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Looking for Love on TV’: Why We Love Watching Reality Dating Shows

Reality TV dating shows have been a massive part of pop culture for decades and this type of television is only gaining popularity with numerous Netflix additions that seem to be coming out every other month. But what is it about these shows that keeps audiences watching even though we know that they are not exactly an accurate depiction of real-life dating experiences and most of these relationships are over within months of the show of the show airing. 

I believe that one of the main reasons is that human beings have always had a deep interest in the idea of love and reality. TV shows allow viewers the opportunity to watch a love story play out. Through these shows, the hopeless romantic can get swept up in the proclamations of love while those who are maybe not as invested can still find enjoyment in watching a meaningful story unfold. Also, we live in a world where no one really meets organically in the same way that they used to in the pre-smartphone era. You don’t hear about people meeting their significant other at the grocery store or at a coffee shop anymore. These shows take people back to a time where two strangers would meet face-to-face and simply form some sort of connection from there. 

You could also compare watching these shows to watching a sports game. This comparison makes sense when you look at how you often find yourself rooting for a specific person or couple, which is in some ways similar to support you would give to your chosen sports team. For example, when watching one of the shows from the Bachelor franchise, you may have a favourite contestant that you hope ends up with the Bachelor or Bachelorette. Love Island viewers can vote for their favourite couples to ensure that they are safe from elimination and are one step closer to winning the whole show. Another similarity to sports culture, is how fans of reality TV dating shows may watch them weekly with their friends or even have mass viewing parties (pre-covid, of course) and this becomes a fun communal activity. After watching episodes, there are even friendship groups who engage in lengthy conversations on WhatsApp group chats about what they’ve just watched. 

In the past, I’ve heard people say that these shows can be seen as a kind of sociological experiment. In a way this is true, if we look at how they tend to begin with a similar premise. A group of people are put in a communal living space, without connection to the outside world and it’s subtly reiterated to them, whether it’s from the hosts, the other contestants or the producers that their main focus is to find love or at the very least build some sort of meaningful connection. It’s interesting to see how people respond to all of these factors and to being in this type of environment. Some people flourish in this space and others crumble. Whether we are aware of it or not, watching other people go through this process can provide us with some reflective moments about ourselves. This may seem a little far-fetched but bear with me. If you go online, you will see reactions where people will say things like “I can’t believe they did that to them! I would never,” “It would have been better if they handled it like this,” or “I feel horrible for them. I can really relate to that feeling.” There are definitely lessons that can be learned from watching people make mistakes and experience disappointments. 

There is another aspect that I believe also massively fuels everyone’s fascination with these shows and that is…THE DRAMA. Like I said before, these contestants are put into a high-pressure environment and this leads to there being a lot of chaos. They argue and have these huge rows with one another, so things sometimes end up looking like a bit of a dumpster fire. It’s all a bit outrageous, unbelievable – and extremely entertaining. Sometimes the drama is caused by two people going after the same person, which is often what happens on shows like Love Island or Love is Blind. In the case of the Bachelor/Bachelorette, when there are twenty-five to thirty people all pursuing the same person there is bound to be some tension. There are also many instances when the bulk of the drama is the doing of one, or maybe two people, who become known as the reality TV show “villains”. These contestants don’t particularly get along with many people in the house, they engage in petty arguments and their crazy antics can take up a lot of screen time. As frustrating as these contestants are, they do bring a lot of entertainment value onto the show. 

Finally, the reason we love these shows is that they provide us with a bit of escapism. They are often set in villas and mansions in beautiful locations. The episodes showcase extravagant dates such as hot air balloon and helicopter rides over gorgeous landscapes and oceans. These aspects are quite far removed from reality but that’s partly what makes them so fun to watch. At the end of the day, reality dating shows are a nice distraction, they can make us feel good and there is definitely an element for everyone to enjoy.

University of Cape Town Majoring in Media & Writing "If I'm here, I'll be trying to be a better human being, a better writer, a better friend and a better beloved." - Maya Angelou
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