I love reality TV, and I’m particularly drawn to shows about finding love. There are so many variables to consider before romantically committing to someone, and what greater entertainment is there than watching complete strangers parse out their romantic feelings for someone else on national television?
“what greater entertainment is there than watching complete strangers parse out their romantic feelings for someone else on national television?”
Here are a few of the shows on my roster that have me tuning in season after season:
1. 90 Day Fiancé
Premise: 90 Day Fiancé is a TLC show that follows Americans who’ve fallen in love with non-Americans and wish to apply for a K-1 visa. The visa gives the couples 90 days from the day the non-American partner arrives in the U.S. to decide whether they will go through with a marriage or separate. A separation means the non-U.S. citizen returns to their home country.
What’s good: My favourite episodes are the first few of the season where we get to learn about the couples. They bashfully reveal their meet cutes, provide details about what drew them to one another, and demonstrate quirky relationship dynamics.
This discovery period for the audience comes before money, family, cultural differences, and the unwavering belief in the American Dream™ start to work against the couples.
The bad: Though I gawk and enjoy the spectacle that quickly unfolds throughout a given season, I recently read a solid critique of the show from Buzzfeed. It suggests that the higher than usual stakes (i.e., citizenship) and the power dynamics that often favours the Americans, becomes clearer and troubling when you take into account allegations of abuse some contestants have made.
I’ll admit that the show has become a little uncomfortable to watch because I can no longer view the show solely as the fluff I consume on Sunday evenings.
2. The Bachelor/ette
Premise: This long running ABC reality dating show follows a bachelor or bachelorette with a cohort of contestants vying for their love. Group and one-on-one dates help leads and contestants get to know each other. Eliminations are done each episode till one person is left. It’s standard to expect a season to end with an engagement.
Why I keep coming back: There’s so much effort put into creating the perfect environment to fall in love: candle lit rooms, private concerts, bottomless champagne, and extravagant trips abroad. It’s all luxurious but very little resembles many viewers’ dating experiences.
However, despite the obvious manufactured scenarios, the love that ends up lasting (ex. Season 7’s Bachelorette, Ashley, is still with the man she picked. They even have two children together), keeps the cynic in me starved.
What’s so bad, it’s great: If you’ve been watching this show for as long as I have, you’re familiar with the lingo, the catch phrases, and the formula. They no longer make me cringe because I anticipate them, I revel in them, and I take an imaginary shot (no real shots on Monday nights) to acknowledge them.
Plus, I’ve watched the show differently ever since I started following blogs that really understand the fantasy we are being fed. This one is run by a Bachelor alum, Sharleen, who’s measured and thoughtful in her reviews and has a lot of insider knowledge about the contestant experience.
Also, I’d recommend season 1 of UnReal. It was a dark comedy series that I abandoned in the middle of season 2, but I think the first season is worthwhile for its unflinching portrayal of behind-the-scenes drama on a fictional reality dating show similar to The Bachelor.
3. Are You the One?
Premise: An MTV dating show that brings twenty attractive strangers who’ve been “bad at love” under one roof. The point is for each one to find their “perfect match” who’ve been predetermined by relationship experts.
If by the end of 10 weeks the cast has unraveled the mystery and found their “one,” they evenly split a million dollars in addition to finding love.
What’s good: I enjoy this show because even if contestants fail to connect with their purported “perfect match,” they can still walk away with their portion of a million dollars.
It’s a consolation prize that far surpasses other reality dating shows that only give contestants close up shots of their snot and tear-streaked faces after being heartbroken.
What’s so bad it’s great?: I know that many people apply for these types of shows to build up their “personal brand,” especially with the popularity of social media. For that reason, few of the contestants on Are You the One? are wallflowers, most are brazen and loud.
They know exactly what to do to get the most out of their camera time. The shouting matches and tearful breakdowns all combine to make a spectacularly cringe worthy viewing experience.