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10 Addictive British Reality Shows You Should Stream Right Now

There are seemingly endless streaming possibilities for American reality shows on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and beyond. Chances are you’ve wasted an entire weekend binge-watching a bunch of them already. But if you’re looking to break out of the stateside streaming reality series mold, don’t fret. There are plenty of reality TV shows out there that are similar to your favorite shows, but with subtle differences—like, say, people with English accents. So grab a spot of tea and start streaming.

1. FOR FANS OF CAKE WARS: THE GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW

While Cake Wars counts professionals among its contestants, The Great British Baking Show (also known as The Great British Bake Off) is made up of a gaggle of hopelessly endearing amateur bakers from across England and elsewhere. But there’s nothing unprofessional about this delightfully delicious British export. Each themed episode sees a group of contestants square off to impress expert baking judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry with their expertise in creating cakes, tarts, pies, puddings, and more.

The series made some major news last year when Berry and hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins exited the show, meaning it will go through some drastic changes next season when it airs on a new network. So now’s your chance to get whipped up by the classic lineup of the only reality cooking show where people can say “spotted dick” without anybody snickering.

2. FOR FANS OF HOUSE HUNTERS: ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY

This long-running daytime television series is for people who love to daydream about what it would be like to live in a cottage in the English countryside without ever having to leave the comfort of their own, less-British home. Each episode focuses on a family who decides to retreat to a more rural setting, and is presented with three potential sites that could be the country house of their dreams, all within their specified budget.

The first two choices are usually blissful locales that adhere to their strict specifications like en suite bathrooms, multiple bedrooms, big kitchens, a farmside setting, or—gasp!—maybe even a garage. But the third is what the show calls the “mystery house,” which is a kind of residential wildcard filled with a wide range of controversial details like bedrooms on the ground floor or cavernous living rooms because the house was refurbished from a centuries-old church.

3. FOR FANS OF JACKASS: AN IDIOT ABROAD

If you're a fan of Ricky Gervais and his brash brand of humor, you’ll love this travelogue show that follows the comedian's supposedly dim-witted buddy, Karl Pilkington, as he crisscrosses the world and intentionally pushes the limits of his—and everybody else’s—comfort zones.

An Idiot Abroad is kind of like Jackass, but without the gross humor. Each episode features Gervais and his The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant sending Pilkington on missions to different locales, forcing their impressionable friend into the most achingly awkward fish-out-of-water situations imaginable. The Manchester native does everything from meeting a gorilla in Uganda and going to a “cuddle party” at a New Age retreat along Route 66 to learning the samba for Carnival in Rio and trying to go on a whale watch in Alaska, even though he’s susceptible to severe seasickness. Okay, so maybe the show does have some gross parts.

4. FOR FANS OF JERSEY SHORE: THE ONLY WAY IS ESSEX

You didn’t think America had cornered the market on trashy reality television, did you? If you ever tried to imagine what the tawdry exploits of the roommates of MTV’s Jersey Shore would sound like with nearly incomprehensible English accents, The Only Way is Essex is your show.

Now in its 20th season, the series is an endless parade of bartenders, club promoters, and would-be models getting drunk, fighting with each other, stabbing anyone they can in the back, and then doing it all over again in perfectly, semi-scripted ways. It’s so bad you can’t look away.

5. FOR FANS OF FLEA MARKET FLIP: DEALERS: PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS

If you're more into antiques than intoxicants, look no further than Dealers, a.k.a. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. Each episode features professional, secondhand maestros who peruse yard sales, swap meets, and auction houses with a set budget, searching for a collection of items that will be compared to the hauls of fellow/rival antique dealers. They see which heap of collector’s items could be turned around to be sold at a bigger profit. Will a Victorian tea kettle be enough to secure a victory? Stream all the available episodes to find out.

6. FOR FANS OF SHARK TANK: FOUR ROOMS

If Shark Tank featured family heirlooms instead of start-up business owners looking for cash, it would be Channel 4's Four Rooms. The show features high-profile collectibles dealers bidding big money for priceless pieces being sold off by willing contestants—with a reality show twist, of course. Each seller enters a succession of four rooms to sit down and pitch their luxury item to a different dealer. Once a dealer’s offer is declined, the contestant can’t go back to a previous room. So if the dealer in the second room offered £20,000 for the guitar Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock and the dealer in the fourth room only offered to put up £10,000, the seller either has to take that lower five-figure offer or walk.

