10 Fakest Discovery Channel Reality Shows (And 6 That Are Totally Real)
Our favorite Discovery reality shows aren’t always what they seem. Some have a very liberal understanding of the word “reality.”
Since the 1980s, the Discovery Channel has been one of the most popular channels on cable. In the beginning, the channel did exactly what its name implied: scientific shows that let audiences discover new things about the big world around them!
In recent years, however, viewers have seen the Discovery Channel get away from its original mission. Starting in the 2000s the organization started airing more and more reality shows in place of their normal documentaries and educational programming.
Like most reality shows, viewers often need to step back and ask how “real” this reality programming is. It started off with shows that could pass for docuseries, but as the years went on Discovery started pushing the limits of it could pass off as the truth.
Then, in 2015, Discovery Channel’s new boss started his tenure by promising to stop “lying” to viewers and to get back to what the channel was originally all about. Of course, Discovery hasn’t eliminated all its fake reality shows… those are what foot the bills for their more scientific shows, after all!
Besides, not every reality show on the Discovery Channel is fake. Some are just as real as the nature documentaries they air. But which of these shows are based in reality, and which ones are total hoaxes?
Here are the 10 Fakest Discovery Channel Reality Shows (And 6 That Are Totally Real).
16 Fakest: Gold Rush
Gold Rush is one of the Discovery Channel’s longest-running and most popular reality shows. Premiering in 2010, the series follows a group of men who lost their jobs in the Great Recession of 2008 and took matters into their own hands; they went out to the wilderness to search for gold, often learning mining techniques while on the job. Each of the company’s adventures is packed to the brim with hardships and drama.
Viewers probably notice a little too much drama in the show.
Former cast member Jimmy Dorsey (who left the series after season 1) claimed in an interview that he was fed lines from Gold Rush’s producers to raise the stakes and cause conflict. He even claims that he was pressured to leave the show to help with ratings. The Alaskan government has claimed the show intentionally broke laws so that they would have conflict for the camera.
15 Fakest: Man vs. Wild
Who doesn’t love a good episode of Man vs. Wild? The Discovery Show launched British survivalist Bear Grylls into the public spotlight and was a massive hit for the channel in the 2000s. Every episode, Bear would go out into a remote part of the world and show viewers how to survive long enough to make it back to civilization.
Upon closer inspection, it’s quite obvious that the show was really “Men vs. Wild”.
Despite claiming to survive in the wilderness on his own, Grylls was accompanied by an entire crew. Then there were the accusations of the survivalist staying in motels rather than shelters, faking a bear attack, and having an entire team build a raft rather doing it on his own. There was also a particular case in which an amateur survivalist proved that Bear had exaggerated the situation regarding a chasm in the ground.
14 Real: American Chopper
American Chopper followed a father/son duo, the owners of Orange County Choppers in New York, as they build custom motorcycles for clients. The pair’s opposing styles (Paul Teutul Sr. was more “old school” while his son was more modern) always made for some great drama on the show. Junior was even fired by his father in 2007 and worked at a competitor and subsequently as an independent firm until the show’s cancellation in 2012.
Believe it or not, American Chopper was one of the more “real” reality shows out there!
The tensions between Paul and Junior weren’t fabricated. Junior really was terminated from OCC, and the subsequent lawsuit shows that Teutul forcibly bought out his son’s ownership of the company. Likewise, the duo really did build all of the custom choppers you see on screen.
13 Fakest: Mermaids: The Body Found
This is the show that broke the camel’s back. After Discovery started airing this types of show, people started to seriously question the network’s credibility.
Mermaids: The Body Found was a “documentary” that originally aired on Animal Planet in which a group of scientists argued for the existence of the “Aquatic Ape” hypothesis and claimed that new evidence (including a new video) proved that tales of mermaids were valid.
Needless to say, it was totally fake. The “video” the scientists used as evidence for their discovery was a complete fabrication. In fact, it never claimed to be real in the first place.
Despite the fact that the show aired disclaimers saying that it was more of a “docufiction,” viewers were fooled. Mermaids: The Body Found and its sequel were some of the most-watched shows in the networks’ history!
12 Fakest: “Naked and Afraid”
We really want to know how they came up with this one. Survivalist shows have been popular for years now, and the formula was beginning to get a little stale.
Discovery’s solution? Drop two survivalists off with literally nothing, not even the clothes on their back! Naked and Afraid premiered in 2013 and has consistently been one of the top-rated shows, leading to several spin-offs and special episodes.
