From a livestream of birds eating seeds to a competition to see who can make the best porno, here are our picks for Europe’s strangest reality TV shows.
Americans recently discovered the X-rated British reality show Naked Attraction, and the controversial dating show has caused a fuss across the pond for its full-frontal nudity and outrageous premise.
Each episode of the series has an eligible bachelor(ette) choose between six potential flames. But the only thing they have to base their decision on are the contenders’ naked bodies, which are slowly revealed from the bottom up, as a curtain is raised over three rounds.
After the third round’s face reveal, a winner is chosen to go on a (fully clothed) date with the “picker”.
The British show has been airing on broadcaster Channel 4 since 2016, and over the years the British public has become somewhat immune to its gratuitous nudity.
But when Naked Attraction made its stateside debut on Max (formerly HBO Max) late last month, it didn’t take long for Americans to flood social media with reactions to the show – both intrigued and horrified.
The shock and awe was met mostly with amusement by British viewers, some of whom called the show “the greatest UK export”.
All the hubbub related to the show got us thinking – what other European shows would make our American friends lose their minds?
After much brainstorming, Euronews Culture has put together a selection of European reality shows – past and present – that would leave Americans shocked, or at least scratching their heads.
Passie in de polder (Passion in the Polder) – Netherlands
The Dutch have a number of reality shows that flirt with the obscene – from the X-rated “Seks voor de Buch” (Sex for the sake of it), where contestants get to live out their wildest sexual fantasies, to “Spuiten en Slikken” (Shooting up and swallowing), a sort of educational programme where both hosts and guests try different drugs and sexual kinks on camera.
The most fun (in our opinion) is “Passie in de Polder” (Passion in the Polder), a competition show which first aired in 2012 and pinned six up-and-coming porn producers against each other as they try to break into the industry by making a typically-Dutch porn film.
Cameras followed the producers and actors as they planned for and shot their porno – with long shots and conveniently-placed foliage hiding anything too graphic.
The producer who made the best porno won a professional video camera to follow their adult film dreams.
In 2019, a similar programme in the UK called “Mums Make Porn” featured a group of mothers who made their own “ethical” porn films and then watched them in a cinema with their children.
That one got some puzzled and even horrified reactions from the British public.
Adam Recherche Eve (Adam Seeks Eve) – France
What if we made a dating show on a deserted island, where everyone was naked? France answered that question in 2015 in the short-lived reality show called “Adam Recherche Eve” (Adam Seeks Eve).
Single contestants meet each other for the first time in their birthday suits, then go on dates and do activities together on the island – like giving each other massages.
Once they get to know each other, to spice things up, another potential mate is thrown into the equation, who’s also butt naked.
The contestant would have to choose between the two love interests and then, back in the real world, they’d decide whether to continue their relationship with clothes on.
French viewers sent in so many complaints about the sexual nature of this show – even though everything below the belt was blurred – that the country’s TV regulator warned its producers to cool it or else the show would get bumped from its prime time slot.
Viewership dropped by more than half over the course of the season, and “Adam Recherche Eve” was unsurprisingly cancelled.
Sex Box – UK
We could fill an encyclopaedia with all the strange British reality TV shows, but if we’re sticking to the theme of cringey sex stuff, we can’t not mention “Sex Box”.
The show, which aired for two seasons in 2013 and 2016, billed itself as a brutally honest look at the most intimate parts of relationships.
A couple would come on the show, have sex in a giant white box onstage, then come out and field questions from a panel of sex therapists and experts.
As edgy as the concept appeared, “Sex Box” fell flat with critics, most of whom panned it as gimmicky and awkward.
One reviewer from The Telegraph said it was “one of the worst TV programmes I have seen in a long time. From concept to execution, it was a combination of gimmick, prurience, exploitation and dullness.”
Piip-Show – Norway
There were plenty of tits on this reality show, but not the kind you’re thinking of.
In 2014, Norway’s state broadcaster announced a different kind of reality show.
It followed the lives of all of the many kinds of birds that visited a bird feeder outside of Oslo, which happened to be decorated as a coffee shop. NRK’s live broadcast lasted 83 DAYS and was a runaway success with audiences.
It had all the hallmarks of good reality TV – there were brawls between birds vying for dominance, some unexpected visitors (squirrels and cats who wanted to steal the bird seed), even some lewd acts on top of the bar. Babies were born!
Who would have thought wildlife could serve up so much drama? In any case, audiences ate this up. At its peak, Piip-Show had almost 1 million viewers in 164 countries.
We’re still waiting for Season 2.
Bauer sucht Bäuerin (Farmer Seeks Wife) – Switzerland, UK, France (and others)
One of the longest-running and most beloved reality shows in Europe, this concept – which has been adapted in multiple countries – originated in Switzerland in 1983 as “Bauer sucht Bäuerin,” roughly translating to “Farmer Seeks Wife.”
The concept is simple, a single farmer is looking for love, but long hours on the farm and a remote setting make it difficult to meet new people.
The reality show sets the farmer up with potential love interests – most of them city dwellers – and they go on dates to get to know each other. Many seasons have ended in marriage, and a lot of those marriages have lasted for years!
It’s a simple, wholesome programme that became a surprise hit with audiences across Europe.
The Dutch version, “Boer zoekt Vrouw,” is the most-watched television programme in the country’s history and is still on air after 13 seasons. In France, “L’Amour est dans le Pré” (Love is in the Field) is currently in its 18th season.
For a lot of European countries, the “farmer dating show” helped shine a spotlight on issues affecting agricultural workers, who are often cast aside by an urbanising society and suffer from higher rates of depression and suicide.
The US tried to tap into the surprising success of the show by adapting it in 2008, but the concept just didn’t click with audiences. It was cancelled after just one season.
Quién quiere casarse con mi hijo (Who wants to marry my son) – Spain (and others)
If we’re leaning into cultural stereotypes, this one sure hits the mark. “Quién quiere casarse con mi hijo,” or QQCCMH for short, is a popular dating show in Spain in which five male contestants must choose from a group of candidates who are trying to win them over.
The catch? The men’s mums get a say in who might become their next daughter-in-law.
It’s filled with mortifying moments as the mums get more and more invasive of the candidates’ privacy – like one actual scene where a contestant’s mum wakes up her son’s suitors with a chocolate beverage, commanding them repeatedly to “Slurp it!!”
Often the mothers and sons would butt heads over which suitors to eliminate, sometimes leading to explosive arguments.
The Spanish programme first aired in 2012. After a six year hiatus, it’s back for a sixth series this year.
It’s another example of a reality show that’s been adapted multiple times in different countries across Europe. Iterations of the show have existed in Norway, France, Germany and Italy.
But Spain is the only one where it stuck.
Honourable Mention: Sperm Race – Germany
This show doesn’t make the cut because it never actually made it to air, but the concept is so wacky we just had to include it in our list.
In 2005, a German network decided to test out a new idea for a reality TV show: Instead of people, the stars of the show would be their sperm.
Shot in a sperm bank in Cologne, the pilot had twelve contestants compete against each other to see whose spunk was the spunkiest.
After ahem, procuring the samples, crews used microscopic lenses to film the little swimmers as they raced towards an egg.
The winning sperm’s owner would be named the most fertile man in Germany and given a brand new Porsche for his trouble.
Apparently the excitement was premature, as the show never saw the light of day.