7. FOR FANS OF THE INCREDIBLE DR. POL: THE BIONIC VET

If you’re a fan of the animal care techniques seen on shows like The Incredible Dr. Pol, but want to see what more cutting-edge technology would be like when saving the lives of animals in need, look no further than The Bionic Vet. The series follows veterinarian Noel Fitzpatrick, whose practice includes a team of over 100 vets in Surrey. They attempt to help animals whose problems are so serious that euthanasia is often the only suggested alternative. The Bionic Vet is not for the faint of heart, especially for animal lovers, but it’s that rare reality series where there’s a sense of genuine drama behind it all. Plus, where else will you get to see a Border Collie’s pelvis being rebuilt after it was hit by a car, or what a reconstructed barn owl’s wing looks like?

8. FOR FANS OF COPS: MOTORWAY COPS

Bad (British) boys, bad (British) boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when the motorway cops come for you? Police shows are a reality TV staple, but Motorway Cops puts the perfect British spin on the normal recipe of televised law enforcement. The series showcases highway patrolmen and women from different jurisdictions, like the Central Motorway Police Group, busting perps attempting such unlawful acts as stealing copper wire off main highways and drug trafficking along backcountry thoroughfares.

9. FOR FANS OF WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE: HEIR HUNTERS

Technically, Heir Hunters is a show about probate researchers contacting relatives of the deceased, and when you put it like that, it sounds like a bummer. But if you describe the series as investigators searching the world over to contact hidden heirs to potential fortunes, it becomes a lot more enticing. The show tracks the researchers, whose job it is to race against time and find long lost relatives who stand to be the beneficiaries of the estates of people who didn’t leave behind a will. If they aren’t around to collect, the leftover estate goes to the British Treasury. This kind of thing is usually a footnote or a means to push the story along in a fictional drama, but Heir Hunters also attempts to humanize this potentially sensationalized story for reality TV consumption. With plenty of twists and turns, it’s like a mini detective series that usually has a happy ending.

10. FOR FANS OF UNDERCOVER BOSS: EXTREME APPRENTICES: SLUM SURVIVORS

The questionable premise of this British series rivals something like Undercover Boss. But instead of putting the boss in the center of learning the true ways of their particular business, Extreme Apprentices highlights the workers on the bottom rungs of their particular professional ladder. Apprentices in technical jobs like plumbers or mechanics are transplanted from their British gigs and given the same job in places like Nigeria or Mumbai to see if they can last for 10 days. No whiners need apply, especially when you see how horrific the plumbing is in some places.

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The Science Behind Why We Crave Loud and Crunchy Foods
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A number of years ago, food giant Unilever polled consumers asking how the company might improve their popular line of Magnum ice cream bars. The problem, respondents said, was that the chocolate coating of the bars tended to fall off too quickly, creating blotches of sticky goo on carpeting. Unilever reacted by changing the recipe to make the chocolate less prone to spills.

When they tested the new and improved product, they expected a warm reception. Instead, they got more complaints than before. While the updated bar didn’t make a mess, it also didn’t make the distinctive crackle that its fans had grown accustomed to. Deprived of hearing the coating collapse and crumble, the experience of eating the ice cream was fundamentally changed. And not for the better.

Smell and taste researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D. refers to it as the “music of mastication,” an auditory accompaniment to the sensory stimulus of eating. “For non-gustatory, non-olfactory stimulation, people prefer crunchiness,” he tells Mental Floss. Humans love crunchy, noisy snacks, that loud rattling that travels to our inner ear via air and bone conduction and helps us identify what it is we’re consuming. Depending on the snack, the noise can reach 63 decibels. (Normal conversations are around 60 dB; rustling leaves, 20 dB.)

When we hear it, we eat more. When we don’t—as in the case of Magnum bars, or a soggy, muted potato chip—we resort to other senses, looking at our food with doubt or sniffing it for signs of expiration. Psychologically, our lust for crispy sustenance is baked in. But why is it so satisfying to create a cacophony of crunch? And if we love it so much, why do some of us actually grow agitated and even aggressive when we hear someone loudly chomping away? It turns out there’s a lot more to eating with our ears than you might have heard.

 
 

The science of crunch has long intrigued Charles Spence, Ph.D., a gastrophysicist and professor of experimental psychology and head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. Food companies have enlisted him and consulted his research across the spectrum of ingestion, from packaging to shapes to the sound chips make rustling around in grocery carts.

“We’re not born liking noisy foods,” he tells Mental Floss. “Noise doesn’t give a benefit in terms of nutrition. But we don’t like soggy crisps even if they taste the same. Missing the sound is important.”

In 2003, Spence decided to investigate the sonic appeal of chips in a formal setting. To keep a semblance of control, he selected Pringles, which are baked uniformly—a single Pringle doesn't offer any significant difference in size, thickness, or crunch from another. He asked 20 research subjects to bite into 180 Pringles (about two cans) while seated in a soundproof booth in front of a microphone. The sound of their crunching was looped back into a pair of headphones.

