Reality television and other unscripted programs dominated TV screens this year unlike ever before. In addition to our OG faves, there were several new franchises, as well as history-making moments.
But there were some that took the cake. From drink throwing to iconic balls and runways to history-making moments and more, here’s the best of reality and unscripted TV in 2021.
Shadow and Act managing editor Trey Mangum, news editor Monique Jones and reality TV writer Brenda Alexander compiled the below list.
In no particular order…
'RuPaul's Drag Race' season 13: Symone, the Ebony Enchantress, wins!
From the moment viewers watched her Meet the Queens video, Drag Race fans knew that Symone was the queen to beat in season 13 and she definitely was. The Arkansas-bred and Los Angeles-residing queen was not only the runway queen of the season, she excelled in comedy and acting challenges…she actually did it all! It’s no wonder she won the show and has used her platform to catapult to massive success in the months that followed her win. – TM
'The Real Housewives of Potomac': The Reasonably Shady party
After six seasons of being the self-proclaimed green-eyed bandits of RHOP Gizelle Bryant and Robyn Dixon decided to put that energy into a podcast, Reasonably Shady. Bryant takes on the shady aspect while her BFF gives reasonable commentary To celebrate, the ladies hosted a party at Bryant’s new home which is still under construction. But Dixon and Bryant weren’t the only ones throwing shade. Candiace Dillard’s famous “ya mama” tactic was thrown as newbie Mia Thornton, Wendy Osefo continued her beef with the new podcast hosts, and Karen “The Grande Dame” Huger mispronounced vaccinated. The party ended with Bryant’s teenage daughter scraping Dillard’s car. What an iconic Housewives episode. – BA
'Big Brother' season 23: The Cookout wins history
The Cookout alliance on Big Brother changed the history and future of the show forever. Period. Full stop. The six-person alliance made up of Azah Awasum, Hannah Chaddha, Derek Frazier, Tiffany Mitchell, Xavier Prather and Kyland Young (led by Mitchell and her masterplan) set out with the goal of making the season be the first to have a Black winner. Though Prather won, in a sense they all did. They defied the odds against casual viewers who are toxic and racist while winning over superfans and stans in the fandom. Who said a larger power alliance couldn’t dominate? – TM
'RuPaul's Drag Race UK' season 2: "Bing Bang Bong"....you know the rest!
Lawrence Chaney, A’whora, Bimini Bom Boulash and Tayce wowed the judges with their flawless version of “Bing Bang Bong” in the RuRuVision Song Contest episode. Performing as the United Kingdolls, the group gave viewers “Break Up, Bye-Bye” realness with their fun lyrics, tight choreography and Bimini’s flexibility. Compare that to the other momentous part of the night: RuPaul screaming at Joe Black about wearing H&M. – MJ
'Legendary': The House of Tisci's Iconic "Pop Tart" performance
The House of Tisci’s pop art performance was one of the best performances of Legendary Season 2. Not only did they keep Taraji P. Henson screaming, but they electrified the crowd with their 1960s-era Warhol-inspired looks, incorporation of vogue and house dance moves, pop and their trademark teamwork and precision. But somehow Tisci was declared merely safe with the House of Balenciaga winning superior house for that week. It was a controversial decision at the time, but Mother Shannon Balenciaga did show out in the body category, so the arguments over who should have won the ball will rage on. – MJ
'RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars' season 6: Trinity K. Bonet is successful...at everything
The world was oh so ready when iconic Drag Race star Trinity K. Bonet finally returned to the franchise for All Stars 6. When Bianca Del Rio asked her what she did successfully way back in season 6…she delivered on that and more in All Stars 6. She won two challenges and honestly could have won three more. And though she just missed out on the finale, we all know that top 4 spot was hers and she honestly could have won. TKB is really that RuGirl. – TM
'The Bachelorette': Michelle Young makes history in choosing Black partner
Young made history as just the third lead of color since the show’s inception. She followed it up with a history-making final four, with all four men being of color, a first in the franchise. To top it off, Young became the first lead in both her franchise and The Bachelor to represent #BlackLove in the end by choosing a Black suitor. #Goals. – BA
'The Circle' season 2: DeLeesa Unique catfishes her way to the top
The Circle season 2 is undoubtedly the best of its three seasons, and a lot of this is because of DeLeesa Unique, the charismatic winner of the season who won viewers’ hearts, becoming the first catfish winner and arguably the most successful catfish in the game. – TM
'RuPaul's Drag Race' All Stars 6: Silky Nutmeg Ganache owns with the lip sync smackdown
Silky Nutmeg Ganache proved she’s a true All-Star and perhaps the true winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season 6 when she won nearly every lip sync she was faced with for a chance to get back in the competition. From doing both male and female roles in one song to pulling out an entire drink from her dress, Ganache gave the audience stunts, shenanigans, and chicanery to prove she’s one of the franchise’s ultimate entertainers. – MJ
'The Bachelor': Matt James' season and cast making statement against racism after Chris Harrison's Rachel Kirkconnell defense
Where do we begin? The world jumped for joy when James became the first Black lead in the show’s 25-year history and had quite the selection of suitors to choose from. But weeks before the season ended, there were rumors that he chose a white woman. The woman turned out to be Rachel Kirkconnell, who had an unsavory past with race resurface, including photos of her attending an antebellum party in 2018. The world was outraged. But of course, she had supporters, including longtime host Chris Harrison, who said that Kirkconnell should be given grace. He was later let go. The first Black Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsey decided not to renew her contract with the franchise. James said that he and Kirkconnell split because she didn’t understand the Black culture, despite photos of the two “on break” floating around on the net. In the end, they remained together, citing love as the reason. James later spoke out to say that he felt “pressured” to choose a Black woman.