Much like so many other survival shows, Naked and Afraid includes a lot of behind-the-scenes secrets that nobody mentions. For example, contestants are given medical treatment without showing the viewers. They also have access to certain modern necessities (probably because local villages are not far away), and storylines for the show are sometimes completely scripted. In one case, a woman was given a magnifying glass by the crew and told to say it had come from her late father.
11 Real: Storm Chasers
Remember Twister? Remember thinking that you’d have to be insane to go out into Tornado Alley and chase down the biggest storms like the guys in the movie? It turns out, Storm Chasers are a real thing, and they are just as entertaining as their fictional counterparts!
Every season of Discovery’s Storm Chasers included multiple teams of chasers, all decked out in state of the art meteorology equipment. It ran for five seasons before ending in 2012.
Though they certainly played up the danger for the camera, Storm Chasers was totally real.
Each of the teams were chasing storms before and after the cameras were rolling. CGI wasn’t used whatsoever; all of the giant storms that they went after were legitimate acts of nature!
The danger was unfortunately just as real. One year after the show ended, cast member Tim Samaras was killed chasing a storm in Oklahoma.
10 Fakest: Eaten Alive
The hype was real for Eaten Alive back in 2014. Discovery promoted the two-hour special like crazy, and the sheer insanity of the premise was enough to get viewers to watch in large numbers.
Environmentalist Paul Rosolie had created for himself a special “snake-proof” suit that could withstand the digestion process of a giant anaconda. The idea was that he would bathe himself in pig’s blood and get the snake to eat and regurgitate his whole body.
What resulted was a terrible show that made viewers angry. Rosolie panicked when the snake started to put his mouth over his head and twisted his arm. The stunt was canceled.
The kicker is: Discovery had pre-taped the show.
Discovery knew Paul wasn’t going to really get eaten, yet still promoted the special like it was some great new scientific discovery.
9 Fakest: Amish Mafia
Amish Mafia follows Lebanon Levi, a member of the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvanian and the boss of the community’s local “mafia.” Throughout the show, viewers get to see the power struggles in the Amish Mafia as well as Levi’s attempts to protect his people from outsiders who would wish to cause them problems.
This should come as a surprise to nobody, but the majority of Amish Mafia is fake.
A disclaimer during the credits points out that many scenes are recreations of an actual event. Then there is the fact that none of the “Amish” people in the show seem to follow their faith whatsoever. Levi makes a big deal out of not being baptized (which is sacrilege to the Amish faith), and the beliefs of the Amish forbid them from being on camera in the first place! Also, Levi’s luxury car is seen to have rental stickers on it.
8 Real: Cash Cab
Who else is excited for the Cash Cab revival?! After a five-year hiatus, the popular game show returned to the airwaves in December of 2017, complete with original host Ben Bailey. The premise of this series is simple: Bailey drives around in a cab in New York City and picks up unsuspecting contestants. Once inside the cab, they have the chance to earn money by answering a series of increasingly-difficult questions on the way to their destination.
Everything about Cash Cab is 100% real.
Bailey really drives the cab. The contestants are really just everyday people.
They earn the money they make, and they are really kicked out of the cab when they lose. The only thing “fake” about the show is the money Bailey hands them in the cab. They are sent a check later on!
7 Fakest: Street Outlaws
Street Outlaws is a Discovery show that follows a group of Hot Rod car enthusiasts who build and race custom cars in illegal street races. Each week plays out like a great racing movie. You have the different characters trying to up their ante and climb the ranks of America’s “street racing” community while also avoiding the local authorities.
Now, common sense would tell you that a show that puts evidence of illegal activity on camera without any sort of anonymity would be fake. But this is reality TV we’re talking about here!
The races of Street Outlaws are totally staged.
Producers work with local Police Departments to shut down large strips of the highway so that they can film their races “legally” (completely going against the fact that the police are the “villains” of the show).
6 Fakest: Dual Survival
Dual Survival is essentially Naked and Afraid with clothing and recurring characters. The show drops off two hardened survival experts in areas of desolate wilderness and then tasks them with finding their way back to civilization. The series has been on since 2010, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Part of what gives the show much longevity is the revolving cast; through nine seasons we’ve seen ten different survivalists.
Much like Man vs. Wild, the producers really play up the realism of the show. An eagle-eyed viewer on a survivalist website pointed out several inconsistencies with the show, such as scavenged matches suddenly changing colors and “animal traps” that weren’t properly secured to the ground. Then there was an episode in which the fish “caught” by the two men were obviously pre-caught and near death.