After consuming the cans, they were asked if they perceived any difference in freshness or crispness from one Pringle to another. What they didn’t know was that Spence had been playing with the feedback in their headphones, raising or lowering the volume of their noisy crunching [PDF]. At loud volumes, the chips were reported to be fresher; chips ingested while listening at low volume were thought to have been sitting out longer and seemed softer. The duplicitous sounds resulted in a radical difference in chip perception. It may have been a small study, but in the virtually non-existent field of sonic chip research, it was groundbreaking.

A view inside a potato chip bag
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For Spence, the results speak to what he considers the inherent appeal of crunchy foods. “Noisy foods correlate with freshness,” he says. “The fresher the produce, like apples, celery, or lettuce, the more vitamins and nutrients it’s retained. It’s telling us what’s in the food.”

Naturally, this signal becomes slightly misguided when it reinforces the quality of a potato chip, a processed slab of empty calories. But Spence has a theory on this, too: “The brain likes fat in food, but it’s not so good at detecting it through our mouths. Noisy foods are certainly fattier on average.”

Fatty or fresh, raising decibels while eating may also have roots in less appetizing behaviors. For our ancestors who ate insects, the crunch of a hard-bodied cricket symbolized nourishment. In a primal way, violently mincing food with our teeth could also be a way to vent and dilute aggression. “There are some psychoanalytic theories related to crunchiness and aggressive behavior,” Hirsch says. “When you bite into ice or potato chips, you’re sublimating that in a healthy way.”

 
 

All of these factors explain why crunch appeals to us. But is it actually affecting what we taste?

Yes—but maybe not the way you’d think. “Sound affects the experience of food,” Spence says. “The noise draws attention to the mouth in the way something silent does not. If you’re eating pâté, your attention can drift elsewhere, to a television or to a dining companion. But a crunch will draw your attention to what you’re eating, making you concentrate on it. Noisy foods make you think about them.”

That crunch can also influence how much food we consume. Because noisy foods tend to be fatty, Spence says, they’ll retain their flavor longer. And because the noise reinforces our idea of what we’re eating, it affords us a sense of security that allows us to keep consuming without having to look at our snack—not so important in a brightly-lit room, but crucial if we’re in a dark movie theater. “It becomes more important when you can’t see what you’re eating,” Spence says.

Thanks to this hard-wired feedback, the snack industry has made it a priority to emphasize the sounds of their foods in both development and marketing. In the 1980s, Frito-Lay funded extensive work at a Dallas plant that involved $40,000 chewing simulators. There, they discovered the ideal breaking point for a chip was four pounds per square inch (PSI), just a fraction of what we might need to tear into a steak (150 to 200 PSI). The quality and consistency of the potatoes themselves is also key, according to Herbert Stone, Ph.D., a food scientist who has worked with companies on product development. “Too thick, too hard, and people don’t like them,” Stone tells Mental Floss. “Too thin and they just crumble.”

The right potato sliced at the right thickness with the right oil at the right temperature results in a solid chip—one resilient enough to make for a satisfying break when it hits your molars, but vanishing so quickly that your brain and body haven’t even processed the calories you’ve just taken in. “If they pick it up and put it in the mouth and the crunch is not what they expect, they might put it down,” Stone says. “It’s about expectation.”

A shopper examines a bag of potato chips
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Walk down the snack aisle in your local supermarket or glance at commercials and you’ll find no shortage of claims about products being the boldest, crunchiest chip available. For years, Frito-Lay marketed Cheetos as “the cheese that goes crunch!” Even cereals try to capitalize on the fervor, making mascots—Snap, Crackle, and Pop—out of the sound their Rice Krispies make when submerged in milk. One ad for a brand of crisps drew attention for “cracking” the viewer’s television screen.

For most consumers, the promise of sonic flavor will draw their attention. But for a small number of people diagnosed with a condition dubbed misophonia, the sound of a co-worker or partner crunching on chips isn’t at all pleasurable. It’s insufferable.

 
 

According to Connecticut audiologist Natan Bauman, M.D., the average noise level of someone masticating a potato chip is between 25 to 35 decibels. (Other sources peg it as closer to 63 dB when you're chewing on a chip with your mouth open, or 55 dB with your lips closed.) When you hear your own chewing, the sound is being conducted both via the air and your own bones, giving it a distinctively unique sound. (Like talking, hearing yourself chewing on a recording might be troubling.)

For someone suffering from misophonia, or the literal hatred of specific sounds, it's not their own chomping that's the problem. It's everyone else's.

