Thursday, June 13, 2024

Top 10 Reality Competition Series To Keep An Eye On For The 2024 Emmy Season

In an Emmy season where series come and go with alarming speed, the competition for Outstanding Reality Competition Series is a comparative sea of tranquility. Indeed, among the 21 Emmy winners since the category was established, nearly all (19) were from just three series: “The Amazing Race,” “The Voice,” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” When a series is deemed worthy enough to earn one of the five nominations each year, it tends to take up residence there, receiving repeat nominations year after year until a newer, more worthy alternative comes along. Those years when a fresh replacement enters the Top 5 are rare, but 2024 might just be one of them.

Could the new contender be a reality contest adapted from a six-time Emmy-winning drama series? Or, perhaps it’s a new baking contest from the producers of “Top Chef” and “Project Runway.” Or, could it be a strategy game from a worldwide franchise that won last year’s key casting Emmy in its only nomination? Any one of these could break into the top 5, shaking up the category for the first time in years.

But, which one? With even some ace Emmy prognosticators flummoxed as to what titles will make the final five, here’s your chance to jump ahead of the pack. We’ve selected the following ten reality competition series to put on your Emmy radar, along with a few comments on where their awards’ strengths (or weaknesses) may lie. Happy streaming!

THE AMAZING RACE – Season 36 (CBS)

Of the dozens of series that have competed in this category, this travel-themed contest is the undisputed big dog in the room. After winning an unprecedented seven consecutive series trophies in the first years of the category, the series went on to win three more Emmys in the years since, bringing its total to 10 – twice the number of any of its rivals. Thanks in part to its much-awarded production values, “The Amazing Race” has earned 92 Emmy nominations, more than any other competition series and among the most of any series currently on air. As the old award adage goes, “once a winner, always a threat,” and this resilient series should always be considered a threat.

EMMY OUTLOOK: Remarkably, except for a 2020 hiatus, “The Amazing Race” has been nominated for Outstanding Reality Competition Series every year since the category was created. Expect that streak to remain unbroken this year.

IS IT CAKE? – Season 2 (Netflix)

Though the premise of this popular Netflix competition series might seem outlandish — contestants create cakes that replicate everyday objects — its creators have a superb Emmy pedigree: Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, who also produce “Top Chef” and “Project Runway.” In the show’s second season – dubbed “Is It Cake, Too?” – the contestants are once again artists, but they are now judged as to whether their deceptive masterpieces can fool a panel of celebrity judges. It’s a unique concept that may help “Is It Cake?” stand out from its Emmy rivals.

EMMY OUTLOOK: Frankly, given the tight competition, a series nomination is probably an extreme longshot, although the show’s popular host, “SNL’s” Mikey Day, could be a dark horse for an Outstanding Reality Competition Host nomination.

NAILED IT! – Season 8 (Netflix)

“The Big Nailed It Baking Challenge” is the official title of this spinoff of the Netflix baking series in which overconfident home bakers compete to create the best cake possible, with disaster as the usual outcome. The show’s tone is lighter and more comedic than its Netflix cousin, “The Great British Baking Show,” and strikes a tone much more akin to The Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America.” A large part of what helps to make “Nailed It!” more Emmy-worthy than its culinary kin is the presence of host Nicole Byer, who, for its eight seasons, has struck just the right balance between humor and empathy.

EMMY OUTLOOK: Starting in 2019, “Nailed It!” earned four consecutive nominations for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, but last year’s edition, “Halloween,” failed to make the series cut. (It’s possible that the season’s limited holiday theme hurt it). But, even as the show missed, Byer nonetheless received her fourth consecutive nomination as host, proving that there’s still love for the show.

PROJECT RUNWAY – Season 20 (Bravo)

This year’s season of the long-time designer competition is an All-Stars edition, in which 14 of the show’s most beloved non-winners from the show’s 19 seasons have returned for one last shot at runway redemption. With the contestants catching up on each other’s lives since their original seasons, the vibe this season is much less cut-throat, but the desire to take the crown is as strong as ever. Judge Nina Garcia and mentor Christian Siriano return to welcome this season’s familiar faces.

EMMY OUTLOOK: Despite the spotlight put on the series in honor of its 20th season, it’s becoming apparent that “Project Runaway’s” awards run might be over, as the series hasn’t earned a single Emmy nomination since 2018. Never say never, of course, but that’s a difficult statistic from which to launch a comeback.

RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE – Season 16 (MTV)

Fifteen years ago, who would have thought that a competition among drag queens seen on a small gay network (Logo TV) would become a worldwide phenomenon and an Emmy juggernaut? Not that the Academy was on the cutting edge, mind you. It took nine whole seasons for the show to receive its first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Reality Competition Series, but after that first recognition, there was no looking back. In the time since that first series nod, “Drag Race” has been nominated in each of the seven years since, resulting in 63 Emmy nominations and 29 wins, including 5 for the series itself. As the category’s returning champion, “Drag Race” is entering the 2024 Emmy race as the frontrunner, but with spin-offs and international editions seemingly everywhere, the question must be asked: Is there such a thing as RuPaul Fatigue?

EMMY OUTLOOK: If voters have tired of “Drag Race,” they’ve shown few signs of it yet. Season 16 was as popular as ever, and the American version scored headlines in Asia with its first international winner, Taiwan’s Nymphia Wind. Still, there may be a few cracks appearing in its Emmy dominance — the show, for example, lost its series crown in 2022, upset by newcomer “Lizzo’s Watch Out For the Big Grrrls.” “Drag Race” regained that momentum last season, but that loss served as a reminder that Emmy voters can be fickle and turn on a show without warning. Is this the year they look beyond “Drag Race?”