5 Real: Dirty Jobs
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like Mike Rowe? The host of Dirty Jobs is such a down-to-Earth, likable guy who always comes off as caring and compassionate about his fellow man. Every time he goes out and performs one of the grossest or most bizarre tasks out there, he does it with a smile on his face and a sense of comradely with the people training him.
Some may be wondering how much realism there is to the insane jobs Rowe is tasked with performing.
The answer is: all of it! Rowe has admitted that sometimes, the show gets too real; there are some segments that have to be left out completely because they were deemed too morbid by Discovery. Other times, the producers have to edit out the more graphic parts of episodes (such as the “Skull Cleaner” episode and most involving waste).
4 Fakest: Alaska: The Last Frontier
Alaska: The Last Frontier is a show that sprung out of the whole “back to the homestead” movement in the early 2010s. Around this time, people began to yearn for the good old days, when people would live off the land and fend for themselves.
The show follows the exploits of the Kilcher family, who live outside of Homer, Alaska without the benefits of modern technology. Every week viewers get to tune in to watch the family struggle for survival.
Honestly, the whole “survival” thing is overblown.
Just a few miles away from the Kilcher home is a Safeway supermarket with all the supplies you could need to get through the winter. Likewise, the homesteading life can get boring, meaning that many of the “storylines” on the show are staged (such as when producers attracted a bear their location with filleted Salmon).
3 Real: Mythbusters
Mythbusters is arguably the show that made Discovery into what it is today. During the height of the show’s popularity, everybody knew who Adam and Jamie were.
Anyone who has had cable or who has taken a high school science course is familiar with Mythbusters. Jamie and Adam (sometimes Tory, Grant, and Kari as well) use various scientific methods to test out popular myths and urban legends. At the end of an episode they declare the myth either “confirmed” or “busted.”
Unlike so many other shows on the Discovery Channel, Mythbusters is 100% real.
The hosts really go through all the experiments shown in the episodes.
In fact, they have hundreds of hours of unused footage that gets edited out of the show because of how intense and tedious their experiments are. Multiple scientists have also come out and reaffirmed that the methods used on the show are legitimate.
2 Fakest: Deadliest Catch
Aside from Mythbusters, Deadliest Catch is probably Discovery’s biggest reality show as well as one of its longest-running. Since 2005, the series has provided viewers with an in-depth look at the plight of crab fishermen, following the crew of various crabbing vessels during the peak of fishing season. Deadliest Catch derives its name from the horrific and potentially fatal conditions experienced by the fishermen on these ships.
Though crab fishing is a dangerous job, the producers of Deadliest Catch fabricate a lot of the events that happen on the show. Even Captain Elliot Neese claims that all of the drama of the show is created for “pure entertainment.” Also, Discovery has been caught lowering the quota of vessels to make the crew appear more successful, and once faked a storm by editing together two different weather events.
1 Real: Survivorman
We have been pretty harsh on survivalist TV shows on this list, and for good reason. For the most part, they create scripted scenarios and backstories to create drama and they often take their contestants to a “remote” area only a few miles from civilization. Does Les Stroud’s Survivorman suffer the same problems?
Though Stroud’s locations are away from civilization, he never claims that he is in a remote place. In fact, before each episode he has local guides educate him about the area. Then he goes off into the wilderness by himself (without even a cameraman to follow) and tries to survive there for ten days, where producers can only contact him by radio in extreme cases.
The results of his expeditions (including the danger) are exactly what you see on camera. Stroud once even had to take shelter with local villagers because he was being stalked by a Jaguar!
Were you surprised about the reality of these “reality” shows? Let us know in the comments!
Austin C. Baker is a writer and critic from Plymouth, Indiana. Currently residing in Indianapolis, Austin has had a fascination with the film and TV industry since he was a young; as a teen he was writing, directing, editing, and starring in movies made in the backyard of his house with his little brother. A graduate of the University of Indianapolis’ Experience Design and History programs, Austin is currently using his storytelling, writing, and research skills to create online content about the entertainment industry while he is finishing his Masters Degree in Strategic Leadership and Design in hopes of working in the local entertainment and tourism industry. In his spare time, Austin is currently working on multiple book projects as well as several academic articles and public presentations/projects for school. Austin is currently a member of Mens et Mensa Society for the Study of Medieval Food and his local chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, as well as holds membership in the Academy of Leisure Studies.