A bowl of buttery popcorn, my cousin’s couch, and The Bachelor add up to our typical Monday nights. We look forward to the drama revolving around group dates and challenges that act as an escape from the stresses of the day. As much as we love the idea of reality dating shows, we aren’t always in love with the people on them and the conditions that may be causing more harm than good for the contestants’ budding relationships.
Meet the Islanders
In those rare moments during The Bachelor where my cousin and I have opportunities for somewhat intelligent thoughts, I always wonder what type of person could feel comfortable in such an unnatural setting? Take Love Island, a popular British reality show that showcases a group of young, tan, and fit singles looking to take someone home to mom or cash in on the $50,000 prize, for example. In every episode, the girls are in scandalous bikinis with their hair and makeup done while the boys walk around in tight swim trunks. They exude confidence, in themselves and their ability to wrangle a date, without batting an eye at the cameras stationed around the villa.
Contestants of other group dating shows share similar attitudes when it comes to dressing to impress. People in The Bachelor wear gowns, Love Island wear bathing suits, and Dating Naked wear nothing… A major proponent as to why these shows focus on looks has to do with the shared understanding that sex sells. The blonde bombshell ideal of beauty fits well here as people’s bodies are constantly being capitalized off of. Typical sexy characteristics for men, sharp jaws and muscly builds, and women, large breasts and small waists, are easily visible signs of health and physical fitness that we don’t consciously interpret as reproductively valuable. While contestants don’t think about attracting a reproductively successful partner, when it comes to physical appearance they just want to be remembered for better or for worse.
Let the Games Begin
Airing in 1965, The Dating Game, a show where three contestants put their wit and charm to the test to win over a mystery date, is where game shows and dating merged. But the genre didn’t fully embrace its game show like qualities until the early 2000s with shows like Joe Millionaire and Temptation Island.
The controlled environment of a mansion or exotic location paired with activities that get the adrenaline rushing are a powerful duo that accelerate a relationship’s intensity. Because the majority of regular folk aren’t able to host a first date on a hot air balloon or by swimming with dolphins, they depend on more mundane activities like dinner and a movie. There’s nothing wrong with dinner and a movie but it can get boring and perhaps cliché, it’s not the type of activity where you truly get to know a person.
Happily Ever After?
When a show is centered around an endgame with no real commitment, it’s easy to be open to the idea of participating. But shows like Married at First Sight, where people don’t meet each other until they say their vows, is more concerning. How can someone put one of the biggest decisions in life in the hands of strangers? Do the participants of shows like Married at First Sight truly believe that they’ll end up in a loving and fulfilling relationship?
While at the altar, Married at First Sight‘s Jamie Otis wasn’t sure if she could go through with the ceremony. For a few months after the wedding, the marriage had felt empty. But Jamie and her husband, Doug Hehner, soon fell in love, renewed their vows and got pregnant. The couple eventually got their own spinoff, The First Year, where America followed their out of the ordinary love story. Jamie and Doug have been married for five years and revealed that they are expecting their second child on their podcast.
Not all TV personality couples are lucky enough to stay together after their stint on national television. In fact, less than 6% of the couples from The Bachelor are still together. Most of the men from The Bachelor that didn’t get married made appearances on other reality shows and capitalized on their status as a tv personality. This goes back to my question regarding the type of people that are on reality tv; although love is on the line, it seems as if fame and money are a major priority.
In I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’ a group of American women are flown to the English countryside in hopes of dating a mystery celebrity. Over the course of a few weeks Matthew Hicks, a regular working man, convinces the women that he is Prince Harry. Once all is revealed in the season finale, the remaining woman can either continue to date Matthew or go home. Those that go home claim that they feel like they can’t trust him, but my take on this is that the show lied not Matthew. So in reality, questions of honesty shouldn’t be part of the conversation but these women don’t want to put their efforts toward a relationship that doesn’t provide a royal status or inheritance.
Back to Reality
By watching various reality dating shows it’s easy to see how those methods of finding love differ from our own. The closest thing we have to romantic reality tv in real life is online dating. Their basic premise is the same: people enter a controlled environment looking for love with no issue displaying their personal information to the public. Outside of the online dating world, people have to work harder to find a partner. More often than not courtship mimics a Tortoise and the Hare approach, there’s a type of romantic build up with each interaction.