Most Memorable Reality TV Moments of 2018

Sometimes the truth is wilder than anything a writer could dream up. A woman calling her arresting officer “my love” as she’s being put into a cop car? A knock-down, drag-out fight over pasta? A nationally televised proposal that turns into a breakup? All of these things would seem completely over the top or perhaps even implausible if done in a scripted series, but they were all very real occurrences that happened to be caught on camera for unscripted series this year.

Here, Variety selects the most memorable moments in unscripted television for 2018.

“American Ninja Warrior”
The show is full of astonishing athletic feats, but standouts include the run of deaf Ninja Warrior Kyle Schulze, with the crowd cheering him on in sign language; women Ninjas like Allyssa Beird and Michelle Warnky, who inspire young girls; and ALL of the reactions — every emotion from joy to amazement to incredulity — of hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila. — Carole Horst, managing editor, features

The Bachelor
They both ended up living happily ever after, but who could forget when the titular bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. proposed to Becca Kufrin on national television — only to breakup with her (again, on national TV), after realizing he was actually in love with runner-up, Lauren Burnham. The shocker is undoubtedly one of the most controversial moments in “Bachelor” history, even inspiring a “Saturday Night Live” skit. Of course, Kufrin got the ultimate TV revenge: her very own season of “The Bachelorette,” during which she found love with winner Garrett Yrigoyen. As for Luyendyk Jr. and Burnham? While the pair might be one of the least loved duos of Bachelor Nation, the happy couple is expecting their first child together in 2019 — which sounds like the perfect recipe for another reality show. — Elizabeth Wagmeister, senior correspondent 

Big Brother
Host Julie Chen was back on-air for a live eviction of the summer competition series less than a week after her husband and boss Les Moonves was ousted from his position as CEO and chairman of CBS. When she said goodbye at the end of the show, she did so for the first time using her married name — drawing a clear line in the sand that she was standing by her man no matter what. It was a strong statement to make and she continued to drive the point home in all subsequent episodes after that fateful one on Sept. 13. — Danielle Turchiano, senior features editor, TV

“Celebrity Big Brother
Ross Mathews really was doing the important work when, on the debut season of this competition series, he constantly grilled Omarosa Manigault Newman for information about working in the White House, for Donald Trump. Knowing she was going to share the real goods in her subsequent memoir, her on-screen answers about whether she thought Americans would be OK (“No”) and what it was like to leave that job (“being freed from a plantation”) were really just teases. But, like any good reality fodder, they left us wanting more. — Danielle Turchiano, senior features editor, TV

“The Challenge”
From the minute host TJ Lavin told the finalists of the “Final Reckoning” season that, although they were still competing as teams of two, the ultimate winner would be a solitary person with the best overall time who would then be able to choose whether to keep the million dollar prize for his or herself or share it with the partner that helped earn it, the outcome seemed inevitable. After all, precedent been set seasons earlier when Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio chose to take the money and run, but this time Ashley Mitchell took things a step farther: She didn’t simply steal the cash but she made a speech when doing so, calling out her partner Hunter Barfield for slut-shaming her during the season. What was even more memorable was the fact that rather than try to go for sympathy, Barfield started screaming at her, further proving her point that he didn’t deserve to be rewarded. — Danielle Turchiano, senior features editor, TV

Queer Eye
The makeover show is jammed with weepy moments, but Season 1’s “Dega Don’t” episode saw the show’s culture expert, Karamo Brown, who is African American, and makeover subject Cory, who is a white policeman in Georgia, dig down and discuss Black Lives Matter, challenges that cops face and their love of hip-hop. That they make progress on thorny issues is a testament to nuanced dialogue, much needed in this country. — Carole Horst, managing editor, features

“The Real Housewives of New York”
Luann De Lesseps has often provided the most talked and tweeted about moments throughout the seasons, and this time she certainly cemented that with her drunken arrest — during which she attacked the police officer and then claimed “I’ve done nothing wrong, my love” — as well as her Diana Ross Halloween costume, complete with bronzer so dark it was blackface. The latter moment may not have gotten as much screen time as the former, given that the arrest led to an arc full of story, but it was still extremely startling to see. — Danielle Turchiano, senior features editor, TV

