It’s not me, it’s them.
I’m having relationship trouble with reality TV dating shows. It’s a very unhealthy relationship, you see. They make me so upset, but I can’t stay away. Take, for example, my latest new addiction: Paradise Hotel on Fox. Which was cancelled-ish after 4 episodes. I mean, -ish. The show was supposed to air on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, but after just four measly episodes, the show was pulled from Monday and Wednesday, with remaining episodes to be condensed and aired on Thursdays until the show’s planned finale on June 6th. Ouch!
The show, which is hosted by former The Hills villain and vocal fry enthusiast Kristin Cavallari, is basically Love Island with a half-hearted hotel motif. CBS has its own Love Island spin-off which they plan to roll out over the summer. And of course, ABC’s The Bachelorette has selected another group of young adults under the age of 27 who have trouble enunciating to follow on helicopter dates. But really? Are we really still doing this??
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve watched so many dating shows, it’s only a marvel that I haven’t been on one yet. Remember Next? Elimidate? Date My Mom? There was a time in the early days of reality TV when it seemed like there was a dating show on a different channel in every time slot. I liked these shows for their honesty: shit like Dating Naked and Are You The One never pretended to be more than flirty, sexy, fun. The genre becomes a real laughingstock when it asks you to believe that it’s possible to find lasting, monogamous love on television. The wheels fell off this premise some time around Rock of Love 3, yeah, the season with the tour bus?
Network TV dating shows have a pretty shitty track record of success as well. Of the almost two dozen Bachelor and 14 Bachelorette seasons, only 8 couples are still together, half of those being from the 5 most recent seasons and together for fewer than 3 years. And one of those is Arie Luyendyk, who picked Becca K but worried that being engaged to her would hurt his chances with Lauren B. Bets on how long til he worries that having a wife and baby will hurt his chances at getting with other women out there, but I digress. It’s no secret that the show is heavily manipulative AND manipulated, the whole thing is a charade, and the editing keeps viewers believing what the network wants them to believe. Even so, most people don’t actually go on the show looking for love, but rather, for the boost to their careers. It’s no secret that being America’s Sweetheart comes with an amount of fame, and both winners and losers have channeled that social clout into all kinds of businesses (not to mention the social media following).
Bachelor Nation aside, it seems as though attempts to create new dating shows have met with swift endings. The Andy Cohen reboot of Love Connection has unceremoniously ended, much to my dismay. The age-old formula of Hot Young Singles + Booze + Isolation = Romance seems to have played out it’s viability. Maybe it’s time to admit that we just can’t make this premise float the way we used to, back in the days of Joe Millionaire and Flavor of Love? Well, we can just stop.
Of course, this leaves a lot of empty time slots. Fox is filling their Monday and Wednesday slots abandoned by the apparently unpopular Paradise Hotel with reruns, which is one option. But it’s long been true that reality TV is cheaper to produce than the scripted alternative, and has experienced booming popularity since the early 2000s. I’m not anti-reality TV! I do, however, have some proposed alternatives:
Look at what’s been growing in popularity elsewhere! Streaming services have dominated the landscape of TV for years now, and networks can take a cue from what they’re doing successfully. The trans-atlantic cult phenomenon of The Great British Bake-Off has led to numerous spin-offs, igniting a cultural thirst for gentler, less-competitive competition shows. Netflix’s hit revival of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy defied the odds and has become a runaway hit, with the stars becoming wildly successful in their own rights. And you can’t ignore the success of the indie darling that crossed over to basic cable and basic bitches, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Curiously, all three of these shows have one thing in common: centering queer and LGBT storylines with casts that are racially and ethnically diverse. As much as dating shows have been institutionally white and heteronormative, Queer Eye, GBBO, and RPDR have been deliberately and unconsciously diverse. Bachelor Nation is quaking! Obviously, there is a market for non-straight, non-white, non-dating reality television shows, if only the networks would dare to take a risk on deviating from what’s comfortable and wavering in popularity.
Basically, the notion of coming on TV for actual, lasting love is a farce. At this point, not even the most salacious of premises can keep a show afloat. Why not abandon ship and try something different for a change? Reality TV isn’t going anywhere… at least, I hope not! But watching thin, cis, able-bodied white heterosexuals toy with each other’s emotions over several months of hours-long shows just to land a FabFitFun sponsorship on Instagram out of it is tired, not wired. Audiences aren’t buying it, networks need to stop trying it. It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but I’m tuning out.