull time for fans of American reality television. Juggernauts like "American Idol," "The Bachelor," and "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" are on hiatus until January; fans looking to get their fix must sustain themselves on lesser fare, like "Storage Wars: New York" or "When Ghosts Attack."

But instead of slogging through yet another iteration of "The Real Housewives," why not venture out of your reality TV comfort zone? FP has compiled a list of the most jaw-dropping reality TV shows we could find from around the world. Settle back into those couch cushions -- this YouTube hole is going to be a deep one.

1. Norway: Hours of live knitting.
The NRK TV network, which previously brought Norwegians minute-by-minute coverage of a crackling fire, a seven-hour train ride, and an even longer boat ride, recently aired a live program chronicling the creation of a sweater. It's the latest in a phenomenon called "slow," in which very ordinary events are broadcast in real time. But the latest show, "National Knitting Evening," was actually more action-packed than its predecessors: Over the course of 12 hours, viewers experienced every step of the sweater-making process, from the shearing of the lamb to the knitting of the garment. It was an attempt on the part of the network to break an obscure world record for knitting currently held by Australia.

Ironically, Norway's penchant for the slow but steady ensured its downfall, as the knitting team not only failed to break the world record but took more than twice as long as expected to finish their sweater. The show still got pretty decent ratings: More than 1.2 million Norwegians tuned in.


 

2. Zambia: From working girl to wife.
"Ready4Marriage," a Zambian reality competition show, ordinarily pits couples against one another for the chance to win a wedding sponsorship and a cash prize, but producers decided to change things up during the third season. They brought on a cast of 18 sex workers with the purported aim of readying them for marriage. "A woman who is ready for marriage is a woman who can manage a home," said the show's host, Master Chimbala, in a network interview. He added that successful contestants should be able to "lead a family, lead a business, [and] manage finances from budget constraints to making investments." Accordingly, the contestants had to sweep floors, clean toilets and iron shirts for the chance to win $9,000 and a wedding sponsorship. Reviews of the show were mixed, but plenty of viewers applauded the contestants' participation. In the end, the grand prize went to 25-year-old Precious Amukusana, who said she had turned to prostitution to provide for her sisters after their mother had died. (Zambia struggles with low GDP and development levels.) After winning, Amukusana told the Lusaka Times, "I've been turned in[to] a real woman, I will never get back to the old life."


 

3. Pakistan: Holiday baby giveaway.
During Ramadan, Pakistanis are treated to a religious game show called "Amaan Ramazan" (aired on Geo TV) that rewards audience members for correctly answering questions about the Quran. Prizes include kitchen appliances, electronics, motorbikes -- and, during the most recent season, babies. The show's host, Aamir Liaquat Hussain, presented two unsuspecting couples this year with baby girls supplied by an NGO that rescues abandoned babies. One of the newly minted mothers told CNN that while she was "really shocked at first," she was also "extremely happy" to receive the child. The baby episode has been widely criticized as a ratings stunt, but Hussain maintains that the giveaway was a charitable act. Though Pakistan has no legal framework for adoption, both sets of parents who received children were reportedly vetted by producers and the NGO responsible for the infants. A follow-up report by the BBC found that both families were happy and the babies cared for.


 

4. Britain: Sex in front of a live studio audience.
A new British talk show invites couples to have sex on television in front of a live studio audience. Alas, it's not as racy as it sounds: The couples copulate in an opaque, soundproof box, and then emerge to discuss the experience with a panel of sexperts. The show, straightforwardly named "Sex Box," is part of a Channel 4 campaign that aims to combat a culture of rampant pornography by promoting dialogue about "real sex." The show aired in tandem with another series, "Porn on the Brain," the first episode of which examined how teenage girls reacted to pornography in contrast to their male peers, finding that the images "provoked emotions of fear, confusion and anger in girls," while boys "mainly felt excitement or happiness." In the clip provided here from "Sex Box," a male couple enters the box, hoping to shatter misconceptions about gay sex.


