Dating Shows Are Out of Control


Alexa Ward, Editor-in-Chief

Dating shows have been an entertainment phenomenon since the 60s. It all started with The Dating Game, a show in which one person asks three potential suitors simple questions and decides on a date. Since then, trashy entertainment networks have gotten ahold of the concept and produced countless dating game shows, each with its own strange gimmick to try to make it stand out.

The most popular modern dating show is The Bachelor, which aired its first season in 2002. In the next year, its first spinoff, The Bachelorette, aired. The premise is that one person (a male in the bachelor, a female in the bachelorette), dates 30 suitors at the same time and eliminates them week by week after a series of individual dates and group dates. A lot of its success can be attributed to making a guy’s 30 girlfriends live together, supplying them with endless alcohol and designing dates made to enhance jealousy and cause drama.

The Bachelor also creates spinoffs at random, including Bachelor Pad (2010-2012); aimed to reunite former Bachelor and Bachelorette competitors; Bachelor: Winter Games (2018), making former bachelor and bachelorette contestants compete in winter sports, Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart (2020), where it’s the bachelor with A LOT more singing; and its most popular spinoff, Bachelor in Paradise. Bachelor in Paradise (2014-current) gives former Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants a “second chance at love” on a paradise island in Mexico. This show, along with the world travel aspect of The Bachelor, lead to the  creation of other island vacation shows, including Love Island, Fboy Island, and Too Hot to Handle. Love Island gathers singles together to couple up and go on dates, but they all keep their options open and have the chance to change whom they are “coupled up” with each week. Whoever is left dateless leaves the island and new singles arrive to shake things up. Fboy Island focuses on three girls who explore relationships with several men trying to find love, eliminating and receiving more each week. They each save a few men each week, and once eliminated, boys admit if they were a “nice guy” here for love or a “fboy” here for the money. In the end, the girl’s final choice reveals their identity and if they are a nice guy, they split the $100k with the girl, but if they are a fboy, they can choose to take all the money for themselves. Too Hot to Handle gathers several singles on an island where they are building connections but are not allowed to touch, and physical contact loses them money.

The shows only get weirder from there. Some shows seek to fast-track the marriage process rather than just focusing on creating a couple. Love is Blind is a Netflix dating show where a group of 30 guys and 30 girls talk to each other in “pods” where they can hear each other, but cannot see. They have 10 to fall in love and propose to somebody – yes, PROPOSE, – before they are allowed to see each other. They then spend 10 days getting to know each other and meeting the other couples that proposed to see what they missed out on. Then they move in together in apartments for 10 days to see how living with each other is, see where the other one lives, and meet their partner’s family. During this time, they also do wedding planning, and none of the couples are allowed to announce whether they want to marry their partner until they are at the altar saying “I do” or “I don’t.”

90 Day Fiancé and Married at First Sight have similar premises. 90 Day Fiancé sends international brides with 90-day visas to America to meet and live with their prospective future husbands and must decide within 90 days if they will marry or not. In Married at First Sight, “specialists” match up couples who get, well, married at first sight. They then have several weeks together to decide if they want to stay married or divorce.

If decimating the name of marriage isn’t wild enough, some shows are just oddly specific or downright weird. The Ultimatum gathers couples with an ultimatum together to test if they want to marry their partner or move on with somebody else. Love After Lockup follows couples in which one of them is a freshly released felon and they have to go straight into dating, meeting families and more to see if they want to stay together or break up. In Sexy Beasts, people meet and date while wearing insane prosthetics and makeup to make them look like an animal. After choosing their date, makeup is removed and they have to decide if they made the right choice based on personality versus whom they would’ve chosen for physical appearance. Dating Naked is where couples meet and go on dates completely naked before deciding if they want to pursue a relationship or not.

However, possibly the craziest dating show I’ve encountered has just aired on TLC. MILF Manor follows the story of 50-year-old mothers and their 20-year-old sons entering a dating show together where they must talk with each other about the relationships they are forming with the other mother-son duos on the show. It includes games, one of which makes contestants must feel each other blindfolded, meaning at one point or another, each mother feels up her own son and each son feels up his own mother.

So, do I think dating shows have gotten out of control? Yes. Absolutely. Of course, most of these air on Netflix or TLC. Netflix reality shows have been known to cross weird boundaries, and TLC, (which stands for The Learning Channel, by the way), has always stood out for its weird gimmicks. The main goal of these shows, of course, was never to help people find love, it was to make money. Drama drives up ratings and people seem to be naturally drawn to things they find weird. Do some of these shows cross a line? Absolutely. Do the producers of these shows care? No. And in many cases, neither does the audience. If you put something weird on TV, there will always be an audience who will watch it. Would I recommend any of these shows? If you’re like me and love watching bad shows to laugh at how bad they are, then yes. If you want to see some drama, watch the first episode of any season of The Bachelor. I guarantee girls will be catty and someone will cry. Fboy Island was comedic and it’s fun to guess who is a Fboy and who is a nice guy. I find Love Island and Love is Blind to be extra dumb, but I will still watch them because I find it funny how serious the contestants take the show to be. I haven’t seen the others and I don’t plan on watching them, so I can’t speak to those other than their wild premises.

So finally, is reality dating shows a good category of TV? I’d say their level of excellence in the scheme of television history is ranked alongside Disney Channel sitcoms with only one season. They’re weird, and they don’t make much sense, but they have their audience and will continue nonetheless.