“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
One of the great joys of competition-reality TV is watching someone suddenly click into a higher gear, or display a new skill. So it was when Aquaria — a drag performer who’d shown off killer fashion sense and aptitude with a makeup brush — suddenly emerged as a master impressionist with her impression of Melania Trump in “Drag Race’s” marquee comedy challenge, “Snatch Game.” Her Trump was not just pitch-perfect visually and aurally — we’d have expected as much from a perpetual A-student like Aquaria. But she was also canny and resourceful in turning other people’s remarks into moments to pivot into her own one-liners. From that moment on, Aquaria, the season’s eventual winner, seemed unbound, capable of practically anything. And best of all, she provided some of the season’s heartiest laughs. — Daniel D’Addario, chief television critic

After a couple dud seasons, “Survivor’s” 37th(!) season came roaring out the gate with an especially game cast ready to play. The initially dubious “David vs. Goliath” theme has paid off, with the “Goliath” tribe getting too cocky while the supposedly weaker “David” tribe was running strategic circles around them. No moment showed off that dynamic better than the tribal council in “Breadth-First Search,” when the outnumbered Davids perfectly played two advantages to send a Goliath home — even after he played an immunity idol. — Caroline Framke, television critic

“Terrace House”
In the endlessly pure, wonderful romance that is Shion and Tsubasa, it’s hard to pick out just one moment. But the turning point was truly Shion’s birthday, when Tsubasa surprised him by decorating the playroom and giving him a scarf (for which she traveled all the way to Tokyo). It marked Tsubasa’s biggest move toward him yet — and cemented Shion’s romantic feelings for her, about which he was previously unsure — Alex Stedman, news editor

“Vanderpump Rules”
It’s not about the pasta, and it never was. Fry up some goat cheese balls and turn on your TV to rehash one of the most wild moments of 2018: Lala Kent and James Kennedy’s epic throw down inside Sweet Chick. Was “pasta” code for cocaine? Kristen Doute told Andy Cohen no, but she has been known to scam. Here’s to finding out the truth in Season 7! (premiered on Dec. 3) — Meg Zukin, social media editor

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Discovery Plans Multi-Network Boost for 'Brady

    Here's The Story: Discovery Plans Multi-Network Boost for 'Brady' Series

    Starting Monday, viewers of cable outlets like TLC, the Food Network and Discovery Channel may experience the strange sensation of hearing snippets of the theme song from the 1970s sitcom, “The Brady Bunch.” On TLC, “Long Island Medium” star Theresa Caputo will appear sporting a ‘do that looks much like the one Florence Henderson’s Carol [...]

  • Steven Knight

    BBC Orders Steven Knight Drama Series ‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’

    The BBC has ordered “SAS: Rogue Heroes,” which is being adapted by “Peaky Blinders” creator Steven Knight, Oscar nominated for “Dirty Pretty Things,” from Ben Macintyre’s book. The drama series will tell the story of how the British special forces unit, the SAS, came to be formed. The series is being produced by Kudos, whose [...]

  • Masters of the Universe: Revelation

    Kevin Smith Announces Anime 'He-Man' Series for Netflix

    Kevin Smith surprised audiences at Sunday’s annual Power-Con convention by announcing a new anime “He-Man” series for Netflix. The new series, titled “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” will take place in the Mattel toy inspired world and will focus on some of the unresolved storylines of the classic ‘80s show. Smith will serve as showrunner [...]

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • George RR Martin

    George R.R. Martin Says HBO's 'Game of Thrones' Ending Won't Influence Future Novels

    Geroge R.R. Martin is sticking to his original plan when it comes to the future of “Game of Thrones.” In an interview with The Observer, Martin claimed that HBO’s controversial ending for the series would have no affect on the endings of the last two novels. “No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t change anything at all,” [...]

  • Listen: 'Pennyworth' Producer Talks Delving into

    Listen: 'Pennyworth' Executive Producer Talks Delving into Alfred's Backstory

    Bruno Heller may have served as an executive producer on the Batman-inspired series “Gotham” for the past five years, but it’s actually real-life people (not superheroes) that intrigue the producer the most. It’s for that exact reason that Heller’s newest series finds him exploring the origin stories of Batman’s butler Alfred in the Epix drama [...]

  • "Trust Issues" - Dylan and Lizzie

    'Instinct' Canceled After Two Seasons

    CBS has canceled “Instinct” after two seasons. Series creator Michael Rauch announced the cancellation Friday on Twitter, writing, “I’m very sad to relay the news that @instinctcbs won’t be renewed for a 3rd season. We will double up this Sunday and our season/series finale will be Aug 25.” Rauch also thanked series stars Alan Cumming [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content