 

5. Venezuela: Live-streaming socialism.
Every week for ten years, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hosted and starred in a live talk show called "Alo Presidente," in which he frequently sermonized, ranted about America, forcefully communed with common people, and made sweeping, off-the-cuff policy decisions affecting millions. Each broadcast began at 11 a.m. on Sunday and ran for up to eight hours.  One New York Times reviewer described the program as "like a ‘Daily Show' parody" and "the most real reality TV I'd ever seen." The reviewer also noted her unease upon realizing that "anything [Chavez] decides or does or says on the show instantly becomes the audience's reality, in a tangible way, regardless of whether they are watching." The last episode aired Jan. 29, 2012.

In this highlight reel, Chavez eats a cookie from inside a child's mouth, refuses to answer "stupid questions," and tells American "yanquis" to "go to hell."


 

6. China: Teaching women to be "perfect."
"Beauty Class" is a Chinese game show in the vein of VH1's "Charm School" -- except sillier and with more nudity.  In it, a group of allegedly "ugly ducklings" competes in a series of bizarre challenges that are supposed to transform them into the "white swans" they are inside. "Are you afraid to don low-cut tops?" a promotional post asks. "Scared to wear mini-skirts? No problem -- let me teach you to how to develop a sinuous physique and charming personality, and you'll become a perfect beauty in the blink of an eye." The series is web-only, as Chinese television doesn't allow such raciness on-air. As one Sina Weibo user remarked, "The most daring [show] in the country is indeed Beauty Class. I sit here waiting for it to be banned."

In the clip here, lingerie-clad women are tied to a bed and tickled with feathers by the show's male hosts. What this has to do with cultivating the contestants into "perfect beauties" is anyone's guess.


 

7. Australia: Virgins for sale.
"Virgins Wanted" is a six-part series following two young people -- one male, one female -- as they attempt to auction off their virginity to online bidders.  Twenty-one-year-old, Brazilian Catarina Migliorini scored the higher bid of $780,000 (from a 53-year-old Japanese millionaire calling himself "Natsu"), while 24-year-old Alex Stephanov earned a comparatively meager $2,600. The controversial project raised questions about the legality of the transactions. Last year, Australian authorities threatened to file sex-trafficking charges against director Justin Sisely if he conducted the auction within the country, while the Brazilian attorney general's office declared that it would investigate Sisely. The director argues that the participants were their own agents, but in light of the attention, Migliorini has since claimed that she never had sex with her auction winner. She is also, once again, trying to auction off her virginity.

"Virgins Wanted," which takes the viewer from casting to (alleged) consummation, reportedly premiered at an entertainment convention in France this fall. According to Sisely, it will air in Australia next year.


 

8. Cambodia: Reunited and it feels so... gut-wrenchingly emotional.
Between 1975 and 1979, a cultural revolution imposed by the Khmer Rouge regime left 2 million Cambodians dead and tore apart countless families. Almost 40 years later, a reality show called "It's Not a Dream" started reuniting those families in front of TV cameras and a live studio audience. Initially, more than 1,000 people applied to be on the show, most looking for family members they'd lost decades before. Those selected are brought on stage and interviewed by host Moung Ramary, who at some point reveals that the long-lost relative is actually standing backstage. This being entertainment, the host goes out of her way to wring tears from every guest that crosses her stage -- but the reunions themselves are profoundly raw.


 

9. Japan: Every game show you could possibly imagine.
Japanese reality television, infamous for transforming acts of humiliation and physical punishment into culturally sanctioned entertainment, usually dominates lists like this one. While we can't go into every weird Japanese game show that's ever blown up on YouTube, there are a couple of standouts worth mentioning. For instance, "Gaki No Tsukai ya Arahende" ("This is No Task For Kids") is somewhere between a reality competition and a comedy show, in which hosts and guests compete in a variety of games, contests, and ridiculous bets. Losers are punished severely and creatively: They have been spanked, whipped with a riding crop, and forcibly touched by other contestants' genitals.