SQUID GAME: THE CHALLENGE – Season 1 (Netflix)

The new Netflix series “The Challenge” takes the games presented in the Emmy-winning narrative series “Squid Game” and applies them to a game-show format. Beginning with 456 contestants — the largest reality show cast in television history — the game puts players to the test, competing in such “Squid Game” favorites as “Glass Bridge” and “Red Light, Green Light,” with the last contestant still left standing declared the winner. (Unlike its progenitor, no one dies here).

EMMY OUTLOOK: Reviews for the first season were not good (45% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes), and widespread news reports from contestants as to how they were mistreated during production won’t help. But, the series recently bagged a key precursor win as Best Reality Series at the BAFTAs, and that could be enough to get it into Emmy’s top 5.

SURVIVOR – Season 45-46 (CBS)

“Survivor” is the exception that proves the rule. The granddaddy of reality competition series, the show shocked the awards world when, in 2023, it received its first nomination for Outstanding Reality Competition Series in 18 years. Upsets like this don’t just happen, and awards fans are still debating the reason why. After disappearing from the category in 2007, “Survivor” continued making great television — with shrewd casting, fresh new challenges, outstanding production values, and one of the best competition hosts in TV history. Still, the Academy looked elsewhere, often embracing the shiny and new rather than the tried and true, but when those newbies fell away in 2023, “Survivor” was still there. In fact, the show’s phenomenal success in 2001 may have been a large reason why this category was created in the first place.

EMMY OUTLOOK: The surprise from the industry and the joy of the fans at the 2023 series nomination might all have been for naught if “Survivor” followed up with a lackluster season. But, Seasons 45-46 were two of the most dramatic in recent “Survivor” history, so the show may continue to surprise with a 2024 nod. And, while you’re at it, Academy, bring four-time winner Jeff Probst back. He’s the very definition of an outstanding reality competition host.

TOP CHEF – Season 21 (Bravo)

This Bravo cooking contest scored one of the biggest upset wins in Emmy history in 2010 when it dethroned the reigning champion of Reality Competition Series, “The Amazing Race,” which by then had racked up seven consecutive victories. Though its reign lasted only a year when “The Amazing Race” regained the crown, “Top Chef” earned its spot as a fearsome competitor and has amassed a string of 17 consecutive nominations for Reality Competition Series. It could be headed for an 18th this season.

EMMY OUTLOOK: 2024 looks to be a crucial year in “Top Chef’s” Emmy run. Season 21 is the first without “Top Chef” host and Emmy favorite Padma Lakshmi, and while new host (and Season 10 winner) Kristen Kish has been warmly received by critics and audiences alike, does the show’s new chemistry have the same appeal for Emmy voters? Whether this major change will breathe new life in the franchise or prompt Emmy voters to look elsewhere is one of the key developments to watch on nomination morning.

THE TRAITORS – Season 2 (Peacock)

If there is a new contender on the block able to crash into the top 5, it’s this strategy game hosted by Tony Award-winner Alan Cumming. Set in a Scottish castle, 22 reality show veterans gather at a round table where Cumming secretly designates which of these will be “traitors” in the game whose job it is to eliminate the “faithful” contestants until only one remains. With a cast of reality show stars (who know how to bring the drama) as contestants, the show works not only as entertainment but offers a mystery element as well as to just whom the traitors will eliminate next that invests the audience in the outcome. Add to that the cheeky presence of Cumming, whose runway-ready fashion looks rival that of RuPaul.

EMMY OUTLOOK: In its first season of eligibility in 2023, “The Traitors” managed only a single nomination, but it was a key one, casting, which it promptly won. For Season 2, producers tweaked the game a bit (much to its benefit) and increased the drama. With a strong social media presence (which could include Emmy voters), “The Traitors” appears poised to earn its first series nomination and may grab a nomination for Cumming as host as well.

THE VOICE Season 25 (NBC)

In its 25th season, “The Voice” remains Emmy’s sole music competition series to which voters have been returning for more than a decade. It won its first series title in 2015, ending “The Amazing Race’s” phenomenal streak at the top, and “The Voice” followed that victory up with two more consecutive wins. With its signature swiveling red chairs, “The Voice” in its heyday was the talk of reality TV, thanks to the quality of the talent, the personality of the judges, and the simmering bromance between judges Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. After Levine left the series in 2019 and Shelton in 2023, the series lost some of its buzz, though new judge Reba McEntire helped to fill Shelton’s big boots, joined by John Legend, Chance the Rapper, and country duo Dan + Shay for Season 25.

EMMY OUTLOOK: “The Voice” has been on a downward awards trajectory in recent years, receiving two or three annual tech nominations in addition to the series nod. Emmy voters may continue to support it, but with newcomers nipping at its heels, a 13th consecutive Reality Competition Series nomination may no longer be a sure thing.

What do you think are the biggest Emmy contenders for Outstanding Reality Competition Series this year? Which of these shows is your favorite so far? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account. Be sure to also check out our Next Best Series Podcast throughout the Emmy season.

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Tom O'Brien
Tom O'Brienhttps://nextbestpicture.com
Palm Springs Blogger and Awards lover. Editor at Exact Change & contributing writer for Gold Derby.

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