When we chew, Bauman says, the auditory cortical and limbic system areas of our brain are lighting up, getting information about freshness and texture. But people with misophonia aren’t struggling with their own sounds. Instead, they're affected by others typing, clicking pens, or, more often, chewing. The sound of someone snacking is routed from the cochlea, or cavity in the inner ear, and becomes an electric signal that winds up in the brain’s amygdala, which processes fear and pleasure. That's true for everyone, but in misophonics, it lands with a thud. They’ve likely developed a trigger, or negative association, with the sounds stemming from an incident in childhood.

“If you are scolded by a parent and they happen to be eating, or smacking, it becomes negative reinforcement,” Bauman says. Chewing, lip smacking, and even breathing become intolerable for sufferers, who often feel agitated and nervous, with corresponding increases in heart rate. Some fly into a rage.

Misophonics don’t necessarily recoil at all of these sounds all of the time: It may depend on who’s doing the snacking. Often, it’s a co-worker, spouse, or family member munching away that prompts a response. Fearing they’ll damage that relationship, sufferers tend to vent online. The misophonia subreddit is home to threads with titles like “And the popcorn eater sits RIGHT next to me on the plane” and “Chips can go f-ck themselves.” (The entire content of the latter: “F-ck chips, man. That is all.”)

Bauman says misophonia can be treated using cognitive therapy. An earpiece can provide white noise to reduce trigger sounds while sufferers try to retrain their brain to tolerate the noises. But even the sight of a bag of chips can be enough to send them scrambling.

People with misophonia might also want to exercise caution when traveling. Although some Asian cultures minimize crunchy snacks because loud snacking is considered impolite, other parts of the world can produce noisier mealtimes. “In parts of Asia, you show appreciation for food by slurping,” Spence says. Slurping is even associated with a more intense flavor experience, particularly when it’s in the setting of a comparatively quiet dining establishment.

Western culture favors noisier restaurants, and there’s a good reason for that. Supposedly Hard Rock Café has mastered the art of playing loud and fast music, resulting in patrons who talked less, ate faster, and left more quickly, allowing operators to turn over tables more times in an evening.

Spence believes sound will continue to be important to gastronomy, to chefs, and to food companies looking to sell consumers on a complete experience. Snack shelves are now full of air-puffed offerings like 3-D Doritos and Pop Chips that create pillows of taste. With less volume, you’ll snack more and crunch for longer periods.

A woman snacks on a chip
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But the sound of the chip is just one part of the equation. The way a bag feels when you pick it up at the store, the aroma that wafts out when you first open the bag, the concentration of flavor from the granules of seasoning on your fingers—it’s all very carefully conducted to appeal to our preferences.

“When we hear the rattle of crisps, it may encourage people to start salivating, like Pavlov’s dogs,” Spence says, referring to the Russian scientist who trained his canines to salivate when he made a certain sound. We’re conditioned to anticipate the flavor and enjoyment of chips as soon as we pick up a package. Even hearing or saying the words crispy and crunchy can prime us for the experience.

When we’re deprived of that auditory cue, we can get annoyed. After news reports emerged that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi had mentioned her company might consider a quieter version of Doritos for women—an idea PepsiCo later denied they would label in a gender-specific fashion—women Doritos enthusiasts rallied around the Texas state capitol, condemning the perceived gender discrimination. To protest the possible dilution of their favorite snack, they made a spectacle of crunching Doritos as loudly as they could.

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London Grocery Chain Encourages Shoppers to Bring Their Own Tupperware
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Why stop at bringing your own grocery bags to the store? One London grocery wants you to BYO-Tupperware. The London Evening Standard reports that a UK chain called Planet Organic has partnered with Unpackaged—a company dedicated to sustainable packaging—to install self-serve bulk-food dispensers where customers can fill their own reusable containers with dry goods, cutting down on plastic packaging waste.

To use the system, customers walk up and weigh their empty container at a self-serve station, printing and attaching a label with its tare weight. Then, they can fill it with flour, nuts, or other kinds of dry goods, weigh it again, and print the price tag before taking it up to the check out. (Regular customers only have to weigh their containers once, since they can save the peel-off label to use again next time.)

Planet Organic is offering cereals, legumes, grains, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, and even some cleaning products in bulk as part of this program, significantly reducing the amount of waste shoppers would otherwise be taking home on each grocery trip.

Zero-waste grocery stores have been popping up in Europe for several years. These shops, like Berlin's Original Unverpackt, don't offer any bags or containers, asking customers bring their own instead. This strategy also encourages people to buy only what they need, which eliminates food waste—there's no need to buy a full 5-pound bag of flour if you only want to make one cake.

The concept is also gaining traction in North America. The no-packaging grocery store in.gredients opened in Austin, Texas in 2011. The Brooklyn store Package Free, opened in 2017, takes the idea even further, marketing itself as a one-stop shop for "everything that you'd need to transition to a low waste lifestyle." It sells everything from tote bags to laundry detergent to dental floss.

[h/t London Evening Standard]

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