And let's not forget "Human Tetris" (known in Japan as "Brain Wall"), which became such a sensation on YouTube that it has since been adapted in 45 countries. The premise is absurd. But the execution? All you might have hoped for: Contestants must fit their bodies through increasingly ludicrous wall cutouts. And the wall is moving. And the contestants wear metallic spandex unitards. Enjoy.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

The List

Slumming It

Shantytown resorts, homeless hotels, and 6 other tasteless vacations for the 1 percent

When Marie Antoinette wanted to escape the confines and pressures of courtly life, she retreated to her quaint Petit Hameau where she and her companions donned their finest peasant frocks and pretended to be poor. A century later, fashionable Londoners took that pauper fantasy to a new extreme -- nocturnally touring East London's slums, where they gawked at ladies of the night and coined the phrase "slumming it." The idiosyncratic pastime eventually made its way across the pond and, before long, New York City socialites were hitting the Bowery in search of opium dens and low-brow adventure. Back then, slum tourism was sort of a DIY diversion.

Today, it's an all-inclusive destination vacation. Twenty-first century slum tourism is a far cry from the back alley excursions of yesteryear. For the right price, discerning travelers can experience firsthand how the poorest of the poor live -- without ever having to sacrifice first-world conveniences like WiFi, heated floors, and jacuzzi tubs.

Here are details of eight of our (least) favorite poverty-chic getaways, including what a vacation or tour will set you back, where to book -- and just how tasteless these options are.

1. A 5-star South African shantytown
Emoya Luxury Hotel & Spa
Bloemfontein, South Africa
Lodging From $82 per night
Tastelessness: Very High

Have you ever wanted to steal away to a cozy tin shack in one of South Africa's sprawling shantytowns -- only to change your mind over concerns about crime, noise, and generally poor infrastructure? Emoya, a luxury hotel in Bloemfontein, may be just what you're looking for: A quaint little shantytown tucked safely away on a game preserve. A mere $82 per night will get you a private shack, made of corrugated tin sheets, so you can experience the charm of living in a post-apartheid shantytown, without ever having to set foot in one. The shantys are child-friendly, and come equipped with heated floors, free WiFi, and spa services.

Emoya Luxury Hotel & Spa

 

 

2. Vacation like a border crosser, in Mexico

Parque EcoAlberto
Hidalgo, Mexico
Lodging from $105 per night
“Night Walk“ Tour $19 per person
Tastelessness: Moderate

In Southern Mexico, an eco-park owned by Hñahñu Indians offers tourists a chance to live out the drama and tension of an illegal border crossing. Called "Night Walk," the strange excursion lasts about four hours and takes groups on an imaginary journey through the desert and across the Rio Grande. A dozen or so Hñahñus act out different roles: fellow migrants in search of work, as well as police on the lookout for border crossers. The park has many other attractions, too -- including hot springs, kayaking and camp grounds -- but the Night Walk seems to be the biggest draw.

LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images

3. Take a load off at the largest garbage dump in the Philippines
Smokey Tours
Manila, Philippines
Landfill Tour $17 per person
Cockfighting Tour $22 per person
Tastelessness: Moderate

Manila's largest landfill is also home to thousands of urban poor who eke out a living by sifting through trash. Now, an enterprising company is inviting curious tourists to participate in that bleak reality. "We wander down the narrow alleys of the area ... and see residents living in small, wooden huts with poor sanitation, and with poor access to water and electricity," the company's website advertises. The tour costs $17 and participants are asked to wear plastic booties and surgical masks to protect themselves from the refuse. There is a silver lining to this troubling voeyeruism: The company claims that the tours are meant to raise awareness of the plight of Manila's urban poor communities. As such, no photos are allowed and 100 percent of profits from the tours reportedly supports education and health programs for children who live in the dump. That said, they also offer a cockfighting tour.

David Greedy/Getty Images

 

4. In Indonesia, an authentic, bare-bones (and sometimes flooded) getaway
Banana Republic Village
Jakarta, Indonesia
Lodging $10 per night
Tastelessness: High

Travelers looking for a more realistic third-world experience may find it at "Banana Republic," a plantation village just minutes outside of Jakarta. Ten dollars per night will get you a room, a mattress, and a fan within this interconnected complex of shanty homes. Bring your own flashlight if you expect to use the outdoor toilet at night, as well as your own toiletries for the communal shower. If that's not authentic enough for you, the Airbnb posting notes that "In December, the floods arrive. Heavy rain causes the river surrounding the village to overflow.... The rusty roofs leak and leave the homes damp." According to the ad, your $10 will go towards unclogging the river and repairing damaged roofs -- but not before you get the chance to enjoy both.

