The moment someone falls in love is about as real as TV can get. Spectators become emotionally invested very easily in people’s journeys to find love, which is perhaps unsurprisingly why the trope is used so often. Almost every dating show of the last ten years has found popularity due to the fact that viewers can relate. Either that or the fact that two people who don’t click have the potential for eye-watering cringe or belly laughs. Either way, both outcomes are solid gold to the viewers.
Modern media has answered the call of the masses for dating shows, and they’ve gone in some truly strange directions over the last decade. A few shows have stood the test of time, while many have barely survived a season. But what is it that makes the most successful dating shows so, well, successful?
The Exceptions To The Rules
We can’t write this without mentioning one of the most successful dating shows, which also totally betrays the idea that genuine believability is always key to succeeding with an audience: Love Island. This show, despite being totally bizarre in the environment it sets up for its participants, still manages to win over millions of viewers every season.
Originally aired as a celebrity show way back in 2005, Love Island was revived as a dating show in 2015, and has run ever since. Impressively, since its return, there have been numerous international iterations that have followed suit all with the intention of capitalizing on some of the UK show’s success. For example, there’s a prolific US version that appears to be faring well when compared to the many other reality TV shows currently on air, stateside.
For the unacquainted, all we can say is that you ought to find a stream to witness the spectacle for yourself. The show has gained fans all over the world, and numerous spin-offs, but watching the UK original is a great introduction and available in most countries. As this handy guide from ExpressVPN highlights, Love Island is particularly popular in European territories like Spain, France and Italy, but also in Canada and Australia.
The breadth alone of the places you can stream this show is a testament to the ubiquity of its intoxicating style of entertainment. The US spin-off being barely any different in structure speaks to the success the original has had in being so relatable, yet entertaining. However, we’ll let you be the judge when you watch for yourself!
A combination of holiday romance, gamification, and isolation are the major differentiators. The villa is totally removed from reality, yet watching the contestants try and find love (and a $50,000 cash prize for the winning couple) still feels like a highly immersive viewing experience.
Without seeing it, you might not understand how Love Island is able to be so watchable; at times, able to produce moments of real romance, followed by shambolic flirting. Only a handful of couples have ever made it to marriage, or kids, after the show – not that anyone seems to mind.
Going Too Far
Producers are constantly trying to find a balance between the obscure and the entertaining when it comes to dating shows and often miss the mark. ‘Farmer Wants A Wife’ is an example. The single, attractive farmer would date various contestants, while also putting them through their paces on the farm itself.
Judging by the show’s cancellation, it seemed that there was a very fine line between the genuine moments that a dating show needs to be watchable, and what becomes feels too manufactured or, downright strange.
‘Dating in the Dark’, ‘Dating Naked’, or the critically-panned ‘I Want To Marry Harry’ (currently boasting a 3.9/10 on IMDB) were other concepts that hinged on the idea that, so long as someone was somewhat attracted to someone else on-screen, the circumstances simply didn’t matter to the audience.
None of these shows exist now, but you can find old clips all over YouTube, proving it a major misjudgement on the producers’ part, in figuring out what we love about dating shows.
The Perfect Ratio
When presented in a certain way, even the more bizarre concepts can thrive. ‘Naked Attraction’, not far removed from the flop that was ‘Naked Dating’, framed their show in a more scientific and psychological context, making the absurdity feel less cheap to the audience.
After all, trash TV always pulls in a few viewers, but rarely maintains a loyal fanbase – or builds more concrete characterization of contestants, in the same way as a ‘classier’ style of dating show can.
There’s another success metric we can consider, too. Slots Up conducted a 2021 study, which found only 11 of the 13 current US dating shows had a 1.2% to 75% success rate, with ‘90 Day Fiancee’ topping the list. In the UK, ‘Married At First Sight’ boasts similarly high success rates for relationships. These shows run for numerous seasons, typically by being unique enough to be interesting, but believable and genuine enough to relate to.
Dating shows prove to u that no matter who you are, or how conventionally attractive you might be, love is a strange and elusive thing. They exist to entertain, naturally even the most bizarre ones manage to find a way to, but it seems that success really comes down to being able to find something real underneath what can be layers of production value and editing.
One thing is for sure if you can find love in a pitch-black room, working on a farm, meeting strangers without clothes on, or in an isolated villa full of cameras in Majorca – you really can find it anywhere.