This week was the debut of season three of Netflix’s “Love Is Blind.” If you’ve seen season one and two, you know the drill: Single men and women are sequestered in adjoining “pods” and get to know one another through a series of revolving “dates.” They don’t actually see their prospective mates, just talk to them in increasingly cozy conversations through an opaque partition. Then they get married — or at least engaged and finally meet each other in the flesh.
If you’ve seen season one or two, you know what happens next.
Of the 24 love connections that have so far been made on the show, only two actually tied the knot and just one of those pairs is still together (that’d be Season 1’s Lauren Speed and Cameron Hamilton, who got married on day 40 of the show and last February announced that they were trying to have a baby). That’s a success rate of just about 4%.
Still, in the world of reality dating shows, that makes “Love Is Blind” a resounding statistical success. Compare it to, say, “The Bachelor,” the granddaddy of dating shows. That series has been on ABC for 25 seasons, has matched up more than 300 contestants, and netted just five marriages, only one of which is still going strong (Catherine Giudici and Sean Lowe from season 17). If you’re counting, that’s 0.3%.
But, of course, happy couplings are not really what dating shows are all about these days. Today, the true prize in this genre isn’t love and marriage. It’s money and fame. And Instagram followers.
“There’s a reason why half the cast of every season of ‘The Bachelor’ is wannabe actors from Santa Monica,” Hunter Hargraves, a contemporary American television studies professor at Cal State Fullerton, told TheWrap. “There’s just so many more opportunities for you to stake that fame. So, you can say, ‘Yeah, I’ll play someone who can pretend to fall in love with somebody for the right price.’”
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There’s still pretense of romance — especially on “The Bachelor,” the oldest of the dating shows on the air right now, where amore is still the presumptive goal — but for the most part, dating shows have now pretty much all morphed into “Survivor.” It’s not so much love on the players’ minds as it is strategy. Who do I need to backstab when and how sneakily do I have to do it in order to advance my agenda? Love may have always been a Machiavellian sport, but never before has it been played with so much steely-eyed scheming.
When you think about it, this shift was all but inevitable. Because in the real, untelevised world, marriage itself has become less and less of a prize. The U.S. census bureau reported last year that the number of never-married adults is on the rise, especially among those age 25-29. Gen Z, the oldest of whom are currently 25, are taking an even slower approach to dating than previous generations.
“The reality dating show was, for many decades, the most resistant to change, just because our notions of heteronormative love were so dominant,” Hargraves noted. “Now that both technology and culture has really scrambled those codes, we have shifting attitudes when it comes to marriage. And reality television has always been instrumental to how we as a country think through cultural differences.”
Comedian Iain Stirling, who over the past eight seasons has been the voice of “Love Island UK,” has seen firsthand how that shift has played out on his popular dating series, in which contestants spend weeks together in a villa with no outside communication.
“I do think a lot of people get genuine feelings,” he told TheWrap. “But [contestants] definitely think it through. It would be naive to think they didn’t.”
On some shows, the veneer of romance has disappeared altogether. Take HBOMax’s “FBoy Island,” which plants three women on a tropical island with 24 presumably single men — 12 of which are self-proclaimed “nice guys” looking for true love, and 12 of whom have dubbed themselves “FBoys,” looking only to cash in on the $100,000 grand prize by convincing one of the unsuspecting females that he’s really, truly interested in a relationship with her.
In other words, “FBoy Island” has figured out a way to monetize cold-hearted betrayal.
“Yes, it’s a dating show, but it’s also a game show,” said the show’s creator, Elan Gale, who had previously spent 10 years as a producer on “The Bachelor.” “Can you learn something about people? Absolutely. Does it matter? Not at all. And we’re not going to pretend it does. We’re not gonna pretend that everything we’re doing is for the eventual relationships.”
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