When the COVID-19 pandemic started, it felt like a chance to sit back and finally watch all the television series I never had the time to see. I binged Tiger King, Mr. Robot, Chernobyl and Barry, and I rewatched all of House and Euphoria. But after almost a year of nonstop binging, it’s getting harder and harder to find new shows that pique my interest.
However, I recently stumbled into Netflix’s treasure trove of game shows, and I think I could spend months watching all the unique competitions the streaming service has to offer. I never knew there were so many shows about such niche topics, and even more keep popping up in my recommendations. I definitely won’t be bored anytime soon.
If you feel like you’ve watched and rewatched everything good on Netflix, I recommend watching at least a few of these game shows. I’ve ranked them based on how much I enjoyed them, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them all a try.
- Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star (BBC Three)
I’ve been watching make-up videos since I discovered beauty YouTube in middle school, so I instantly fell in love with this competition between Britain’s best emerging makeup artists. What I like most is the camaraderie between contestants— the artists support each other through meltdowns and harsh critiques, and they congratulate the winner of challenges with big group hugs.
It’s refreshing to watch a reality show where everyone is so kind to each other! The makeup looks that the artists produce are stunning, and they make me want to practice my own skills so I can look half as good as the models in the show. I also look forward to seeing every episode’s celebrity guest judge, such as drag queen Kim Chi or YouTuber Nikkie de Jager (NikkieTutorials). A lot of competitions have D-list guest judges I would never recognize, but the producers of Glow Up are great at choosing guests that both the contestants and the audience will appreciate. I’m eagerly anticipating the release of the third season later this year — especially considering it only took me a few days to watch the first two.
- Forged in Fire (History Channel)
In this rugged reality show, four bladesmiths compete each episode to determine who can forge the best weapons from simple pieces of steel. It’s really interesting to watch the contestants rip apart pinball machines, gym equipment and other metal fixtures to salvage steel and create such high-quality knives.
The way the weapons are tested is also exciting — the judges cut through materials such as pig carcasses, wood barrels, blocks of ice and fake blood-filled dummies to determine which knives and swords are the most durable, lethal and sharp. You can tell how passionate the contestants are about their craft, and it’s easy to find yourself yelling at the screen, cheering for your favorite smith to perfect their weapon within the short time constraints. Bladesmithing is a unique topic that most people probably don’t know a lot about, and watching Forged in Fire is a great way to learn.
- The American Barbecue Showdown (Netflix Original)
This was my introduction to the realm of niche Netflix game shows, and it’s still one of my favorites. If you love meat, this is a perfect choice for you. Competitors spend hours smoking and grilling cuts of pork, beef, chicken and game meat such as venison and hare. I didn’t know barbecue was so intensive before I watched this show, but I’ve come to appreciate it as an art form. Watch with caution, though: The show will definitely make you crave southern barbecue, but you’ll have a hard time finding anything that could compare to the contestants’ creations north of the Carolinas.
- Instant Hotel (Seven Network)
Somehow, of all the shows on this list, a show about Australian real estate has the most drama. The contestants, who own homes or condos they rent out to guests, stay at each others’ properties to determine which is the best “instant hotel.”
It’s like TLC’s Four Weddings, but with Airbnbs. The competitors are constantly looking for flaws in each property that they can use to give it a lower score, thereby ensuring their own property will be ranked higher. They also have some incredibly harsh critiques for the rentals, which causes a lot of unnecessary tension. All the drama and pettiness does make for good reality TV, though.
The show is an interesting look at the beauty Australia has to offer, and it makes me want to travel around the country and stay in the luxurious instant hotels myself. I’d have to brush up on my Australian slang, though, because I have no idea what the competitors are saying half the time.
- Floor Is Lava (Netflix Original)
Whoever thought of taking this simple game we all played as kids and turning it into a competitive game show for adults is a genius. It’s a simple premise: Teams of three work together to jump between platforms and cross a large room filled with glowing orange “lava,” and the team who can get the most members across in the fastest time wins $10,000.
The best part of this show is the wipeouts — when someone falls or sinks into the fake lava, they replay it in slow motion, which is always hilarious. If you enjoy the show Wipeout, you’ll definitely like Floor Is Lava. My only question is where the contestants go when they fall into the lava, because they get sucked down into the floor and seemingly disappear into oblivion.
- Best Leftovers Ever! (Netflix Original)
This show is like Chopped, but with three contestants instead of four and a fridge full of precooked food instead of a box of random ingredients. But, to be honest, I would rather just watch Chopped.
While I appreciate that the show teaches people not to waste food and gives interesting ideas for repurposing leftovers, I don’t think there is enough focus on the cooks. Instead, the camera is repeatedly panning back to the judges, only one of whom is actually a chef. The host, Jackie Tohn, is the worst part of the show. She’s always cracking cringey jokes and belting out songs like this obscure game show is somehow her chance to get noticed by record executives.
I will admit that the giant Chinese takeout box the contestants wait in during the judges’ deliberation is pretty sick, but it can’t make up for the lack of camera time given to the actual cooking.