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

5. Tour Rio de Janeiro's largest favela with some of its very own residents
Favela Tourism Workshop
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Tour starting from $30 per person
Tastelessness: Moderate to Mild

A Brazilian company called Exotic Tours was the first to offer sightseeing tours of Rio de Janeiro's biggest slum, Rocinha. In recent years, it began hiring local favela residents to work as guides, an effort that created a more authentic experience for travelers, and provided some income for members of the community. The company claims that some of the proceeds benefit a local school, so tourists can rest assured that they're doing their part to help Rio's urban poor. Be warned, though: Increasing tourism has helped to transform Rocinha from a sprawling shantytown into a semi-developed urban slum, so it's perhaps less gritty than the average poverty tourist might prefer.

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

 

6. In Sweden, book a spot below an overpass like a homeless person
Faktum Hotels
Gothenburg, Sweden
Lodging starting from $15 per night
Tastelessness: Moderate

Gothenburg, Sweden has more than 3,000 homeless people. Now, one company, Faktum Hotels, has mapped out 10 of their favorite places to sleep, and is renting them out to intrepid travelers who want to experience Sweden from the perspective of its most destitute. Book a corner at the abandoned paper mill, curl up under a bridge, or camp out in a public park (conveniently situated near several trendy cafes). Admittedly, the enterprise is a tad tongue-in-cheek. Hotel proceeds go towards programs that benefit Gothenburg's homeless population. Patrons aren't even expected to sleep in the spots they book -- but it's probably fair to assume that at least a few bold souls have given it a try.

Faktum Hotels

 

7. Walk a mile in a homeless person's shoes, in Amsterdam
Mokum Events
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Tour starts at $16 per person
Tastelessness: Moderate (though Mokum’s advertising language gets a High)

If you want a more textured experience of homelessness than a single night under a bridge can accomplish, you might trek on over to Amsterdam, where an entertainment company is offering city tours guided by an actual homeless person. As advertised on its website, Mokum Events "has found a homeless person in Amsterdam who experienced it all." For a fee, you can take a walk with this man, beg for food together, and hear all about the ups and downs of living on the street. And lest you question the ethics of this pastime, the company reassures tourists that "your homeless person is not unhappy!" He'll even show you where he sleeps and "point to the rubbish bins of restaurants, where at times a royal meal can be made from hearty scraps."

EVERT ELZINGA/AFP/Getty Images

8. Enjoy San Francisco's grittiest neighborhood alongside its homeless
Vayable
San Francisco, California
Tour is $20 per person
Tastelessness: Relatively mild

Most visitors to San Francisco try to avoid the Tenderloin, a downtown neighborhood once notorious for its high crime rate but now better known for its population of vagrants. One man, Milton Aparicio, is trying to change that, by offering tours that highlight the Tenderloin's unique culture of homelessness. "We'll go to a couple of shelters, day centers for children, soup kitchens, " he advertises, offering "a guided experience of what it's like to be homeless from a friendly homeless person." Like most other examples of slum tourism, it promises an eye-opening experience that will certainly lead to personal growth and enlightenment.

In that respect, contemporary poverty tourism still resembles its 19th century predecessors. While the original London slumming parties were unabashedly voyeuristic and exploitative, they nevertheless revealed an upside: The parting of the veil between rich and poor moved some members of the upper classes to charitable action. "London slumming brought to the notice of the rich much suffering," the New York Times reported in 1884, "and led to sanitary reforms." Modern day slumming, by contrast, is often characterized at the outset as a socially responsible endeavor -- often purporting to benefit impoverished communities. That said, it's still a little creepy to pay for the experience of watching poor people like animals in a zoo.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images