Out of all of this, it was good to see the women the season making a statement against the defense of racism. – BA
'Selling Tampa': Black women being real estate bosses
A spinoff of Selling Sunset, the Tampa edition follows an All-Black, all-female run brokerage in Tampa, Fl. Sherrelle Rosado, an Army veteran turned real estate mogul who also happens to be the fiance of former NFL star Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, is the head lady in charge. Within days, the series was trending in the Top 10 on Netflix. The drama is everything. There’s competition amongst the staff, budding heads of the “aunties” and the “nieces,” luxury real estate showings, and everything in between. – BA
'Big Brother' season 23: Tiffany Mitchell is America's Favorite Player
With The Cookout making history on Big Brother, its de facto leader, Tiffany Mitchell is also going down in history as one of the greatest to play the game. The icing on top is that the fans thought the same and she was voted America’s Favorite Player. – TM
'RuPaul's Drag Race UK' season 2: Tayce’s lip-sync to "Memory"
Tayce and Cherry Valentine were the second pair to lip sync for their lives on the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. The fearful moment led to Tayce pulling out one of the most memorable lip-syncs in franchise history, giving a sultry, mesmerizing, and solemn performance to “Memory” from Cats. Her lip-sync saved her, and rightfully so–she captivated RuPaul and the rest of the judges with her innate ability to entrance with just her eyes alone. – MJ
'The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip': Kenya Moore checks Ramona Singer
The Real Housewives Ultimate Girls Trip may have been the biggest surprise for the franchise this season, being a standout in a year that also included great Potomac and Beverly Hills seasons. RHOA‘s twirl Kenya Moore and Ramona Singer of RHONY got into it. After her microaggressions, passive-aggressive remarks, and overall lack of ability to read the room, Moore had enough. The Atlanta star actually gave Singer grace, ignoring being called a b***h on the first day. But during a moment on a yacht, Moore brought was ready to go. She knocked Singer’s drink out of her hand, resulting in Singer’s white woman tears. – BA
'Legendary': Simone Tisci vs. judges
The House of Tisci left in the most legendary possible when Simone Tisci took the judges to task for their inconsistent judging. The moment went down in the show history as one of the most explosive moments between a house and the judges and exemplified the frustrations many fans were feeling regarding perceived favoritism. The drama continued after the show when Simone went on social media to say that the fight was altered to make it seem like she was being unsportswomanlike. – MJ
'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills': Garcelle Beauvais schools her castmates on race
As the first Black housewife on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Garcelle Beauvais has a lot to deal with. STILL, she stands her own. This year marked her second season on the show. She held a Haitian dinner to showcase her rich culture at her home, though many of her co-stars didn’t appreciate it. During one dinner, the subject of race came up. Of course, she was hit with the “I don’t see color” line from her white co-stars, and she didn’t let them have it. Garcelle explained that as Black men and women, we don’t have the luxury of not seeing color. – BA
'Bachelor in Paradise': Maurissa and Riley make history.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette spinoff Bachelor in Paradise featured a Black couple that found love when Riley Christian and Maurissa Gunn got engaged, becoming the first Black couple to find love together in the entire The Bachelor franchise, predating Michelle and Nayte. They were one of three couples to have proposals at the end of the season. – BA
'RuPaul's Drag Race UK' season 3: Vanity Milan's 'Scandalous' lip-sync
'BET Presents: The Encore': Bluprint's performance debut
was the show that surprised many. 9 women from different girl groups of the 90s and early 2000s. The drama was jampacked. By the final episode, only four were left. There were issues with vocals some were lacking in the dance department, some wanted to sing lead and couldn’t sing the best. But in the end, Kiely Williams of 3LW, Fallon and Felisha of Cherish, and Shamari DeVoe of Blaque were left standing. Pamela Long of Total made an appearance but ultimately opted to focus on non-secular music. Their group, Bluprint, released an EP that shot to the top of the charts. – BA
'The Real Housewives of New York': Eboni K. Williams shakes the table
The latest season of RHONY may have not landed well and we don’t know when we’ll see it again, but we were here for Eboni K. Williams shaking the table and challenging and calling out her cast members. – BA